History of the
American Field Service in France
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917, TOLD BY ITS MEMBERS
Paris, September 9, 1916
I HAVE just returned from a visit to Section One. After seeing the extraordinary work that those boys are doing up there, I felt that I ought to write and tell you about it.
A good many of the Sections are now living under canvas and have often had difficulty in finding a suitable place to cook. So we have had built a kitchen on two wheels which is pulled along by a big two-ton White truck used for sitting cases, and the real reason of my visit was to leave one with Section One.
As it happens, they are situated at the present moment in the splendid Château de Billemont about four kilometres outside of Verdun, which up to a few weeks ago was the headquarters of some French officers. But the Germans, having got hold of the fact, shelled them out. It is an ideal place for our men.
The poste de secours to which they are attached is six kilometres the other side of Verdun; and since ten days before my arrival, and during my stay, the French have been doing incessant attacking and counter-attacking, the work of carrying the wounded has been practically continuous night and day.
Going to the poste de secours from the château, you pass through Verdun, and continue on a wide, level road for about one kilometre, and then you start up a very steep hill which continues, for five kilometres, right to the poste de secours. This road is very narrow and sufficiently dangerous from a driving point of view apart from the fact that it is shelled continuously day and night. Indeed, one of the duties of Townsend, Section Director, is to go up every morning at daybreak with a couple of men and fill up the holes which have been made during the hours of darkness, so that our cars will not fall into them.
The poste itself is only one hundred and fifty yards from Fort Saint-Michel, which, of course, accounts for the attention which that part of the country gets from the German artillery. Besides this, the whole valley and hillsides are covered with French batteries, and the din at the top of the hill makes it impossible to talk in anything like an ordinary tone of voice.
The day driving is comparatively nothing. The part, however, for which they deserve all the praise that we can give them, is their work at night. Naturally no lights are allowed, and I have never seen a country that can produce darker nights than that district. Therefore let one try and imagine the difficulties of starting from the top of that hill with a car full of wounded and driving down a narrow hillside road in a blackness impenetrable for more than a yard. In fact if it were not for the light given by the firing of the guns and hand-grenades, the work would be well-nigh impossible; and what makes it more difficult still is that all the traffic starts at night when the ammunition is brought up to the various batteries and you are continually finding teams of horses almost on the top of the car before you have any idea of their presence. The round trip from the poste de secours to the hospital takes from two hours and a half to three hours, which averages a speed of about ten kilometres an hour. This will give an idea of how slowly one has to go.
When I visited the Section, it had been doing this work for ten days before I got there, and yet there was not the slightest sign of fatigue or impatience among the men. I doubt, however, if any man in the Section had had, during that time, five hours' consecutive sleep. But far from shirking what they had to do, they were each and every one of them attempting more than their share. One night, for example, the Médecin Chef, who had charge of the poste, received word to prepare, on account of an unexpected attack, for an unusual number of wounded, and fearing that Section One might not be able to handle the situation alone, he called out as reserve a French Section which was in Verdun. No deeper offence than this could have been offered to poor Townsend, and every man in the American Section worked double that night. Needless to say that the French Section stayed where it was --- in reserve. The idea that any situation was too big for our boys to handle was something not to be considered.
No matter how carefully a man drives at night, a number of accidents are bound to occur. In one night there were six. Of course these were minor accidents which could be repaired in a fairly short time. For instance, the White camion one night went into a ditch; two cars went head on into each other in the darkness; two more cars went into ditches and another fell into a shell-hole. Occasionally, of course, something occurred which would put a car out of commission three or four days, which means that the Section is that much short. If this sort of thing happens too often the authorities get impatient and threaten to replace the incomplete Section by a complete one, which, of course, about breaks the hearts of our fellows. So in the end we had cars in reserve for each Section to prevent this contingency ever happening.
The fact that every car has been hit makes no impression whatever on the men. I do not mean to say by this that they are reckless or foolhardy; on the contrary, they take all possible precautions. But when there is anything to be done, it is carried through without question or hesitation. Without exaggeration and without indulging in any blood-curdling stories, their work really impressed me as tremendously fine. Nothing that I can say can give an idea of how splendid these boys are.
JOHN H. McFADDEN, JR.*
*Of Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania, '13; entered the Field Service in October, 1914; became treasurer of the organization in France; left the Service in 1917 to accept the post of Assistant Military Attaché at the American Embassy in Paris.
Cappy, Somme, April 3, 1916
I SPENT the night here at our advanced poste. The town is in ruins. There was no call for the trenches. The night was too clear. I woke about 4 A.M., thinking it was late because I heard the birds chirping, but found it was only the rats squeaking. The place is full of them; they walk over you at night. But nobody cares. The country is full of quail and hares, but no one bothers them and they are very tame.
THIS morning I watched the twenty-first "Suicide Club" practising hand-grenade throwing. Magoun and I noted where the things were thrown, with the idea of picking up a few fusées afterwards. Now and then they don't land right; so Magoun later picked up a couple of unexploded ones and offered me one. I declined and told him he had better let them alone. just as we were arguing up came a file of men with shovels to bury the unfired grenades. When they saw Magoun with two in his hands they nearly had a fit; said he was crazy, and to prove it they told us to get in a near-by trench and they'd show us. So we all crawled in and an expert then recocked the little spring and threw the grenade, which went off with a bang that shook the trench! That evening we got a call to carry two blessés --one man with his face mutilated and another one with his feet blown off, who, oddly enough, had been "fishing" in the canal, by throwing hand-grenades in and then collecting the dead fish which floated up to the surface --- a nice sporting thing to do! I must say I could n't feel very sorry for them. The same night we heard a heavy explosion close to our farm and at first supposed that it was an incoming obus. But it really occurred in the back room of a café in which we eat, and a call came shortly after when we collected three more poor fellows hurt, and three dead, from fiddling with hand-grenades. I made a point to rub it into Magoun, calling his attention to the fact that that day, in our Sector, the French lost more men through their own carelessness than from Boche activity.
Roche, Magoun, Francklyn, and I now occupy the palatial apartment known as the "rat incubator." Some of the boys --- Underhill, Baylies, and Paul --- have erected a tent; as they were above us in the "Rat Hole," and their feet kept continually coming through the ceiling carrying plaster and splinters on to us, we are now more comfortable and clean, although Lewis, Lathrop, and Edwards are still up there. Townsend, White, and Woodworth have the best rooms in a really well-kept house, while Sponagle, Cunningham, and Winsor sleep next to the repair shop. The Lieutenant and the other Frenchmen attached to the Section sleep in the bureau, a nice little well-kept cottage also. The washing is done by a dear old woman who hates to leave and hopes, despite orders, to stay.
YESTERDAY I was "Chow," that is, the man who sets the table and waits on it. Each takes this duty by turns. But as we eat everything off the same plate, that is each one of us has but one plate, with the same fork and knife, there is no great strain upon the Admirable Crichton on duty. Although I got to bed at 3 A.M. I had to be up at 6.30 to set the table, being "Chow." It's a great life, though, which I would n't miss for worlds. We have a lot of fun on the side; play base-ball and a funny sort of adaptation of tennis with a hoop. At night we play roulette for centime stakes, occasionally fish for pike with a sort of trident made out of old Ford brake rods, and swim now and then when it is warm.
WHITE and Campbell finally received their decorations to-day. An amusing incident occurred when the General took White, who had been told to stand out in front of the line, to be a mere onlooker and ordered him back. It had to be explained to him that this was the hero who was to be decorated! The General apologized, of course, but it got every one giggling and somewhat marred the solemnity of the occasion.
Cappy, June 1
BIG mortar batteries are arriving along the front. I saw several here, at Cappy, this afternoon, hidden near the cemetery. Nowadays even when a man gets killed he is not permitted to rest in peace. The Germans, trying to reach these new mortars, are bound to blow hell out of the cemetery.
Bayonvillers, June 2
I HAD fun with Francklyn this morning. It appears that he used Imbrie's paillasse last night, so that when Imbrie and I returned from Cappy, it was nowhere to be found. Francklyn was still asleep; so we carried him, bunk and all, out into the main street and placed him, on the sidewalk. A large crowd immediately gathered, thinking he was a blessé, as he had nothing on but a blanket. He woke up just as a division staff was passing, and he certainly did make a quick jump for the yard with the blanket flapping like the tail of a kite behind his long, bare legs as he beat it.
Éclusier, June 13
THE other day a trooper fell off his horse and hit his head and they ordered me to carry the unconscious man to Villers-Bretonneux. The car was already full, but I piled him in and took him along to save argument. Of course I had a hideous time at the hospital at Villers, not having a ticket for him. For an hour or so nobody could take him in --- the usual red tape.
TO-DAY I had an interesting talk with a French Lieutenant. He says the Senegalese are awfully hard to handle. They won't stand shell-fire, but don't mind machine guns, so Frenchmen are put on either side of them --- fifteen hundred Senegalese in each division. They have strings of Boche ears which they keep as trophies. On the other hand, the "Germs" always kill the black wounded and prisoners; so it is about fifty-fifty.
TO-DAY we saw the funeral of two aviators. It was quite impressive. One plane made the sign of the cross in the heavens above the grave.
Châlons, June 23
THE French kids are good little fellows. To-day one insisted I should have a rose in my buttonhole. Everywhere they give us flowers or candy. Another led me by the hand all around the village of Pont-Sainte-Maxence. Along the roads they always, girls and boys, click their heels together and give the military salute when we pass.
Bar-le-Duc, June 25
WE, all went to bed at 7 A.M. and slept until Roche was awakened by something licking his face. Thinking it was one of the dogs, he just gave it a slap, and then the whole tent nearly collapsed! A stray cow had drifted in and tried to get acquainted! The riot that followed set all thought of further sleep at an end.
Dugny, June 29
ONE gets some astonishing directions when one is working at night in a new country. For instance, in going to Fort Tavannes, I was told to go along a certain road, until I passed two smells and then turn to the left. This referred to two piles of dead horses!
Verdun itself is pretty well shot to pieces. To-day I noticed a marble statue of Napoleon standing up in a hole above the street, which hole used to be a window in a house. The statue creates a rather impressive effect, as it looks out over the ruins and desolation toward the smoking, rocking hills.
Verdun, June 30
THE other day Bowman carried a Division Commander whose leg was cut off by a " 77." He died in the car in the arms of his orderly, whose only words were, "It's too bad, too bad, to be killed by a mere '77' after all he had been through." Around here nothing under a "130" is regarded as amounting to much.
Dugny, July 1
WE have now three dogs attached to the Section. Besides "Vic," Magoun has picked up a little woolly one at Bayonvillers, while Bowman got a sad sort of mongrel pointer along the road to Bar-le-Duc. They are really more trouble than they are worth, as they continually get lost, while at night they come nosing into the men's blankets and get kicked out to the accompaniment of the usual yelping. Fleas, of course, also help. There are signs, I see, of another dog joining the squad here.. It looks somewhat like a young hyena and is hanging around the cantonment. The tame crows and fox of the camion drivers at Bayonvillers were amusing and could be caged, but these pups are continually escaping. What with our three tents, the zouave, "Lizzie," and the varied menagerie, we certainly are assuming the aspect of a traveling circus.
ON the road into Verdun this morning, George End saw a man killed by the shock of a "210." The "Germs " were attacking Thiaumont again when a shell exploded just beside the road, but without touching the man, who was killed simply by the shock.
IMBRIE is certainly a "scream." He remarked to-day that on going out on his run to the poste the road was O.K., but coming back he saw a fresh-killed horse. He said: "Now that's the sort of a thing that causes one to stop and reflect, but I didn't. I jammed down both the levers and did my reflecting at forty miles an hour." When Francklyn came in and said "to be careful " on a certain road, Imbrie, with his usual cheerfulness, remarked: "Careful! careful! Good Lord, how's anybody going to be careful? If we wanted to be careful, we should have been careful not to leave America."
MANY new dead horses along the road. The gas gets them, even the smallest whiff, and of course they have no masks. Speaking of gas reminds me that the Germans have been trying a new dodge --a sort of tir de barrage of "77" gas shells. These shells do not make much noise, but the gas spreads fast. The men who were caught by it all admit that they had taken off their masks for one reason or another. Some get sick at their stomachs and that forces them to take off their masks. It is not amusing to talk to, men who don't know they are as good as dead! One really should have two masks, switch from one to the other in such a case, not breathing meantime. We all have had another one issued to us to-day.
Triaucourt, July 30
I HAVE been struck forcibly with the quiet, restrained and generally dignified behavior of the thousands of French soldiers camped about here. They wander through the handsome Poincaré château grounds and never disturb or injure anything. Bottles of wine left to cool in the spring are not touched.
Billemont, near Verdun, August 21
WE have worked three days and three nights without any sleep except naps snatched in the cars. There was the usual comic scene with Baylies. Bowman was coming down the road when he found it blocked by a mass of dead and wounded horses, and men all tangled up with harness and wagons, and beside them one of our cars. It turned out to be Baylies who came running up to Bowman, exclaiming: "There's been an awful mess, Bob," and Bowman, perfectly unthinkingly, ejaculated, "Good Lord, what have you done now, Baylies?" Baylies was as sore as two sticks and growled, "Ah, where d'you get that stuff ? " --- his conventional answer to all gibes. The word "to Baylies" (French "Bayliser") has been standardized in Section One and is even spreading to the other Sections.
OUR greatest difficulty is to snatch a chance to sleep. So far, I have run every night since we've been here and I take naps at the poste.. Five men get one night's sleep in three. I take off my hat to Roche, who can curl up anywhere and sleep peacefully. Last night, for example, he got a very bloody brancard, laid it under the bench where the blessés sit awaiting their turn to be patched up, and was sound asleep for four hours, while the Boches dropped "220" marmites around the poste and the groans of the wounded and chatter of the doctors and brancardiers kept up a continual disturbance. I've given up trying to sleep in the abris and so take a chance in the car outside. At least it is cool, though the air is foul with the odor of burned wood and rotting flesh.
FRANCKLYN and Walker had a close call to-day. They were sitting in the front of the dugout reading a paper, when a "105 " high explosive hit a tree not five yards from them. Pieces of the shell smashed into Francklyn's car and a shower of stones knocked the paper out of Walker's hand, while both men were thrown to the ground. Walker says all that he remembers was that some one seemed to snatch his paper away and knock him down at the same time, and he found himself crawling under his car, while Gyles made one long slide for the dugout entrance.
Verdun, August 25
I CARRIED a crazy man this morning. I found him wandering aimlessly around Verdun with a nasty hole in his head and tried to get him into the car; but he kept insisting he was too heavy. Finally, with the aid of a couple of soldiers we I made him get aboard, though he murmured all the time, "Je suis trop lourd, je suis trop lourd."
ON our last round to-day I carried a well-educated poilu about forty years of age who paid the American Ambulance many compliments. He said the soldiers of France would not forget the debt they owed us. This man had rifle bullets through both hands. He said he and another soldier "got the drop" on four Boches, who put up their rifles and yelled "Kamerad" in token of surrender. Then when the Frenchmen let down their sighted guns and beckoned them to come in, the Boches suddenly opened fire, wounding my man. But his partner and a machine-gun squad wiped out the four dirty curs before they could play any more of their foul tricks.
Vic White says the attack was only partially successful. He tells how one Boche was blown in three pieces high above the tree tops, when two of the pieces fell rapidly, but the third came drifting down slowly. It turned out to be the Boche's overcoat which had been ripped right off him by the explosion.
WE have now a big White truck which carries eighteen assis at a time --- a great help, as it takes the place of more than three cars. When it toppled over the bank recently, there were seven French wounded sitting on one side and eight Boches on the other side. As the French were on the up side, they fell on the Boches who thought they were being attacked again! It was quite a job to get them all extricated. But apparently the mix-up did little harm to any one.
I carried a regular pousse café of a load this afternoon, --- a Boche, an Englishman, a Senegalese, a Martiniquais, and a Frenchman, with an American driving.
Verdun, September 7
IT certainly is a satisfaction to note the contrast in the comments at the front concerning the American Ambulance from those to which one is forced to listen in Paris and other cities far from the lines. Here the soldiers can't praise us enough and the same is true of the officers and even of the priests. Many soldiers make it a point to salute the ambulances when they catch sight of the now familiar cars and uniform, because they have heard of the quickness and of the comfortable springs, --- so different from the ordinary type of camion ambulance. "Ah, c'est les volontaires! Bon!" is a common phrase from a wounded man.
LAST night the commander of the 214th arrived with his regiment to relieve the 67th. We carried his body down this morning. He had n't been at the front three hours before a shell got him.
SECTION ONE cited by order of the Army Corps. This puts us "top dog" of all the foreign Sections.
La-Grange-aux-Bois, September 15
TO-DAY the Section moved to the so-called front again, but in the Argonne this time --- to this little place named Sainte-Ménehould, where Louis XVI was kept by the revolutionists when he was caught. I saw the room in the town hall where he was prisoner.
TO-DAY I took three joy-riding officers into Sainte-Ménehould, where they stayed for a couple of hours and came back with two live chickens, which I was told to carry over to the car, just like "Jimes in the ply," because it looked "odd" for them to do it. However, it's amusing and I don't give a hang anyway, as we are here to help the French.
TISON is a great fellow, --- only about six feet four inches high! When he, Culby, and Roche come into a café the whole conversation stops --- everybody turns to see the giants. Pity we have n't still got Lathrop, for then there would be twenty-five feet of America represented by four men.
THE Salonikans left to-day and Francklyn took little "Vic" with him, which I think peeved Section One almost as much as the loss of the men. "Vic" had come to be considered our mascot and knew us all well. He would associate with no one else. Peter Avard picked him up at Vic-sur-Aisne about a year ago when he was only a few weeks old. The pup always enjoyed going up to the firing-line, riding cheerfully on the front seat or on the hood. The poilus and brancardiers all knew him, and petted and fed him. I believe "Vic" has been under fire more often than any one of us.
IT'S astonishing how everybody trusts everybody else out here. The Frenchmen give us money to buy them wine, tobacco, send telegrams and so on; and we leave all our belongings lying around loose and they never touch them. Of course it would n't be safe to do this with Senegalese, and on a highway where the troops are passing; but in the lines nobody touches any one else's things.
Dombasle, April 13, 1917
THIS afternoon General Herr, the commander of the Sixteenth Army Corps, inspected us. We were introduced to him individually and he said some very complimentary things, remarking that with the entry of America into the war "the combat would be shortened." Amen, I say.
FLYNN took Lidden to the Esnes poste. On their way, at "the bad corner," two shells dropped right close to them on the road, leaving several big holes in the car, and ripping the whole back out of Lidden's coat! Surely a remarkable escape, and "some" experience for a brand-new man on his first appearance on the firing-line. He had to remain at the poste for twenty-four hours, too!
Muizon, April 17
OUR orders came to roll at 7 P.M. and the whole Section went out. We handled the wounded from Berry-au-Bac and Craonne. There were heavy fighting and heavy losses. The receiving hospital, which is far to the rear, was so full that we had to wait four and five hours before the cars could be unloaded, and the wounded, naturally, suffered terribly.
THIS has been an interesting day. Word came that A. Piatt Andrew was to be decorated with the Legion of Honor. General Rageneau, General Nivelle's second, the head of the entire Automobile Service, and so many other "stripers" that it reminded one of Sing-Sing, turned up. The cars were formed in a hollow square in the château courtyard, and some two hundred troops, beside "us volunteers," fell in before them. Section One had been selected as the oldest Section in the Field Service, and Andrew's Section as well. The day was perfect. Mr. Andrew arrived and presented us with our new Section Flag, with the croix twice starred on it, and the names of the battles in which we had served: Dunkirk, Ypres, Verdun, Somme, Argonne, Aisne, Champagne --- some eight or ten names. We were introduced to the General individually; and, after his speech, some of the older men were invited into the château to drink the health of France and the United States; Sponagle, Woodworth, Kurtz, Stockwell, and I were chosen. As it happened, the big guns were roaring straight ahead, behind, and all around us. In addition Boche aviators chose the moment to drop bombs on Muizon (our town) and the anti-aircraft batteries were going full tilt. One bomb fell into the Vesle right near our tent. We had been swimming in the stream but a short time before. It was a splendid mise-en-scene for such a military ceremony.
WE have organized two baseball teams, the "Back and Forths " and the "Here and Theres." We have games every day, some of them most exciting. We have quite an audience of poilus, too. Of course, the playing is rather weird, but we get a lot of fun out of it.
WHILE we were playing baseball to-day, the Boches jumped on two saucisses. One of the observers came down in his parachute all right.
DISASTER! All are plunged in woe! They have spread manure over our baseball field!!
Villers-Franqueux, May 29
OUR abris here are amusingly named. One is "le Métro" another is "Ça me suffit, " which the men pronounce "Sam Suphy"; still another, "Grotte des Coryphées," etc.
Louvois, June 25
OUR new cantonment is at this place, about fifteen kilometres southeast of Reims. Word has just come that I have been made Chef, which carries with it the equivalent of a First Lieutenancy in the French Army. I do hope I can hold down this job properly. It is a difficult one, as the men are so hard to keep disciplined when they are not getting much work. In a way, I am sorry to be taken off my car, and the life of a Section Chief is rather lonely, as one cannot play around with the men as much as before. On the other hand, one has a staff car of one's own, and a private officer's room with an orderly, and all that, so that one's creature comforts are fine.
I FIRED a man to-day. I hate this sort of thing, but it has to be done. I told him that we want up here only men who are both able and willing to work and that he seemed to be neither. "What have I done? " he asked. "It's what you have n't done," I replied --- car never clean, breaking minor rules, shamming sickness when it is his turn to work, and so on. Everybody says I was perfectly right, and the boys all seem to approve the step.
THIS certainly is no soft job. I spend most of my time acting as a bumper between the Frenchmen in the Section and the boys who insist on "kidding" them. A Frenchman does not understand the American method of teasing and jollying, and gets raving mad, feeling insulted. And so I spend my time smoothing over alleged insults which were never meant.
I HAVE had an interesting talk with a French officer to whom I said something about not understanding why they were so generous in conferring Croix de Guerre on Americans, when lots of Frenchmen, who had actually been in the trenches, had not got the decoration. He replied that that had nothing to do with it; that these Frenchmen were forced to go into the war, some of them very much against their will, whereas the American Ambulance men, who had volunteered long before the United States entered the conflict, were each and every one a small but vital factor in bringing America into the struggle. Every time a man volunteered, he carried with him the hopes and sympathies of all his relatives and friends; and as the Ambulance grew, so did the pro-Ally sentiment grow, by leaps and bounds, in the United States.
Haudainville, August 1
REYMOND, our French Lieutenant, has had a funny argument with the Médecin Chef at Vaux, who insisted upon our carrying corpses of men killed right around the poste. We demurred, saying that it was the job of the mortuary wagons. Finally we compromised, the Lieutenant agreeing that if the corpses were still warm (!) we would carry them; but not any that had been dead a length of time. Rather gruesome, that.
PASSING along the Douaumont road the other day to get one of our men out of a ditch, I saw a boot lying on the way. I picked it up to throw it out of the road, and found a rotten leg still in it!
WE are in the midst of the heaviest work the Section ever had. The men and the cars are sights ---plastered with mud from top to bottom. No fenders or side boxes left, nearly every car full of holes from éclats, and two of them with their entire sides blown out.
FLYNN, who is driving No. 17, a car "presented by the Young Girls of San Francisco," --- this is the name plate attached to it, --- came back to-day announcing "another German atrocity!" "They've been knocking out 'the Young Girls of San Francisco,'" he said. And indeed, the whole side of his car was blown out.
Dallin is a funny chap. He likes to go up to the postes, even when off duty, and always asks to accompany the drivers. Just now he asked to go with Plow in the camionnette, although the road is being heavily bombarded. They certainly are a great bunch of boys! One couldn't ask for a better crowd to lead.
The cars are all "marching." That is due to Pearl, who is working his head off. He keeps them going in spite of everything and has grown a scraggy beard and worn out his clothes in the doing. But they go. The boys, too, are fine. Hardly any sleep, food grabbed when they can get it, but they make good every time. They are a splendid bunch.
THIS morning Rice came in plastered with mud. It rains every day and the roads are quagmires. Rice, who has a well-developed sense of humor, remarked, "If I were the French, I'd give the Boches the damned country and then laugh at them!"
EVERY hour, as the men return from the postes, some story of lucky escapes and weird experiences is brought in. It is the biggest work the Section has ever done.
WE are to be relieved of the Haudromont poste by two French Sections! Some compliment, considering that only one half of Section One was working the poste!
THE attack has been an unexpectedly big success. The Sanitary Service worked finely. Everybody is praising the Americans.
THIS job certainly is instructive, if nothing else. I am becoming quite a doctor. I treat all my children with the medicine chest furnished by the Field Service. All the various dopes are described and numbered in a little catalogue. I catechize the patient, look wise, scratch my chin, and then, after a quick "once over" of the catalogue, hand him out the pills.
Haudainville, August 31
RED DAY and I have had a tight squeeze in the staff car here at this place. The Germans were shelling the road with "220's" at half-a-minute intervals. So we got up as close as we dared, and then made a dash for it with the throttle wide open just after a shell had landed. We made it by the skin of our teeth, the next shell failing within thirty feet behind us, exactly on the road. The shock was terrific and our ears were dulled for an hour or more.
THE Boches shelled around the hospital all day to-day, and the smell is fierce, as they landed several of their shells in the graveyard. We, too, get shelled all day, and the avions drop bombs on us every clear night. For the first time I hear the men hoping for rain! Those boys, by the way have been wonderful. I never saw such work as they have been doing. It far exceeds anything the Section has done before, and I really don't see how they keep it up. Of course, I give them every bit of rest I can, and insist upon their being fed at a hours, both day and night. It is putting a crimp in the Section's books, but it's keeping them physically fit, anyway.
LITTLE TAPLEY has an abcess; so, as he is pretty well done up, I sent him down to Paris for his Croix and gave him two days' permission to get his teeth fixed. An amusing thing occurred to him at Bar-le-Duc, where he was buying a little Croix ribbon, when an old poilu, noticing his extreme youth, came up and kissed him! You may imagine Tapley's feelings!
We are still hard at work, and the men are still doing wonderfully, considering the strain under which they have been for five weeks. Two of the cars have been completely destroyed by shells, and several others have been badly hit. But we have managed to patch them up with bits of board and odds and ends. They don't look like ambulances, but they run. The sides of one have simply been remade out of two canvas sleeping bags. Only two of the men have broken down under the nerve strain, but the others are getting pretty jumpy.
THE French Army now apparently classes Fords with carrier pigeons! At least I received this morning a letter from Captain Foix, Intelligence Officer of the 32d Army Corps, which reads as follows:
"I herewith send you two crates of pigeons for General Riberpray's Division, whose headquarters are in the Carrière Sud. It would be very kind of you to deliver them to him, on behalf of the 32d Army Corps, and thus do me a great service, for our cars cannot go so far."
I gave them to Ned Townsend, and told him to "fly with them!"
Regan pulled "a funny one" up at the poste. He had some pretty close calls getting there; so, as he had not confessed for some time, he asked the Lieutenant to let him see the Catholic priest. The Lieutenant found the priest; but the latter couldn't understand English and Regan knew no French. Regan then asked the Lieutenant to translate his confession. But the Lieutenant, being a Catholic himself, refused, because, he said, it was n't the proper thing for a third party to hear a confession. Then the priest had a happy thought, and said he could absolve, or do whatever Regan's sins required, without understanding them. So Regan confessed in English, and got next to Heaven in good shape, although the priest did n't comprehend a word Regan said; and everybody seems to have been satisfied.
THE latest method to, rehabilitate blessés, particularly couchés, is to be stopped by a cut road or a smashed-up ravitaillement train, while shells are coming in. Several of our men report remarkable resurrections of this kind. Couchés get out and run like deer, while assis make regular Annette Kellerman dives into abris. The other night Dix had to go up and down a line of dugouts shouting "Oosong mes blessés? Oosong mes blesses?" for half an hour, before he finally corralled his wounded and could proceed on his way. He relates that one of his couchés actually climbed off the top stretcher, all by himself, and succeeded in unfastening the back.
An amusing incident occurred while I was fixing things so that our cars could pass up to the door of the abris. A tall man in a blue cap called to me, "Why have n't you got on your helmet?" Thinking he was just a lieutenant like the rest of us, I shouted back, "How about yourself?" There was a laugh from one or two of the other "stripers" who were in the group with the tall man, and when I looked up to see what they were laughing at, I saw it was General Riberpray himself! --- the Commander of the 128th Division, who only grinned and said nothing.
GENERAL RIBERPRAY was killed yesterday morning. It could n't have been more than two hours after we met. It appears that he went down the line and a shell got him.
At last, orders have come for us to move. We leave tomorrow for Vaucouleurs.
LAST night, the English Section invited the Lieutenant and me to dinner and were mighty nice to us. They said we "had set them a pace that they found it damned hard to follow." Pretty good for the usually undemonstrative Englishman.
Vaucouleurs, September 18
WE are slowly getting over the recent work. Personally, I slept straight through for twenty-four hours. We have had wonderful luck in coming out of the offensive virtually intact, at least as far as men go, for not a single car in the whole outfit escaped without a hole. At all events, we seem to have made quite an impression, as the English Section working with us could not make the front postes, excepting in the daytime, whereas we made them day and night, on account of the lightness of the Fords, and the quick-wittedness of our drivers, who filled up shell holes, with anything handy, as fast as they were made. Often, three or four times in one night, we would remake the road sufficiently for a Ford to pass over.
On our way here we passed many American troops in training, and one of the officers remarked that he "never had seen such a looking crew" --- referring to us. To be sure, one half of the boys were wearing trousers and poilu shoes; some had on helmets, and all had a week or two's growth of beard. Every one was covered with mud, and the cars were all smashed up as to headlights, fenders, radiators, and also covered with mud and dozens of éclat holes. Altogether, it was a scaly-looking bunch of heroes.
Allainville, September 28
THE boys have lots of fun with the peasants. They dance with the girls, and jolly them in great style. We had a regular party last night. Several of the boys whistled on pieces of cardboard; others sang, and all had a fine time.
SECTION ONE has been cited "by order of the Army," and gets the Palm, "for its valiant conduct at Verdun in August, 1917, when everybody admired its audacity and zeal notwithstanding the continual bombardment of the roads by large asphyxiating shells; nor was there any interruption of its service, though suffering severe losses." The citation is signed by General Guillaumat.
DR. W. P. GARY, Médecin Principal, of the 96th Division, sends an official letter to our Lieutenant Reymond, in which he refers to our "brilliant personnel" and to our "magnificent go, endurance, courage, and devotion." We feel that we are going out of the old régime into the new with every reason to be proud of one's record. Personally, I cannot find words to express what I think of those wonderful boys. May the new Service live up to the old!
WILLIAM YORKE STEVENSON*
*Of Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania; served in Field Service from March, 1916, to December, 1916, and April, 1917, to the end of the Field Service, when he was commissioned First Lieutenant, U.S.A. Ambulance Service, and continued work with Section One; author of At the Front in a Flivver and From Poilu to Yank. (See Bibliography in the Appendices.)
IT was with a glorious past that Section One of the American Field Service was taken over by the United States Army as Section 625 on the 30th of September, 1917, among the rolling fields and heavy woods of the Vosges at Aillianville, not so far from the home of Jeanne d'Arc.
Further, the Section was serving with the famous 69th Division composed of the 162d, 151st, and 129th regiments of Infantry and the 268th Artillery. The first two regiments as members of the 42d Division had been in the First Battle of the Marne at La Fère Champenoise.
The months of October, November, and December, 1917, the Section was to all purposes en repos, cantoned at Aillianville and Beaufrémont, the Division being engaged in teaching and training, around Neufchâteau, the 26th Division of the U.S. Army, the Yankee or New England Division, which during the ensuing year so magnificently earned its reputation of being among the very finest American troops.
On January 11, orders came to proceed to the sector of the lines in front of Toul, the Woevre, and the Section moved with the troops which marched through the heavy snow. On successive nights the cantonments were Fruze, Saulxures, and Charmes la Côte, and on January 17, Andilly, its permanent cantonment, was reached. That night the Division went into the sector of trenches between Seicheprey and Limey, west of Pont-à-Mousson. On the 18th of January the First Moroccan Division, which had occupied this sector, and more to the left, was withdrawn and their place to the left of Seicheprey and Flirey was filled by the United States First Division. This date is notable in that it marks the occasion when American troops first took over what might be called their own sector of trenches.
During the next five months --- for the 69th Division was in the lines here without a break for that period --Section 625 served the following postes: Xivray, Beaumont, Seicheprey, Poste Saint-Victor, Flirey, Bois de la Voisogne, Lironville, Limey, Saint-Jacques, Pont-de-Metz, Mamey, Poste Pouillot, Jonc Fontaine, and Poste Pétain in the Bois le Prêtre. During this period the evacuations were made to Minorville, Manoncourt, Rogéville, and Toul. As the U.S. First Division, and later the 26th Division which relieved it, took over more of the lines, the 69th slipped farther and farther to the right, until eventually its flank lay in the famous Bois le Prêtre in front of Pont-à-Mousson. On April 13, the Section cantonment was moved to Manonville.
It is true that this sector of the front had the reputation of being "quiet," and for the most part it upheld its character as such, but with the advent of the United States troops the whole neighboring line took on a more tense tone and coups-de-main for the purpose of taking prisoners, destroying positions, and to test opponents were more frequently indulged in. The whole sector had hibernated peacefully under the snows of winter until the first week in January, but it was then rudely aroused to the serious business of the New Year by an extensive and successful raid conducted by the Foreign Legion in front of Flirey, Seicheprey, and beyond the war-worn Bois de Remières. From the results of this raid it became apparent that the front lines on both sides were so lightly held that a coup-de-main, to become effective, must be conducted on a large scale and penetrate a considerable distance.
The work the Section was called on to do for the most part was not difficult, but when, as here, the trenches had been fixed for over three years, the shelling of roads, cross-roads, and postes de secours, especially those near a Poste de Commandement, was extremely accurate, and during a coup-de-main the evacuation of wounded was often conducted under heavy fire.
More than passing comment must be given the Boche attack of April 19 against the 102d Regiment of the U.S. 26th Division at Seicheprey, not only because this was the first engagement of any size participated in by United States troops, but because of the part Section 625 was called on to play. The attack was made at dawn, after a severe, but short preliminary bombardment by over 1000 picked Prussian Sturmtruppen, to the right of Seicheprey and near the place in the Bois de Jury where the United States and French troops joined. The line was pierced and the village entered from the side and rear. Very fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place during the ensuing day, and the enemy eventually retired toward their own lines occupying trenches in and near the Bois de Remières. Here they were pinned down by an enfilading cross-fire, but because of some misunderstanding or neglect, the four companies of the I02d Regiment designated for the counter-attack failed to take part with two companies of the French 162d Infantry who went over the top, and the enemy were allowed to regain their lines during the night without suffering further losses. Despite the unfaltering gallantry of the 102d Infantry, this engagement must be regarded as a Boche success, for although the casualties perhaps about balanced, the raiders gathered approximately 150 prisoners.
On June 4 the Section moved to Pagney-derrière-Barine near Toul. The morning of June 6 the Section started en convoi for Vitry-le-François, but received orders there to continue. At Esternay and Coulommiers further orders kept the Section en route, and three o'clock the following morning found it bivouacked in the market-place of Meaux, three hundred kilometres from its starting-point, with every car in good shape.
The civilians were rapidly evacuating Meaux, but the town was busy with the handling of American Marine wounded who were being brought in from the neighborhood of Bouresches and the Bois de Belleau. That day, by the way of Senlis, Creil, and Clermont, the Ferme la Quadre, near Nointel, was reached, where the Section rested and prepared itself, on June 8. It was apparent that a great Boche drive was pending, but the Section, though prepared, hardly expected to be ordered to the alerte at dawn on June 9 with the rumble of a tremendous barrage in its ears. It later proved to be a terrific attack extending between Montdidier and Noyon. Toward noon orders were received to proceed to Monchy-Humières behind Lassigny by the way of Arsy and Remy. The roads were jammed with the 69th Division going up in camions and refugees and wounded streaming back, and as the Section convoy neared Monchy about four o'clock, heavy and light artillery and fragments of infantry passed it, hastening to take up positions in the rear. It was by no means a rout, but even the most inexperienced eye could see that the enemy was coming very fast and that the situation was uncertain at best. The cloud of battle smoke approached rapidly and the line of enemy saucisses advanced steadily, while those of the French, still in the air attached to their motor trucks, passed the convoy bound rearwards. As Monchy was reached, orders were given for the Section to turn in its tracks and go to Remy, there to await further instructions. Along the return route elements of the 69th Division were going up across the fields in skirmish order. Darkness came, and still no orders had been received concerning the establishing of postes de secours, or as to the location of any units to be served. Because of the unsettled situation, Lieutenant Stevenson determined to separate the Section. About half the cars were left at Remy to await further orders, and the remainder, under the direct supervision of Lieutenant Stevenson, went to the Sucrerie d'Apremont, a kilometre behind Gournay, where the Lieutenant, in Huston's car, went out to establish connection with the French infantry in front. By this distribution the instant availability of a part of the cars was assured. During the latter part of the night there was a pause in the attack, probably due to the bringing up of fresh enemy divisions, but before dawn it was renewed violently. At that time the lines ran through Gournay-sur-Aronde, which was held by a mere skirmish line of infantry, alone. During the next four days the struggle surged back and forth through Gournay, Ferme la Porte, Ferme de Loge, and Antheuil, the fortunes of battle changing so rapidly that it was impossible to be sure where the lines or postes de secours would be the next hour. Because of the continuous succession of attacks and counter-attacks, the cars served battalion and regimental postes in extremely advanced positions subjected to machine-gun and rifle fire. On the fourth day, after having been forced back approximately three kilometres since the morning of June 10, the Division counter-attacked heavily, driving the enemy back two kilometres and establishing the line more firmly. But for a week the fighting was over a very irregular front, entirely in the open wheat-fields without trenches, or even camouflage or concealment for the "75's"; the postes served by the Section were often unexpectedly retired or advanced and the difficulties and the anxieties of the work were doubled. It is difficult to designate the postes worked by the Section during this period, June 9 to 18, for temporary postes were several times established in open fields or roadside ditches, but the main ones are as follows: Montmartin, Le Moulin, two kilometres; in advance, Sucrerie d'Apremont, the roadside behind Gournay, Le Ferme de Monchy, Le Ferme Beaumanoir, Monchy village, Château de Monchy, Baugy Château, Baugy village, and a roadside conduit in front of Baugy near the Compiègne-Montdidier highway. Evacuations were made to Le Fayel, Canly, Catenois, and Estrées-Saint-Denis. The Section cantonment was behind the church at Remy, the town being shelled frequently, and bombed severely every night by avions. On the 16th the Division started to withdraw from the lines, moving to the right as it did so, the Section being shifted to Venette on the edge of Compiègne, and postes established at Braisnes, Anelle, and Coudun. On June 20, the whole Division was out of the line, one regiment alone being held in active reserve, and the Section moved back to Jonquières, serving only one poste, at Lachelle.
The following twenty-four days of light work was welcome, not so much because of the rest it afforded the men, but because the Section felt what was still ahead of them and desired to be ready and prepared in every conceivable way. The 69th Division had played the main part in stopping what proved to be the last Boche drive which met with any measure of success or perceptible advance. The Division had met the very middle of the drive, borne its full force, stopped it, and then hurled it back almost to the same position where it had first come to grips, inflicting almost unprecedented losses on the three divisions which opposed it. Of course its own losses were heavy, the Section on three successive days evacuating over 1500 men, together with another 150 from the divisions on either side. During the next three weeks the regiments were rested and recruited up, and were trained for attack with tanks, the nature of their work in the future becoming apparent.
The night of July 4, orders arrived, and the following after noon the Section moved to the centre of the great forest just east of Compiègne, traversing the desolate streets of that city in the gathering dusk. Here a stop was made for two days near the Château de Franc Port, where the Section was quartered a week in 1916 on the way to the Aisne front. (Later the enemy armistice delegates were here to spend their first night within the allied lines.) Two days of solitude followed, unbroken except by avion bombing, but noon of the second day, July 17, brought directions, and at sundown the convoy took up its way through the aisles of the forest, reaching Pierrefonds before night. All extra equipment, a large part of the atelier, and the bureau were left in a house at the foot of that marvellous castle, and the first darkness saw the Section with faces turned toward the lines. Early dawn had been set with Mortefontaine, twelve kilometres away, as the rendezvous, but it was with the greatest difficulty that the order was carried out, for that night was filled with more muffled activity and strained anxiety than the world will ever see again. The road was jammed with every factor of a vast army, sensed around rather than seen, but revealed momentarily in the flashes; camions, wagons, caissons, machine-gun carts, staff cars, motor-cycles, artillery, little and big tanks, armored cars, cavalry with their towering lances, bicycle detachments, and always the plodding infantry in two endless columns following the ditches on either side. Steadily and ceaselessly this stream poured forward through the black, no singing, little talking, few orders; the tramp of feet in the mud, the rattle of wheels, the throbbing of motors, the staccato explosions of the motor-cycles, and the ponderous clanking of tanks; an irresistible tide of manhood, poilus and doughboys, shoulder to shoulder straining toward the future. Surely the night of July 17-18 should be as memorable and glorious forever as the dawn of July 18, the hour when the forces of liberty commenced their overwhelming attacks, never ceasing till the final victorious peace was attained.
At the first break of day the Section was all assembled at Mortefontaine in time to see the attack beyond. Again the Section was serving in the famous 20e Corps d'Armée, the first it had ever been attached to, and this time it was in Mangin's magnificent Tenth Army. As the battle progressed it turned as a pivot till, instead of facing east, as on the first day, on August 2, when Soissons fell before it, it faced north on its whole front. This manoeuvre required great skill of generalship and all the brains and force in personnel of a truly veteran organization.
July 19 again only a few cars were used, and these carried Americans, Moroccans, and soldiers of the Legion as well as their own Division's wounded. No definite postes were established, the wounded being picked up at widely scattered places.
The first postes de secours were established on July 20, in a roadside ditch near the ruins of the Raperie at a cross-road on the route from Cutry to Saconin, and on the 21st, in the village of Missy-aux-Bois. Then the Section commenced real work, for the runs from these places were constant, the evacuations all being made to Pierrefonds, twenty-five-odd kilometres to the rear, over rough, narrow roads at all hours solid with traffic. The Missy poste was in the cellar of the château on the northern edge of the town and adequately answered the purpose, being maintained until August 2. But the Raperie poste, which lay in the middle of some three-score "75's" in the open field, and within a stone's throw of an important cross-road, was different. It almost immediately became untenable as a place to retain wounded for more than a moment. On July 21, it was moved over a kilometre forward to a quarry-hole in the hillside above the village of Saconin, from which the enemy had just been driven. The mouth of the cave, labelled "Minenwerfer Hohle," faced toward the lines across the narrow valley, and was subject to a constant and severe fire, directed not only at the mouth of the poste, but the road in front, and the loop of the road behind and above. All postes, with the exception of the one at Missy-aux-Bois, were reached by one road which ran down the hill past the Minenwerfer Hohle, wound down through the little valley, through the village of Saconin, curled up the opposite side through the hamlet of Breuil, and up over the crest to the great covered quarry beyond. The evacuations which were made over this route were very numerous, as may be assumed from the fact that all the cars, including the camionnette and often the White truck, were working night and day steadily until the fall of Soissons on. August 2, the men snatching minutes of sleep rather than hours. Missy was reached by the route through Saint-Pierre-Aigle and Dommiers to the Croix de Fer on the Paris-Soissons highway, from which a small road led diagonally back to Missy.
On July 20, the Section cantonment moved into the town of Cuvres, from which on July 21 it was shifted to an open field behind Dommiers, where the kitchen was placed in the lee of a destroyed tank and the men slept under the cars or in shell-craters, when they were fortunate enough to have an opportunity. Before this site could be made available, a number of bodies had to be removed and buried.
The night of the 22d a remarkable array of Scotch regiments, composing the 15th Division, entered the lines on the right; among them were some of the recognized élite of the British Army --- the Black Watch, the Gordons, the Seaforths, the Camerons, and the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. These troops went up to the skirling of the pipes, every man immaculate and the acme of military precision and orderliness; and after a week of terrific attacking, which terminated in the triumphant storming of Buzancy, came out the same way, unruffled and undisturbed, notwithstanding extreme losses, every man shaved and perfect in attire and equipment. The Section was privileged in evacuating many --- too many --- of them from Missy and temporary postes beyond Chaudun in the neighborhood of Ploisy and Berzy-le-Sec.
A poste in the village of Ploisy was established July 23. This was veritably among the French machine guns, for the lines --- if such they could be termed, being merely an irregular chain of isolated and almost unrelated positions and nests --- ran barely beyond the end of the village. The cars were allowed to arrive only after dark and were ordered to depart before dawn; but often dire necessity ruled and the runs were made by day as well. So insecure and vague were the lines here that the Division aumonier going up by day in one of the cars and alighting at Ploisy, walked unwarned into the enemies' positions a few hundred feet beyond and was made a prisoner.
Soissons fell on August 2, and the city was completely cleared to the river-bank in short order, with the exception of one tremendously strong outpost at the "hydraulic pump," where the Aisne loops in passing through. This was attacked and wiped out the afternoon of August 9 after severe concentrated artillery preparation, the cars being taken to within almost a stone's throw of the scene in the city streets before the barrage started, in order to be instantly available for the wounded.
On August 3 new postes were established at Billy-sur-Aisne, Carrière l'Évèque, the châteaux at Belleu and Septmonts, Noyant, Vignolles, and on August 7 one at the enormous hospital near the railroad station in Soissons. There were other temporary battalion and advanced postes at various places, a cave on the plateau beyond Carrière l'Évèque and two in Soissons, one near the Place de la République and one in a house on the east edge of the city.
The Section at dawn of July 30 had been shelled out of its cantonment in the field behind Dommiers and was fortunate in being able to move back to the vicinity of the château in Cuvres without damage, On August 5, with the advance of the troops, it took up quarters in the village of Ploisy, the kitchen and atelier being set up next to the château and the men and cars being scattered in various places, a precaution made necessary by the continual shelling of the town itself and the numerous batteries surrounding it. The work of evacuation had been especially arduous because of the length of the runs necessary to reach the hospitals. From July 18 to 25, all evacuations were made to Pierrefonds over twenty kilometres by road from Cuvres alone; on that day a small ambulance was opened at the château in Cuvres, where gassed men, assis, and all slightly wounded could be left. About August 5 the evacuations of couchés and seriously wounded were changed to the hospital at Villers-Cotterets, more than twenty-five kilometres from Ploisy; but on August 14, the Section labors were greatly lessened by orders to evacuate all to a triage hospital situated in a great cave in Vierzy, barely ten kilometres from Soissons itself.
About this time one of the cars was detached to accompany the 162d Regiment, which was withdrawn from the lines and moved over to the left, crossing the Aisne at Vic-sur-Aisne and advancing into an attack as support to another division. It returned to its former place in less than a week.
Source of indignation was the lax and inexcusable manner in which the burying of the American dead was conducted. Despite the fact that at the 1st Division had been withdrawn from the lines on July 23, a great many of their dead lay unburied, kilometres behind the lines, for a full month. The French burying-parties, made up of territorials, were instructed that the Americans desired to bury their own dead, but despite this, for sanitary reasons, were forced hastily to cover many bodies. They could not have fallen later than July 22, for the 1st Division had been relieved then and no United States troops remained in this part of the line. The Section was working desperately at the time, and the men and time were not available to give these unfortunates a decent burial. The detachment of the 1st Division, stationed at Mortefontaine, for the purpose of properly marking and of mapping the locality of graves, was immediately notified. The reply Sergeant Day received when letting them know of these conditions was, "Well, that's a pretty hot place yet, and what's the use of risking your life for a dead man?" These bodies remained untouched till finally necessity demanded action, so on the 20th of August they were decently buried by friendly hands where they fell fighting fiercely in the Greatest Cause. The French had more than they could do to take care of their own victims, and to put away the Boches, and the Section to a man writhed in unavailing indignation that their own country's dead should be left to the care of hurried foreign hands without cause or even excuse. A contrast to this was the Scotch. Future generations will see orderly, neat, clean little cemeteries, which were erected and completed to their last tenant twenty-four hours after the Scotch were withdrawn from the lines.
The morning of August 28, the attack to cross the river was commenced and a few hours later the immediate suburbs of the city beyond, including strongholds at the distillerie, the briquéterie, and the abattoir were cleared and a tiny pontoon bridge laid. The first vehicle of any kind to cross the Aisne at Soissons or to the right was one of the Section cars driven by Irving Moses. The new postes de secours were all on the far bank along the fringe of the city, the briquéterie, almost immediately made utterly untenable, the abattoir, and the Abbey Saint-Médard, the last being the resting-place of ancient kings of France. Attack followed attack, the flats beyond the river were cleared foot by foot, but the Boches still retained the dominating heights along the edge of the plateau, and every inch of every road was open to machine-gun-fire. Toward the last days of August, the Division resumed its heavy attacks, crossed the Aisne, cleared the suburbs of the city on the other side and numerous positions in the valley, stormed up the heights to the plateau, captured Crouy, and put the enemy to open flight across the plateau top, pursuing them beyond Bucyle-Long, Vregny, and Pont Rouge toward Vauxaillon, being relieved on September 7 at Moulin de Laffaux. The achievements of the 69th Division during these fifty-one successive days of terrible struggle have been recognized as one of the most heroic annals of the French Army.
The order for convoy to Nancy came September 15 and the Section proceeded to its destination by easy stages, stopping the first night at Châlons-sur-Marne in the market-place, and the second at Vaucouleurs, reaching Vandoeuvre, its billet on the edge of Nancy, the afternoon of September 17. En route the men had been given an opportunity for a hurried glance at the Bois de Belleau, where in those dark days of early June the Marines had thrilled the world; and a stop for lunch had been made in Château-Thierry, a name which will roll down the centuries as more American than French.
The three days at Vandoeuvre were spent in overhauling the cars and re-equipping, and September 22 found the Section quartered in the grounds of the field hospital at Millery on the right bank of the Moselle, having stopped for two days at Frouard while the Division slowly took over the lines to the right of Pont-à-Mousson, part of which was occupied by the 82d U.S. Division. On the 25th, a company of the 162d Regiment, and a company of the 29th Battalion of Senegalese, joined with the 60th U.S. Infantry Regiment in an unsuccessful attack along the right bank of the Moselle, in front of Pont-à-Mousson. The objectives were reached first by the United States troops, but they were forced to fall back sooner than were the French, who held on until it was obvious that their position could not be retained without entailing too expensive losses. During the attack the Section served a poste in the demolished site of a hospital beyond Pont-à-Mousson, and during the next few weeks had cars stationed at Sainte-Geneviève, Loisy, and Landremont, from which various advanced postes were worked. On October 10 the 92d Division of United States negro troops relieved the 69th Division, which nevertheless left its artillery for additional support until further protection could be afforded. The Section during the relief had the additional work of evacuating many footsore and sick soldiers of the 92d Division.
Again the Section spent a few days in Vandoeuvre and on October 14, moved to Eulmont, the Division shifting along the lines to the right. The sector here was very quiet, and the Section for some three weeks, as well as serving the 69th Division, took care of the 165th Division, which also belongs to the 32d Corps. Two more battalions of Senegalese were added to the Division. Again the Section prepared itself to take part in a tremendous attack. This time it was apparent, from military preparations, that the attack was to be upon a gigantic scale, dwarfing everything that the war had hitherto known; but the glorious news of the signing of the Armistice intervened at the last minute, and the old Section flag was cheated of another name to add to the immortal ones it already bore: Dunkirk, Ypres, Nieuport, Vic-sur-Aisne, Cappy-sur-Somme, Verdun, Côte 304, Reims, Route 44, Houdromont, Douaumont, Seicheprey, Monchy, Soissons, Crouy, and Pont-à-Mousson.
Here starts another phase in the history of Section Six Twenty-Five. As an American unit in the war, dating as a Section from the first days of 1915, and with an origin from almost the first hours of the war, it rightfully claims the distinction of being the oldest, the veteran organization, of America in the World War. The records show that from January, 1915, to the signing of the Armistice, it had evacuated well over 56,000 men. But now it turned willing hands to aid in the French Army of Occupation, the Tenth Army commanded by General Mangin.
On the 17th day of November the Section crossed the lines between Abaucourt and Jallaucourt and slowly travelled with the Division through Lorraine into Germany. Stops of several days were made at Tincy, Suisse, Gesslingen, Helleringen, and Sulzbach, and finally on December 9, Neunkirchen was reached, where the Section remained comfortably quartered for several weeks. About the only incident worthy of comment during this period was the attempt by hidden snipers to shoot Orrie Lovell and Weld while transporting sick to the hospital. In the early part of January, the 69th Division was split up, the various regiments returning to their old Corps, which fact left the Section unattached and with no services to render. On January 20, orders came to report to the Parc at Mayence and the 130-kilometre convoy was made in good shape. Billeted on the edge of Mayence in the town of Bretzenheim, the Section waited for orders to report to the U.S. Army Ambulance Service Base Camp for demobilization and return to the United States. A fitting climax to the four years' service came on the receipt of the 5th Citation à l'ordre de l'armée, which carried with it the privilege of wearing the Croix de Guerre Fourragère, for the splendid work of the past summer near Compiègne and around Soissons.
EDWARD A. G. WYLIE*
*Of New York City; Yale; in S.S.U. 1 and Six-Twenty-Five during 1917-19. The above is from a privately printed History of Section 625.
The Story of Section Two
Table of Contents