Jan and Cora Gordon: Richard Perry and the YMCA during WW1

Earlier this year (April 21st) I wrote on a 1935 book dedication by Jan and Cora Gordon to Richard and Charlotte Perry, two friends living in Connecticut, USA.

Richard and Charlotte had hosted the Gordons in 1927, at the start of the journey recorded in "On Wandering Wheels." The Gordons had arrived in New York on the "American Merchant", May 10th 1927. The Perrys lived in Southport, named "Easyport" in the book. The Gordons were enchanted: "Set on the lawns were the white painted wooden mansions with their tall Corinthian pillars of wood, deceptive pillars giving such an air of massive dignity that it was a shock to pass under a house under repair and to note how the carpenter, wishing to replace some mouldered pediments, had calmly removed them bodily, leaving the huge fluted columns suspended from the cornice." - and writing of restoration, here is the Perry house today.

"Easyport", as Southport is known in "On Wandering Wheels." "Easyport is, in fact, a little jewel, an oasis of the old New England character in the desert of encroaching seaside suburbia."

Richard Perry had helped Jan and Cora look for a secondhand car in Bridgeport, although the "easy families in Easyport were not perhaps the best advisers on the finding of such a car. They gave us a cheery New England welcome, they received us with a mixture of good humour, admiration, jest and cocktails; they did not quite know whether they wanted to be used for a book at all, or whether we would think them worthy of being put into a book; but of cheap cars and of motor camps they knew nothing."

It was through the chauffeur of Richard Perry's father (Judge John Hoyt Perry) that the 1920 Ford sedan they were to purchase was located: "My father's chauffeur says that he has a car which might suit you. It is a big six cylinder, five seater sedan. It will probably cost a little more to run than some of those we saw the other day, but he only wants $150 for it. He won it in a bet."

Wondering how the Gordons and the Perrys had originally met I discovered that Richard Perry had been a YMCA volunteer in England and France from December 1917 to February 1919 at the end of the war. There is a very interesting history of these early YMCA years here. William Howard Taft is quoted as writing:
"The American Young Men's Christian Association in its welfare work served between four and five millions of American soldiers and sailors, at home and overseas. As General Pershing has said, it conducted nine-tenths of the welfare work among the American forces in Europe. Moreover, alone among American welfare societies, this organization, first and last, ministered to not less than nineteen millions of the soldiers of the Allied Armies and extended its helpful activities to over five millions of prisoners of war... It may be questioned whether in all time a human society has ever brought its helpful ministry to such vast numbers of men and over such wide areas, under such varying conditions, and in so short a time."

Richard Perry met and married Yorkshire-born Charlotte, returning with her to New York from Southampton on the Aquitania, arriving October 21st 1921.

Richard Perry in 1921

Another pair of American friends, Mr. and Mrs. Myron Chester Nutting, met the Gordons at the beginning of the 1927 journey and Myron Nutting later provided a very rare account of the Gordons by one of their contemporaries.

The pleasant stay with the Perrys of Southport was one of several fascinating connections between the Gordons and friends made during WW1, of which a friendship with my grandparents Doris and Ashley Smith is another example.


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