History of the
American Field Service in France
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917, TOLD BY ITS MEMBERS
||CROOM W. WALKER, JR.|
||JULIEN H. BRYAN|
||RALPH N. BARRETT|
SECTION TWELVE left Paris on February 7, 1917, bound for Bar-le-Duc. It stopped first at Longeville, then at Vadelaincourt and Jubécourt. With Dombasle as its base, the Section worked Esnes and the Bois d'Avocourt. It was at the former place the Section first saw action. Twelve later worked in the Sainte-Ménehould, Suippes, and Châlons sectors. It was at Vaux-Varennes, its next and last move as Section Twelve, in a château located in a valley surrounded by the high hills of France, that it was taken over by the American Army, thereafter to be numbered Six-Thirty of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
I see them, men transfigured,
For history's hushed before them,
THE big majority of the Section came over on the same boat, the Espagne, and landed in Bordeaux on January 17, 1917. We arrived in Paris on the 19th. Then began our initiation into the Field Service and our acquaintance with those never-to-be-forgotten French official papers that we all had to have and now keep as precious souvenirs of bureaucracy. We more or less wandered out to "21" and there began our service and career as ambulance men. For a while we loafed around, listening wide-eyed to the wondrous tales of the permissionnaires, putting Fords together, gathering enough equipment to go to the North Pole, and spending every cent we could lay hands on. Finally came our assignment to a body to be known as Section Twelve and our introduction to our prospective Chef, Harry Iselin; whereupon we were shown our cars and got to work on them. Then came the farewell dinner, at which we were addressed by several prominent Frenchmen and our own chief Mr. Piatt Andrew. On February 8, we left rue Raynouard bright and early, with the good wishes of all, including Fisher, who had been "to the mat" with each of us in attempting to beat into our heads the whys and wherefores of a Ford.
Well, anyway, we got under way somehow or other, and our joys and troubles began. We managed to make our first stopping-place, Champigny, without any mishaps to speak of. But new cars were beginning to show off, and expert chauffeurs were beginning to be less boastful. Wheels would not steer and carburetors would not carburate, and drivers would not work, but argued the question in the middle of the road as to whether the actual complication was in the top or the differential.
Meanwhile our soft-voiced mechanic cussed and swore. We managed it, though, and arrived at Montmirail about 8 P.M., tired and cold. Strangely, and much to our surprise we had a wonderful meal cooked by our more-than-marvellous Andy. Then weary and sleepy, we crawled into a hay-loft for a good night's rest. Early the next morning we were on the way again, stopping at Sézanne for luncheon. The afternoon's journey was accomplished without mishap and we arrived at Sommesous, where we spent the night in a barn with the horses and pigs.
By the next noon we made Vitry-le-François, had lunch, and arrived at Longeville, by way of Bar-le-Duc, about eight that night, again cold, tired, and hungry, but still enthusiastic. All ears were cocked for guns: for some of us poor benighted innocents thought we were at the front.
In Longeville we spent many speculative days, were finally assigned to a division, where we met that never-to-be-forgotten Frenchman, Dr. Rolland, the Médecin Chef of the 132d, and on the morning of February 28, the Division at length started for the front. We hesitated at Vadelaincourt, and at last arrived at Jubécourt, from which, on March 14, we left for Dombasle-en-Argonne, where we relieved Section One, and commenced our work near the historical Hill 304 and Mort Homme, a region just about as alive with batteries as any I have ever seen in France.
Later we went out to look over that wonderful little spot, our poste de secours at Esnes. Over the top of the hill, above Béthelainville, we blithely rolled; we even began to descend, every one agreeing that it was a wonderful sight and feeling quite brave. However, Montzéville came into view, and with it the shells began to fall. We got through all right, though, and started for Esnes. This road from Montzéville to Esnes ran for some three kilometres parallel with and in plain sight of the trenches. Incidentally it was practically the only means of communication with our hill, and consequently all troops, supplies, artillery, ammunition, and so on passed over said route. One knows too well what happens on that kind of a road. Suffice it to say that many a night we were scared stiff as we rolled over it, praying with all our souls that our well-beloved voiture would keep chugging on all four pegs. Lord! the memories of that road! Flying artillery with the caisson hitting both sides of the road at once; tired, dusty soldiers, ravitaillement wagons, and those damned little donkeys, carrying ammunition, which simply would not get out of the way; everywhere wreckage, broken wagons, overturned guns, with always shells whipping through the air.
Well, we arrived at Dombasle on the 14th and got settled nicely in about the most comfortable and likable cantonment we ever had, then Section One rolled out and we started to work. The first cars went out to the postes and came back with wonderful tales of our good fortune in being attached to a division with such wonderful brancardiers. And right here I want to express our thanks to our friends, the little priest, Bouvier, and the ever-present and cheerful cyclist and photographer, Bardelinni, who did so much in different ways to make pleasant our life at the front. Everything, in fact, went along smoothly for a few days; then the very devil broke loose.
ABOUT four or five o'clock on one Sunday afternoon, Houston(1) and McLane were, I believe, at Esnes, while I was at Montzéville, the halfway poste. The other boys were having just about as hard a time, if not worse, at other postes. Along about four a terrible barrage started, and some thirty minutes later Houston stuck his head in the abri door at Montzéville and gave me the word to go up to Esnes. On the way up, I passed McLane with a load and in a few minutes was on my way back myself. From then on, for a long period of hours, it was just one continual roll, roll, roll. Things were happening thick and fast; night came on, and still there was no let-up. Cars began to get into trouble, the traffic was awful, and still faster and faster the blessés came pouring in.
All credit must be given to our Chef, who, although a new man, gave a wonderful example of command and direction. He, too, had the hard job of keeping us all up and going, notwithstanding the excited state we were in. How a man could keep awake as long as he did without going under has always been a mystery to me. Then there was the incident when the cars, first rolling out to Esnes and things getting pretty hot, were met by the little priest with these words, "Well, I knew you boys would come, anyway." One can imagine how these words affected us and how we worked after that. Later, by the way, one of the boys told about being in his little cubby hole in the abri and hearing, early one morning, one of the priests offering a prayer. He prayed for the soldiers, for the Allies, for the officers, for France and all the stricken and wounded, and lastly he said something that made this boy prick up his ears: "And for the young American volunteers who have come to us of their own free will from that great nation across the seas, who daily and gladly risk their lives in order to ease the suffering and do, what they say, is just their little part, --- may the good God watch over and protect these and bless them as France thanks them. Amen." This prayer was spoken in French and without any idea that it was being overheard. This was the sort of thing that made the Section what it was in all its future work. By the 20th the attack was over and things became more or less normal, though there was plenty of work always at that particular part of the line.
THEN we woke up one morning about April 6, 1917, and learned that the United States had declared war on Germany. Never were we happier and never were we treated better or welcomed with more enthusiasm than when we carried the news out to the front. Bottles of wine were unearthed, and we were patted on the back until we felt as though we ourselves had been responsible for the declaration. To cap the climax we were informed at this moment that five of our number had received the Croix de Guerre for the work done during the attack of the 18th to the 20th. These men were singled out for distinction, but there was not one in the Section who did not work hard and well during those three terrible days.
On April 12 our Division left the trenches and we were again relieved by Section One. We lined our cars up alongside of the road, all loaded and ready to start, and Section One rolled in amid much tooting of horns and shouting, again taking its old place in the line. We got our convoy under way sadly, for we had spent many happy days in the little old knocked-down and kicked-about village of Dombasle.
We went with our Division as far as Senard, where, after having made camp and expecting to stay en repos for a while, we were suddenly ordered up and were on our way again in thirty minutes' time. We were transferred from our old Division to the 71st, much to our sorrow, for we had learned to love and respect our comrades, who had gone into line with us ninety-five per cent strong and had come out with only about fifty per cent left.
All left the 132d Division with regret, for we were much liked there, as this official farewell from the Médecin Chef, Dr. Rolland, testifies: "On quitting us, Section Twelve leaves behind it a feeling of unanimous regret among all the brancardiers of the Division. Coming from a very distant land to share in the defence of a good cause and lend their aid to our wounded, these friends of France displayed from the very start the finest qualities. Scarcely a month ago they knew nothing of the dangers of war, and without any previous preparation, in a most dangerous sector, and at a most critical period, they took up their new work in a fine spirit of courage and devotion, thereby personifying the splendid characteristics of their great nation. In a few days they inscribed their names on the honor roll of their Division. The Médecin Chef cannot let you depart without thanking you warmly for your aid on all occasions and without expressing his regret at being thus separated from such worthy comrades in this struggle."
Changes in the personnel now occurred. Second Lieutenant Bayard was called away and replaced by Lieutenant René Posselle, under whom it was our good fortune to work thereafter.
FROM Senard we went to Sainte-Ménehould, where we found our new Division in line and where our work was rather quiet, and we learned to know the villagers and were met by the utmost courtesy and consideration on the part of the French soldiers and officers. Here we spent about a month, having gained additions to our family in the persons of Bradley, Sinclair, and a few others. About this time, too, Houston and Dunham left us for the school at Meaux, subsequently becoming chefs of motor transport sections, while our Chef, Iselin, went also to the same place. Ray Coan was appointed Chef and Alan McLane Sous-Chef. Here we had a wonderful party with Section Thirteen that had just come down from the lines with an army citation to its credit, which event, of course, had to be celebrated.
From Sainte-Ménehould we went to Billy-le-Grand, where we spent two or three days, and then to Recy, near Châlons-sur-Marne, where we stayed en repos for about a month, during which period we had little else to do but play cards, fight, eat, sleep, and generally enjoy ourselves. Along about this time the Section began to break up badly. Benney(#2) went into French Aviation, where he was subsequently killed at the front. He, with Harry Craig(#3) and Waller Harrison(#4), who were subsequently killed in the American Aviation Service, and Henry Houston, who was later killed in the Artillery, were the only members of the original Section to make, so far as is known, the final sacrifice. We render them all due honor, and salute them as comrades who never faltered in their duty and who were over-eager to accept service of any kind. They went to their deaths as men should, serving their country to the last moment. A little later Faith left us for the same service, while Tenney, Harrison, and Sinclair wended their way to the Orient to enter the sections which had gone down there, where were already two of our former number, Kelleher and Chauvenet. A little later Croom Walker took charge of a new section going to the front. Finally, the 8th of July arrived, the first period of enlistment was up, and when the Section made its next move very few were left of the original members.
From Recy, the Section went to Suippes, in the Champagne district, where it stayed for a while and then shifted over toward Reims. There it migrated around from village to village, finally landing in the little hamlet of Vaux-Varennes, where the recruiting officers of the United States Army found it, and old Twelve of the American Field Service passed out of existence. Gone but, we are sure, not forgotten.
CROOM W. WALKER, JR.*
*Of Chicago, Illinois; University of Virginia; joined Section Twelve of the Field Service in January, 1917; subsequently a First Lieutenant, U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
ONE Of the finest speeches I have ever heard was given at our farewell dinner in 21 rue Raynouard by M. Hugues Le Roux, a famous French journalist and adventurer. He told us in almost perfect English how he had lost his only son early in the war, and he bravely described how that one had died and how he had barely managed to get to the bedside and hear the story from the boy's own lips before the latter passed away. He showed us why the work of the Field Service meant so much to him, because his boy when wounded had been left for days at the front on account of the insufficiency of the ambulances; and he made every man who had come from a mere desire for adventure, feel that it was really his duty to help France. Among the others who gave stirring speeches at the dinner were Mr. Andrew, and Mr. Frank H. Simonds, the well-known war correspondent.
Longeville, Monday, February 14, 1917
THERE was no room for us in Bar-le-Duc Saturday, and we had to push on to this little place where we slept in an old barn. But the close atmosphere drove us to our cars. I have made a regular little cabin out of mine. A good-sized bundle of straw, spread over the floor of the car, makes a fine mattress and for my heating and lighting system I have two kerosene lanterns. I am writing now sitting up in bed with my mackinaw on, since the heaters are not always too efficient. Pretty soon it will become stuffy, and then I shall throw back the canvas flap and the side windows and go to sleep.
Longeville, February 26
ON Thursday we had our first evacuation work. At Haironville we picked up two assis and a couché. The latter was in bad shape, and we had to drive back very carefully. We dropped all three cases at the big hospital in Bar, and then speeded home by the canal road.
Jubécourt, March 8
I HAVE just returned from the regular nightly rat hunt. It is a pastime not very well known in America, but very popular here at the front. Every evening we collect our clubs and flashlights and raid an old barn near the river. Two or three of us usually rush in together, flash our lights about until we spot a rat, and then fall upon him with our sticks. It takes a good clean shot to kill, and we consider ourselves lucky if we get two or three in an evening.
Inside "Shenickadaydy," Jubécourt, March 11
THE General commanding our Division passed through the village this afternoon and reviewed the Section. Our orders were to stand motionless beside our cars and look straight ahead. But the General was a good-natured old fellow and spoke to several of the men as he passed, instead of marching formally by, funeral fashion.
Dombasle-en-Argonne, St. Patrick's Day, 1917
WITH the exception of a few road-menders, we are the sole occupants of the place. The peasants were all forced to flee after the shelling. Yesterday late in the afternoon I went with Craig to learn the road. Immediately upon leaving the village we came into plain sight of the trenches. I experienced the same shivery feeling here which one often has at home before getting up to make a speech in school. You try to tell yourself everything is all right, but still you seem to quiver all over. However, from the glances I stole at Craig now and then, I knew that he was just as worked up as I was. This idea seemed to cheer me immensely, and I felt much more at ease afterwards. I wonder why this should be so!
In the abri of the poste de secours at Esnes, March 20
A LITTLE after noon on Sunday the heaviest bombardment we have yet heard started. I was given the Esnes run, the one I had made with Craig, and where I am now, waiting until a full load of blessés arrives. Finally I managed to get to the château and found three grands blessés waiting for me outside. I drove very slowly and carefully on my return trip, but sometimes I struck a bad hole which I had n't seen and the poor fellows moaned and shrieked pathetically. But finally I managed to get them into Dombasle. Then I went back to Esnes again for more, and kept on working until four o'clock the next afternoon. I did n't sleep for thirty-five hours, and some of the men, those who had been on duty before, went for four or five hours more than this. The result of our two days' work, ending Tuesday night, was 377 wounded carried a total distance of 10,000 kilometres, which, the crowded condition of the roads being taken into account, was no small achievement.
Dombasle, March 24
I CRAWLED into my blankets here at three o'clock this morning. They sent me out about ten last evening on a special call to Poste Two. I had three runs down to Ville with some blessés from a German coup de main, and this kept me going for some time. Fortunately there was a full moon or I should have had a terrible time in the woods. "Barney" Faith and I laid in a supply of wood this afternoon which ought to last us a month. But it is still pretty cold, and Bradley and Cook keep the fireplace so well filled up that we have to have two or three cords on hand all the time. We keep it stacked up in the corner where the piano used to be. The two of us ran my ambulance down the street to the wreck of an old mansion, filled the back chock full of banister pickets, assorted furniture, and wainscoting which we tore from the walls, and carried it back to our one-room apartment on the hill.
Dombasle, March 28
CHAUVENET has just come in from Poste Two. On his way out a "210" landed in the middle of the road just in front of him, and a great piece of steel tore through the top of his car not ten inches from his head, and dropped into the back of the ambulance. He did not know that the car had been touched until half an hour later, for he was so stunned by the force of the explosion, and so overcome by the shell-gasses through which he was forced to ride, that he barely got out alive. Every one is envious and wishes that it had happened to him --- at least they say so.
Dombasle, March 30
THURSDAY night the blessés from the morning attack began to pile in at Esnes. I went on at eight o'clock as a reserve. The first time down I had one couché who could n't stand the pain. He almost drove me crazy with his shrieking and yells of "For God's sake, stop!" And several times when I happened to hit, accidentally, a shell-hole or a log, he actually rose up in his agony and pounded with his bare fists upon the wall of the ambulance. But I knew I could n't help him by stopping, and I felt that I might save his life if I hurried. After I got out of Montzéville, he quieted down, and I supposed this was because the road was so much smoother. But not until I stopped in front of the hospital at Ville did I learn the truth. The poor fellow had died on the road!
In the abri at Poste Two, April 6
AT supper to-night the good news came, which we, and especially the Frenchmen, have been waiting to hear for months --- the United States had declared war on Germany. One of the brancardiers returning from his furlough broke the news to us. We were all below in the abri when he came rushing down the muddy stairs and shouted to us what had happened. And each one of those simple poilus wrung my hand.
Dombasle, April 13
BENNEY and I were talking before the fire in his room to-day and Gilmore was attempting to make hot chocolate, when a knock came at the door. He yelled, "Entrez," and, as the door slowly opened, we saw an old French couple standing on the threshold. This had been their home six months before, and now they had returned to look upon the wreckage. The woman wept when she saw the shell-hole through the ceiling, the broken furniture which we were burning, and the heap of old family treasures lying in one corner. We said nothing; we couldn't say anything; but as they departed sadly, the man muttered, "It is not very nice, but after the war we will . . . " and we heard no more. Benney and I were silent, and Gilmore forgot about his cocoa for a few minutes. It had never occurred to us before, when we tore a ruined house to pieces for firewood, and carted off all the old books and ornaments for souvenirs, that people like these actually lived in the houses, or would ever return.
Abri at Ferme des Wacques, July 1
TO-DAY a young aspirant named Lucot took me around to the officers' abri and introduced me to his Captain and two Lieutenants, who invited me in to dinner. At dessert they told me they wanted some bright American girls for their marraines. So I wrote down the names and addresses of four of my friends at home who, I thought, would be willing to correspond with them. Then I described each one in turn and let each officer pick the one he wanted. It was very funny the way they debated about the girls. They decided that Lucot should take the youngest, who was very intelligent and quite small, because he also was young and small, although he did n't come up to the intelligence standard. The Captain preferred the tall and sedate brunette, because his grandmother was tall and sedate. The Lieutenants had a terrible dispute over the remaining two, one of whom was a marvellous dancer and the other very beautiful. At last they ended the argument by throwing up a two-franc piece and calling the turn of the coin.
Ferme de Piémont, July 9
IT'S a true saying that a Ford will run anywhere you take it. Frutiger(#5) ran his machine into a tree on the Suippes road; but instead of climbing it, as the Ford joke-book would have it, the car bounded over to the opposite side of the road and lay there for several minutes on its back with the rear wheels spinning around at a great rate, before he was able to shut off the motor. Then he waited until a couple of Frenchmen came along and with their help turned it right side up again. After this he thanked them and rode off as though nothing had happened.
My last day with good old Section Twelve --- July 11, 1917
I LEFT the Section for good to-day. I am going home. I'd a thousand times rather stay in France until the war is over, but the family does n't agree with me. Therefore, I must go home to argue it out. Princeton opens in September and I'll be there with the rest. But next fall it will be France again. I have finished saying good-bye to the fellows. As for old 464, 1 patted her radiator in a last fond caress and gave her a final drink of water five minutes ago. Dear old "Shen-ick-a-day-dy," as the poilus call her.
JULIEN H. BRYAN*
*Of Titusville, Pennsylvania; Princeton, '21; entered the Field Service in January, 1917; served with Section Twelve until July. For his book, Ambulance 464, see the Bibliography in vol. III.
IN September, 1917, and in October, 1917, the enlisting officers of the American Army visited the Section at Vaux Varennes (north of Reims). About the 15th of October, the Section moved en repos to Ablois Saint-Martin, near Épernay, where Chef R. Coan was commissioned a First Lieutenant. November 13 found us for the second time at Vaux Varennes with no more war for our delight than had formerly been the case. In early December, Chef Coan was called to Paris to be replaced by Lieutenant Fisher, who previously had had charge of the training school at May-en-Multien. My diary depicts great disgust of the Section at the introduction of American Army rules and regulations. The banishment of trunks, the adoption of the ill-fitting American uniform, combined with the cold winter of suffering, did not permit us to remain long in a good frame of mind. There was very little work in the sector.
On February 4, Lieutenant Fisher was replaced by Lieutenant Rogers. In the latter part of February, we moved to Prouilly for repos again, but on March 7, we left to return to Saint-Martin for the ultimate purpose of changing our division and receiving a new allotment of cars. On March 13 and 14 the change of cars was completed.
On March 27, we received orders to leave Saint-Martin immediately and go to Meaux. The 5th Army divisions were being rushed north to aid in repulsing the big German drive on the Somme. We left Saint-Martin at six in the evening, ran an all-night convoy through Montmirail and La Ferté. Our first stop was early the next morning in Saint-Jean-les-deux-Jumeaux, outside Meaux by a few kilometres. At seven that night we received orders to proceed to Pont Sainte-Maxence, departing at once. During this convoy through Meaux, Senlis, and on to Pont Sainte-Maxence we began to get a glimpse of conditions in a big retreat. On Easter evening we left Pont Sainte-Maxence for an eighty-kilometre drive to Crèvecur-le-Grand, north of Beauvais.
While waiting for further orders we cantoned in Marseille-le-Petit, and on April 4 orders came to go to Essertaux, about midway between Amiens and Breteuil. In the sector we had rather difficult work, all of us being kept busy continually. The Médecin Divisionnaire of the 127th rewarded us by "Une Citation à l'Ordre du Jour." On April 11, we came again to Marseille-le-Petit for an indefinite stay, not being attached to one particular division, but serving with any which needed our aid. On April 23, orders came to move to Rumigny to aid in the defensive in the Bois de Hangard. Upon arrival in Rumigny, we were posted to Dury, thence to the Asile d'Aliénés, outside Amiens. Nothing can better describe the affair of Amiens than what I wrote on the spot.
"April 24. Berteaucourt and Domart. called out on service in the early morning and reported at the G.B.D. of the 131e D.I. to assist S.S.U. 575 in their work. Little idea could we have had of the tremendous work we were going to do. Eight cars were wrecked in the attack. At Domart yesterday morning, Charles Livermore was instantly killed, while going from the abri to prepare for a trip. The 140e D.I. called on us for aid to-day, necessitating five cars on service near Villers-Bretonneux."
On May 4, we are back again in Marseille-le-Petit, sobered by the tragedy through which we have just come. We leave tomorrow for the front, and henceforth we are to be attached to the 60e D.I.
On May 9, we relieved English Section 10 at Gannes, a little village directly in front of Montdidier. Here we had excellent accommodations, but work was continuous. The First Division (American) was on our immediate left.
In July, Lieutenant Rogers was replaced by Lieutenant H. G. Ford. In early August, a consciousness that something important was about to happen in our sector came over us, causing us all to prepare for any eventualities.
On August 10, we were the first American military organization to enter the city of Montdidier after the German occupation. August 11 found us in Faverolles, on the eastern side of Montdidier, with our outposts at Laboissière, Fescamps, and stone quarries indiscriminately scattered about the countryside. Our stay in this locality was featured by heavy, consistent work, and by annoyance from the retreating enemy, who tried to make the way as difficult as possible for the advancing Allies. On August 30, we were in Fignières for a day, and then moved back to the city of Montdidier for a repos. However, we did not stay there long, for on September 7, we arrived in Laboissière once again. Later, we moved to Avricourt, thus keeping up as rapidly as possible with the advance. Avricourt was situated midway on the Grand Route between Roye-sur-Avre and Noyon. While here, we worked outposts at Beaulieu-les-Fontaines and the Canal du Nord. Early on the morning of the 8th of September, we entered Frétoy-le-Château, on the eastern side of the Canal du Nord, having to cross the field and cross the canal almost in its bed. Postes were changing continually, and to a man the Section was busy working irrespective of time, food, or weather.
Soon after arriving in Avricourt, we moved our cantonment to Frétoy-le-Château, to stay one night or so, then moving on to Villeselve. While at these places, our regiments captured Nesle, Ham, and Guiscard. From Villeselve we quickly moved to Cugny, not far from the Canal Crozart, whence we could see Saint-Quentin. Here we discovered one of the emplacements of the "Gros Berthas" which did the long-distance firing.
Cugny remained our cantonment for a much longer time than we really had expected. Outposts were advancing rapidly by demi-kilometres until we were well up to the Hindenburg line. Following Cugny the Section had a rapid succession of cantonments, at Montescourt, Essigny-le-Grand, and Marcy, beyond Saint-Quentin on the main road to Guise. Here, after our gallant 60e D.I. had crossed the Oise and had maintained their positions there, we were relieved to be sent to the Vosges for a rest.
Not long after our arrival in Saint-Dié came news of the Armistice. Orders were immediately forthcoming for us to move into Alsace, which we did about the 15th and 17th of November. Though this convoy was of not a long distance, it took us several days to accomplish it, due to the technicalities of the German withdrawal from Alsatian soil. Passing through Provenchères and Saales, we made our first stop at Ville (Veiler). From there we went to Barr the next day, and two days following our arrival in Barr, on to Erstein-Schaeffersheim, twenty kilometres south of Strasbourg.
In the post-Armistice months the length and breadth of Alsace was ours to re-discover, of which opportunity we eagerly availed ourselves. December, January, and February passed for us in the rural community of Schaeffersheim. February brought vague rumors of going home, and finally we began our last trip. Early one morning, the 28th of February, we left Strasbourg for Paris by way of Saverne, Sarrebourg, Avricourt, Lunéville, Saint-Nicolas-du-Port, Nancy, Toul, Void, Ligny-en-Barrois, Saint-Dizier, Vitry-le-François, Châlons-sur-Marne, Épernay, La Ferté, and Meaux.
RALPH N. BARRETT*
*Of Boston, Massachusetts; Dartmouth, '18; entered the Field Service in July, 1917; served with Section Twelve and later in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
||BENJAMIN F. BUTLER, JR.|
||JOHN M. GRIERSON|
||FRANK X. LAFLAMME|
SECTION THIRTEEN left Paris in March, 1917, going first to the Champagne, where it took part in the great French offensive of April. In May the Section worked the poste at Mont Cornillet, where it received the first Army citation given to any Field Service Section. In June it moved to Sainte-Ménehould, thence to Verdun. It was working on the right bank of the Meuse when taken over by the American Army, becoming Section Six-Thirty-One.
Though desolation stain their foiled advance
SECTION THIRTEEN left Paris on March 4, 1917, twenty strong, each man in his car, with Bertwal C. Read, formerly of Section Eight, as our Chef. Two days later, we arrived at Châlons and pulled up in the square. Leaving our cars at one of the regimental parks, we hurried to a hot dinner arranged for us by our French Lieutenant, Pierre Emmanuel Rodocanachi, at the Hôtel de la Haute-Mère Dieu. It was a godsend to cold and uncomfortable novices at arnbulancing such as we were, and our spirits soared, when, in addition, it was announced that we were attached to the 169th Division of the French Army, which would leave the next day for the front. This, in fact, happened, and we reached Sainte-Ménehould at about six o'clock, where we learned that our billet was in a small town called Maffrecourt, about ten kilometres distant, to which we continued. Here for the first time the members of the Section heard the guns at the front. No sooner had we arrived than a call came in, and Sidney Colford, with a brancardier, went up to answer it. Thus, some sixty hours after leaving rue Raynouard, we carried our first blessés.
OUR sojourn at Maffrecourt, while not really a busy one, taught us the ropes. We had practice in driving at night without lights and we became acquainted with the methods of the French Army. One day in April our Division was moved. Twelve of our ambulances went up to our next stop at l'Épine, and the remainder of the cars took stations along the line of march to pick up men who developed sore feet or other injuries.
Leaving l'Épine, our next cantonment was Champigneul, where we remained a week or longer, awaiting orders and doing G.B.D. duty and a certain amount of evacuation to Châlons. At last came the welcome news that our Division was to move and take up what was to be its final position in the grand spring offensive, at Mont Cornillet. Our instructions were to have our cars in the finest possible condition, since it was expected by the general in command that there would be an opportunity to evacuate blessés over the ground that had been held by the Germans for such a long time. In fact, the Médecin Chef asked us if our cars would be capable of travelling over trenches and through ploughed fields. (He evidently did not know the Ford.) Thereupon we moved to Villers-Marmery where we were to be cantoned. It was the eve of General Nivelle's famous and disastrous attempt to break through the German lines in Champagne.
In Villers-Marmery the streets were so congested with troops and transport wagons that it was almost impossible to manuvre our cars. The first night there we parked our machines along a road next to what was to be our triage hospital, though our duties were not to begin for two more days. Sleeping-accommodations were of the crudest, some of us bunking in cars, while others found refuge in a leaky old barn recently evacuated by troops, but not by all forms of life. The fellows in the cars had the best time of it, as there was a cloud-burst that first night and the barn was very wet.
Dawn broke cold and damp. We spent the day arranging our permanent cantonment, which was in an old rooming-house on the outskirts of the town, and used before the war for employees of the champagne industry, Villers-Marmery being one of the centres of wine manufacture. The second night proved to be even worse than the first, and at about two o'clock in the morning the English section which was serving this town found that there were more blessés than they could handle and so routed us out to aid them. We travelled over roads in the inky blackness that none of us had ever traversed before.
OUR real work began the next day. We were to serve the postes of Thuizy, Prunay, Wez, and a dressing-station in the third-line trenches that we called the "Boyau." All of these postes were under severe shell-fire, as were the roads approaching them. In fact, the whole locality looked unhealthy.
All of our runs were in the neighborhood of Thuizy, which was a half-wrecked village, with French batteries situated all around it and in it. The poste de secours, an old château about the centre of the town, was really a beautiful structure. Some of its attractiveness, however, was lost because of its situation in the midst of batteries, which constantly drew the Boche fire. From Thuizy we ran up to Wez, a town in the immediate vicinity and even more perilous, where the poste de secours was movable, changing as it was blown up, which made it at times difficult to find.
Prunay was the prize of this trio of postes. It could be approached over a stretch of a kilometre and a half that had once been a road, but at that time was a series of interlocking shell-holes which changed in contour from day to day. When we got a call to this place, we went as far as the outskirts of Wez, stopped our cars, and, peering around a wall, would decide on our next step --- for at times it would have been impossible to make the run and escape alive. In such a case, the conducteur would sit down behind what cover he could find and wait. At other times, one could go right through. The poste itself was a dugout.
The "Boyau" was approached by a road that ran out from Thuizy for about three kilometres to a cross-road artillery observation post, called the "Pyramides," where, turning to the left for a distance of a kilometre and a quarter, it crossed two lines of old trenches and ended at a sap, fed from the third-line trench. Here was the dressing station. There was no cover for our cars, which were in sight of the Boches, who, however, never shelled us here, except on one or two occasions when the ambulanciers got too careless in wandering around the neighborhood, when there would be eventually a grand hegira for cover. In order not to risk losing all the cars by one unlucky shell, we made three groups of the seven cars assigned to the Boyau. The first of these groups consisted of three cars, parked on the outskirts of Thuizy; the second, of two cars, hidden in a belt of woods just before one reached the cross-roads; while the third consisted of two cars at the Boyau. It may be added, in passing, that at these postes five of our cars were actually hit.
THERE were, of course, a number of times when we had narrow escapes. One of the most spectacular of these occurred on the road from Thuizy to the Pyramides. One afternoon we, at the second poste, hearing arrivés in the direction of Thuizy, looked down the road and saw one of our ambulances coming up as fast as it could go. This stretch of road was very exposed, but up to that time the Boches had not shelled ambulances at this point. However, from the spectacle that greeted our eyes, it was evident that they had begun, for on both sides and behind the flying car were rising fountains of earth and smoke, approaching closer and closer to the speeding vehicle. Never was a car more anxious to be elsewhere. The scene was nearly as exciting for us as for the driver. It came closer and closer, until we could recognize the machine as that driven by Hines. We knew that if he could make the belt of trees where we were standing, he would be comparatively safe; but could he do it? When he was only about five hundred yards from safety and we were just congratulating ourselves and him on his escape, the car was suddenly enveloped in a cloud of smoke. It seemed certain that he had been hit, and a Frenchman standing with us exclaimed: " Fini --- mort pour la France." We were on the point of starting out to bring him in, when to our astonishment we saw the radiator and front wheels of the Ford come bounding through the swirling dust and smoke of the explosion, and a minute later Hines was with us.
IT was about the end of April that we saw the first segment of the French troops going up to open the great offensive in the Mont Cornillet sector of Champagne. These regiments were the flower of the attacking troops. They had been freshly recruited, equipped, and trained for this event which was to mean so much to France. Never had we seen men more fit or more ready for the work that was before them. Here was the situation: the Boches had retreated to this point after the Battle of the Marne, and for two and a half years had been entrenching themselves there. The objective was to dislodge them from these formidable positions and take the commanding hills, Mont Cornillet, Mont Haut, Mont Blanc, and the Casque. This would mean an advance of from three to seven kilometres over a terrain that seemed insuperable, as it had proved in former attacks. The particular objective assigned to the troops with which we were connected was the occupation of the far slope of Mont Cornillet, made more difficult by the fact that the crest was raked by an enfilading fire of hundreds of heavy guns.
Three days later, at two o'clock in the afternoon, the attack commenced, and by midnight the wounded began to arrive, at first in driblets, then more and more numerous. The next morning at eleven we received a message asking if we could spare five cars to the triage hospital at Pont d'Issu. This poste was served by a section of French ambulances, but there were more wounded than they could take care of. So five of us were assigned to this duty, which, on account of weather and road conditions, it was not easy to perform, for the route over which we were to transport our blessés was for the first three kilometres a sunken road running along a canal, and in a terrible condition, due to the heavy traffic of the past week and the constant rains. It was necessary to use low speed for this entire distance, and, even then, run as slowly as possible, to get your men through alive. The remaining seven kilometres were macadamized, and, with the usual bumps, choked day and night with three lines of camions, caissons, troops and all the other paraphernalia of war.
THE hospital itself beggared description. Rain had commenced to fall again and was drenching the wounded for whom there was no place in the three long buildings that constituted the hospital proper. Inside, the stretchers were laid so close that no inch was left uncovered, and it seemed hopeless for the doctors to try and do anything; they were simply swamped, while outside was still a long line of horse and motor ambulances waiting to be unloaded and then return to their postes de secours for more wounded. In front of one of the buildings was a group of a hundred or so suffering men, some standing, and others sprawled in the mud and water, poor fellows who had dragged themselves for five miles, some using their guns as crutches, others leaning for support on less severely wounded comrades. These men bore wounds of every kind, and, under normal conditions, many of them would have been stretcher cases. But on account of the congestion, every one who could stagger along had been forced to walk, and some of them had been waiting since the night before to be transported to the evacuation hospital, while more and more came hobbling in every moment. It was hard for us to believe that these shattered wrecks of humanity were the same men who had joked and laughed with us as they marched by a few hours before.
We set to work and toiled the rest of that day, that night, and the next day; but still the wounded came in, and it did not seem that we were making any impression on the mass. No one stopped for food in all this time. The doctors worked like machines, their eyes sunk in their heads, and they went about their task as if in a dream. As for us, it was just back and forth over those same ten kilometres. When loaded, we had for company the moans and screams of the poor soldiers behind us. Every unavoidable bump and depression on that terrible road wrung from their shattered bodies fresh agony, until it seemed that they could bear no more; and in fact, many of them did not, for too often, at the end of the run, one or more of the occupants of our cars had been released from his suffering by death.
As the second day drew to a close, the flood of wounded from the front diminished, fortunately, to a marked degree. But the triage itself was even more congested than when we first arrived. At about eight that evening, I stopped at the hospital long enough to snatch a bit of bread and meat. This was the first let-up that I had had, but there was no rest, with the appealing eyes of the occupants of that horror house fixed beseechingly on you, asking, as no words could, for the relief that we alone could give them. All that night our reeking cars continued their trips. It was always the same thing --- before your eyes stood the picture of those men waiting as they had been waiting for a day or more, and we able only to take a certain number and make comparatively few trips because of the need of gentleness. How we raced our cars back!
I SHALL never forget the dawn of the last day. Looking off toward the front, I could see the last star-shell curving up from the trenches, which meant the attack was still going on; that the important thing was the taking of the hill, that which I had been doing was nothing more than cleaning up the units which were out of it, and that this horrible suffering which I had seen was just a local, little thing, which had all been arranged for and would have no ultimate effect on the success or failure of the fight. It must require a certain hardness of heart, on the part of the Commanding General, to see all this and still continue to throw more and more men into the vortex of this hell from which these poor wounded ones had been spewed. And while my thoughts ran on thus, the guns continued to rumble, the ammunition went up to create more of the same havoc on the other side, lines of Boche prisoners under guard passed by, fresh troops went up along the road on the way to take the place of the men whom we had been bringing down, and still the mad attack continued. You could almost see the men throwing themselves against those concrete machine-gun defences that had not been shattered. That day the hill was taken, but at what cost!
I GO back a little chronologically to relate the following incident, which differs from most others in that it records my first witnessing of the wounding of soldiers. Of course, scenes like this have no great importance in themselves, yet remain in the memory because of a touch more personal than that of more stupendous events.
It was an April night in 1917. Section Thirteen was cantoned at Villers-Marmery, fronting Mont Cornillet in the Champagne, where it was our task to evacuate the triage hospital, located in an old winery, in sight of the Boches. We had ten cars on duty, and they were kept fairly busy because of the wounded from the attack of the night before. As evening came on, more and more wounded were brought in. There had been no shelling of the town during the day, but for the past three nights the Boches had been firing at it about twenty rounds regularly at two o'clock in the morning. As dusk fell on this particular day, we were wondering whether the performance would be repeated, which we thought would be the case, as these shameful brigands seemed to have an affinity for the neighborhood of the hospital. I "rolled" at ten o'clock with three couchés for La Veuve, our evacuation hospital. After leaving my blessés, I returned by way of our cantonment, and just as the engine stopped, I heard the first shell of the evening, which fell among the graves of the cemetery some twenty-five metres from the main entrance to the hospital, and directly behind me. I knew this because a gravestone went over my head.
The hospital presented much the same appearance as when I had left, except that the blessés who were not to be immediately removed had been placed in the cellar. The receiving-ward offered a quiet appearance, compared with the bedlam that was raging outside. The doctors, as is usual in the French army, when there is much to be done, were doing their duty with coolness and despatch, without regard to the fact that every minute might be their last. A tall, dark-bearded priest was accompanying the doctors. The French priests and Protestant ministers connected with the army take all risks and bring enormous comfort to the soldiers. They seem to feel that the power they represent protects them so that they need have no fear in ministering to the sufferings of the men. The blessés on the stretchers, on this occasion, were quiet, and there was little talking, so that one could hear the whistle of the arriving shell, followed by the detonation, louder or fainter according to its proximity.
While I was reporting to the Médecin Chef, there came a reverberating crash that fairly made the building shake. For a moment we thought that the hospital had been struck, but a man came in and reported that the shell had fallen across the street from the hospital in a courtyard where some men were sleeping. Four of us seized brancards and dashed over to find that the shell had pierced the wall of the court, bursting on the inside, where two men had been sleeping under the protection of the wall at this place, both of whom were severely wounded. In placing one of them on a stretcher, one of his legs came off in our hands, and, in the excitement of the moment, some one put the leg back, with the foot next to his head. I shall never forget the gruesome picture which that stretcher presented when we set it down under the electric light of the operating-room. This poor chap, I may add, died before they could operate on him, while the other, though badly shot up, was evacuated successfully.
BENJAMIN F. BUTLER, JR.*
*Of New York City; New Mexico State College, '16; served as driver and Sous-Chef of Section Thirteen from March, 1917; later a Sergeant in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
Minaucourt, March 11, 1917
WE are on duty here for twenty-four hours, ending tomorrow at noon. I am writing this in our dugout by the light of an acetylene lamp on a very dirty table in the midst of some French doctors and stretcher-bearers. The dugout is in the side of a valley a kilometre or two back of the lines, that side of the valley toward H.M. the enemy. On the other side, just opposite us, is a French battery which is being shelled occasionally, so that the Boche shells pass whining over us, not very far overhead, ,as we are nearly at the top of our side of the hill.
I AM writing in the front of my car, as the concussion of the French guns opposite, which are coming back a bit now, kept putting out the lamp inside. Our cars, four of them, are lined up in front of the dugout. There was once a village on this spot, but the houses are now all torn to bits, with great jagged holes in the walls and gaping roofs. Opposite is the church, or rather what is left of it. One side is torn away, the steeple hangs over to one side, every window is smashed, and altogether it is a very pathetic sight.
WE slept last night, the four of us, on stretchers in the dugout, which could n't have held another object, except perhaps a little more smoke up near the roof. I was first on call, and in the midst of a delightful snooze, I heard the telephone bell tinkle faintly. One can sleep perfectly well with a battery of howitzers working overtime out
THE night of May 25 was our worst moment, and the Section seems to have set a record for carrying the most wounded in the shortest time. We "rolled" with fifteen hundred of them in those twenty-four hours, over an average trip of ten kilometres --- Germans, Africans, and Algerians, but mostly poilus. Two of our chaps, Thompson and Cassadv, were wounded. In the early morning, our French Lieutenant, Pierre Rodocanachi, who throughout the long night had personally directed the loading of the cars, was struck by a large fragment of shell. Although seriously wounded, he insisted on continuing his task until the congestion of wounded was cleared, he being carried to the hospital with the last load. His leg was so seriously affected that it had to be amputated. About 4 A.M. when I rolled back to the poste, was the crowning moment of the night's work. A shell had gone through the roof of the dugout and exploded on the floor in the midst of the doctors, stretcher-bearers, and a few blessés waiting for a car. There was a regimental priest with me whom I had picked up on the way, and we broke in the door, blocked with débris. Pushing in, we were almost choked by the powder and smell of things burning. The priest flashed a light, and by its uncertain glow we could distinguish a terrible mess of wreckage and bodies. Two or three poor chaps were conscious and were begging for help. It was the most horrible thing I have ever seen. We got them out as best we could and laid them beside the road, and then I took down two who were still alive just as Brownlee Gauld, the chap who was working the poste with me at the time, came up.
YESTERDAY, four of us in the Section were publicly decorated with the Croix de Guerre, for various deeds done in the Moronvillers attack. The pinning-on was done by General GOURAUD, the hero of the Dardanelles. The, to us, momentous event took place in a meadow about three miles behind the lines, and we, together with some French officers and soldiers to be decorated, stood within a hollow square formed by about fourteen hundred soldiers, and with the French colors behind us. And there were bands and prancing horses and the flashing swords of the officers, and the fourteen hundred bayonets glinting and glittering in the sun as the soldiers were put through the manual of arms before the ceremony.
We four stood together in a row, and General GOURAUD decorated us one after the other, shaking hands and saying a few words to each of us after he had pinned on the medal. And while he was pinning it on, there was absolute silence all over the place, every rifle presented and each officer's sword at his chin. When the General had ended his little speech to us, the band broke into a bar of the "Marseillaise," which was the most impressive moment of all. And then the veteran ---he had only one arm, one leg, and a padded chest, to say nothing of three rows of medals on his breast --- would pass on to the chap next to you, leaving you struggling hard to keep looking straight ahead and not down to see if "it" was really there.
MEN don't go down a road where they see shells landing in order to admire a château at the other end, or to show how smoothly their car rides, but if there is something to be done at the end of that road, there has never been a man in the Section who balked at his turn. The chap that "wins the marbles" is he who can come in after a particularly bad day and night and take the trip of somebody else who is worse off than he is, though, when your nerves are on the ragged edge, you don't feel physically like taking on what is not absolutely necessary. And the camaraderie is great, too. If after three days' rolling, there is a jam on the road, and somebody yells out to you, "For God's sake, pull your wheel over," and asks, "Why in the name of hell's bells don't you keep on your side of the road?" you don't get mad, for you know c'est la guerre! But the fellows who come in for the butt end of this sort of language are the outriders on the artillery caissons who rake off your lamps, and the fat cooks on the soup-kitchens, who will not move over.
THE General Staff of the Fourth Army was evidently satisfied with Section Thirteen's little part in this great battle, for they have awarded it an Army citation --- not a Divisional or Corps citation, which would have been honor enough, but a citation in the orders of the Army itself, entitling the section flag to a Croix de Guerre with palm. It is the first such award that has ever been made to any American ambulance section. The citation reads as follows:
Bureau du Personnel
Au G.Q.G. le 29 Juin, 1917
LE Général Gouraud, Commandant la 4 e Armée, cite à l'Ordre de l'Armée la Section Sanitaire Automobile Américaine No. 13:
"Sous les ordres du sous-lieutenant Rodocanachi, a assuré pendant l'offensive d'Avril et Mai, 1917, le service des évacuations dans un secteur fréquemment bombardé. Les conducteurs américains ont fait preuve de la plus grande endurance, de courage, et de sang-froid, notamment le 25 Mai au cours de la relève et du transport des blessés sous un bombardement meurtrier."
JOHN M. GRIERSON*
*Of New York City; entered Field Service, February, 1917, serving with Section Thirteen, and later as a First-Class Sergeant, U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
IT was while we were attached to the 60th Division of French Infantry that we were taken over, on September 17, 1917, by the U.S. Army. This took place at Billy-le-Grand, in Champagne. The last of September, we moved to Jalons-les-Vignes, in Champagne, and then to Belrupt, in the Verdun region, with work at the Carrière d'Haudromont in October. We were shortly detached from the 60th Division, and moved to Issoncourt. This took place in the first part of November.
On November 18 we moved to Condé-en-Barrois, where we were attached to the 63d Division, and on December 4, moved to the Verdun sector, near Côte 344 and Côte du Poivre. Our postes were at Vacherauville, Carrière des Anglais, Bras, and La Fourche. On January 20 we moved back to Condé-en-Barrois, and in the last days of January to Pierrefitte, near Saint-Mihiel. During the first week in February we moved to Triaucourt, and on the 25th of that month to the Argonne, in the sector of La Harazée and the Four de Paris. We were cantoned in Sainte-Ménehould for a few days, and later in Florent. In March, we took a sector to our right, with postes called "La Chalade" and "Chardon."
On June 18 we moved to the Commercy sector, near Saint-Mihiel, with the 34th Division. We relieved a French ambulance section, which went to our old 63d Division. On August 1, we went to Sorcy, near Commercy. It was during the middle of August that we took a four-day convoy up to Amiens, and, with the 34th Division took over the lines at Lihons and Rosières-en-Santerre during the Somme-Aisne offensive. We followed the advance as far as Saint-Quentin. Then came repos for a week near Amiens. We worked at the H.O.E. at Hattencourt this week. A week later, in the first part of October, we moved up to Saint-Quentin for the continuation of the Somme-Oise offensive. We followed this as far as Guise, where we were when the Armistice was declared. The Division left the lines, and went under orders to Paris, and we followed the march, via Mont d'Origny, Breteuil, Beauvais, Dieudonné, Montlignon, and Clichy. On February 11 we were given orders to go to Base Camp, en route for home.
FRANK X. LAFLAMME*
*Of Manchester, New Hampshire; New Hampshire State University; joined Section Thirteen in June, 1917; subsequently served in the U.S. Army Ambulance Service with French Army during the war.
1. Henry H. Houston, 2d, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; University of Pennsylvania; who after America entered the war, became a Lieutenant in the U.S. Field Artillery and was killed in August, 1918.
2. Philip Phillips Benney, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; joined the Field Service in January, 1917; served with Section Twelve until July, 1917; subsequently entered the French Aviation Service and was killed in an air battle in February, 1918.
3. Harry Worthington Craig, of Cleveland, Ohio; University of Wisconsin, '19; went to the front with Section Twelve, remaining with it until July, 1917; he was later in American Aviation and was killed in action in August, 1918.
4 Waller Lisle Harrison, junior, of Lebanon, Kentucky; Oberlin, '19; joined the Field Service in February, 1917, and served in Sections Twelve and Three until November, 1917; subsequently joined the U.S. Aviation Service and was killed in an accident in October, 1918
5. Theodore Raymond Frutiger of Morris, Pennsylvania; served with Section Twelve from June to August, 1917; subsequently entered the R.O.T.C. where he died at Camp Colt, Gettysburg on April 19, 1918.
Table of Contents