The Merci Boxcar - Gifts from the People of France
The Merci Boxcar is an integral, yet often overlooked bit of Georgia history that has finally found a permanent home at the Southern Museum's Jolley Education Center.
Known as the “40 & 8” for being able to carry 40 men or eight horses during World Wars I and II, this Merci Boxcar was part of the "Gratitude Train" that the people of France sent over upon completion of World War II to thank the United States for aid provided to the battered country.
The boxcar comes to the Museum from the Fulton County branch of “La Societe Des 40 Hommes et 8 Chevaux,” an honor society which began following World War I for American Legion members who went above and beyond their services to the legion. The organization had been named after the boxcars as so many veterans were transported through Europe in them.
The “40 & 8” (as it is known in English) carefully preserved the boxcar until members selected the Southern Museum as its new home.
There are quite a few items on display that were included in the boxcar:
- An intricately carved conch shell.
- A needlework portrait of George Washington.
- A bracelet made entirely out of French coins, with the clasp shaped like a “V” for victory.
- War medals and decorations.
The boxcar is now safe within the walls of the Jolley Education Center at the Southern Museum, not only preserved from harm of outside elements but on display for all to enjoy and learn about its history.
Timeline History of the Merci Boxcars
1872-1885 The boxcars are built in France and operate as freight cars on the Paris, Lyons and Mediterranean Railway
1914-1918 Boxcars transport French, English, and American armies during World War I. The French government designates the wartime capacity of each boxcar as “40 Hommes 8 Chevaux” meaning it held forty men or eight horses. They are referred to as “Forty and Eights” by American soldiers.
1939-1945 Transport allied troops and supplies during World War II. Throughout the German occupation of France, the boxcars are used to carry Jewish citizens to concentration camps.
December 18, 1947, A Journalist Drew Pearson writes an article in the Washington Post rallying Americans to send supplies to assist war-ravaged France. Fellow journalists and citizens respond with fervor and $40 million in supplies are gathered into 700 rail cars on the aptly named American Friendship Train.
1948 Andre Picard, a French rail worker and World War II veteran is touched by the American Friendship Train and suggests the French government return the favor. The French National Railroad Authority creates the French Gratitude Train and restores forty-nine old “Forty and Eight” boxcars, one to each of the forty-eight states in the U.S. and one shared between the District of Columbia and Hawaii.
December 17, 1948 Georgia Governor Herman Talmadge creates the “Thank You Train” committee to handle distributing the gifts of the Gratitude Train. He sends a letter to each appointed member.
January 13, 1949 The French Gratitude Train departs Le Havre, France loaded with 52,000 gifts. Each of the forty-nine boxcars is inventoried and assigned a number. Georgia’s boxcar is number 25.
February 2, 1949 While fireboats spray in salute and military planes roar overhead, the French Gratitude Train arrives in New York harbor aboard the American carrier the Magellan, with a sign reading, “MERCI AMERICA.” Over 200,000 people attend a parade of the boxcars. The boxcars rail gauge was the same as American standard 4-foot 8 ½ inches, but the unique coupling and spring buffer system could not be safely utilized with American rolling stock, so the boxcars are loaded onto flatcars and then split into regional groups en route to all the states in the Union.
February 8, 1949 Six southern boxcars bound for Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi depart aboard a Southern Railway train from the Potomac Yards in Alexandria, Virginia, at 6:30 a.m.
February 9, 1949 The Georgia boxcar arrives at Terminal Station in Atlanta at 7:15 p.m. A Ceremony is conducted by Governor Herman Talmadge and French dignitaries the following day.
February 11 through March 24, 1949, The Gifts from the Georgia boxcar are exhibited in the Georgia Capitol Rotunda, while the boxcar itself is displayed at the Decatur Street Station.
March 25, 1949 The State of Georgia presents the boxcar to the veteran’s organization, the American Legion, and the car is moved to their post on Ponce de Leon Avenue. The “Thank You Train” committee distributes the gifts to various organizations throughout the state. Later that year, the boxcar is transferred to an independent veteran’s organization “La Societe des Quarante Homes et Chevaux,” translated into English as “The Forty and Eight Society,” and the boxcar is moved to their headquarters at the American Legion Post #66 in Decatur, Georgia. Within the next few years, the car is moved again to Brookwood Station.
1972 The Forty and Eight Society moves the Georgia boxcar to their headquarters on Avondale Avenue.
1990 The Georgia boxcar is restored by The Forty and Eight Society and placed under an awning.
January 7, 2006 An agreement is reached between the Forty and Eight Society and the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia. The boxcar is moved to the Museum with the assistance of the National Guard.
September 12, 2007, The Georgia boxcar’s illustrious travels end as it is moved to the concrete foundation of the Southern Museum’s new education facility.
Gifts from the People of France and the "Merci Train"
February 9, 1949
Following World War II, Food for Friendship, Inc., was organized to send needed food and clothing to war-torn France. Local committees were organized and large amounts of needed materials were gathered. In response and in gratitude for these humanitarian acts, the people of France sent 49 historic “40 and 8 Boxcars” to the United States. Laden with treasures from all parts of France, these boxcars were designated one for each state and for the District of Columbia.
The Georgia boxcar arrived in Atlanta on February 9, 1949. A committee for distribution of the gifts, appointed by Gov. Herman E. Talmadge, met the train. Following an exhibit of all the gifts, the hundreds of items were distributed to institutions throughout the state. The gifts presented to the Georgia Department of Archives and History are displayed here at the Southern Museum.
Items on Display in 1949
- Sevres Vase – gift of Vincent Auriole, President of the French Republic (1949)
- Handkerchief – given to Napoleon by his officers when he was exiled to Elba in 1813. Gift of Mme. Madeline Rigal, Paris.
- Cameo Conch Shell – Carved with numerous detailed scenes. Gift of M. Jean Richard, Auvers sur Oise.
- Cross of the Legion of Honor (framed) – Family souvenir of Conte O’Meara, doctor to Napoleon at St. Helena Island. Gift of Eduoard Pondroux, Paris.
- Liberty Bracelet – Made of French five-centime pieces with a clasp of “Victory.” When these coins were requisitioned by the Germans during the occupation, the French people hid them and some made bracelets like this one. Donor unknown.
- Merau Coin – Religious coin used among the Protestants in France in the 17th century when persecuted and obliged to meet in secret. Ministers gave the “mereau” to people for identification when partaking of Holy Communion. Gift of P. Vergora, paster, Eglise Reformee de L’Oratoire du Louvre, Paris.
- Painting – Canal scene. Gift of M. Jean Pannard, Marseilles.
- Washington Portrait – Woven by Michel Marie Carquillot, master weaver of Lyon, in 1854, from the painting by Gilbert Stuart. Gift of J. Altounian-Lorbet, Macon.
- Cross of the Legion of Honor – Gift of Imprimerie Maldeet Renon, Paris.
10. 11. 12. Silver Medals of the Chambre de Commerce de Lille
- Cast in 1901 by Hyppolyte Lefebvre, Grand Prix of Rome in Sculpture.
- Cast in 1877 by Andre Borrel, Engraver of Medaille
- Cast in 1847 by Robert Coin, Grand Prix of Rome
- Medallion – Bronze, prepared by the Chamber of Commerce of Lille in 1867 on the occasion of the visit of Their Imperial Majesties, Napoleon III and Empress Eugenia. Donor not named.
- Medallion – Gilt bronze, depicting Marechal Foch, by G. Prudhomme. Donor Unknown.
- Medallion – Bronze, reading “We owe our thanks to those who understood.
- “Les Gueules Cassees” (Broken Faces)
- “Les Aveugles de Guerre” (The Blind of the War)
- “Les Plus Grands Invalides” (The Greatest Invalids)
- "Les Ailes Brisees" (The Broken Wings)
- Gift of M. J. Voumann, Lille
- Medallion – Bronze, Marksmanship Award. Gift of M. and Mme. Gaston Esry, Lorraine.
- Medallion – Bronze, prize offered by the Garden Clubs of Northern France. Gift of M. and Mme. Voyez-Lanco, Lille.
- Medals ( a group of six) – gift of the Grand Chancellery of the Legion of Honor, Paris.
- Medals ( a group of five) – Gift of Maurice Michel, Paris and Mme. Ducastelle, Lille.
- Medallions ( a group of six) – “Offert par la Monnaie de Paris.”
- Portrait Medallions (36) – Plaster of Paris. Donor not named.
- Statue of Venus – by the French Sculptor, Laurent Monore Marqueste. Gift of his wife.
Merci Boxcar - Train de la Reconnaissance Française
In Gratitude, the people of France presented this Merci Boxcar loaded with gifts to the state of Georgia on February 11, 1949. This boxcar and others were used to transport soldiers and horses to and from the fighting fronts during WWI (1917-18) and soldiers during WWII (1941-45).
This boxcar refurbished by Voiture Local 217 Atlanta, Georgia for Société des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux de Géorgie - The Society of 40 Men and 8 Horses of Georgia.
IN MEMORY OF ALL LIVING AND DECEASED VOYAGEURS MILITAIRE.
June 23, 1990