History of the
American Field Service in France
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917, TOLD BY ITS MEMBERS
___THE STORY OF THE RESERVE MALLET
Winding down through the sleeping town,
*Of Scipio, Indiana; Hanover College, '17; served three months in the Field Service with T.M.U. 184; subsequently with the U.S.M.T.C.
And I am strong to love this noble France,
This poet of the nations, who dreams on
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
LORSQU'AU moment même de l'entrée en guerre des États-Unis, j'ai demandé à M. Piatt Andrew l'aide de l'Américain Field Service, pour encadrer de nouvelles sections de transport de matériel, j'étais sûr que j'obtiendrais l'acquiescement des volontaires du Service dès qu'ils sauraient que c'était là qu'ils pouvaient rendre le plus grand service à la France. Notre Service Automobile avait à ce moment un déficit en conducteurs d'autant plus inquiétant qu'il fallait, à tout prix, augmenter nos moyens de transport, pour être sûr de répondre aux besoins des armées qui partaient à l'attaque.
Moins d'une semaine après ma demande un groupe de volontiers qui avait quitté leurs études en Amérique pour s' engager dans les sections sanitaires de l'A.F.S., acceptaient volontiers de devenir conducteurs de camions, sachant qu'ils allaient rencontrer des rudes difficultés, mais qu'ils seraient immédiatement utiles à la cause commune. La première section entrait en service en Mai, 1917. Trois mois après, huit cent conducteurs de l'A.F.S. encadraient quatorze sections et notre Réserve de Transports Américains était fondée.
Les services qu'elle a rendus par la suite sont connus de tous. C'est elle qui a assuré la plus grosse part des transports de munitions, au moment des attaques heureuses qui portèrent la 6e Armée sur l'Ailette. En mars, en mai, en juillet, 1918, elle s'est trouvée à la place où il y avait le plus de travail à fournir, et l'a fourni. Il faut citer des faits: du 27 Mai au 9 Juin, 1918, les deux groupements, 8 et 9, ont transporté quinze mille tonnes des munitions et matériels et onze mille hommes avec un parcours moyen journalier de cent-vingt mille kilomètres. On doit en conclure que dans cette période de douze jours, si grave pour nous, les conducteurs de ces groupements ont eu à peine quelques heures de repos. Depuis l'offensive en Juillet, la Réserve n'a pas cessé d'apporter sans arrêt à nos troupes, jusqu'aux premières lignes, les vivres et les munitions qui leur ont permis de poursuivre leurs succès. On a pu dire, et je crois le fait vrai, que la Réserve Mallet a transporté plus d'obus que toute l'Armée Américaine en a tiré pendant la guerre.
Partout, les conducteurs américains de la Réserve se sont faits remarquer par leur endurance et leur belle attitude dans les circonstances critiques et sous le feu. De nombreuses marques d'estime l'attestent.
Au premier rang du personnel des conducteurs de la Réserve Mallet, devenus des militaires réguliers américains, se trouvent les anciens volontiers de l'A.F.S. Cent vingt d'entre eux sont devenus officiers, les autres sont, pour la plupart, sous-officiers. Tous ont tenu largement l'engagement d'honneur qu'ils avaient pris vis-à-vis de l'Armée Française comme volontaires de l'A.F.S. et ont donné l'exemple du courage et du dévouement.
Je suis heureux de leur en apporter aujourd'hui le témoignage. Je me rapellerai toujours avec fierté que je les ai eus sous mes ordres pendant la Grande Guerre, et qu'ils ont été à la hauteur de toutes les tâches qui leur ont été confiées.
Directeur du Service Automobile
Ministère de la Guerre
When, at the moment of the entrance of the United States into the war, I asked of Mr. A. Piatt Andrew the aid of the American Field Service .in forming some new transport sections, I was sure I should obtain the consent of the volunteers of this Service when they knew that they could there render service of the most necessary sort to France. Our Automobile Service at that time was deficient in drivers, so seriously deficient, in fact, that it was necessary to increase, at any price, our means of transport, in order that we might be sure of responding to the needs of the armies which were about to assume the offensive.
Less than a week after my request, a group of volunteers who had left their studies in America to enlist in the ambulance sections of the American Field Service, voluntarily agreed to become camion drivers, knowing that they would be confronted with great difficulties, but that they would be immediately useful to the common cause. The first Section entered the Service in May, 1917. Three months afterward, 800 American Field Service drivers formed the personnel of fourteen Sections, and our American Transport Reserve was established.
The service which they have rendered since is known to every one. It was they who effected the greater part of the transport of munitions during the successful attack which carried the Sixth Army over the Ailette. In March, in May, and in July, 1918, they were found in the sectors where there was the most work to do, and they did it. A few facts may be cited: from May 27 to June 9, Groupements 8 and 9 transported 15,000 tons of munitions and materials, and 11,000 men, with a daily average of 120,000 kilometres in total for all the cars. One can well believe that during this period of twelve days, so grave for us, the drivers of these groupements had scarcely any rest. Since the offensives of July, the Réserve has not ceased to carry to our troops, as far as the first lines, the food and munitions which enabled them to follow up their successes. It has been said, and I think it probable, that the Réserve Mallet has carried more shells than the entire American Army fired during all the war.
Everywhere the drivers of the Réserve have distinguished themselves by their endurance and their fine bearing in critical circumstances and under fire. The number of testimonials of appreciation which they have received shows this.
In the first ranks of the drivers of the Réserve Mallet who became soldiers in the American Regular Army, will be found the former volunteers of the A.F.S. One hundred and twenty of them became officers, and the others are for the most part non-commissioned officers. All have more than kept the voluntary agreement which they made with the French Army as members of the A.F.S., and they have furnished an example of courage and devotion.
I am glad to attest to these facts to-day. I shall always remember with pride that I have had them under my orders during the Great War and that they were equal to every task that was committed to them.
Director of the Automobile Service
Ministry of War
ON one of the first days in April, 1917, immediately after America's entry into the war, Commandant Doumenc, the head of the Automobile Service of the French Army, asked us by telephone from the French General Headquarters whether, in addition to the ambulance drivers, American volunteers could not be secured to help in the work of transporting munitions and material for the French armies.
He said that at that moment the ranks of the Automobile Service were seriously depleted; that they lacked some seven thousand drivers to meet the current requirements, and that a large proportion of the remaining personnel consisted of old men who were scarcely fitted for the arduous and sustained effort incumbent upon them, and who at the same time were greatly needed in their homes, after nearly three years' absence, to cultivate their farms and to keep going the industrial life of the country.
He proposed, if we could help him with men, to turn over to an American personnel one of the great automobile reserves whose functions were to assist the armies in regions of heavy offensive and defensive operations, and in fact he proposed to turn over a particular reserve which had already made a record of serious accomplishment in the Battle of Verdun and elsewhere, under the command of an efficient and tactful officer who understood Americans and spoke their language. He said if the American Field Service really wanted to help France, it could not render greater service than by contributing to the plan which he had outlined.
For more than two years the Field Service had been serving the French divisions with ambulance sections conducted by American volunteers using material furnished by American donors. The number of volunteers was constantly multiplying as interest in America's participation in the war increased and as the Field Service became better known throughout the States. The Field Service had always responded within the limits of its modest capacity to every request that had been made upon it. Since April, 1915, it had furnished an ever-increasing number of ambulance sections to the French divisions serving on the French front. In the prolonged and terrible Battle of Verdun, during the preceding year, a very large proportion of the sanitary transport from the front-line postes had been performed by its sections. In the autumn of 1916, in response to a special request, two ambulance sections with double equipment had been sent to the Balkans to serve with the French armies in Albania and northern Greece. We had come to France to help in whatever way we could. The motto which headed all of our circulars was, "Tous et tout Pour la France." Here was a new request for help, a new opportunity for service. Only one reply was possible. We would do what we could to meet the exigency that Commandant Doumenc had formulated.
The following week a fresh contingent arrived from America, a group of volunteers recruited at Cornell as an ambulance section. The situation was explained to them, and to a man they agreed to put aside their original intention and to respond to the new call. A few days later, May 8, 1917, the Cornell unit embarked for the hastily organized training-camp in the forest of Dommiers near Soissons, and the Reserve Mallet, as a Franco-American unit serving with the French Army, was born.
Commandant Mallet, the French officer to whom the French General Headquarters had entrusted the direction of this unique experiment, in welcoming the first contingent upon its arrival at the front, expressed the need which it was destined to fill, and the appreciation which the French Army felt, in the following words:
Volunteers from the United States of America:
I am happy to greet the free citizens of a free country who have crossed the ocean to help France in the bitter war she has been waging for almost three years. I hope you all feel how grateful we are that you have left your homes to share our hardships and dangers. I understand that, although your agreement was originally intended for the ambulance service, you have consented to drive the American motor trucks used for the transport of supplies.
You must expect plenty of hard work, rough work, even perilous work, with very little bodily comfort. But all of you are healthy young fellows, and don't you find it fitting that you should enable us to dismiss our oldest drivers? Some of them are forty-eight years old. Their women-folk and children stand in great need of them, and so do their fields, now three years untilled.
Men and bread are the things we most want to win this war. The ploughmen you release will get us the bread; the men America sends us will drive through our army the rich new blood we need and hasten our victory over a powerful but dishonorable foe.
So help us God!
Long live the United States of America!
A week later a group of younger lads who had not yet entered college, arrived from Andover Academy, also intending to drive ambulances. They heard the story and followed the example of the men from Cornell. The third week a unit came from Dartmouth; then in quick succession, units from the University of California, from Marietta College, and from other American centres. They responded with equal generosity to the new appeal of the armies of France. During the spring and summer of 1917 more than eight hundred American Field Service volunteers thus entered the French transport service. A new training-camp was quickly opened at Chavigny, near Longpont, and after a brief training, partly military, partly technical, under the direction of French officers, the new volunteer recruits quickly took over some two hundred heavy trucks from the three French transport groups at Jouaignes, and soon thereafter other Field Service volunteers took over an almost equal number of trucks from the groups at Soissons. Within two months the Franco-American T.M. (Transport-Matériel) Service was an assured success, carrying most of the ammunition and trench material from the railheads on the Soissons-Fismes road to the Chemin des Dames front, where one of the most formidable offensives of the war was in preparation. In the autumn of 1917, the American Army, then beginning to arrive in France, consented to adopt the Service. Many of the volunteer drivers, in order that the work might not be interrupted, enlisted in the American Army. Many of the volunteer officers were given commissions. The formation, initiated as a volunteer organization, thus became an official American adjunct of the French Army, and, subsequently much enlarged by contingents of troops from the United States, it continued to serve with the French Army.
It is well that the story should be known of the beginning of this unique organization of Americans which was destined to render valiant service to the French armies in most of the great battles of the last two years of the war. As volunteers they played an important role during 1917 in the victory of the Chemin des Dames, and their successors rendered essential help in the great battles in 1918, of Picardy, the Somme, Soissons, Villers-Cotterets, the Marne, and the Champagne, which achieved the final defeat of the Germans.
Except for the volunteers of the spring and summer of 1917, the Réserve Mallet as an American factor in the French Army would in all probability never have existed. To the old T.M. volunteers, therefore, from Cornell, Andover, California, Dartmouth, Marietta, Tufts, Princeton, Yale, and other American universities, be the honor that is their due. Their work was hard and often carried to the limit of human endurance. It sometimes seemed to the participants inglorious and uninspiring. But those who observed them, either by day or in the blackness of night, patiently and laboriously worming their heavy cars through endless clouds of dust and the teeming traffic of war, and who realized how frequently such convoys were the special objectives of the enemy's fire, regarded their work very differently. These men and boys were giving the most gruelling service that any American volunteers were giving to France. They were giving it cheerfully and self-forgetfully. And, by so doing, they were not merely helping in the offensive then under way, but they were creating an American auxiliary destined to continue helping the armies of France until long after the last gun had been fired in the Great War.
The service that they rendered and the devotion that they displayed were deeply appreciated by the officers of those armies, as was evidenced by many marks of esteem and grateful tributes. Some of these will be cited in the pages that follow, but here I shall quote only two. Commandant Mallet in an address to the men assembled in the Y.M.C.A. hut at Jouaignes on the evening of October 9, 1917, just before the Chemin des Dames offensive, expressed his feeling about their work in these words: "Whatever service you are destined to go into in the future, whatever deeds you may be called to do, whatever blows you may have to strike, be assured that never will your energies have been more usefully employed than in your present work of self-sacrifice and devotion to a noble cause."
And when the work of the volunteers of the Reserve Mallet was over, Commandant Doumenc, the head of the whole French Automobile Service, wrote from the French General Headquarters: "I shall ever recall with pride that I had them in my command during the Great War, for they were equal to every task that was entrusted to them."
A. PIATT ANDREW
March 8, 1919
THE RÉSERVE MALLET, for which the men of the Field Service volunteered to supply drivers, has as interesting and as vivid a history as any transport organization in any of the allied armies. The organization as a French unit had been brought together in the spring of 1916; but many of the groupes which composed the organization had been in service since the First Battle of the Marne, and had served faithfully at Verdun and the Somme. The formation of ten Réserves (of which the Réserve Mallet was known as Number 3) was the last step in the evolution of the French Automobile Service into what was recognized as the most efficient Motor Transport Corps in the war. A system allotting a certain amount of transportation for the ordinary needs of the army was drawn up, and all other available transportation was grouped into organizations known as Réserves, which should be used wherever there was heavy fighting, and consequently a need for increased transportation. Thus the Réserves were a sort of auxiliary combat unit, moved from front to front as occasion required.
Briefly, the mechanical make-up of the Réserve was as follows: A central headquarters whose function was purely administrative, under which were three units known as Groupements, and each of which in turn was comprised of three groupes, of four sections each. The function of the groupements was a combination of administration and execution in that the groupements each operated a repair shop of some size. The groupes were the units of execution: that is, the units to which the orders were finally submitted to be carried out. Each groupe also maintained an atelier, or repair shop, to attend to minor repairs. Just as the Réserve was known by the name of the commanding officer, so were the groupements and groupes --- the official military number being seldom used.
In all, the personnel of a Réserve was about 2500 men, with about 700 cargo trucks and additional repair shop, wrecking, and supply trucks, more than 100 touring cars, and numerous motor-cycles.
The first Americans who came to the Réserve Mallet were those volunteers of the American Field Service who arrived in the spring of 1917, within a month after America had declared war. These men, called by the French the "First American Belligerents," were recruited on an appeal by Commandant Doumenc, head of the French Automobile Service, to the members of the American Field Service, through Lieutenant-Colonel A. Piatt Andrew. In all, about 800 of these men, who had crossed the Atlantic expecting to drive ambulances, responded to the appeal.
They manned one groupement completely, and one groupe of another. The groupement taken over was No. 9, or Groupement Périssée, which consisted of the Groupes Genin, T.M. 526, Erhardt, T.M. 133, and Meyer, T.M. 184, all located at Jouaignes, Aisne, about eight kilometres south of Braisne, and within sight of the famous Chemin des Dames which figured so prominently in the life of this Service a little later. The first section to arrive in the field was composed mostly of Cornell men. They went to the Groupe Genin, which was the first to be filled. They relieved, as did the sections to follow, elderly Frenchmen who had not seen their homes in many months and were almost too old for useful service. The trucks were Pierce-Arrow five-ton, which had seen hard work and many of which should also have been put on the retired list.
Thus, these young Americans took up this unromantic life of camion drivers. Lying on their backs squirting grease guns, while large flakes of oily mud fell into their eyes, was not at all what their idea of war had been while in the States. At first it was necessary to be sure the men knew how to drive, for the schooling had been very brief at Dommiers and Chavigny. This gave the men time to get acquainted with the town they were in.
Jouaignes was a typical French town, all the houses being built along one main street. The Groupe Genin camped in barracks on the north side of the town, while the Groupes Erhardt and Meyer lived in remorques (or trailers) placed in the fields just south. Life in camp, which was not of the most exciting nature, consisted of the greasing and cleaning of trucks, baseball and what other outdoor sports could be organized quickly, and at night a promenade down the street, stopping at Madame "Tabac's" or any other poste de secours where all the seats or benches were not taken. Drinking-water had to be brought several kilometres, and was very scarce, so that by evening there was a terrible thirst to be quenched.
The men were fed the regular French Army ration: for breakfast, chocolat, pain, et café; for lunch, soup, salad, and beans; for dinner, soup, beans, and salad. This, however, was helped out by an allowance from the Field Service which made the subsistence very fair. A cup of pinard for each man each meal was allowed, but at first this was popular only with a few. The only other form of recreation arrived about the last of July, in the form of "Brother" Harmon, Y.M.C.A., who was later assisted by John Mott, Jr. Isolated as we were from things American, it took much labor for Harmon to secure the large tent which he erected in back of the maison brûlé; where he had shows produced by local talent, and movies, sold tobacco (which about this time was getting pretty scarce), and kept a phonograph well wound up and oiled. Any of the Americans who were connected with the Reserve Mallet at any time during the war will tell you that the Y.M.C.A. came through.
Being settled in camp, and having learned the location of the ninety-odd grease cups which the PierceArrow boasts, the sections were now ready for their "trucking to the trenches." As has been pointed out, Section A was mostly Cornell men, while Section B was mostly Andover, Section C mostly Dartmouth, Section D miscellaneous. This composed the Groupe Genin. Section E was composed mostly of California men; Section F, mostly of Princeton men, and were with the Groupe Erhardt. The three other college units were with the Groupe Meyer. G was mostly Dartmouth; H was mostly Tufts; and I mostly Marietta, while Section M was made up mostly of a unit from Buffalo. This filled the groupement at Jouaignes, and the remainder of the men were sent to Soissons, where the Groupe Hémart was located.
The chefs, or commanders of each section, were Americans picked from among the volunteers, as were the two sergeants and two corporals. The first sergeant was called the guide; the other sergeant was the serre-file, or file-closer, and acted as mechanic while on convoy. The two corporals were just plain gradés, or non-coms, and were given the hard jobs around the camp to execute. The cooks and mechanics in the ateliers were all French, as were all the officers above the chefs of sections. All commanding officers of all units in the Réserve larger than sections were French captains, each having several lieutenants under him, these latter playing the rôles of instructors for the Americans. Each groupe had its official "T.M." number which was never used. "T.M." stood for "Transport Matériel" and therein we have an explanation of the nature of the work performed. It was to carry any kind of material needed in the war, at any time, to any place. Inasmuch as Soissons and the Chemin des Dames were the points in the line nearest Paris, it was here that the greatest activity on any front in 1917 occurred.
Now, war material may consist of almost anything, as these volunteer conducteurs found out. Can you imagine anything more uninteresting to these men than driving into a parc, on a hot day, and waiting for a French corvée of old men to load their trucks? Nothing could ever hurry one of these loading crews except a shell landing in their midst; but there again the result would be disastrous, for they always hurried for an abri and would not resume work until they were sure such a thing would not re-occur.
The following is a list of some of the material hauled.
barbed wire, woven wire for beds, wire frames, iron and wooden pickets, I-beams, plain wire, trench walks, sheet iron, mine triangles, observation posts, abris, gallery frames, trench sides, cross-braces, lathes, bridge planks, small beams, cardboard, logs, roofing paper, lime, cement, and sandbags.
Infantry: rifle, machine gun, and revolver.
Cannon: "37's," "75's," "105's," "155's," and "220's."
Powder and fuses for the above calibre cannon, except " 75's," which were self-contained.
Grenades, signal rockets, star-shells, bombs, and mines.
camouflage, light railways and cars, gasoline, trailers, picks, shovels, iron and pontoon bridges, salvage, sand, rock, dissembled barracks, nails, tools, hardware, empty shells and cases.
Orders for convoys usually came in at night, were always in French, and gave all data pertaining to time and place of loading. They were also supposed to tell place of unloading, but many times this was very indefinite and it was left to the chef of the section to find and take the convoy there. The number of cars on any convoy varied, and might be from one to eighteen. Thus one section consisting of eighteen trucks might be split into several parts. The loading was usually done during the day, but the unloading had to be figured so that convoys would not pass over exposed roads in daylight.
But even the most unromantic could not say that this camion service did not have its thrills. Shells did arrive close enough to most of them to get them thoroughly shell-broken. Night driving without lights in heavy traffic of swearing French troops, rolling kitchens, artillery, ambulances, and other trucks, had its difficulties --- such as broken radiators and dashboards. Feeling their way around the unloading parcs at Soupir and Villers-en-Prayères at night, perhaps in a thunderstorm, or with a few arrivées now and then, was the camion drivers' familiar experience. For this we received from the French Army five sous a day.
Probably most of the work done by the Réserve was carrying "75's." These were the shells for the famous French soixante-quinze guns, and were packed in wooden cases containing nine shells each. It took fourteen trucks to carry a "lot" of "75's " --- twelve trucks carrying fifty-one cases each, the thirteenth truck fifty-two cases, and the last truck the "fuses" or timers.
The territory worked over was from Soissons to a few kilometres west of Reims, usually loading at some park on the Route Nationale, and unloading near the Chemin des Dames. In this way we all became familiar with many places that figure prominently in the history of the war. Soissons, Reims, Compiègne, Bucy-le-Long, Soupir, Vailly, Bazoches, Craonne, Fère-en-Tardenois, Château-Thierry, Villers-Cotterets, La Ferté-Milon were all well known to Field Service men. There were also places not on the military map where there was no work to be done, but which were explored by means of sub-rosa tours.
The first real taste of war began July 23, 1917, when the army of the Crown Prince attacked on the Craonne Plateau. This called for lively night work for a time, and many trips to Villers-en-Prayères. Many a truck has rivalled the best roller-coaster in the world by coasting down the long hill north of Fismes. After this engagement began the preparation by the French for their famous drive on the Chemin des Dames, in October, 1917. During this drive it was estimated that if all the guns used were lined up side by side, there would have been one every four yards along a front of twelve kilometres. It is to the men of the American Field Service that the credit is due for having hauled, by official figures, every one of the more than one million shells fired in this battle, in addition to the thousands of tons of truck material used. It was during this battle that several of the men in the service were given the Croix de Guerre, and one the Médaille Militaire. These incidents and many more are touched upon in later articles.
In order to prepare the chefs of sections for their work, they were sent during the summer and fall to the automobile officers' school in Meaux. This has been so well described in a letter of R. A. Browning of Cornell that it is unnecessary for me to duplicate it:
Eighteen of us, chosen from the various Field Service sections for this wonderful school, are now here. It has been open since the beginning of the war; but, up to a few weeks ago, only French officers were trained here. The school is on the barracks style and is strictly military in its routine, but, as to equipment, it is ideal and has a great reputation for efficiency. There are five weeks of work; and those who pass the course will obtain commissions in the Field Service; or, if the United States takes over the Service, American graduates from Meaux will probably get commissions in our Army.
The school is located just outside this very beautiful city. Each session lasts five weeks, and is usually full to capacity. There are 150 Frenchmen here; but our work being in English, we have our own barracks, study-rooms, and shops. The camp consists of one big office and supply building, 80 feet by 20 feet, one dining-room to accommodate 200 men --- the meals are good --- and eight barracks 80 feet by 20 feet. We have one of these. At the end of it is a washroom, then two rows of beds ---ten on a side; and, next, a partition with a door leading into our lecture-study room, which is about 20 feet by 30 feet, arranged with blackboards, long tables, and benches. Here we listen to lectures on the technique of the automobile, the organization of the French Army, with particular reference to the automobile service, topography and map reading, and practice in the same; lectures on the organization of automobile units, on sanitation, food, care of men, duties of an officer in respect to his work and his men, convoy and road work, etc., etc. Then there is a big amphitheatre which seats the entire camp, and where are given lectures on engine mechanics, etc.; and three long shops containing automobiles and parts of every kind used in the French Army, where we get practical training in the taking to pieces of machines, any part of which we are required to draw, after which we reassemble the machines and put them in working order. There, too, we get lectures on shop practice, demonstrations in welding, soldering, brazing, general repairs, etc., the aim being to give the men who are to officer units or sections the knowledge essential to enable them to perform their task most efficiently. Every other day, we go out on a road trip and have practice in the handling of convoy service. Each man gets a turn as officer of the day, and takes full charge of the doings in camp during his day on. The other days, we drill; and each has a turn at handling the unit on the march. We are up at 5 A.M.; breakfast at 6; and then lectures, shop, drill, or convoy until 6 in the evening. After supper until 10 is the study hour. There are notes to copy, drawings to make, etc., etc., so that I can truthfully say that I have never put in such long hours, which, though long, are most profitable and interesting, exceedingly intense and thoroughly practical.
The Field Service groups in the Réserve Mallet began to break up about October 1, 1917, when the American Army sent men up to enlist as many of the men as possible. Those who did enlist, about three hundred in all, were sent to Soissons, from which base they worked until the Germans retook the Chemin des Dames, and drove the Allies back to the Marne. The remainder continued to work from Jouaignes until November, when their agreement with the French Army terminated. Some returned to America to enlist in the American Army in other branches of the Service, while others found openings in Paris. A few enlisted in the French Artillery and were later commissioned.
Of the three hundred who enlisted in the Motor Transport Corps, over one hundred were commissioned. Some stayed with the Réserve Mallet, which in February was filled up with men from the regular United States Army. Others were sent to headquarters of the Motor Transport Corps at Tours, while the remainder formed a nucleus of the teaching staff at the United States Army Transport School at Decize.
In 1918 the Réserve, under its old Field Service officers, established a record better than any ever made by a similar service in any of the allied armies. They served in eight of the twelve major engagements officially recognized by the American Army. (At this time the Réserve consisted of two groupements of Americans, one less than the usual number.)
More shells were fed to the French and American 3-inch guns that blasted the Germans off the Marne, the Vesle, and the Oise, by the organization than by any other of its size in France. Between June 6 and November 11, 1918 (when the Armistice was signed), the American drivers alone hauled more than 6,000,000 shells of all varieties to the guns. In addition they also hauled 23,488 tons of infantry ammunition and thousands of troops. This hauling did not mean transferring from one dépôt to another; it meant hauling from the railhead to the guns themselves. (New York Herald, Continental Edition.)
It is said that the Reserve Mallet hauled more ammunition during this time than the American Army fired during its whole participation in the war.
FRANK O. ROBINSON*
*Of Belmont, Massachusetts; Dartmouth; with the Field Service four months in Camion Service; later a Captain, U.S. Motor Transport ---Groupe Robinson, Réserve Mallet, during the war.
AFTER it had been definitely decided that Commandant Doumenc's appeal was to receive a favorable reply, and that the American Field Service was to supply men for the French Réserve Automobile, the first step was to locate with the least possible delay a practicable site somewhere near the front areas for an automobile training-camp. Obviously such a camp was necessary, for the men had to be trained in "truck technique" under conditions as near actual war conditions as, possible, and (obviously again) Paris and a training-camp to instil military discipline into Americans but newly arrived from across the seas were incompatible. So, following a diligent search in the region directly south of Soissons, a site near Dommiers was finally chosen, and in the first days of May the "Cornell Unit" --- the first section to take up trucking instead of ambulancing, and "the first armed American force to go to the front" --- was sent to that place for instruction ---and beaucoup corvée. To this Section belongs the credit of setting Dommiers on its feet as a camp and as a successful training-centre.
The site of the camp was near the forest of Villers-Cotterets, and after stumps had been cleared away, paths marked out, and tents pitched, became a very pleasant spot for the work at hand. One thing was lacking, namely, water. As a result every day a "tank-trailer" was hauled one or more times, as necessity required, to the nearest spring, which was about six kilometres distant, to get a supply of water for drinking, cooking, and washing purposes. At first the capacity of the camp was small, but each unit which came enlarged and improved it until it was supposed to be sufficient for all needs. In spite of this development, however, only a month and a half after the inception of the camp, it was found necessary to organize a second one to care for the ever-increasing number of volunteers joining the Camion Service. Chavigny Farm, near the village of Longpont, fourteen kilometres south of Soissons, was chosen for the "annex," and upon the Princeton Section fell the duties of organization. Did we not find Chavigny a farm, and leave it an encampment? Did we not pitch tents, build kitchens, construct dining-shacks, dig drains, bank up ditches, lay down corduroy roads, and, all the while, drill and practise driving? "Chef" Scully may well be proud of the work done by his section, for the Chavigny camp soon proved to be a great improvement in all ways over the Dommiers one, and the latter was abandoned entirely about August 15 in favor of its offspring. Chavigny continued as a training-school until the first week of September, at which time it was made a school for the instruction of men recommended for the rank of non-commissioned officers. As such it was continued for some time longer, but, not long after the enlistment of the men in the United States Army, was given up for good, and became once more the peaceful farm it had been before the American invasion; that is to say, for about six months, until the storm of battle swept it into ruin.
In all, seven automobile sections of approximately forty men each, were sent from the Dommiers camp, and all of these joined Groupement No. 9, which was then at Jouaignes. The Cornell Section, the first unit to join the Réserve, left Dommiers about May 15, and the other sections left at intervals of from seven to ten days --- each having completed two weeks of training. The other sections were sent out from Chavigny on a similar schedule, and, in addition to completing the Americanization of Groupement No. 9 at Jouaignes, were enough to form an entire American groupe at Soissons. In all about 800 men passed through the two camps --- Dommiers training about half of this number.
Though the surroundings of Dommiers, and the conditions under which the men worked there, were not so propitious as were those at Chavigny, a sketch of life at the latter camp will be typical enough to give an idea of life at the original camp, also.
I arrived at the farm of Chavigny, La Ferme de Chavigny par Longpont, with the rest of the Field Service section to which I was attached, two days after we landed in France --- and I was suffering agonies from that worst of mental maladies, homesickness, even though the sharpest edges had been knocked off by the sight of the picturesque village of Longpont, with its red-tile roofs; old weather-beaten walls, huge well-shaped trees, and romantic ruined abbey. Once here, however, my feeling changed, and I began to take an interest in the life that was to occupy me in this fertile country, for it was a soothing, peaceful picture that I saw. Between two hills whose sides were alternately fields and clumps of trees, lay the farm. Before me were the barns and outhouses; then came the farmyard with hens scratching industriously, ducks waddling to and fro, pigs grunting in the corners, every barnyard animal doing what it would have done if there had been no war. While I was watching, an old farmer came plodding in, followed by a flock of sheep; and a stout, motherly-looking woman advanced to the door to watch them pass. The stamping of horses, the lowing of cows, the baa-ing of the sheep ---in short., ordinary bucolic sounds --- were the only ones that came to my ears. Standing out from a background of beautiful trees with fields appearing between the trunks, was the ancient château, white and clean. Behind it on a terraced lawn were the tents in which we were to live. In the road were parked a number of trucks. As. I lay in my French cot that night, in the tent to which I had been assigned, and re-pictured all this to myself, I could not but think, in spite of the occasional distant and muffled boom of a gun, that I was glad after all that I had come!
During the following fortnight we were trained for our work at the front. This preparation was of a double nature, for the time was divided between drill and automobile instruction. We had been issued French equipment at 21 rue Raynouard, gas-mask, helmet, canteen, etc., and it was with French rifles that we did our drilling. It was an awkward picture that we made during the first days as we manuvred to the French commands. "Arme sur 1'épaule droite" was the signal for a confused sound of rifles banging against helmets; and after things had quieted down a bit, no two rifles were in the same position. "En ligne, face à gauche," started a mix-up equalled only by cattle in a round-up on our Western ranches. Some men stood still, some turned left, some turned right; and the final result was more like a riot than a military formation. But the section learned quickly, and in a remarkably short time we could drill and execute the various movements smoothly and rhythmically. This success was in part due to the fact that our instructors were familiar with Americans and had had experience with other sections --- men who knew how to be military and at the same time friendly. Thus, at the end of two weeks, the result of the discipline was easily apparent, and the men had a real military bearing. Needless to say, the appearance of the section was many times improved. This in spite of the fact that divers uniforms were to be seen ---for each man had equipped himself at his own expense, and within certain limits to his own taste.
The part of our work which I call "automobile instruction," included, first, detailed lectures on the motor and chassis, by the French lieutenants; second, work on the trucks (washing, greasing, oiling, etc.) and practical application of the points that we had learned in the lectures; several hours each morning were spent in overalls "discovering and learning the innards"; and, third, came convoy or road work, under the guidance of old, experienced French drivers. Most of the afternoon was spent on the road. It would be too much to attempt any detailed description of the convoy rules that had to be learned. Suffice it to say that they concerned French military traffic laws; distances between trucks to be observed in open country, through towns, up and down hills; methods of turning and backing by means of the signals of the second, or assistant, driver; and numerous other things which are very important on pitch-black nights near the lines, on a road carrying four lines of traffic. In addition we had to learn the simple handling of the trucks, which were five-ton Pierce-Arrows. The French Government had put a French T.M. section of eighteen of these trucks with their drivers at the disposal of the camp. Most of the fellows had driven Fords, at least, but, even so, the truck proposition presented new things to learn. A truck is heavier than a touring-car, and more difficult to handle on the road. One cannot lie back on the seat in comfort, letting the steering-wheel play in the hands, for every jounce in the road is communicated to the wheel, and a steady grip is necessary to keep the truck from zigzagging all over the landscape. There is no self-starter on a Pierce-Arrow, and some strength and a decided knack is necessary to "turn over" the engine. So it goes ---there were many things to learn, and many little difficulties to master.
As in the case of the drilling, however, the fellows, on the whole, soon acquired the skill and experience necessary to successful convoy work. Though, as I have said, we went out practically every afternoon, there were only minor accidents. A radiator was smashed because a man was following the truck ahead so closely that he could not avoid a collision when the former stopped. Or trucks were temporarily ditched when the drivers took too many chances while competing with the other cars in quick turning on narrow roads. On such an occasion I had the unique experience of putting my car down a ten-foot embankment backwards, stopping after snapping off a tree six inches in diameter, with my rear wheels up to the hub in a brook. The road that I left was quite a grade, and it took three trucks cabled together to pull me out. The crowning feature of our training and our final success was when the convoy came through its practice "night convoy," with conditions at the front duplicated as near as possible, with trucks driven as they must be driven at the front, and with practical problems met as the drivers would later meet them in everyday work, without ditching a car or smashing a radiator. It would not be fair to leave the subject of accidents without saying that Lieutenant Vincent, who usually accompanied the convoys, was extremely lenient in censuring men who were unfortunate enough to have a mischance. My own case is the best example, since my accident was the most spectacular. When I expressed pain at the awkwardness which had caused me to put the truck where no respectable truck cares to go, and regret at the work and delay I was causing to get the truck back, he said simply: "Don't let that worry you; it is nothing. Such little incidents are bound to occur. I've had experience with much worse."
The trips we made were exceedingly interesting --- and especially since the type of scenery was new to us. I shall never forget my first impressions --- the rolling hills covered, as far as the eye could reach, with waving fields of grain of varied shades of green; a little town, with its squat houses hidden in the corner of some purple valley; and crowning the top of the plateau, a forest of wonderful, strong, straight trees, so well cared for even in this time of stress that not a bush was growing between them. One could see through until the maze of trunks stopped the gaze. As there were six men assigned to one truck, taking turns by twos acting as drivers and second drivers, there were always four men in the body of the truck, so we had ample time to admire the landscape --- and not a man but loved it at first sight. To add to the interest, Lieutenant Vincent and Lieutenant Gillette arranged that we should always stop to rest in some fair-sized town.
In this way we once stopped at Château-Thierry. We learned to know Crépy-en-Valois; and we were soon well acquainted with Villers-Cotterets, once the home of Dumas, and, in our day, the home of the best-tasting pies on this side of the ocean. The pies, I should add, were but one of the pastry products that brought joy to the Americans, and unheard-of wealth to the poor woman who strove to please us --- because we had come so far to fight pour la France, and because she had "a man in the war." A third town we visited was Pierrefonds. Here there is a wonderfully restored château which, with its battlements and towers, at once took us back in spirit to the age of brave knights and fair ladies. This was the château which, according to rumor, had appealed to the Kaiser's eye. In 1914, his son, having captured the region, sent to his father for advice as to whether or not the château should be destroyed, and father, they say, wired: "No, no! I want that château myself, to live in on my way to Paris," or words to that effect.
It is not difficult to see that it was not these trips alone that made our training period at Chavigny almost a vacation. We had the best of officers. The two French lieutenants could not have been kinder to us or more interested in what we did. We had the quiet, pretty little farm where we lived ---there was a piano in the farmhouse, and the gardener's daughter entertained us evenings. We had Longpont with its eleventh-century gateway and the romantic ruins of its twelfth-century abbey. It is true, on the other hand, that we had corvée work and roll-call, fixed hours, and bugle-calls galore; but all of this benefited us in the end. Thus it came to pass that, when the section left for the front, the fellows had at the same time a desire to "see action," to "get into real work," and a hidden pang at having to leave.
I wish that I could carry with me forever a picture of Chavigny as I have described it; but the God of War decreed that that was not to be. As the months advanced he shook his huge hulk, stepped forth, planted his foot on Chavigny, and in a twinkling the tranquil little spot was changed. Gone are the stables, with nothing but an elongated pile of stones to mark their previous existence. Where the animals were kept there remains but a boggy expanse of shell-holes, smashed helmets, and litter of war. One piece of wall of the château still stands; the rest is but a mass of crumpled masonry and broken beams. The branches are hacked from the trees as though a dull axe had been wielded against them. The trunks and stumps remaining are pierced or peppered by deadly machine-gun bullets. The field is a swamp, and, on almost the exact spot where once I lay and ruminated on the new-found beauty, stands a tank, leaning giddily, its side torn open, its ripped interior exposed. There is naught here but desolation. A cold, dank mist hovers over the spot from morn till night: and the crows flying back and forth seem to deride with their strident voices the work of man.
FREDERICK W. KURTH*
*Of Roxbury, Massachusetts; Harvard, '18; T.M.U. 537; subsequently Sergeant, First Class, U.S. Motor Transport Corps.
Across the calm clear sky of God
SHERMAN L. CONKLIN
THE following home letters, written by a member of the Princeton Section, give a running account of the life and work of one of the nine camion sections located at Jouaignes in the summer and autumn of 1917, and may be considered typical of them all. Because of the limits of space, and because all of these sections were doing practically identical work in the same sector, it has not been possible to include extended accounts of each of the other sections.
Chavigny Farm, June 11, 1917
FROM the moment we entered trucks at 21 rue Raynouard for our first stage of the journey to the front, equipped with steel helmets, gas-masks, and rifles (the rifles --- I speak it softly --- are of the vintage of 1874), we have experienced a rapid succession of impressions which can't be assimilated. Yesterday one hundred of us, bound for the camion service, got out of the trucks at the Gare du Nord, lined up, and marched by squads into the station between densely crowded rows of blue-uniformed Frenchmen, who thought they were seeing the first detachment of the heralded American Army. Such a young crowd of different-looking soldiers, coming on the heels of reports of the landing of American soldiers in France, confused with the arrival of Pershing and his staff in London, made every Frenchman in the station flock to see us....
We are somewhere near Soissons, about sixteen miles from the line, in a training-camp. A Princeton tentful of thirty of us boys have kept together. The tent is pitched in a long disused lawn-tennis court in the midst of a grove of locust trees, which are carefully trimmed and the underbrush cleaned out, so that the long, slender trunks stand out black against the farther distant green background, through which the last evidences of sunlight were percolating a little while ago.
Now I am writing by lantern light, and the trees look almost as straight and black and regular as the gratings of a cell. You would like the ancient farmhouse around which our tents are grouped --- a long, rambling stone structure occupying one side of a quadrangle, while sturdily built and connected granaries and stables complete the square. It dates back goodness knows how long. Its story must be varied, but certainly at no time fuller of incident than in 1914, when this territory was invaded just before the Battle of the Marne. Against the door of one of the haylofts is still nailed the sign "Surgical Infirmary." One of the old stone water-troughs bears a warning not to drink the water. Sheep, peafowl, Belgian rabbits, cows, horses, chickens, and turkeys abound. All the wagons and the farming implements might literally have been made centuries ago. Except for uniforms, and notices posted here and there, we have here a perfect little piece of mediaeval France.
NEVER in my life have I witnessed such a stirring sight as that which greeted our eyes this morning, when, in a grove, on the top of a hill overlooking miles of country, all the Americans in the Camion Service were gathered in a hollow square to witness the presentation of the Croix de Guerre to a French soldier. The American flag was in a corner. The French were on one side, and in another corner was stationed a full military band, completing the square except for an entry-way in the middle of one face. We were drawn up at attention. There was complete silence except for the commands of our French officers, fitting in with the shady and sombre quiet of the woods. It was intensely impressive. Then, all of a sudden, the drum-major raised his hand in response to a gesture from Lieutenant Gillette; and the buglers, flourishing their instruments, commenced a pulsing, short call. At that moment the command "Present arms!" was given; the band broke into the first measure of the Marseillaise and, through the opening in our ranks, six French officers walked with a slow step. They halted a moment, saluted the flag, recognized our officers, who were standing rigidly at the salute, and then moved on slowly, all the way around the square. After completing the formal inspection, they gathered in the centre, the band stopped, and one of the officers, stepping forward, read in both French and English the citation, which ran, "for gallantly risking his life when his machine was struck at night by an aeroplane bomb, and he, wounded and pinned under his machine, prevented his comrades from bringing a light which would have been taken advantage of by the enemy." The buglers gave another flourish and a call, when, on the last note, the Frenchman stepped out of line, received his decoration on the left breast of his uniform, and stepped back into line again, whereupon the officers left the square to the measure of the Marseillaise again, while our three companies and the one company of French formed in squads four abreast, and, to the tune of a French march, passed before the officers in review. We may have appeared to the French somewhat "opera-bouffish"; we may have looked to them a little like a Chinese army; but, believe me, it was a ceremony of glorified seriousness to us.
IT is constantly amazing to us to see how well informed the French rank and file are. All the evening men from a cantonment near here have been dropping in on us. They speak of Wilson's Flag Day address, of the success of the Liberty Loan, of Pershing's arrival in Paris, of Viviani's wonderful speech in the Chamber yesterday about his visit in America. Of every item of news the commonest soldiers know as much as we do. It is easy to see they expect much of us. They say, "Sixty-five thousand have come without the death of a soldier --- America is without doubt going to war"; and in the midst of their great hope of our aid, I believe there's a tinge of surprise that we have plunged in. All along the road we see them; every place we stop at we speak to them. It does n't seem to make very much difference whether one can speak the language or not. Their open faces tell what they're trying to say. About here we are the first Americans who have appeared. Countless times we've been met with the single question, "American? " And when we say " Yes," there's always the same wonderful smile of pleasure,. welcome, and interest, all mingled.
The evening before last we were ordered to report at the office of the French head of our section, where we passed one by one, gave our names, were handed 1 fr. 50, affixed our signatures to receipts for our first pay as common soldiers in the French Army --- 5 sous a day. I made a vow on the spot, as I held the two coins in my hand, never to spend them, but, during a long ride yesterday, we stopped at the ancient town of Pierrefonds, southwest of Compiègne, and after a hurried and heated sight-seeing tour of the old château, once the castle of Louis XII, I was so terribly hot that my week's wages had to go for a citronnade. Of course, I had n't another cent except that on me.
TO-MORROW at twelve we leave, four in a camion, on a night-and-day run, getting back here at the training-camp at midnight. Driving without lights is beginning to make all of us confirmed fatalists. I don't know how we'd come through it if it was n't for the French roads. Contrary to what one might believe, nearly all the roads we have struck have been kept in splendid shape. One sees soldiers constantly at work on them. Even on the smaller local roads, old men are zealously tending them. I noticed two patriarchs yesterday grubbing up the sod around the small piles of crushed rock alongside, so that when the stone should be shovelled up, not a bit would be lost, and then piling them up with squared bases.
The other day, riding through the Compiègne Forest for miles without seeing a soul, we suddenly came to a place where a grassy forest road crossed our macadam obliquely. The trees were so thick and high that all our road was in deep shade. A little to one side, almost hidden by a large tree, was a cross with a wreath resting on the ground. As we came up to the spot, I thought that perhaps some French or German soldier was buried there, killed during the great retreat of the French at the beginning of the war; but, rolling on by, I saw the inscription which read: "Here are 160 men who died in defence of their country." In such a lonely stretch of forest land you can picture the effect of this simple cross, not within sight of the trenches or barbed wire, but miles from the nearest line. It moved one to think of this group of unsung heroes left in this shadowed backwater as the tide of battle swept on and away.
OUR section has finished its training, and been transferred from Chavigny Farm to the little village of Jouaignes, some fifty kilometres distant, where the camion sections are gathered, and quartered for their work. The single street that runs through the village and all of the roads leading to it are lined with Pierce-Arrow trucks, and the fields and hills around it are cluttered with the trailers and extemporized huts in which the sections live and eat and sleep.
Here is probably a very fair sample of the days that are coming. We got up at six, had breakfast at six-thirty --- now it is augmented by an egg ---after which fourteen cars of our section got off at seven in two detachments. At eight we reached our artillery dépôt, where each car was loaded with "75 " shells, one hundred cases with nine shells in each. It is interesting to figure out the cost of our caravan --- of $40,000 worth of shells in a camion. The other day we carried "150's " ---about $600,000 in eight camions.
WE had the best kind of Fourth yesterday. At nine o'clock in the morning all six sections of the Transport Service that are now in the field, and three sections that are still in training at Longpont, assembled in full war regalia at the Bureau Headquarters. Then we marched through the little town, the American flag flying at the head of the column, and on into the country a little way, past a company of French soldiers coming back en repos, past a little hospital with cheering soldiers in the porch, then into a field where we were drawn up in the formation of a hollow square. To me it looked quite as ship-shape and well-proportioned as a German square might be. We were four hundred strong, plus fifty French soldiers, a band of Senegalese, and an imposing array of officers ---a French lieutenant or captain can look like a generalissimo --- the whole number amounting to about five hundred. Four Croix de Guerre were presented to French soldiers. Various stages of the ceremony were accompanied by bugle calls, salutes by the officers, and orders to present arms.
This afternoon a French soldier wandered into our barracks, as they are always doing, and sat down on Don Stewart's bed. He soon became interested in pictures of American soldiers in a New York Times Sunday Supplement, said that we were "bons camarades," asked for an American flag as a souvenir, and showed us all pictures which he was carrying in his pocketbook, of his wife, sisters, brothers --- this one wounded at Verdun, that one at Lens now. The French soldiers are always eager to show us the little intimate things in their pocketbooks, and are overjoyed if we do the same. Don found a tiny combination of the French and American flags, and pinned it himself on the soldier's breast. You should have seen the look of delight in the man's eyes. His whole face was one beam of unadulterated joy, as he looked at all of us in turn, not daring to watch Don's fingers pinning the thing on --- a mixture of soldierly repression and the instinct of keeping the best until the last.
WE have n't much time to read in camp, but while we are out with the cars there come gaps that make up about as much time altogether as the leisure in camp. While getting loaded and unloaded, which is always done by the soldiers of the older classes, who are round about forty-seven years old, we do nothing. By the way, think of it, there is a proclamation in the village saying that, before a certain date, all men between the ages of sixteen and sixty must register, not necessarily for service at that time, but to get ready for the moment when every possible man in almost any possible physical shape will be drafted by the Government. So you see what an effort France is making. While getting unloaded, there are often very long waits, as there are many artillery parcs where only two cars can be unloaded at once. There is nothing to do, too, during the couple of hours spent from four to six kilometres back of the line waiting for dark before the loads can be taken up within about three kilometres of the front. This is where reading matter fits in well.
Figures show that it takes twenty-five thousand shots to bring down one aeroplane. Figures like that always give me a despairing feeling. Fifty tons of metal have to be fired at German trenches to put one man out of commission! Then I recall how much gasoline we burn up, and how much cranking and driving and waiting and eating we have to do, in order to bring up fifty tons; how much work has been done to put those "75's" F.O.B. on our camions, and how much road-repairing goes in our wake. It is the concern of our whole section --- forty men, heaps of officers, cooks, etc. --- to accomplish an average of fifty tons a day.
Every day we cross the Aisne on one of three or four bridges --- shaky affairs that were hastily put up after the German retreat. Almost all the approaches to the bridges from the south are screened by great, endless strips of burlap, running for miles, which men are constantly at work repairing; for the roads, while not in direct view of the German trenches, are nevertheless under observation by the German saucisses. Once on the other side, we came in contact with scenes of ruination and desolation that can't possibly be exaggerated. Town after town, along the whole length of the north bank, is blasted to complete destruction. Though they've been regained and held by the French for two years, nevertheless they have been during this time under fire ---so little is the distance the Germans have been pushed back here in the country we know --- from Soissons east to within sixteen kilometres of Reims. The two cities at the ends of this section --- Soissons and Reims ---are regularly shelled every day.
The famous road, Chemin des Dames ---surely now the most famous in all the world---still marks the German line. Last evening I caught sight of it. We had stopped on the north side of the Aisne about four kilometres from the line and were waiting for nightfall before going closer --- nearly two hours with nothing to do except to consume our frugal repast of army bread and confiture. That little matter was soon out of the way, and then half of us --- one half stayed with the cars --- set out exactly in the manner of sheep to seek the top of the highest hill thereabouts.
THE short stretch of rising land we crossed was like all the terrain rising from the Aisne to the plateau on which the Germans are. The first ten feet off the road we crossed a shallow trench in which military telephone wires were laid; still a bit higher, fifty yards farther on, we came to one of the narrow-gauge railroads that run everywhere. A few yards beyond that we saw a hastily thrown-up temporary French trench, the mound of earth being on the north side. One could see that it had been held but a short time, because there was not any wire in front of it. Then we took a path through a wheat-field and came out on a little road, still higher up, with the sign " Défendu de passer le jour."
Back of this line, about a hundred or more yards away, was another line of trenches, and, fifty yards back of these, some German trenches, more carefully constructed, the walls being perpendicular, the angles sharper, the floor two feet deeper than the height of a man; and, running the whole length, was a firing-step. There were no dugouts, so probably it had n't been occupied long; and there were no signs of destruction due to artillery fire. There seems to be neither rhyme nor reason in the way the trenches, and particularly the wire-entanglements, run. It is hard to recognize, in the trenches I have seen, any semblance to the order that has been diagrammed in some of our illustrated magazines. He would be a courageous man who should attempt to give a definite type of line.
On the top of the hill we came out on a plateau. In one direction --- the northwest --- was a fringe of bushes, back of which were three Frenchmen, one of whom was holding a pair of glasses which he kept fixed on a German aeroplane, around which there were puffs of shrapnel bursting. This man now and again said something to a man standing below him, whose head and shoulders only were above ground. On the man's head was fastened a telephone by which the observer's information was conveyed. Their dugout was a little gem for neatness. The horizontal entrance was little more than a foot wide. From it a ladder descended perpendicularly six or eight feet to a room lighted by a candle and equipped with the instrumentalities of living. A comfortable little place it seemed --- warm in winter, cool in summer. However, the open-air advocate might find it a little stuffy.
We had the Chemin des Dames pointed out to us --- the first-line French trenches, just this side of the crest of a hill, thin white lines cutting through the brownish soil. The German trenches, at that point, are hidden from the sight of the French infantry over and down the other side a way. Every second or two shells were bursting somewhere in this wide panorama. We were quite high up and could see for miles. As we were going down, one of the Frenchmen told us to keep back of the bushes as long as possible, since we were under observation from Boche trenches. Actual German trenches we could not see --- merely locations. The sensation that we could be seen by hostile eyes was peculiar--- safe enough though we were.
OUR last four days have been like this Saturday: In camp until three o'clock in the afternoon; loaded with soixante-quinze; unloaded at a château that had been shot to the very completion of ruin--- Sunday morning: We got back here at seven, went right to bed, stayed in Sunday night. Yesterday, Monday, was very uninteresting --- merely transferring beams for abris from one yard to another, both about the same distance back of the line. Back at four in the afternoon. We went through a "gas attack" this morning ---probably the last one of this kind --- a gas test, simply to get us a little wised up if a gas-shell should ever explode near by. Not far from here, I should explain, is a small stone road-rest or night-refuge house, square without windows, with walls nearly two feet thick. It was built by Napoleon I, along with thousands of others put up at the same time beside all these roads --- examples of Napoleon's internal improvement régime. Into this, thirty of us at a time were herded, the door closed, and a gas cartridge shot off by a French lieutenant, needless to say after our masks were securely put on.
YOU'D have been amused to see the bed I've just been lying on. It has a good solid foundation of "220's" standing in tightly laid rows. On the blunt tops of them (fuses are not on), a sort of garden-trellis wire is laid; then on this are spread woven mattresses of pine and spruce twigs --- camouflage, low-visibility stuff. Lying at full length between the tops of the two rows of shells and on this cushion, you could n't want a better rough-and-ready bed. We had been out all night; when we came into this dépôt, I could have slept on anything.
Monday, July 30
WE have been so busy lately that I have not been quite in the mood for writing. Now that I have seen how we can be worked, I am less inclined to criticise the inaction of many of the parts of the armies we see around us. Every organization has got to be prepared to multiply its work in an emergency. Here, the last four days, we have n't had enough cars or enough men to quite fill our proportion of the orders. We have had to get cars which supposedly were out of commission out of the atelier at four o'clock in the morning, and yet all of us, less than a week ago, were griping about not having enough to do. Now the griping is about having too much to do. Oh, well, that's the Anglo-Saxon way, and maybe the French way too --- you are never satisfied with what is what!
Two nights ago we got caught in the midst of the French batteries busy on a tir de barrage. To-day we learned that an American ambulance boy, Gailey, was killed that very hour --- from four to five ---only a mile or two from us. He was a Princeton sophomore who came over on the same boat with us. I did not know him, but many of the others did. They say he was a very quiet, reserved, diffident boy --- the last sort of chap to imagine blotted out by a relentless war, until recently, probably, so foreign to his whole nature.
The roads have been packed with every description of traffic. All around and in between convoys, the continual road-mending goes on. There is just one criticism that we can't help but make all the time: we don't see the sense in having thousands and thousands of men doing nothing but break stones, using little iron mallets with long, supple handles, when there are such things as portable rock-crushers --- at least there are in America.
In the rain yesterday we passed two full regiments on the march back to the front from repos. The poor beggars, cold and drenched to the skin, had no raincoats. They were having a pretty welcome back to the trenches after their two weeks off. All the lieutenants were on foot. The officers dress beautifully, but they certainly don't escape the common discomfort. I wonder if the word "lieutenant" makes you imagine a youngish, trim, military-looking youth? In some regiments there is not a lieutenant under forty years old.
WE, the American groupement, ten sections, two hundred cars, have carried 500,000 shells the last two weeks! That Is doing a little something, is n't it?
Yesterday we left on a trip at ten o'clock in the morning, got back at ten-thirty at night, and left again at four o'clock while it was still dark, and the fog with the gloom of early morning hid the cook shack only twenty yards away. We've exhausted all the weird, hitherto impossible hours of leaving home and getting back home, only we don't quite yet call it "home", still, it's camp, and the sensations of getting back after a night run are powerfully like all the attractions of certain homecomings ---food and a bed and a roof, when these are about all of life's desiderata at the time. In the afternoon we carried troops for the first time, and got back at seven o'clock. This makes a stretch of thirty-three hours with three hours' sleep. Oh, we'll be en repos to-morrow. Really, no one could possibly put in an easier thirty hours' work. It is n't work, mostly just waiting around, sitting around, puttering a. bit, sleeping around, if one can sleep in odd stretches on a front seat. It amounts to putting in a thirty hours under orders, during which at least one man must stay all the. time with the car, and the other man near enough by to show up in five or ten minutes.
THERE is nothing to do to-day but lie around, wash up, clean our quarters, etc. I'll probably do some more waiting around because my name is posted as guard tonight. I'm sitting in the only comfortable spot in camp this minute. The sun is intermittently struggling to produce some real warmth and good eye-squinting light. But the best it can make is a half shadow on the west side of the barrack and unsatisfactory enough reflected warmth against this south end. The wind is blowing from the north, lengthwise with strength, and chill enough to keep every one inside with the windward door closed. Two others like myself have brought out their sheepskins and improvised a very so-so sort of a reclining seat against this wall. The back of my chair has got the resiliency of a wicker seat. The barrack is of the regulation sort, made of ready-built sections of quarter-inch planking covered with tar paper, and none too strong. It does keep out the rain now, but not the cold, nor would it keep my back from going through if I were particularly anxious to make a test of strength.
A little way off, over the slope of the hill, across the concealed road, is a large American flag flying, the base of its pole out of sight. It marks a new Field Service camp, The greatest beauty of our particular camp location is its position on the side of a grassy hill. It's the only camp of ten that is n't a mire of mud within a radius of twenty yards after even a drizzle. We have no mud in any place except just above our doorstep. There is the greatest variety of sleeping arrangements inside. The start of the craze for elaboration was commenced by two boys at one end whose roof leaked on them. They figured out that it would be more worth while to halve the damage below by building a set of double-decker bunks than spend five minutes patching the roof above their particular place; so they walled themselves off from the rest of the crowd and put up two bunks against the wall, and then strung a canvas blanket roll over the top of the bunk, so that it would catch the rain which got through the roof. This blanket canvas drops over the side of both, thus making an excellent imitation of a Pullman berth. With a table, two benches, innumerable shelves and hooks, what more could be desired? The success of the original project was contagious. Every one set out to equal or better the arrangement. Now the creative result of the labors of twenty different architects makes the barrack inside look like a lot of booths at a Y.M.C.A. bazaar.
Yesterday afternoon at two o'clock, we had eaten our cold lunch and were waiting for a corvée to get good and ready to load us. "Mac" was sleeping on the front seat. I decided to go off on a little tour of exploration with another boy. We walked a few yards to a narrow-gauge track, investigated one of the double-header locomotives, and discovered a plate on it saying, "'Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, 1915. " Then we set off up the track, walked a hundred yards, passed through an orchard, the leaves still green and the apples hard and green, as ripe as they will ever get, for all the trees --- and there were hundreds of them --- were ringed by the Germans last April. This was a devilishly effective way to kill them; but, in most places, the Boches went after them with a saw. There is nothing that maddens one as much, nothing that so brings home to one the proximity of these damnable Germans, as those trees still green. Now a contrast! A little beyond an utterly ruined village, there were two or three trees ringed, but with a puny last crop of apples that could be eaten. Up in the branches of one of the trees was a French artilleryman and another at the foot. When we passed by, looking critically at the trees for an apple fit to eat, the artillerymen called out to us, waved their hands, and then beckoned. We were the first Americans they had talked to. I asked if the apples were fit to eat. One of them said a few were. I looked around for one to pick, but the Frenchman stopped my first movement and held out his hands --- three or four little apples in each, and insisted on our taking them.
Another evidence of recent German occupation, quite as characteristic, was a sign painted on a wall in another town near by; "Gott Strafe England," and below it an iron cross, under which, in a semi-circle, were the forever loathsome words, "Deutschland fiber alles." It won't be long before the French give the whole thing a splash of whitewash. Let us hope it won't be so very long before the whole rotten Germanic idea will be as effectively blotted out by the Allies.
WE were in camp again yesterday with nothing to do; so after lunch we decided to set off on a visit to an old church on a steep hill. Baedeker says it was built in the twelfth century, and Mont Notre Dame is its name. At the foot of the hill a little town straggles along a single, curving street, which, when it reaches the base of the Mont, narrows and commences to wind up, rock and bushes on one side and a low stone wall and then depth on the other. On the nearly flat top is the old church with a monastery building; before the war the latter was owned and occasionally lived in by a count and countess somebody, but now it is a convalescent hospital for officers. The wonderful view from the top, the old monastery walks and gardens, and, above all, the fine old church, with its flying buttresses, its gargoyles and all, make about as fine a place as I could have imagined. An officer we came unexpectedly upon in the shade of a wall, with a sketchbook and pencil in hand, had caught a phase of the church that was a perfect gem in ensemble and detail. He made me ashamed that I myself had not noticed the really rare beauty of that particular spot. Strolling around in the gardens and the cemetery, where half the graves bear the red, white, and blue disks seen on all soldiers' mounds, were other officers, and with them two or three nurses, dressed in white, their single red cross being the only bit of color on their uniform. The faces of the officers were gentlemanly, dignified, attractive. The nurses were gentlewomen of middle age. One could imagine them, in their comfortable Parisian homes before the war, as wives and mothers. We went down from the church tower through an ancient wooden door, with heavy old rusty bolts, opening inward toward the circular stairway, then soon came into the triforium gallery, where we caught our first glimpse of the interior of the church proper. Four or five men in blue were sitting in the shaded nave below, their heads half-bowed. It was absolutely quiet. We could see the altar light burning. This, was not a tourist's church. Here was reverent war-time worship by soldiers. I was glad they did n't know we were above them, almost profaning the structure. Four French flags were draped over the altar. Again I was glad of one small thing, that there were no flags of the Allies. At Notre Dame in Paris, it did n't seem quite right to see there the American flag hanging. Later, we stood below in the church for a few minutes. All three of us must have been thinking of Jack Newlin at that moment; for, the evening before, we heard he had been killed driving his ambulance.
IT is certainly delightful to half-sit, half-lie, here in bed with four layers of blankets over me. Where I begin to emerge from underneath them, I wear two sweaters; and yet we are in mid-August! All this covering is just enough to insure comfortable warmth, for the wind is blowing furiously outside. Eighteen of us are here, waiting until three o'clock this afternoon to go out on an all-night run. The state of good humor that reigns within now, while the wind blows outside, can be largely accounted for by the knowledge we have of where our trip takes us. We laughed at the fellows who left at three this morning to run again what we call the "bus line" and then some of them laughed at the picture of our "blowing in," chilly and probably wet, early tomorrow morning, while they are warm in bed. Ours is the best laugh, however, because we go to the most interesting spot in the whole sector.
I've Alan Seeger's "Letters and Diary" open next to me and I've stopped at page 50, where, under the date of January 5, 1915, he says: "On New Year's Day we rose before daybreak, and the whole section was marched off to take a bath. We walked to Maizy, and then turned off down the Canal de l'Aisne. Several miles beyond, we came to a big sugar refinery. In a barge moored on the canal-side, a woman sold us hot coffee, and bread too. This little excursion was a pleasant diversion, taking us for a moment out of the narrow circumscription we had been moving in for the past two months." But he does not describe the Canal de .l'Aisne; so to one who has n't seen what he saw on the morning of January 5, 1915, the picture is nothing, certainly nothing when compared with the actual wonderful beauty of the Canal at that point, with the hills on both sides and the numerous canal-boats lying forsaken along the tow-path, cut off as they now are, and have been since the beginning of the war, from movement in either direction by the pontoon bridges that are lying across the canal in place of the ruined stone and steel bridges. The "barge moored on the canal side" is one of two that we see in the same place at least every week. We know that they have n't budged since he bought his "hot rolls," because the pontoons give unmistakable evidence that they can't move more than a few yards.
After lunch now. The meals are always particularly good when there are only a few of us in camp. I quite honestly wish I could get to like the ordinary red wine --- pinard --- as they call it. The French corvée workers almost pass out with mirth when we say, "L'eau vaut mieux que le pinard." You would think that better joke there never was, from the way they shout and howl at our confession. "Pas bons soldats," they say, at which we laugh, and they redouble their cheers. They are lovable, ragged, cheerful old men, always tricking each other if they can, always talking, never in haste. Each one has a long drooping moustache, and occasional faces have the amiable, melancholy expression of setters.
I MUST tell you about an observation balloon I saw ,"dropped" by a German plane. Three days ago we were in a neighboring town getting water from a tank in the main square, where we could see most of the sky. A French observation balloon was about halfway between us and the line, and some 1500 feet up in the air. We were on our front seat, just about to eat our lunch of bread, confiture, and tinned meat; and the square was full of soldiers wandering about or standing in groups of threes or fours. The Paris journaux were being sold to the largest group by a paper-seller --- a soldier, of course. Perhaps I might have seen two or three civilians, surely no more. Suddenly, some one noticed something unusual aloft. The one upturned face, of course, attracted the others. The first thing we remarked was the stoppage of movement in the square and all eyes being directed toward the French balloon. A black speck was heading toward the saucisse, accompanied with its puffball shrapnel satellites as every air-craft gun for miles opened up on it, making a tremendous din. Utterly oblivious of the iron rain, the German kept straight on. Then we could see, a French plane heading for him, from behind and at an angle. But, for all he gained, he might have been one of the spectators in the square. During this time the balloon was being pulled down at a great rate, and the Boche was coming on also at a great rate. He became more than a speck, magically evolving into the proportions of a planing buzzard; then, at the critical moment, he made a quick, dipping turn. We saw drop from the car of the saucisse a speck, which almost instantly opened up into a parachute and commenced to settle slowly to earth. In that second or two there was a great flash in the sky as the balloon burst into flames, immediately followed by the creation of a dense, rolling, cohesive mass of black smoke, while the guns, which we thought were already doing their utmost, now redoubled their firing. A veritable barrage was being thrown across the sky. The plodding French plane was closer, due to the turn of the German, who was heading straight back for the lines. A machine gun was rattling in the air. The Frenchman was, at least, making noise and doing unquestionably a brave thing. Both disappeared from our sight. I said, "Another iron cross for some one." But no! Later on, the French told us the Boche had been dropped over the lines.
It is a great life we are leading. We're having too good a time, perhaps. If you hear any complaints about this Service, you may be sure they come from boys who can't get satisfaction from good work well done, who enjoy only the externals, and who can't for the life of them appreciate that it is a great privilege simply to be here as we are, rather than be home and, so far as activity goes, out of the thing that counts.
ANOTHER disagreeable day. Last night the wind lifted up our mess-tent, piled it up against the side of our barrack, where it tried its best to force its way inside. Great sheets of tar paper were torn off the roof. . . . There are few comforts that could be added to complete the livableness of our arrangements. We have shelves, and hooks galore, a wooden floor of our own manufacture; however, the centre of the barrack is still mother earth. We have a table and a bench, and are surrounded on three sides by the luxurious exclusiveness of clothes-racks, bunks, and tar paper, which keeps draughts away. Here a draught is the word for a blast of wind, which reminds me that, not half an hour ago, while we were eating at our tables unprotected by the tent, the lentils blew off our spoons. If we had been consuming beans, the missiles would have been troublesome. Peas would have been even worse.
Wednesday, September 20
SUNDAY, in the afternoon and contrary to all military regulations, Charlie McQuiston and I got out of the cantonment on the water-wagon bound for Braisne, intending to sneak back past the road guard under the cover of night. Charlie had lost a convoy in Braisne a few days before, and had met two American girls on the street. They gave him tea, kept him for dinner, and gave him such a wonderful time that he was far from averse to going over with me. These girls, with some other English and American ladies, live in one of the town's best houses, with a charming garden behind, quite away from the noise and dirt of the main Soissons-Reims highway, which passes their doorstep. We'd picked out a poor day for a call, because the opening ceremonies of the Cantine they're in charge of took place at four o'clock that afternoon. With all eleventh-hour preparations, they were so rushed that leisurely conversation was impossible. All we said was sandwiched in between loads of benches and boxes that we helped them carry to the small hall, where the soldiers were already beginning to gather at the door, intent on getting good seats for the event. There must have been two hundred present. Two stripes were as common as no stripes. There also must have been a dozen five-stripe colonels on hand, quantities of captains, and, of course, the glowing orb of all ---the one-star man with the gold oak-leaf braid on his cap. The General, a most amiable gentleman, put every one at his ease in wonderfully quick time after the first disturbance of salutes. The full military band on the small stage had broken into the first measures of the Marseillaise when he was sighted in the offing. In his speech the General pointed at us --- six of us, four "chefs," who had been invited, and two interlopers, Charlie and me --- and said the Cantine was for the use of the French poilus and the American poilus It was quite an unexpected compliment to hear one's self called a poilu. A concert followed, probably the concert I've most enjoyed at any time. The "Star-Spangled Banner" could n't have had a better chance to make a favorable impression, for it was played perfectly. Next came the Marche Lorraine, the best military march the French have, so the French themselves say. The concert over, tea was served, and a general lionizing of the two American girls began. They both speak French well, quite well enough to vary the formulas with each officer, all of whom took their leave visibly charmed.
ALMOST all the things I want to write about are on officially tabooed subjects. It is n't so much that a letter risks being opened by the censor, which prevents freedom in writing, as the growing habit of actually now and then obeying instructions. Indeed, if the instructions came in directly from the bureau office, stamped and signed, with all the authority of the French to back them, we'd be much less likely to follow them than the plain half-dozen words of our chef, Scully, who said one morning two weeks ago: "You fellows had better not write home too much of what you think is going to happen." Nearly everything we do or talk about refers to what is going to happen, so that on occasions it is a hardship not to be able to write more fully, and all the more as this particular work affords so many opportunities of seeing the big thing getting under way. We have a better chance than almost any other army service of seeing the immense movement and labor necessary even for maybe only a little "drive." We've stopped envying those driving ambulances. We see much more of all the ramified operations back of the line than they can. They run on a more or less beaten track within a small radius, while our sector is the whole of the country. The activity and anticipation are so intense that everybody breathes in the atmosphere which says, "Something is going to happen."
The spirit of our American sections has totally changed. We know now beyond doubt that our work is of a kind that can't be gotten along without. A good gauge of how needed we are is the number of hours' work given us. Yesterday, for example, we left at three o'clock in the afternoon, got back at two in the morning, and found orders waiting to send out every available car at six. That left only two good hours of sleep. The boys got back disgruntled and dirty just before supper; found no water; so they had to eat without removing the quarter-inch of dust from themselves. It added to the general peevishness to have Scully absolutely prohibit the showing of any light in or outside of the barracks. He said: "I'm sorry, fellows, but this comes directly from Mallet. The Germans are known to be bombing every place where they've an idea Americans are. Last night six officers were killed."
Friday, October 5
I SAW to-day good and sufficient reason to be against the Boches. The French have begun to sandbag a huge 400-bed hospital a few miles from here. Imagine seventy-five buildings in a hospital group sixteen kilometres from the lines, twenty-five big ones to hold the wounded, each with a huge red cross painted on its roof, and imagine its being necessary to build a wall of sandbags around each of the twenty-five. Such is the case now after the deliberate destruction of the hospital at Verdun a few weeks ago.
Monday, October 8
LITTLE can one know what twenty-four hours will bring forth. Just that long ago I wrote and said that we were just leaving on a night run and that I'd been given charge of four cars. Right now, two of our boys are in the Mont Notre Dame Hospital; one, Bob Lamont, with his arm amputated to the elbow (fortunately the left), and the other, Henry Thompson, with both legs pitted with éclat holes. At seven o'clock last night, in the midst of a downpour and the blackest darkness I've ever known, Bob left the parc de chargement for the rottenest place we've ever gone to, Jouy. Our Section --- it's always called the Princeton Section --- is the only one that's ever been there. Perhaps we're given the difficult runs because we usually come back with the cars we started with. He had charge of eight cars, and I was generally responsible for four which were to leave at six-thirty for the same place. Just before our four were ready to pull out, telephonic orders came changing our destination to a very safe place. At ten minutes of seven, Bob and I were talking about the condition of the roads and wondering whether we should n't, on our initiative, wait until it should become a little less pitch-black. No; he'd take the chance; so he splashed out into the mud, blew his whistle, went up ahead, and in a minute his last camion disappeared, though it was only ten feet away. This was the sort of night it was, while the guns, of course, were going all the time, and the changing, rotating flashes to the north doing their best to seem visible through the rain. It would have been bad enough on account of the night without bad luck, in addition. I was in bed this morning when Bob's convoy came back. Imagine the unbelievableness of what they told of their experience. "Bob's left hand is off" was the first thing I heard. "A Frenchman was killed; Scully came near getting his for good; the staff car is a wreck; John May's car is halfway up the radiator in mud; he's out there now, 1500 yards from the line." I got out of bed, and one of the boys said, "The Frenchman has just brought in orders for the day." The Chef was still out. Two non-coms left the night before, rejected physically; not a gradé in camp; Bob Lamont in the hospital; the other non-coms with the mired car; and now, voilà, orders for eight camions at seven, three at night. Well, we quickly agreed on temporary officers, and somehow miraculously arrived at the parc on time. One little incident this noon added zest to the trip. One car got axle-deep in the mud; and it was necessary to unload its "155" shells, connect it with the other cars by ropes and cables, and then get it under way by jerking in unison. The cars are marvels.
Here is a report of what happened last night written by one of the men:
The Section, composed of twelve cars, left camp and proceeded to Bazoches for loading. Rain fell heavily, whipped about by a strong wind. The yard in some places was a foot under water; so loading was necessarily slow, and darkness had fallen before any of the convoys got started for their different destinations: five cars to Jouy, three to Ostel, and four to Moulin Saint-Pierre.
Scully and Dussossoit, Chefs of Section "G," had gone to Ostel in the afternoon and found the road narrow, a good deal crowded, exposed to fire, with quite a number of shell-holes in it. Doubtless, nights as black as that one do occur now and then; but it did not then seem possible to us. However, things went as well as could be expected till within four or five kilometres of the village, where some big guns completely stopped up the road, the gunners being engaged in putting the caterpillar blocks on the wheels. After a wait of several hours --- unpleasantly enlivened by arrivées, the guns moved on and two trucks reached Ostel and were unloaded; the third, however, became hopelessly mired about three kilometres distant. Three men remained with this truck overnight, spending their time speculating as to how near the next shell would be! But, about daylight, they accepted some hot coffee which the poilus in the village shared with them. Finally the tractor detailed for such work arrived, pulled the camion out of the ditch, and they reached camp a out noon.
The cars to Moulin Saint-Pierre unloaded and returned without incident, except, of course, the difficulty in driving through the intense darkness. The third convoy was less fortunate. To reach Jouy, it was necessary to ascend the line of hills lying north of the Aisne, and then to descend a long slope into the valley, where the road branches off to Aizy. Up the hill on the other side was the unloading point --a poste de secours being dug out of the hill by the roadside. Shells had been dropping about us ---none very close, however, though the road was torn up and littered with branches of trees--and camouflage. Reaching the abri, the convoy halted, and Thompson drove the staff car on about fifty feet. Upon inquiry from a French corporal, he found the corvée had not waited, and that telephoning meant sending back about six miles for other men to unload us; so there was nothing to do but unload the trucks ourselves. The Ford happened to be on a wider part of the road; so Scully called out to Thompson to move on ahead. The latter replied that he was cleaning a spark-plug, but would do so in a moment. As Scully got opposite the engine of the car, Thompson closed down the hood and stepped round to crank up, a move which undoubtedly saved his life. Scully, continuing, passed him, just as Lamont and a sergeant of the French engineers came up between the Ford and the hill.
At this instant a shell exploded on the far side of the road about eighteen feet away. Scully was thrown down, but unhurt. Thompson received three pieces of shell, one in the back which entered the abdominal cavity, but fortunately missed all vital organs, and two in the leg. Lamont's left hand was blown almost entirely off at the wrist; a shell splinter inflicted a bad wound in his right hand; another lodged in the bone of his leg, and several others inflicted painful but not serious wounds. A notebook he carried was quite riddled; and a large briquet, in his pocket, was bent cup-shaped.
We got both boys into the dugout, asking at once, of course, for a doctor, and the corporal said he would send for one. We did what we could with the bandages at hand. After about ten minutes, a stretcher-bearer arrived and, with his help, we administered first aid. The next thing was to get the wounded men out of the place; so Scully tried to crank the Ford; but the motor would not stir over the fraction of an inch. As he was turning away, he heard a groan, and knew for the first time that the French Sergeant had been hurt, his left leg having been blown off above the knee. He was carried into the dugout and a tourniquet applied; but too long a time had elapsed and he died later in the ambulance. Had we known of his injury earlier, his life could probably have been saved. The wounded men were then placed upon handcarts used for this purpose and started for an ambulance. When not far from it a shell landed near, killing one of the Frenchmen pushing the cart. After being held up for some time more in traffic jams, our boys finally reached the hospital at Mont Notre Dame.
Our attention was next directed to the unloading of the trucks, which was accomplished unassisted, with occasional retreats to the dugout when the shelling appeared to be getting too near. Everybody tackled the unloading with a will, and also showed an equal willingness to dive for shelter when the word was given. After remaining under bombardment from eleven till three in the morning, we finally got all the trucks unloaded and turned round, put a tow-rope on the Ford, and started for camp, which we reached some time after daylight, discovering then that the staff car was practically a wreck.
October 11, Thursday
Now I am a full-fledged bottom corporal, a gradé. The office has several pleasant perquisites. "Cuistot," the cook, will overlook my surreptitious stealing, now and then, of a cup of hot water for shaving. I don't have to clean cars, and don't necessarily have to drive unless I want to, and shan't be assigned to various miserable little fatigue duties. It has just occurred to me that probably I shan't have to guard, which really is a tremendous relief. On the other side of the score, I've got some responsibility, which increases the heretofore meagre load on my mind at least a thousand per cent. Whenever one or more cars from our Section go out --- out I'll have to go, too; and whenever a car gets stuck in the mud, I'll have to do considerable grovelling. When we go out in the convoy of more than six or eight cars, I'll ride on the last car, supposedly, as a last resort, to tow in any fatigued car of a convoy. When there are six or seven, or less cars, I'll have charge, and shall trust to a miraculous Providence and a tow-rope to get all cars back to the yards and home in good shape, and, what is more important, in good time.
We witnessed to-day from the main Soissons-Reims road, the destruction of another French "sausage." Every bit of the act was directly and plainly before our eyes. We could see the German plane dart down from the clouds and almost skim the top of the huge bag before firing into it. Exactly at the crucial moment, as far as we could see, absolutely simultaneously with the first tell-tale flash of flame from the top of the balloon, two black specks dropped from the bag of the car, and, exactly as was the case when we saw the same kind of disaster at Braisne, they almost instantly developed into floating black specks supported by white, flimsy, undulating parachutes. And, as before, all in the same second, the bag of gas burst into a mass of flame, mysteriously poised in the air. Then it fell, a trail of smoke and flame leading directly into a wood which smoked just as though possessed by a forest fire. The Boche aeroplane, after completing its havoc with the saucisse and as if not content with its destructive work then, flew down in a great circle, passing near the two slowly settling parachutes, straightened out its course, then headed directly back for the German lines. We heard the tapping of his mitrailleuse, the sound being two seconds delayed in coming to our ears. While he was passing the two French observers and their parachutes, he had cold-bloodedly fired at them. The unfortunate fellows were unable to do anything but wait and let the tediously slow parachute sink at its own slow, regular rate, so that they must have passed through three or four nerve-racking seconds.
Schedules are often much better followed by us than by the officers in charge of loading and unloading dépôts. On arrival at déopôts, first a search for some responsible officer is usually necessary; then he'll look around for a corvée, usually territorials, sometimes artillerymen or engineers doing fatigue duty; then will follow the placing of the camions as near as possible to the pile of material; all of which eats up much time.
YESTERDAY was the day we've waited for now five months. We left the cantonment early in the morning and were being loaded, when the rumor rushed down the length of the parc that the French had taken Malmaison; gone two kilometres beyond; that four or five thousand prisoners were taken, and all objectives gained, though with a very heavy loss of life. The roads were full of ambulances, and staff cars were carrying wounded. Val Macy and I did a bit in carrying wounded ourselves. After being unloaded in a dépôt halfway between the Aisne and old front, we started home, the last car in the convoy, the car carrying the dependable steel cables and double sets of chains. It must have been as late as ten o'clock at night. The firing was terrific. In the midst of the constant agitated flashing to the north, magnesium rockets and green and red and blue signal rockets were always in the sky at one place or another. We hated to pull back home out of so much of the spectacular. When passing through a town, where was a slowly moving jam of vehicles (caissons and ambulances principally), a man rushed out of the darkness to the side of our camion and asked us to stop, for he wanted some lightly wounded carried back. Naturally, I said we could do it, especially as we were going on a way that led past the hospital he wanted them sent to. So I followed him into a narrow passageway, very dimly lighted, and into a room jammed full of lightly wounded men sitting on benches. He asked me, "How many can you carry?" I said, "Twenty-four"; and then he straightway marshalled out thirty of them into the drizzle. Many had to be supported. You can imagine that it was a rotten sight seeing what effort it was for some of them to climb up the high back of the car and grope around for the benches. Val had gotten ready for them; we spent much longer on the way than would ordinarily have been the case, partly due to our hypersensitiveness in regard to the inequalities in the road and the traffic jams. But by eleven o'clock the wounded were led into the rough barrack, that seemed, however, a most inhospitable place to receive them. Some had been wounded at ten o'clock in the morning, so that it was over twelve hours they'd spent in getting to the third station. Many would have to go on farther that night to a fourth place, the base hospital, with nurses and spring beds making it a heaven to the poor beggars who were already dead tired.
Our experiences, it seemed, were only beginning. We'd only made a kilometre or two of progress again toward home before the car was in the ditch. We did n't even attempt to get it out. It was a job for a tractor, not for a camion, to attach on and pull. So I left Val to spend the night with the car as best he might, promised to get hot food out to him early in the morning, and I jumped onto an ambulance I'd stopped, which was carrying three couchés to Mont Notre Dame. The driver told me he had n't slept for twenty-four hours and that he did n't expect to get even a wink for another twenty-four, probably thirty-six. We had n't much more than begun to talk when a camion came along, looming out of the darkness straight for us on the wrong side of the road. We met with considerable of a thud. It was sickening to hear the sounds from the ambulance. The damage was a bent axle, a blown-out tire, and a leaking radiator. The best we could do was to put on a new tire, half an hour's work, and limp on as slowly as the injured steering-rods would allow. By the time we got to the next town, the water had all leaked out and the engine was badly overheated. A halt was made and an empty ambulance returning to the front stopped, turned around, and we transferred the wounded. I carried half the weight of each stretcher; and now I know the first nerve-getting experiences of the ambulance driver. Two of the men were suffering terribly. One of the stretchers vibrated as the poor devil shook with nerves tensely trying to control the body. To feel the shivers physically transferred through my own body was hideous indeed. My effort to behave as placidly as the ambulance boys seemed behaving was unfair to my feelings. I stayed with the banged-up ambulance to help nurse it on farther. But then it did n't seem that I could help much; so I hailed an ambulance carrying four assis. Then it was after midnight. The ambulance driver was just about all in and on a strange road, so I took the wheel. Now I have done all the ambulance driving I want to do; and another thing, I stop calling ambulance driving easy. Never again will I make that mistake. By one o'clock this morning I was here in camp, where I have been sleeping most of the day and now feel fine again.
Saturday, October 27
WE have been cited! While it's pleasant to have been in a cited section, though not with them during the events of the night that procured us this honor, and more pleasant to have been in the first cited section, we all feel that the pleasure had much better be not too obvious to others. It was n't deserved, if put on the same basis that the French poilus are for their reward. But to feel as we did the morning of the attack, that our work had obviously been of concrete service, was quite a rare pleasure.
YESTERDAY afternoon we made our longest trip since I have been in the service. The morning of the 5th at five o'clock, we left here loaded with machine-gun cartridges, clip grenades, rifle cartridges, small-gun stuff --- ten camions billed to a school of instruction some ninety-six kilometres from here, south of the Marne, even south of Paris, though much to the east, away past Château-Thierry, to the town of La Ferté Gaucher, which is out of the war zone, down into the district where roads are the same as before the war and where they dare to show lights on the streets at night. It took us all day to make the run. We had an excellent dinner at a very good small hotel, enjoyed deep, comfortable beds, with sheets and quilts, and where we had running water --- price, three francs for each bed. In the morning we had quantities of hot chocolate and innumerable omelettes; had the fun of seeing a corking little town in daylight, and riding back again over perfect roads, between endless rows of trees, past comparatively well-cultivated fields; through towns where Americans in uniform have never been --- towns bathed in sunlight and autumn color; through a country where were heavily laden apple orchards, cows and horses in the fields, healthy, happy-looking children in the yards of the primary schools, and no sign of ruination anywhere.
I WAS up again very early this morning. Getting eighteen cars going while it is still dark is n't joking, child's play. All of them have to be primed through the cylinders and half of them towed before they'll give a murmur. The trip was n't bad -to a town halfway between Braisne and Reims --- another new place. A new destination usually helps out the day by giving a tinge of fresh adventure to the run. The day was fairly incidentless --- a broken fan on Josh's car being the only mishap.
TO-DAY orders came to get cleaned up and ready to go over to Soissons and have the Croix de Guerre presented to the remnants of our old Section. We had got ready and had drilled a bit --- the first time since the Fourth --- when orders came to go instead on Monday. Scully will get a separate Croix de Guerre, and Bob Lamont a Médaille Militaire. I hear we're to be moved to Soissons Thursday, and then by another Thursday we'll be civilians again, and can make our plans for future service.
DONALD FAIRCHILD BIGELOW
Of St. Paul, Minnesota; Princeton, '20; T.M.U. 133; served six months in the Field Service; subsequently a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Field Artillery. The above are extracts from home letters.
MIDWAY, on that five-hundred-mile stretch of the western front, lies the city of Soissons, whose life of yesterday is still felt intensely in the things that yet remain among its ruins of the past. In its beautiful promenade grounds, "The Mall," one of the most famous in France, were encamped during the summer and fall of 1917, four of the motor transport sections that were in the American Field Service, namely, Nos. 397, 210, 242, and 155.
Approaching Soissons from Chavigny, where the Field Service camion drivers got their training, we look over the valley of the Aisne to the heights beyond, where the Germans dug themselves in, until driven out in April, 1917; and, from which heights, whenever an attack failed, they vented their spite by hurling shells into the city. For two years, before the spring of 1917, the Germans were only across the Aisne on the other side of the promenade ground, and their coarse gutturals could be heard from the south banks of the river.
Descending from the hill, we see the city lying in a curve of the Aisne; and, towering above it, the most conspicuous marks in the landscape, are the two towers of the old twelfth-century cathedral of Saint-Jean des Vignes, hedged about by the red-tiled houses of the town. While Soissons was not so badly damaged as its neighbor Reims, its sufferings under shell-fire were severe. Every house seems to have been hit, though not so many were completely destroyed, until the Germans again swept over the city in June, 1918, and completed what they had left undone before.
Soissons has one of the most interesting pasts of any city in France. It is rich in monuments of mediaevalism. It existed as a city when the Romans began the conquest of Gaul; and its name is found constantly in the events which signalized the monarchies of the Franks. It was formerly a fortified city; and the remnants of the old ramparts are still seen in the field back of where our camp was located. However, its fortifications were done away with in 1870.
Rodin was very fond of Soissons, which he referred to as "a sweet and tranquil city whose soul is the daughter of honorable simplicity"; and he fairly adored its cathedral. In his volume on the cathedrals of France, he describes the sensations and emotions that the Soissons cathedral produced in him in the moonlight when, "in the immobility of the night, the great edifice has the air of a big ship at anchor." Many of us, from time to time, attended services in this cathedral during our stay in Soissons, and heard mass said by the bishop, while the light streamed in through the rich, shattered stained-glass windows, and through the huge gaping wounds made in its vaulted stone ceiling.
Such was the city where we were to live for many weeks, interesting enough to have passed whole days in doing nothing but wander about its ruins had there been time for such sight-seeing and dreaming. Unfortunately this was not the case; for, when we pitched camp at Soissons, the Chemin des Dames sector was one of the hottest on the front, and the hungry guns were ever howling for more food. Our camp lay on the south bank of the Aisne, just beyond the bridge called the Pont des Anglais, where an English machine-gunner had, in 1914, single-handed, cut up the German advance by playing his gun across the river. It was at that time that Madame Acherez performed the heroic work that won for her the war cross, in assuming the duties of mayor of the city, and remaining to take care of the people while the city was in the hands of the Germans.
When we arrived at Soissons, there were few or no people in the town; and we wound, in our camions, through the ruined streets, many of which were merely paths through piles of rubbish, and arrived at camp late one afternoon. Stately rows of elms adorned the park, sheltering us from the view of airmen; and underneath these trees were our remorques and the barracks in which we lived, while, along the macadamized road, which ran through the park to the band-stand at the other end, were our dining-hall and shacks, which the humor of the fellows had led them to designate as the "Ritz-Carleton," "Sherry's," etc. The ateliers and workshops were at the other end of the ground, and the camions were parked in double lines a quarter of a mile or more long.
We had little leisure to think much about anything but work. Most of the cars were rolling all the time; for, from about September 1 on, there were continual rumors that the French were going to attack on the Chemin des Dames "next week." We discussed heatedly the pros and cons of this possibility as we sat about a sack of potatoes, happening to be in camp and on corvée duty. On the whole, it was a very contented existence that we lived there, in spite of the "kicking" that most of us occasionally indulged in; for our going out was always an adventure; we saw new things and had new experiences. Now and then air raids in the early morning hours sent us scampering to dugouts; and, to add more spice to existence, the city was shelled from time to time. Furthermore, almost every evening we went to bed with the sky lighted up by the flash of guns, whose din told all too plainly that the Germans were not far away. When, later, civilians came back to the town, we could vary the evenings spent in camp by a leave down town, where dinner could be had at the Croix d'Or or the Lion Rouge for about five francs, including wine.
Our business was work, however, and we got notice of this about every morning at four o'clock by the sergeant's coming around to the remorque to wake us. He could stand outside and reach up to our bunks without difficulty when he would pull the blankets off us, a method which he found more sure than yelling to us till he got a sleepy and uncertain response. Then for from four to twenty-four hours we were likely to be on the road --- at munitions parcs and batteries, foregathering with the poilus we found there. At that time, much of our activity consisted in hauling shells. During the course of the summer, we carried by far the greater part of the millions of shells that were hurled by the French at the Germans in what was the greatest artillery battle in the war.
Once in a while, there would be an inspection of cars, which was made quite a ceremony. The camions would then have the mud all brushed off the wheels and springs, the grease cups filled, and the engine painted with oil, when two or three French officers and our own Chef would make the rounds to look them over and either approve, or relegate the driver to a few hours more "manicuring."
The reason we worked so hard those days was because we were supplying munitions to a vast concentration of artillery necessary for the success of the expected attack. The terrain difficulties of the future battle were enormous; and it is no exaggeration to say that the French preparation surpassed anything previously seen. We carried shells up to the batteries a great part of the time; and frequently our camions were within a kilometre of the Boche lines.
It was the great opportunity and privilege of the men of the sixteen camion sections of the American Field Service at Jouaignes and Soissons to have played a part in this fighting, and to have been accredited with hauling from railheads to the batteries, the greater part of the ammunition with which the prolonged fighting along the Chemin des Dames was brought to a successful conclusion by the French in the final battle of Malmaison. That was worth coming to France for.
*Of Akron, Ohio; Municipal University of Akron; T.M.U. 397; three months in Field Service; subsequently a Sergeant, U.S. Motor Transport Corps (Réserve Mallet).
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