History of the
American Field Service in France
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917, TOLD BY ITS MEMBERS
||HENRY SYDNOR HARRISON|
||JOSHUA G. B. CAMPBELL|
||TRACY JACKSON PUTNAM|
||ROBERT WHITNEY IMBRIE|
||ROY H. STOCKWELL|
||JOHN H. McFADDEN, JR.|
||WILLIAM YORKE STEVENSON|
||EDWARD A. G. WYLIE|
SECTION ONE left Paris for Dunkirk on January 20, 1915. The latter part of March it was moved to Malo-les-Bains. From there it went on April 6 to Wormhoudt, to be ordered back later to Dunkirk. On April 22 it went to Woesten near Ypres: Later half the Section went to Elverdinghe.
In June ten ambulances were at Dunkirk and the remainder of the Section was transferred to Coxyde, Belgium, the postes being situated at Nieuport and Nieuport-Bains. On July 20 the entire Section was sent to Crombeke in Flanders.
On December 22 of the same year the Section moved near Beauvais, en repos. In January, 1916, it moved to Jaulzy, in February to Cortieux, and then to Méricourt-sur-Somme. From here it was suddenly ordered, on June 22, 1916, to Bar-le-Duc, behind the Verdun front, going from there to Dugny, where it arrived June 28. On July 13 it went en repos at Tannois, Givry-en-Argonne, Triaucourt, and Vaubécourt, all in the Argonne region. On the 15th of August it moved to Château Billemont. On September 11 it spent three days en repos at Triaucourt, and then moved to La Grange-aux-Bois, between the Argonne and Verdun sectors.
On January 19, 1917, the Section again went to Triaucourt en repos, following which it moved to Ippécourt. January 25 found it at Dombasle-en-Argonne, and the 14th of March at Vadelaincourt in the Verdun sector, en repos. On April 17 it moved to Muizon, ten kilometres west of Reims, and on June 21 to Louvois. It spent a repos, beginning July 23, at Évres. August saw it at Houdainville and later at the Caserne Béveaux. On September 14 it moved to a peaceful little village in the Jeanne d'Arc country, where it ended its career as a part of the Field Service, becoming thereafter Section Six Twenty-Five of the U.S. Army Ambulance Service, with the French Army.
|Mon corps à la terre,
Mon âme à Dieu,
Mon coeur à la France.
IN June, 1915, it was the pride of the Section in Flanders, Section One, to feel that it had come closer to war than any other formation of the American Ambulance. In June, 1916, when these lines were written, the point of pride was to know that those first intense experiences had long since been duplicated and eclipsed.
In Dunkirk we witnessed, and within our powers tried to cope with, what yet remains, I believe, one of the most sensational artillery exploits in history. It is remembered that the little cars of the Americans often ran those empty streets, and pursued those deafening detonations, alone. At our base, Dunkirk, we shared the life of a town under sporadic, but devastating, bombardment; forward, in Elverdinghe, we shared the life of a town under perpetual, and also, devastating, bombardment; still farther forward, in Ypres, we beheld a town bombarded from the face of the earth in a single night. There we shared no life, nor yet, in Nieuport, for there was none to share. In the salient around Ypres we played for many days our small part in that vast and various activity forever going on at the back of the front. There we saw and learned things not easily to be forgotten; the diverse noises of shells going and coming, of arrivées and départs; the stupendous uproar of the "duel" before the charge, which makes the deepening quiet of a run back come like a balm and a blessing; the strange informality of roadside batteries, booming away in the sight of peasant families and every passer; the silence and the stillness, and the tenseness and the business, of night along the lines; the extreme difficulty of hiding from shrapnel successfully without a dugout; the equal difficulty of driving successfully down a shell-bitten road in darkness like ink; the glow against the sky of a burning town, and the bright steady dots of starlight around half the horizon; the constant straggle of the evicted by the field ambulance's front door, and the fast-growing cemetery at the back door; the whine and patter of bullets by the postes de secours and the businesslike ripple of the machine guns; the whir of Taubes, the practical impossibility of hitting them from the ground, and the funny little bombs sometimes dropped by the same; the noises made by men gone mad with pain; the glorious quiet of men under the acetylene lamps of the operating-table; "crowd psychology," and why a regiment becomes a "fighting machine," and how tender hearts are indurated with a toughening of the skin; the high prevalence of courage among the sons of men; drawbacks of sleeping on a stretcher in an ambulance; the unkemptness of Boche prisoners; life, death, and war, and the values and meanings thereof.
Such things, as I know, passed into the experience of Section One, in Flanders. And these things, and more, have similarly passed into the experience of scores of young Americans since, in their life and service behind the lines of France.
It is the composite experience which the following pages narrate; it is the composite service which the mind holds to with most satisfaction. We were the Service Sanitaire Américaine; a proud title, and we wished, naturally, to invest it with the realest meaning. That the American service was rendered efficiently and even valuably, this History as a whole attests, I think. That it was rendered with the requisite indifference to personal risk is also, I hope, supported by the record. A transient in the service, who by no means bore the burden and heat of the day, may be permitted, I trust, to say these necessary, or at least these interesting and pertinent things with complete detachment.
I remember the hour of Section One's "baptism of fire." We stood in the lee (or what we hoped was the lee) of the Petit Château at Elverdinghe, while German shells whistled over our heads and burst with a wicked crash about the little church, the typical target, a couple of hundred yards away. (What interest we felt when a fragment of shell, smoking hot, fell almost at our feet, and what envy of the man who gathered in this first memorable "souvenir"!) We were just down from Dunkirk; we were greener than the grass that blew; and that the novel proceedings were acutely interesting to us all will never be denied. Perhaps each of us secretly wondered to himself if he was going to be afraid; certainly all of us must have wished, with some anxiousness, that those strange whistles and roars would turn themselves another way. And still, when the young Englishman who ran the ambulance service there appeared at that moment and asked for two cars to go down the road to Brielen (which was to go straight toward the trouble), it is pleasant to remember that there was no lack of volunteers, and two of my companions were cranking up at once. There was never any time later, I am sure, when the sense of personal danger was so vivid in the minds of so many of us together.
EVERY ambulance-driver must have his bad quarters of an hour, no doubt --- and some of the worst of them may concern not himself at all, but his car or his wounded. And if it is said that these young Americans, amateurs and volunteers, have acquitted themselves well in sometimes trying circumstances, there is no intention to overemphasize this aspect of their service. A volume might be written on the developmental reactions --- all but mathematical in their working --- of war-time. Nor does it seem necessary to add that the risk of the ambulanciers, at the worst, is small in comparison with that of those whom they serve and from whom in turn they get their inspiration, --- the intrepid youths in the trenches.
We came to know these youths very well --- the gallant and charming poilus who have so long carried the Western Front upon their shoulders. We sincerely admired them; and on them largely we formed our opinions of France, and of the war generally, and of war.
From the standpoint of observation, indeed, --- and doubtless it is observation one should try to record here, --- I believe we all felt the peculiar advantage of our position to have been this, that we mingled with the soldiers on something like equal terms. We were not officers; we were not distinguished visitors dashing up in a staff car for an hour of sight-seeing. We were rankers (so far as we were anything), and we were permanent; and in the necessities of our work, we touched the life of the common fighting man at every hour of the day and night, and under almost every conceivable circumstance. We were with the poilus in the hour of rout and disaster; we were with them in the flush of a victorious charge brilliantly executed. We crawled along roads blocked for miles with them, moving forward; we wormed into railroad stations swamped with the tide of their wounded. Now we heard their boyish fun, and shared their jokes in the fine free days off duty; and now we heard from the unseen well of the jolting car, their faint entreaty, "Doucement! Doucement!" We saw them distressed by the loss of their precious sacs, or elated by the gift of a button or a cheese; we saw them again in silence and the darkness beside the Yser, very quiet and busy, with the ping and whine of many rifles; and again we found them lying on straw in dim-lit stables, bloody and silent, but not defeated. Now they gave us tobacco and souvenirs, and told us of their gosses, and helped us tinker with our cars, about which some of them, mechanicians in happier days, knew so much more than we did; and now they died in our ambulances, and sometimes went mad. We saw them gay, and we saw them gassed; we found them idling or writing letters on the running-boards of our cars, and we found the dark stains of their fading lives upon our stretchers; we passed them stealing up like stalwart ghosts to action, and we left them lying in long brown rows beside the old roads of Flanders.
AND to me at least it seemed that the dominant note and characteristic quality of the poilu, and all his intense activity, was just a disciplined matter-of-factness, a calm, fine, business-like efficiency, an utter absence of all heroics. Of his heroism, it is superfluous to speak now. My observation convinced me indeed, that fortitude is everywhere more common and, evident, not less, than even rhapsodical writers have represented. There seems literally no limit to the powers of endurance of the human animal, once he is put to it. Many writers have written of the awful groanings of the wounded. I must say that, though I have seen thousands of wounded, the groans I have heard could almost be counted upon the fingers of my hand. Only once in my experience do I remember seeing any signs of excitement or disorder. That was in the roads around Poperinghe, in the first threatening hours of the second battle of Ypres. Once only did I get any impression of human terror. And that was only a reminiscence, left behind by women and children in the tumbled empty houses of Ypres. But in all the heroism, unlimited and omnipresent, there is observed, as I say, little or no heroics. That entire absence of drum and fife, which strikes and arrests all beholders at the front, is significant and symbolic. These men muster and move forward to the risk of death almost as other men take the subway and go downtown to business. There are no fanfares at all, no grand gestures, no flourishes about the soul and "la gloire."
It is true, no doubt, that the ambulance-driver views the scene from a somewhat specialized angle. His principal association is with the sequelae of war; his view is too much the hospital view. Yet, it must be insisted, he becomes quickly and strangely callous on these points; and on the whole would be less likely to overstress the mere horrors than some one who had not seen so much of them. On the other hand, as I have suggested, he has extraordinary opportunities for viewing war as a thing at once of many parts and of a marvellously organized unity.
PERSONALLY I think that my sharpest impression of war as a whole came to me, not along the postes de secours or under the guns at all, but at the station place, in the once obscure little town of Poperinghe, on April 23, 1915.
That, it will be remembered, was a fateful day. At five o'clock in the afternoon before (everybody was perfectly specific about the hour), there had begun the great movement now known as the Second Battle of Ypres (or of the Yser). The assault had begun with the terrifying surprise of poison-gas; the gas was followed by artillery attacks of a ferocity hitherto unequalled; Ypres had been wiped out in a few hours; the Germans had crossed the Yser. Thus the French and English lines, which were joined, had been abruptly pushed back over a long front. That these were anxious hours for the Allies, Sir John French's report of June 15, 1915, indicates very plainly, I think. But they were far from being idle hours. To-day the whole back country, which for weeks had swarmed with soldiers, was up. For miles around, Allied reserves had been called up from camp or billet; and now they were rushing forward to stiffen the wavering lines and stem the threatening thrust for the coast.
At three o'clock on this afternoon, I stood in the rue d'Ypres, before the railway station in Poperinghe, and watched the new army of England go up. Thousands and thousands, foot and horse, supply and artillery, gun, caisson, wagon, and lorry, the English were going up. All afternoon long, in an unending stream, they tramped and rolled up the Flemish highroad, and wheeling just before me, dipped and disappeared down a side street toward "out there." Beautifully equipped and physically attractive ---the useless cavalry especially!--- sun-tanned and confident, all ready, I am sure, to die without a whimper, they were a most likely and impressive-looking lot. And I suppose that they could have had little more idea of what they were going into than you and I have of the geography of the nether regions.
This was on my left --- the English going up. And on my right, the two streams actually touching and mingling, the English were coming back. They did not come as they went, however. They came on their backs, very still and remote; and all that you were likely to see of them now was their muddy boots at the ambulance flap.
Service Sanitaire as we were, I think Section One never saw, before or since, such a conglomeration of wounded as we saw that day at Poperingbe. Here was the railhead and the base; here for the moment were the Red Cross and Royal Army Medical Corps units shelled out of Ypres; here was the nervous centre of all that swarming and sweating back-of-the-front. And here, hour after hour, into and through the night, the slow-moving wagons, English, French, and American, rolling on one another's heels, brought back the bloody harvest.
The English, so returning to Poperinghe gare, were very well cared for. By the station wicket a large squad of English stretcher-bearers, directed, I believe, by a colonel of the line, was unceasingly and expertly busy. Behind. the wicket lay the waiting English train, steam up for Boulogne, enormously long and perfectly sumptuous; a, super-train, a hospital Pullman, all swinging white beds and shining nickel. The French, alas, were less lucky that day. Doubtless the unimagined flood of wounded had swamped the generally excellent service; for the moment, at least, there was not only no super-train for the French, there was no train. As for the bunks of the station warehouses, the hôpital d'évacuation, they were, of course, long since exhausted. Thus it was that wounded tirailleurs and Zouaves and black men from Africa set down from ambulances, staggered unattended up the station platform, sat and lay anyhow about the concrete and the sand --- no flesh-wounded hoppers these, but hard-punished men, not a few of them struck, it was only too manifest, in the seat of their lives. This was a bloody disarray which I never saw elsewhere, and hope never to see again. Here, indeed, there was moaning to be heard, with the hard gasp and hopeless coughing of the asphyxiés. And still, behind this heavy ambulance, rolled another and another and another.
On my left was the cannon fodder going up; on my right was the cannon fodder coming back. The whole mechanics of war at a stroke, you might have said; these two streams being really one, these men the same men, only at slightly different stages of their experience. But there was still another detail in the picture we saw that day, more human than the organized machine, perhaps, and it seemed even more pathetic.
BEHIND me as I stood and watched the mingling stream of soldiers, the little square was black with réfugiés. Farther back, in the station yard, a second long train stood steaming beside the hospital train, a train for the homeless and the waifs of war. And presently the gate opened, and these crowds, old men and women and children, pushed through to embark on their unknown voyage.
These were persons who but yesterday possessed a local habitation and a name, a background, old ties and associations, community organization, a life. Abruptly severed from all this, violently hacked off at the roots, they were to-day floating units in a nameless class, droves of a ticket and number, réfugiés. I walked up the platform beside their crowded train. A little group still lingered outside --- a boy, a weazened old man, and three or four black-clad women, simple peasants, with their household goods in a tablecloth --- waiting there, it may be, for the sight of a familiar face, missed since last night. I asked the women where they came from. They said from Boesinghe, which the Germans had all but entered the night before. Their homes, then, were in Boesinghe? Oh, no; their homes, their real homes, were in a little village some twenty kilometres back. And then they fixed themselves permanently in my memory by saying, quite simply, that they had been driven from their homes by the coming of the Germans in October, 1914; and they had then come to settle with relatives in Boesinghe, which had seemed safe --- until last night. Twice expelled and severed at the roots --- where were they going now? I asked the question, and one of the women made a little gesture with her arms, and answered stoically, "To France," which was, as I consider, the brave way of saying, God knows. As the case seemed sad to me, I tried to say something to that effect; and, getting no answer to my commonplaces, I glanced up, and all the women's eyes had suddenly filled with tears.
And outside the English were still going up with a fine tramp and rumble, nice young clerks from Manchester and greengrocers' assistants from Tottenham Court Road.
I have never forgotten that the very last soldier I carried in my ambulance (on June 23, 1915) was one whose throat, while he slept, had been quietly cut by a flying sliver of a shell thrown from a gun twenty-two miles away. But it will not do, I am aware, to over-emphasize the purely mechanical side of modern war, the deadly impersonality which often seems to characterize it, the terrible meaninglessness of its deaths at times. Ours, as I have said, was too much the hospital view. That the personal equation survives everywhere, and the personal dedication, it is quite superfluous to say. Individual exaltation, fear and the victory over fear, conscious consecration to an idea and ideal, all the subtle promptings and stark behavior by which the common man chooses and avows that there are ways of dying which transcend all life, --- this, we know, must have been the experience of hundreds of thousands of the young soldiers of France. And all this, beyond doubt, will one day be duly recorded, in tales to stir the blood and set the heart afire.
HENRY SYDNOR HARRISON*
*The novelist; Columbia, '00; a member of the Field Service from March to July, 1915.
OLD SECTION ONE had at least one distinguishing characteristic. It was the first section of substantial proportions to be geographically separated from the American Ambulance at Neuilly and turned over to the French Army. Until it left for the front, American automobiles had worked either to and from Neuilly Hospital, as an evacuating base, or, if temporarily detached for service elsewhere, they had gone out in small units.
The Section's story began in the cold, wet days of early January, 1915, when twenty men with twelve cars left Paris for the north. En route we spent our first night in the shadow of the Beauvais cathedral, passing the following day through many towns filled with French troops, and then, as we crossed into the British sector, traversed villages abounding with the khaki-clad soldiers of England and her colonies and the turbaned troops of British India. The second night we stayed at Saint-Omer, the men sleeping in their cars in the centre of the town square; and the third morning, passing out of the British sector once more into the French lines, we arrived in Dunkirk where our work began.
We were at once assigned to duty. Every school, barrack and other large building --- even the public theatre --- in the town, or in the neighboring towns within ten miles of Dunkirk, seemed to have been turned into a hospital. The cars were parked in the railroad yard near the station where a big freight shed was fitted up as receiving-post. The drivers on active duty were quartered in a small lean-to in the station yard, which lean-to was furnished with straw-covered bunks, a table, and a stove. It was the principal loafing-place for the young Americans, and being an ill-smelling place, soon acquired the name of "Monkey House." The men secured their meals in a nearby cafe, remembered chiefly for its dirty, dingy interior.
The blessés arriving at Dunkirk by hospital trains from Belgian villages, a few miles away, were unloaded in this freight-shed and then carried to the twenty-five or more hospitals in the city and in the towns roundabout.
Our first incident of an exciting nature came on the second day. We were nearly all at the station, quietly waiting for the next train, when high up in the air there appeared first one, then three, and finally seven graceful aeroplanes. We watched, fascinated, and were the more so when a moment later we learned that they were Taubes. It seemed hard to realize that we were to witness one of the famous raids that have made Dunkirk even more famous than the raider Jean Bart himself had ever done. Explosions were heard on all sides and the sky was soon spotted with puffs of white smoke from the shells fired at the intruders. The rattle of the mitrailleuses and the bang of the "75's" became a background of sound for the more solemn boom of the shells. A few moments later there was a bang not thirty yards away and we were showered with bits of stone. We stood spellbound until the danger was over and then foolishly jumped behind our cars for protection.
THIS incident of our early days was soon thrown into unimportance by other raids, each more interesting than the last. One of them stands out in memory above all the rest. It occurred on a perfect moonlight night, quite cloudless. Four of my companions and I were on night duty in the railway yard; about eleven the excitement started; and to say that it commenced with a bang is not slang but the truth. Rather it commenced with many bangs. The sight was superb and the excitement intense. One could hear the whirr of the motors, and when they presented a certain angle to the moon, the machines showed up like enormous silver flies. One had a delicious feeling of danger, and to stand there and hear the roar of the artillery, the buzzing of the aeroplanes, the swish of the bombs as they fell and the crash as they exploded made an unforgettable experience. One could plainly hear the bombs during their flight, for each had a propeller attached which prevented its too rapid descent, thus insuring its not entering so far into the ground as to explode harmlessly. To hear them coming and to wonder if it would be your turn to be hit next was an experience new to us all. The bombardment continued for perhaps an hour and then our work began. I was sent down to the quay and brought back two wounded men and one who had been killed, and all my companions had about the same experience. One took a man from a half-demolished house; another, an old woman who had been killed in her bed; and still another three men, badly mutilated, who had been peacefully walking along the street. An hour later all was quiet --- except perhaps the nerves of some of our men.
About this time our work was enlivened by the appearance of the one and only real ambulance war dog, the official mascot of the squad, and my personal dog at that! I was very jealous on that point and rarely let him ride on another machine. I got him at Zuydcoote. I found him playing about, and as he appeared to be a stray and was very friendly, I allowed him to get on the seat and stay there. But I had to answer so many questions about him that it became a bore, and finally I prepared a speech to suit all occasions; so when any one approached me and took up the dog question, I used to say, "Non, Madame, il n'est pas américain, il est français. Je l'ai trouvé ici dans le Nord." One day a rosy-cheeked young lady came up and called the dog "Dickie"; whereupon I started my speech: "Il ne s'appelle pas Dickie, Mademoiselle, mais Khaki, et, vous savez, il est français." "Je le sais bien, Monsieur, parce qu'il est à moi." I felt sorry and chagrined, but not for long, as a moment later the lady presented him to me.
WE will skip over the humdrum life of the next weeks to a night in April when we were suddenly ordered to the station at about 1 A.M. It was, I think, April 22. "The Germans have crossed the Yser" was the news that sent a thrill through all of us. Would they this time reach Calais or would they be pushed back? We had no time to linger and wonder. All night long we worked unloading the trains that followed each other without pause. The Germans had used a new and infernal method of warfare; they had released a cloud of poisonous gas which, with a favorable wind, had drifted down and completely enveloped the Allied trenches. The tales of this first gas attack were varied and fantastic, but all agreed on the surprise and horror of it. Trains rolled in filled with huddled figures, some dying, some more lightly touched, but even these coughed so that they were unable to speak coherently. All told the same story, of having become suddenly aware of a strange odor, and then of smothering and choking and falling like flies. In the midst of all this had come a hail of shrapnel. The men were broken as I have never seen men broken. In the months of our work we had become so accustomed to dreadful sights and to suffering as to be little affected by them. The sides and floors of our cars had often been bathed in blood and our ears had not infrequently been stirred by the groans of men in agony, but these sufferers from the new form of attack awakened in all of us feelings of pity beyond any that we had ever felt before. To see these big men bent double, convulsed and choking was heart-breaking and hate-inspiring.
At ten o'clock we were ordered to Poperinghe, about twenty miles from Dunkirk and three miles from Ypres, where a great battle was just getting under way. The town was filled with refugees from Ypres, which was in flames and uninhabitable. Through Poperinghe and beyond it we slowly wound our way in the midst of a solid stream of motor trucks filled with dust-covered soldiers coming up to take their heroic part in stemming the German tide. We were to make our headquarters for the time at Elverdinghe; but as we approached our destination the road was being shelled and we put on our best speed to get through the danger zone. This destination turned out to be a small château in Elverdinghe, where a first-aid hospital had been established, and where, all around us, batteries of French and English guns were thundering their aid to the men in the trenches some two miles away. In front of us and beside us were the famous "75's," and "120's," and farther back the great English marine guns, whose big shells we could hear every few seconds passing over us.
Before we reached the château, an automobile had just been put out of commission by a shell; so we had to change our route and go up another road. The château presented a terrible scene. In every room straw and beds and stretchers, with mangled men everywhere. We started to work and for twenty-six hours there was scarcely time for pause. Our labor consisted in going down to the postes de secours, situated in the Flemish farmhouses, perhaps four hundred or five hundred yards from the trenches, where the wounded get their first-aid attention, and then in carrying the men back to the dressing stations where their wounds were more carefully attended to, and finally in taking them farther to the rear to the hospitals outside of shell range. The roads were bad and we had to pass a constant line of convoys. At night no lights were allowed and we had to be especially careful not to jolt our passengers. But the best of drivers cannot help bumping on the pavements of Belgium, and when, during an hour or more, each cobble brings forth a groan from the poor fellows inside, it is hard to bear, especially as they are often out of their heads, when they call for their mothers, order the charge or to cease firing, see visions of beautiful fields or of cool water, and sometimes die before the trip is over.
THE following morning we decided to stay in Elverdinghe and try to get a little sleep; but no sooner had we turned in than we were awakened by the order to get out of the château at once, as we were under fire. While I was putting on my shoes, the window fell in and part of the ceiling came down. Then we were instructed to evacuate the place of all its wounded and we were kept busy for hours getting them to a place of safety. In the meantime shells were falling all about us. One great tree in front of me was cut completely off and an auto near it was riddled with the fragments. For two weeks this battle lasted, and we watched our little village gradually disintegrating under the German shells. Our cars were many times more or less under heavy artillery and rifle fire and few of them escaped without shrapnel holes.
To most of the postes we could go only after dark, as they were in sight of the German lines. Once we did go during the day to a poste along the banks of the Yser Canal; but it was too dangerous and the General ordered such trips stopped. These few trips were splendid, however, for to see the men in the trenches and hear the screech of the shells at the very front was thrilling indeed. At times a rifle bullet would find its way over the bank and flatten itself against a near-by farmhouse. One was safer at night, of course, but the roads were so full of marmite holes and fallen trees that they were hard to drive along. We could find our way only by carefully avoiding the dark spots on the road. There was not a man among us, however, who did not feet a hundred times repaid for the danger and anxiety he had gone through when he realized the delay and suffering he had saved the wounded. Had we not been there with our little cars, the wounded would have been brought back on handstretchers or in wagons far less comfortable and much slower.
The advantage of our little cars over the bigger and heavier ambulances was demonstrated many times. On narrow roads, with a ditch on each side, choked with troops, ammunition wagons, and vehicles of all sorts moving in both directions, horses sometimes rearing in terror at exploding shells, at night in the pitch dark, except for the weird light from the illuminating rockets, the little cars would squeeze through somehow. If sometimes a wheel or two would fall into a shell hole, four or five willing soldiers were enough to lift the car out and send it on its way undamaged. If a serious collision occurred, two hours' work sufficed to repair it. Always "on the job, " always efficient, the little car, the subject of a thousand jokes, gained the admiration of every one.
FINALLY the second battle of the Yser was over, and the front settled down again to the comparative quiet of trench warfare. Meanwhile some of us were beginning to feel the strain and were ordered back to Dunkirk for a rest, which we reached in time to witness one of the most exciting episodes of the war. It was just at this time that the Germans "sprang" another surprise, --- the bombardment of Dunkirk from guns more than twenty miles away. Shells that would obliterate a whole house or make a hole in the ground thirty feet across would fall and explode without even a warning whistle such as ordinary shells make when approaching. At about 9.30 in the morning we were in the-railway station working on our cars when, out of a clear, beautiful sky, the first shell fell. We thought it was from an aeroplane, as Dunkirk seemed far from the range of other guns. The dog seemed to know better, for he jumped off the seat of my car and came whining under me. A few minutes later came a second and then a third shell. Still not knowing from where they came, we got out our machines and went to where the clouds of smoke gave evidence that they had fallen. I had supposed that by this time I had become something of a veteran; but when I went into the first dismantled house and saw what it looked like inside, the street seemed to me by far a safer place, for the building was one mass of torn timbers, earth and débris. Even people in the cellar had been wounded.
We worked all that day, moving from place to place in the town, sometimes almost smothered by dust and plaster from the explosion of shells in our vicinity. We cruised slowly around the streets waiting for the shells to come and then went to see if any one had been hit. Sometimes when houses were demolished, we found every one safe in the cellars, but there were many hurt, of course, and quite a number of killed. The first day I carried three dead and ten terribly wounded soldiers, civilians, and women too. In one of the earliest bombardments a shell fell in the midst of a funeral, destroying almost every vestige of the hearse and body and all of the mourners. Another day one of them hit a group of children at play in front of the billet where at one time we lodged, and one never knew how many children had been killed, so complete was their annihilation.
For a time every one believed the shells had been fired from marine guns at sea, but later it was found that they came from heavy land guns, twenty or more miles away; and as these bombardments were repeated in succeeding weeks, measures were taken to safeguard the public from them. Although the shells weighed nearly a ton, their passage through the air took almost a minute and a half, and their arrival in later days was announced by telephone from the French trenches as soon as the explosion on their departure had been heard. At Dunkirk a siren was blown on the summit of a central tower, giving people at least a minute in which to seek shelter in their cellars before the shell arrived. Whenever we heard the siren, our duty was to run into the city and search for the injured, and during the succeeding weeks many severely wounded were carried in our ambulances, including women and children, so frequently the victims of German methods of warfare. The American Ambulance cars were the only cars on duty during these different bombardments and the leader of the Section was awarded the Croix de Guerre for the services which they performed.
IN the summer a quieter period set in. Sunny weather made life agreeable and in their greater leisure our men were able to enjoy sea-bathing and walks along the sand dunes. We kept up a regular ambulance service in Dunkirk and the surrounding towns, but part of the Section was moved to Coxyde, a small village in the midst of the dunes near the sea, between the ruined city of Nieuport and La Panne, the residence of the Belgian King and Queen, where we worked for seven weeks, among the Zouaves and the Fusiliers Marins, famous the world over as the "heroes of the Yser."
Then once more we were moved to the district farther south known as Old Flanders, where our headquarters were in a Flemish farm adjacent to the town of Crombeke. The landscape thereabout is flat as a billiard-table, only a slight rise now and again breaking the view. Our work consisted in bringing back wounded from the vicinity of the Yser Canal, which then marked the line of the enemy trenches; but owing to the flatness of the country we had to work chiefly at night. Canals dotted with slow-moving barges were everywhere,. and as our work was often a cross-country affair, looking for bridges added to the length of our runs. Here we stayed from August to the middle of December, 1915, during which we did the ambulance work for the entire French front between the English and the Belgian sectors.
JUST as another winter was setting in and we were once more beginning to get hordes of cases of frozen feet, we were ordered to move again, this time to another sector. The day before we left, Colonel Morier visited the Section and, in the name of the Army, thanked the men in glowing terms, not only for the work which they had done, but for the way in which they had done it. He recalled the great days of the second battle of the Yser and the Dunkirk bombardments and our part therein; how he had always felt sure that he could depend upon our men and how they had always been ready for any service however arduous or dull or dangerous it might be. He expressed officially and personally his regret at our departure. We left on a day that was typical and reminiscent of hundreds of other days we had spent in Flanders. It was raining when our convoy began to stretch itself out along the road and it drizzled all that day.
JOSHUA G. B. CAMPBELL*
*Of New York; member of Section One from January, 1915, to December, 1916; subsequently first lieutenant in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
Dunkirk, May 16, 1915
WE started out in four Fords from Paris yesterday and arrived here at about 4 P.M. The journey was one of the most beautiful I have ever taken. The sky was blue, with puffy white clouds, the rolling country a bright green dotted with red and white houses. The villages we passed through were almost deserted except for a few women and children. Once we came across a lot of men working in a field; but they were digging trenches, not ploughing. The children would shout "Vivent les Anglais!" as we passed, and once an old woman tossed me a bunch of lilacs.
Malo-les-Bains, May 20
WE are billeted, twenty of us, in a tiny villa here, just outside the city and right on the beach. We draw rations from the French Army and a red-haired Flemish girl cooks them for us. Work is rather slack just now. Occasionally a train full of wounded comes in and we take them. out to the hospitals in the vicinity. Some German blessés arrived yesterday, all that were left of four companies. Poor devils! How melancholy they looked. An officer among them, though shot through the shoulder, was still full of nerve and kept his head up; but the others were too miserable.
There is another squad of us at Poperinghe, near the firing line, and I shall be sent there soon.
Saturday, May 22
I WAS "chow orderly" day before yesterday and spent all day setting or clearing the table and flirting with the cook.
Sunday, May 23
THEY say that the gun is broken down and that is why it does not shoot at us any more. But I doubt it. Took two couchés from Hondschoote to Zuydcoote, really a pleasant trip, for the weather, road, and scenery were beautiful. I gave a lift to a bicyclist who had been billeted near the English. It is noticeably more difficult to understand or talk to French soldiers who have had intercourse with the Tommies because these men have acquired the habit of saying only a few words in a sentence in the hope of making the meaning clear. I don't know whether the Tommies can understand such men, but I am sure I cannot. A motor truck I saw the other day was mottled in greens, reds, blues, grays, and browns, so that it looked at a distance like a mass of foliage --- camouflage, I suppose.
Monday, May 24
I AM beginning to think that for once news unfavorable to the Germans is true and the big gun is broken. A red, white, and green flag flew from the town hall to-day, for Italy has entered the war. In the morning, at Malo Terminus, I had a hot and bitter dispute with a Turco officer because I insisted that the Ford could not carry eight. They say, though no one seems to know for certain, that an aeroplane dropped a bomb here last night. To-morrow I leave for Poperinghe.
Poperinghe, Tuesday, May 25
STARTED for this place at 10.30 and arrived about 12.30. A warm, dusty road. Roads partly good and partly vile. Most all of the Belgian roads are pavés, very much worn from heavy motor convoys and are thick with dust, too, which in wet weather turns to deep mud. Our billet, which I had some trouble in finding, is an old Flemish farmhouse. The rooms are low-studded and have beamed ceilings. The cooking is done over an open fire. All this is picturesque, but most of the men prefer to sleep in their cars rather than in the house. Day and night one hears continual cannonading.
Thursday, May 27
VERY raw and windy. Sky overcast. I regret that I considered overcoats too expensive in Paris. I think I will make one out of a blanket. We went up to Woesten about 7.30 P.M. I closed up my ambulance as tightly as possible and lighted a lantern to keep warm, with fair success. An Algerian miner gave us some coffee. About midnight some wounded came in and in the shadowed moonlight I took two to West Vleteren.
Sunday, May 30
I AWOKE this morning from a rather chilled sleep to see a long file of khakied soldiers coming up to our farm. They were the 2d Durham Regulars, being sent to the, upper end of the British sector after a few days' rest. Some of them had been fighting since September, with no furlough. This is the type of soldier that has built the empire --- tough, coarse, rather stupid, well-drilled, and with beautifully kept rifles. They did not look bloodthirsty and most of them were married. But they had become used to killing people and being killed, as a trade, and their point of view seemed rather strange when the enemy was concerned. However, we became very good friends. They were all lamenting the fact that most of their officers had been transferred to the newer regiments and they had been given amateurs. One of their lieutenants seemed no more than sixteen or seventeen. Several of the men confirmed the report in the papers of the Prussians deliberately firing upon the Saxons when the latter tried to surrender. There is no great love between them. They say that frequently the Saxons would shout over to them to save their ammunition for the Prussians and there would occasionally be an exchange of tobacco and canned stuff between the trenches. The French, on the other hand, hate the Saxons. It's a strange war.
Monday, May 31
THE Durhams left about 5 o'clock. One poor fellow who was on sentry duty last night, found our wine barrel too attractive and had to be taken away under guard. The next time there is a dangerous but unimportant job to be done he will be given it and will probably get shot. After they had gone, I found and appropriated a raincoat which one of them had left. They also left some bully beef and biscuits which were confiscated by the ambulance. In the evening we saw a Zeppelin flying over the Belgian lines. It was fired at but not hit. Another was seen at Dunkirk about the same time --probably both bound for London.
Tuesday, June 1
I WOKE from a deep sleep about noon, to find the farm once more full of soldiers --- this time the Buffs. They did not, however, swarm all over it as the Durhams did. They lay down in a neat column in the shelter of the hedge and stayed there. But one or two non-coms came over to talk to us and make us some very welcome presents of Bovril and marmalade. One told us of finding in the field a wounded German he had known in London, who begged to be put out of pain. But the Britisher refused to do this, and the poor fellow died a few minutes later on an English stretcher.
Wednesday, June 2
THE Buffs left in the afternoon. They were not so sociable as the Durhams, but neater and better drilled.
Friday, June 4
THE irrepressible Budd seeing an old gentleman squinting at an aeroplane through a very long telescope, suddenly cried: "Ne tirez pas, c'est un français!" The old man was very indignant.
Saturday, June 5
I WAS "chow" to-day. Except that one has to get up early, the job is a "cinch." The loaf was welcome. About 6.15 there was a very heavy call and I deserted my duties and took five assis to Zuydcoote.
Monday, June 7
WARM, hazy day. The scarlet poppies are suddenly cut and the fields are gay with them. At midnight, one trip to Rosendaël. As I was about to leave, the pleasant old janitor ran into the garden and came back with a little bunch of white wild carnations growing there in the starlight. At 5.30 in the morning there was a false alarm for all the cars to go to Zuydcoote. Stebbins and Ferguson answered it; but we found there were only six blessés to be carried.
Poperinghe, June 11
THERE is a pretty little light-haired girl here about fourteen years old, who can run like a deer, even in sabots. She runs races with Johnson and Budd and beats them! She does most of our work, and is very pleasant and intelligent and understands a little English as well as French and Flemish. I think she is a little higher class than the rest, and is, of course, a refugee.
Saturday, June 12
IN the morning Haney got a trip to Ypres. He reports that there is not a single undamaged house in the city.
Sunday, June 13,
IN the afternoon, just after lunch, two joy-riding doctors strolled over to the billet and asked for some one to take them to Nieuport and Ypres. I took them. The doctors were very much afraid of being seen by some one from the hospital, so they hid inside the car until we were out of Poperinghe. We went through. Saint-Sixte, Oostvleteren Furnes, to Coxyde, one of our new postes; and then up the coast to Nieuport. The vicinity of the Yser was flooded. As we came near the city, the road and fields were frequently dotted with marmite holes. Occasionally wretched farmhouses would also be seen, and when we reached. the city itself we found it a ruin. There is scarcely a block that does not contain several ruined houses, and in the middle of the town every building is wrecked. Sometimes only the front door and the windows of a house are broken in; sometimes a corner or a side is taken off, giving a sort of diagrammatic view of all the floors; sometimes nothing is left but a pile of plaster and bricks. Leaving the city we drove along the east bank of a canal to Ypres, which was even more of a ruin than Nieuport. It seems as if not a house were untouched. We entered a rather small church --- Saint Pierre, I think, was its name. We moved cautiously for the roof had been blown in. The two doctors proceeded to help themselves to the carvings over some confessional booths, while I rummaged around with the best of them and found a pewter collection plate, an old Dutch prayer-book and some little waxen images. The whole proceeding seemed to me a trifle unscrupulous. But after all we were only robbing the next looter and the value of the pilfered articles was almost purely intrinsic. We got back to Poperinghe about half-past six. The doctors were much alarmed because they were seen by two of the men from the hospital out walking in the town. They made me drive up a back road and sneaked home on foot.
Coxyde, Tuesday, June 15
THIS morning about 10, twelve of us started for this place where we arrived in perfect convoy without accident. Like Malo, it is on the shore; many dunes and much wind-driven sand. We are billeted in a hay-loft, from which we have removed the hay, and we eat at a house near by. The place is full of marines, territorials and zouaves --- a cheerful bunch. We have all the poste de secours work around Nieuport --- shifts --- also one car at Oost-Dunkerke. Our meals are excellent. The two chief outs about the place are that it is obtrusively sandy and is infested with dirty, prying children, who shout the ugliest Flemish in shrill harsh French voices --- an ineffable nuisance.
Friday, June 18
WENT down to Adinkerke about 8.30, where I met two young Belgian chauffeurs one of whom spoke English. They were very cordial and pleasant. A lot of Belgian soldiers were there and I had my first opportunity to see them near to. One is struck by their youthfulness, as compared with the French and English, due partly to their being blond and clean-shaven. Some of the cavalry have a most brilliant uniform; the breeches are magenta with a yellow stripe. I must get a pair. The Belgians are all very grateful to America, but are afraid that if we go into the war, their countrymen under German rule will starve.
TRACY JACKSON PUTNAM*
*Of Boston; Harvard, '15; was in the Field Service from April, 1915, to January, 1916, serving in Sections One and Three.
Section One, con't
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