History of the
American Field Service in France
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917, TOLD BY ITS MEMBERS
||KENNETH M. REED|
||NORMAN C. NOURSE|
THE Section left Paris for May-en-Multien on June 19, 1917. On June 29 it left the training-camp, and took over its cars at Cramaille. It then went to Armentières, where, on July 6, an order came to join the 154th Division near Craonne. After two days on the road, with an overnight stop at Châtillon-sur-Marne, it arrived at Glennes, where it commenced work evacuating to base hospitals in the rear, with service at Beaurieux, Cuiry, Meurival, Fismes, and Romain, Saint-Gilles, and Courlandon. On July 18 it proceeded back from the lines, and on July 29 arrived at Chelles en repos. On August 13 it left for the Aisne front, going by Betz, Villers-Cotterets and Ressons-le-Long. On August 22 it was stationed at Villa Albert, in Soissons, with postes at Boulloy, Pont Rouge, Neuville, and Montgarni, with reserve postes at Chivres, Perrier, and Clamecy. It was enlisted in the U.S. Army on September 4 and became Section Six-Twenty-Four.
Look on thy country, look on fertile France,
TWO units composed of about twenty men each from Yale and Princeton left Paris on June 19, 1917, for the ambulance camp at May-en-Multien, where, under the agreeable leadership of Camp-Chief Fisher, they learned the fundamentals of French drill and practised driving on the several different types of cars found there. Then, when the opportunity came to take over a French section, these two bodies united to make the total of forty-four men necessary in a Fiat section. On June 29, under the leadership of Sous-Chef Robert L. Nourse, S.S.U. Sixty-Seven marched to Crouy-sur-Ourcq to entrain for the front.
At the automobile park at Cramaille, the Section was quartered comfortably in barracks within sound of the guns of the Soissons-Reims sector, where we were joined by our Chef, Lyman C. Hibbard, formerly of Section One; and on July 2 we left for Armentières, the Headquarters of the French section we were to take over. Then, two days later --- on the Glorious Fourth --- the Section staged an appropriate celebration with a flag-raising in the morning and, in the afternoon, a hotly contested Yale-Princeton baseball game, which fortunately resulted in a tie.
The Section at this time was composed of forty-four Americans, thirteen Frenchmen, twenty Fiat ambulances, a staff car, and a camionnette. Second Lieutenant Ouachée, former commander of the French section, retained his position under the new organization, and immediately became popular with all of us, as he was a polished gentleman and a "bon camarade." Le Roy Harding and Norman Nourse were our Sous-Chefs.
Four days at Armentières were sufficient for the men to become familiar with their cars, so that everything was running in good shape when, late on the night of July 6, the order came to join our Division, the 154th, of the Tenth Army Corps, then in the trenches near Craonne.
An ambulance section on the move is self-sufficient, and the twenty Fiats, packed with everything, from the puppy mascot, "Fixe," to the kitchen stove, set out in the wee small hours to master the rules of convoy. After two days on the road, with an overnight stop at Châtillon-sur-Marne, we arrived at Glennes intact and in practically the same order in which we started.
Our cantonment at Glennes consisted of a double row of tents beautifully camouflaged, with a mud-hole in front in which to park the cars. Here we were introduced to abri life and soon became proficient in diving to a dugout when the Boche planes flew over at night dropping bombs promiscuously.
As the 154th Division had just come out of the trenches on their way to repos, we were assigned to general army work, evacuating from postes de secours at Beaurieux and Cuiry to the base hospitals in the rear.
The work, although not dangerous, was hard, and called for plenty of night driving in an active sector which had a great number of severely wounded men. A total of eleven out of our twenty cars had to be in service each day, stationed at Beaurieux, Cuiry, Meurival, Fismes, and Romain. The Beaurieux poste was by far the most interesting, as it was the first relay between the trenches under Craonne and the hospitals at Glennes, Saint-Gilles, and Courlandon.
To our newly initiated Section every sign of action was welcomed and its importance duly exaggerated. Every shell that came "crumpfing" into the fields around the cantonment was the signal for a mad rush to see what it had done, and the aerial activity never failed to gather a group of star-gazers. So the two busy weeks at Glennes passed very quickly, when on July 18 the orders came for the Section to follow the Division, which was leaving for the rear to parts unknown, en repos.
The movement of the troops being necessarily slow, we were forced to follow in easy stages, spending the nights in temporary cantonments such as old châteaux, and barns, or in the cars, which we parked along the road. Our convoys began to get better, and soon we could be counted on to reach camp in the evening with only the camion missing.
Leaving Glennes on July 18, as I have just said, we proceeded to Coulonges, thence to Le Charmel and Connigis, where we stayed two days. The cantonment was situated thoughtfully and with malicious intent in a large farmyard, where the central ornament was a combination fountain and drinking-trough.
Our next resting-place was Jouarre, where we stayed from July 21 to 27. Wild rumors of an expected review by many-starred generals had the desired effect, and the cars, parked in perfect alignment behind an eleventh-century cathedral, were polished and shined from spring bolt to tail-light. Finally, however, the review was abandoned, much to our disgust.
At Trilport, on the banks of the Marne, we parked the cars in the street and recovered from the effects of a dusty convoy by a glorious swim in the river; and just in time, too, for the civil authorities, doubting our ability to swim, put the ban upon it. The children of Trilport surpassed all previous admirers in the art of staring. Grouped in silent wonder along the curb, they attained unheard-of records for the long-distance-standing-stare.
Finally, on July 29 we arrived at Chelles, outside the war zone and within commuting distance of Paris. As we should in all likelihood remain there some time, it was an excellent opportunity for a thorough overhauling of the cars. Clutches were removed, valves ground, and many other minor operations tried, which helped pass the time between arrivals of mail. Then, after pulling many strings in official quarters, we obtained permissions for a day in Paris for every one in the Section, going in by groups of three or four. This was an unexpected treat, and the Section owed thanks to the Médecin Divisionnaire for this and many other favors. In the meanwhile we lived in hopes that the rumor that we were to be sent to Belgium would be realized. Everything pointed that way, as it was unusual to bring an ambulance section as far back as Chelles unless some long move was contemplated. But, contrary to the "dope," orders came, August 13, to leave the following day for the Aisne front.
The convoy to Betz and Villers-Cotterets differed very slightly in the main from our other convoys, except that the ennui had passed and a spirit of eagerness seemed to have taken possession of every one --- for we were headed into action again, and this time toward front-line work. At Betz Chef Hibbard left for his permission, and R. L. Nourse, former Sous-Chef, assumed command. At Villers-Cotterets we were fortunate in securing an ideal cantonment in an unused theatre, and the two days there were made doubly agreeable by the discovery of hot baths in town.
On August 17 Chef Nourse had the privilege of being present at a review by General Pétain of the officers of the Division, and we understood that there was some rivalry, which almost reached dissension, between the officers of the Automobile Service and those of the Medical Corps as to which should have "les américains."
Ressons-le-Long, where we were from August 18 to August 22, offered the poorest accommodation that we had met so far; but our stay there resulted in a final tuning-up of all the cars. And so ended our month's repos, in which we had made a rather extensive tour of a rather large portion of France behind a slowly moving body of troops who completely exhausted the supply of cigarettes in every town that they touched.
The 22d of August saw us getting settled in Villa Albert, a roomy and luxurious château in Soissons, perhaps the best cantonment any ambulance section ever occupied within shell-range of the front. The cars were parked just outside a wall surrounding the grounds which faced the main road to Villers-Cotterets and Paris. The stable near the house served as kitchen, and excellent water facilities made possible a shower bath in the basement. Ten sleeping-rooms, an office, a mess-room, another for the officers' mess, and two bomb-proof cellars, completed this ideal cantonment. Ventilation was furnished by numerous holes in the walls, memories of the day not so long passed when Soissons was under heavier bombardment. We could boast of only half a roof, but a fireplace in nearly every room gave that little touch of home which is so agreeable. Many a pleasant evening was passed before a log fire, and the music of the mandolin, ukulele, and Hawaiian guitar would carry us back to other days and stir up hopes and plans for "après la guerre."
Immediately upon arriving, the Section took up its work at the postes where a French section had been. These postes numbered eight, including a car at the disposal of the Médecin Divisionnaire. Four of these --- Boulloy, Pont Rouge, Neuville, and Montgarni ---were advanced postes de secours, with Chivres, Perrier, and Clamecy as relay postes. The evacuation was mostly done to the large hospitals at Soissons and Vauxrot, and the length of the trip and the condition of some of the roads made the work difficult. As before, we adopted the schedule of twenty-four hours on duty with the relief car arriving in the early afternoon. With nine of our twenty cars in service each day, there was very little chance for anybody to complain of idleness.
On August 25 Hibbard returned from his permission with the news that he was leaving the Service for the Artillery. It was with regret that we bade au revoir to our former Chef, who had come to the Section in its infancy and had built it up during its two months of service. Robert L. Nourse was appointed Chef, with Le Roy L. Harding as Sous-Chef.
Word had now come that the Field Service was being taken over by the United States Government, and that recruiting officers would be at our Section in a few days. On September 4 they arrived, and out of the forty-two men then composing the Section, twenty-eight at once enlisted under the new régime. Of those remaining, three were unsuited physically, and the rest were mainly so young that they wisely decided to await their parents' counsel, or to return to finish their college courses. Later, two of these received approval from home and enlisted. And here ends the history of S.S.U. Sixty-Seven, which under the American Army became Section Six-Twenty-Four.
KENNETH M. REED*
*Of New York City; Princeton, '17; served with the Field Service for four months; subsequently a member of the U.S. War Trade Board.
SECTION SIXTY-SEVEN was enlisted at Soissons on September 5, 1917, and Robert L. Nourse commissioned as Lieutenant. The Section retained its Headquarters at Soissons until November 9. During this period our work consisted of maintaining three front postes on the crest of the Chemin des Dames plateau, and in addition, in evacuating the H.O.E. at Vauxrot to the entraining hospitals of Vierzy and Buzancy. Our work during the Fort Malmaison attack of October 23 was purely that of H.O.E. evacuation --- much to our sorrow.
On November 9 we moved in the train of our Division, the 154th, to Juvigny, ten miles northwest of Soissons. Our postes in the Coucy-le-Château sector were rather quiet due to a lull in the fighting. One car, however, was wrecked by shell-fire at the Landricourt poste on the Aislette. Clever work on the part of the Section mechanic put this car in rolling order again. There were no parcs then, and the parts for it were unobtainable until the following February. It was towed in all convoys until that date.
On November 19 the Cambrai affair brewing in the north drew our Division up as reserves, and with brief halts at Montgobert and Babuf, near Noyon, we finally encamped in the valley of the Somme at Vaux, west of Saint-Quentin. The Division did not go into the lines here, and on December 20 withdrew en repos to the region around Ressons-sur-Matz. Three wintry weeks were spent here. January 10, 1918, we went into the lines south of Saint-Quentin, with Headquarters at Flavy-le-Martel. Our postes were at Clastres, Le Sablière, and Benay. The latter two were on the ridge overlooking Saint-Quentin. Lieutenant Nourse was badly burned in the face and eyes by mustard gas during our stay here. The sector was taken over by English troops on January 24
On January 27 the Division came out en repos again with Headquarters at Archen, near Roye. On February 8 we watched with wistful eyes the embarkation of the Division for Alsace, while we remained behind, an orphan section. The ruling at that time was that divisions moving long distances, detached their ambulance sections, taking on new ones in the new sectors. On February 9 we took up our abode at Berneuil-sur-Aisne, between Compiègne and Soissons, being attached to the French auto parc there. No service was done during our stay, and the time was occupied in getting the Ford fleet in good order --- something we all, of course, thoroughly hated and escaped from whenever possible.
On March 23 the long-rumored German offensive drew us to Noyon in the service of the army corps. We left Noyon hurriedly under orders at 3 A.M. on the 25th, one jump ahead of the Boches, and moved to Pont l'Evêcque, a few kilometres away. The Boches gave us no rest, however, and we moved out of the town that evening just as the German cavalry was entering it. No cars were on service at that time, as our corps was not yet moved up. Camp was made near Ribécourt that night and was abruptly moved again at daylight. The Germans were not so near that time, but it was orders. Permanent camp was made at Bienville, north of Compiègne, and the Section began army corps work again, this time for the 33d Corps d'Armée. The work consisted of evacuating the relay dressing-station of Chiry-Ourscamp to the rear railhead hospitals. This station was later removed to Ribécourt.
On May 9 we moved up to Chevincourt, five kilometres to the northward, and were assigned to the 53d Division. The postes were at Orval, Carrière-Chaufour, and l'Écouvillon. The Section remained quiet until June 9, when the German offensive between Montdidier and Noyon took place. Four days of highly exciting work followed, during which we had two men wounded and one badly gassed. Two days of the attack were spent in a region constantly deluged with gas, and the shelling during the whole period was quite intense. Excellent leadership on the part of Lieutenant Nourse was responsible for saving the Section many casualties and losses in prisoners.
The attack was over on the 14th, and the 53d Division was withdrawn for rest and reinforcements, and was entrained for an Alsatian sector. The Section followed overland, making one-night stops at Pont Sainte-Maxence, Saint-Germain-les-Couilly, near Meaux, Chaumont, Luxeuil-les-Bains, Rupt-sur-Moselle, to Montreux-le-Château, between Belfort and Altkirch. The 26th of June saw the Section snugly quartered at La Chapelle-sous-Rougemont. The 32d American Division was in a sector here, and our French troops rested behind the lines, three companies only being on duty. Work was light, and the Section had time to lay out a seven-hole golf course for the golf bugs and to organize a baseball team which competed with varying success against the various outfits of the 32d.
The fighting on the Marne in the middle of July demanded additional ambulance sections, and Section Sixty-Seven was ordered from La Chapelle to Lure as a first stage of the journey. The 53d Division remained in its sector. At Lure the travelling orders were cancelled and the Section came to rest at Faucogney, between Luxeuil and Rupt-sur-Moselle. Here we remained, enjoying the picturesque surroundings and the leisure, but impatient to be back at the front, until August 6, when the Section moved to Baccarat in Lorraine, being attached to the 37th American Division. Postes were at Montigny, Pexonne, Merviller, Neufmaisons, Saint-Pôle and Trois Sapins. The sector was very quiet save for air raids. The Section was detached September 4 and moved to Nancy. Here it was attached to the Échelon américain of Townsend. Quarters were in the Caserne Dronot. Another period of inaction followed. The Saint-Mihiel attack occurred during this time, but we had to sit idly by and watch it, never turning a wheel for over a month.
October 10 found us on the road to Meaux, via Nancy, Toul, Saint-Dizier, and Sézanne. From there orders took us to Vorges, near Laon, and in country just evacuated the day before. Corps d'Armée work was our lot here until the Armistice. After that stays of various length were made at Mont Cornet, Soissons, Fourmies, near the Belgian frontier, Mont Cornet again, and Clermont, north of Paris. Some relief work was done after the Armistice, and the latter half of the period the Section was attached to a battalion of chasseurs ---a long-cherished ambition, realized only after the Armistice. We left for Paris on March 10, en route for home.
NORMAN C. NOURSE*
*Of Boise, Idaho; Princeton, '18; served in Section Sixty-Seven in Field Service; and later in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service; a subsequently Second Lieutenant, U.S. Sanitary Corps.
SECTION SIXTY-EIGHT left Paris on July 27, going to La Ferté-Milon, and thence to the Parc Levecque. On July 6 it arrived at the H.O.E. at Bouleuse, where it was engaged in service to Épernay. This evacuation work it continued until September 13, when enlistment began in the U.S. Army. A little later it became Section Six-Twenty-One.
Gloire à la France au ciel joyeux,
ON the morning of June 27, 1917, a call was made at the Field Service Headquarters for men to drive gear-shift cars. It happened that there were some forty-two men there who would have risked anything to get somewhere else. These forty-two raised at least forty-two hands when the call was made. Of this number perhaps a half knew the difference between a gear-shift car and a Ford. The other half had but the courage of their convictions. By nightfall all belongings had been packed, the useful things naturally enough being left in storage and the useless things made ready to take along.
About noon of the 28th the train which was carrying these forty-two men and their belongings sighed its way into the station at La Ferté-Milon and the future Section Sixty-Eight dragged itself from the cars. A convoy of camions was waiting there for them, into which they piled with much anticipation of a pleasant ride to somewhere; but at the end of the first mile every one was taking his punishment standing, in vain attempt to keep his various inner organs from being joggled into a hopeless mess. After twenty-five kilometres of this, the convoy rolled into Parc Levecque, one of the automobile repair parcs near the Soissons-Reims front.
It was here at Parc Levecque that the Section received its official number, its French Lieutenant, Chef, Sous-Chef, and various other decorative and worthy objects. It was here also that the foundation was laid for that collection of briquets, canes, and vases which accumulated with the Section's travels. But our stay there was short, as it seemed that the French ambulances which the Section was to have were at a near-by village. So we moved and established ourselves in an aviation camp outside of this village, whence on the morning of July 6, after a week of red tape and of acquiring the manner in which to coax the Fiats to perform, the Section left in convoy for an unknown destination.
There is no need to tell of the ride in convoy, twenty cars following one behind the other, and every driver from the second car to the last damning the one in front for raising so much dust. Most of the things usual to gasoline cars happened, but at six-thirty that night the H.O.E. at Bouleuse --the evacuation hospital behind the Aisne front, where we were destined to pass our whole existence while members of the American Field Service --- saw twenty ambulances pull into the hospital grounds and forty-two dusty individuals crawl stiffly forth. Inside of five minutes every blessé able to walk, crawl, or to be assisted, was on hand to welcome the "américains" and to sell briquets.
In a few days the Section was in barracks and taking up the work of evacuation from Bouleuse to Épernay.
This kind of work was not quite the sort that the Section had expected, but the first month got by without much being said. During the second month, however, this means of helping "make the world safe for democracy" began to weary us, and signs of unrest became evident.
Some relieved their feelings by strolling out to take a bath, and returning with photographs of Reims Cathedral and bits of the rose window. Others climbed a hill overlooking the city, and by means of binoculars and considerable imagination managed to see a bit of the well-known horrors of war. Neither baseball nor football offered much satisfaction, the opponents always being the same. Poker maintained a fairly steady vogue and served to keep the available supply of money circulating; but no one made a fortune. At that time --- late summer --- the country was very beautiful, and the grape-pickers in the vineyards along the road would toss bunches of the fruit into our laps as the cars passed by. Épernay itself offered the opportunity of enjoying the usual appetizing French meal, and few were the men who did not return from a trip there distended from gorging themselves with delicious French pastry. Even Boche aeroplanes could come and go without causing more than an apathetic glance. Everybody grew tired of everybody else, and the man who could find something new to "grouch" about was always sure of a large and enthusiastic audience.
Finally, on September 12 came a United States enlistment officer, and on September 13 some sixteen individuals signed up for the thirty odd dollars per month. Shortly after, the welcome news arrived that the Section was to go into Paris, that the enlisted men, together with the necessary other nine men who would be found there, would take out a section of new Field Service ambulances, and that the unenlisted men would be released and be free to go home or to join other services. Thus ended the existence of Section Sixty-Eight. Our duty at the front did not really begin until we were taken over by the United States Army.
SIDNEY CLARK DOOLITTLE*
*Of Utica, New York; Cornell, '18; served in the Field Service with Section Sixty-Eight, and subsequently in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
THE sixteen men of S.S.U. Sixty-Eight, who enlisted in the U.S. Army on September 13, 1917, were the nucleus of new Section Six-Twenty-One, which was formed at the Field Service Headquarters and endowed with new Field Service cars toward the last of the month. The newly formed Section was attached to the 74th French Infantry Division, and with it reached the front about the 1st of October, 1917. The Division took over a sector to the east of the Chemin des Dames, while the Section served postes at Pontavert, La Chapelle, Bouffignereux, Guyencourt, and during the winter, one at Gernicourt. The sector was quiet and the Section was quartered at Vaux-Varennes not far in the rear, for the first four months. In February the Section moved to Prouilly, near Jonchery for a ten-day repos. On returning to the lines, the Division took over a sector still farther to the east; between Berry-au-Bac and Reims, with the postes formerly served by old Section Twelve. These were at Cauroy, Cormicy, and Hermonville, with two advanced postes between the French first and second lines and located on Route 44, paralleling the Aisne Canal. These two postes were known as Maison Bleue and Saint-Georges, respectively. The Section went into camp at Châlons-le-Vergeur.
During the stay in this sector only two events stand out prominently. The first was in retaliation for an unexpected bombardment of a section of the Boche trenches and consisted in the dropping of some thousand gas-shells on Hermonville at a time when it was filled with sleeping soldiers. As a result the Section carried nearly five hundred gas cases out of the town in a day. Shortly after this the Boches took to nightly shelling of the Section's cantonment, finally culminating on the fourth night in a grand display of H.E. and gas, mixed. So the camp was moved to Prouilly!
DOWN SHADOWED HILLS AND VALLEYS
"Under what troubled skies your
steps have led you...
The Section was enjoying a few days' stay in a château near Limé, south of Braisne, when on the evening of the 26th of May came orders to prepare for action --- a great German attack was to be launched at 4.30 A.M. of the 27th. Then followed six days of untiring efforts on the part of Section Six-Twenty-One and of heroic sacrifices and counter-attacks on the part of the Division, which had been thrown into line north of Soissons. Towns and villages, later made famous by the attack of the 26th Division of the U.S. Army, were abandoned only in the face of overwhelming numbers. Berzy-le-See, Billy-sur-Aisne, Soissons, Vierzy, Chaudun, and Vertefeuille, Montgobert, Longpont, Villers-Cotterets, Pernant, Cuvres, Saint-Pierre-Aigle, and Crépy-en-Valois will long be remembered by Section Six-Twenty-One. Many times the ambulances were the last to leave towns, while some cars crossed the Aisne with the infantry. Two drivers, John Sanford and Frank Conly, were wounded by machine-gun bullets in an encounter with a Boche patrol in Soissons, yet managed to turn their cars and escape. Three others, Ralph Ellinwood, Frederic Lockwood, and William Heckert, were taken prisoners while discharging wounded at the hospital of Mont Notre Dame, south of Braisne. Two more, Arthur Hazeldine and Robert Hatch, were wounded by shell-fire. The Boche shelling was terrific. Their aeroplanes were also much in evidence, either bombing or machine-gunning the roads, continually. Then followed a month of repos at Champlatreux, twenty-five kilometres north of Paris. During this time the Section was re-outfitted with cars and clothing, having lost all baggage in the retreat. For this attack the Section was given a divisional citation.
July 1 found the Section at Le Fayel, a tiny village southwest of Compiègne. On the 4th the Section moved to Jonquières where Section One was found to be en repos. The Division went into line before Antheuil while the Section established two postes in the town of Monchy-Humières and one at the Ferme Beaumanoir, outside of Monchy. This front had been but recently formed in a more or less unsuccessful attempt of the Boches to widen the Aisne salient by a drive between Soissons and Montdidier. The shelling was frequent at this time, and Monchy, lying as it did in a hollow, was often filled with gas. On August 11 the French began an attack in this sector, the Division's objective being Lassigny, which was reached in fifteen days. On the 26th the Division was withdrawn and the Section went en repos at Rémy. During the attack, postes were served at Antheuil, Marqueglise, Margny, Lamotte, Gury, and Plessis-de-Roye. The attack was highly successful, and for its work the Section received another divisional citation. Only one man, Philip L. Bixby, was wounded, although several were gassed.
After a brief rest at Rémy, the Section left in convoy for the Champagne. Passing through Vitry-le-François, Châlons, and Sainte-Ménehould, camp was made at Coulvagny on September 6. From Coulvagny the Section was shifted from pillar to post, finally coming to a brief rest at Courtémont on September 25. On the 26th, the 74th Division attacked in the region of Le Main de Massiges and Hill 202. The Section camp was moved to La Neuville-au-Pont on September 30 so as to be on the direct road used in evacuations. By the 15th of October the Boches had fallen back and camp was moved again, to Ville-sur-Tourbe.
The Division came out of lines on October 16, and after six days of rest, so-called, at Courtémont, went back into action on October 30. During the period of rest, the Section was called upon to furnish five cars to act as a reserve for the sections still in line and also answered the calls for cars to evacuate the hospital at Braux. Fortunately for the Section, this next attack was a short one, as by the 3d of November the Boches were in full flight. On November 4 the Division came out of lines and the Section went into camp at Autry. Neither the Division nor Section ever went into action again, as shortly after the attack the Division began a gradual movement to the east, during which time the Armistice was signed. The victory was celebrated by the Section at Vavray-le-Grand, near Vitry-le-François. By the 24th of December the Division had reached the neighborhood of Ensisheim, in German Alsace, where the Section was quartered outside the town in a brick building with hot and cold running water, showers, tubs, steam heat, and electric lights.
February 3, 1919, the Section convoyed over the Vosges Mountains to Arches, a little town fifteen kilometres from Épinal. Here the Division undertook to train a batch of Polish recruits, and upon the demobilization of the greater part of the old Division, it came to be known as the 5th Polish Division.
Orders came on the 20th of March to convoy the cars to Paris, and early in the morning of the third day the Section rolled into the parc at Longchamps.
SIDNEY CLARK DOOLITTLE
||HENRY B. RIGBY|
||ROBERT RANDOLPH BALL|
SECTION SIXTY-NINE came into being on July 13, 1917, at May-en-Multien, going to the French parc at Saint-Martin-d'Ablois to get the French Fiat cars which were assigned to it. On July 23 it left via Saint-Dizier and Bar-le-Duc, for Issoncourt. On September 7 it moved to Glorieux, near Verdun, evacuating to hospitals at Landrecourt, Souilly, Souhesme and Fleury-sur-Aire. From September 14 to 19 it was at Génicourt in the Mouilly sector. Then it was at Mirecourt and Jussécourt en repos for eight days, from where it went back to Glorieux on September 13, succeeding Section Sixty-Four at postes at Verdun --- Vacherauville, Bras, Carrière des Anglais, and La Fourche. It left Glorieux on October 18 to go en repos at Chardogne, near Bar-le-Duc, where it was recruited by United States officials. Subsequently it was amalgamated with Section Twenty-Six, the Ford cars of which it took over, becoming Section Six-Thirty-Eight of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
O France of the world's desire,
SECTION SIXTY-NINE came into existence at the Field Service camp near May-en-Multien, July 13,1917, when forty-four men, with our Lieutenant, André Fraye, left for Saint-Martin-d'Ablois, where we were joined the next day by our Chef, Charles Allen Butler, of New York City, who had been the Sous-Chef of Section Thirteen. At Saint-Martin twenty Fiat ambulances and a Fiat camionnette awaited us which we took over from S.S. Sixty-Nine of the French ambulance service.
The cantonment at Saint-Martin was all that one could desire, and the formative period of our Section passed pleasantly in this little Champagne village, which was the more acceptable because of its proximity to Épernay and Reims. Our red-letter day there was July Fourteenth, which was properly celebrated by French and Americans alike, with an extraordinarily fine dinner and champagne and cigars, the gift of the French Government.
After ten days in Saint-Martin, days of practice-driving with the Fiats and of necessary inventories of equipment, we left in convoy on July 23 for Saint-Dizier and Bar-le-Duc, en route for Issoncourt, in the Verdun sector, where we learned that the Section had been put en réserve with the 2d French Army, and where seven weeks of waiting were destined to elapse before it saw active service with a division. In the meanwhile, we learned to excel in French infantry drill of a rudimentary sort. But the cantonment at Issoncourt left much to be desired. Life among the fowl and sheep of the barnyard compared unfavorably with what we had known at Saint- Martin-d'Ablois. However, there was compensation in the fact that we were nearer real war, nearer the ever-booming guns, nearer, in short, to what we had come to France to do, so that the inconveniences of Issoncourt were to some extent mitigated.
The first work of the Section came on the afternoon of Monday, August 20, when we were ordered to evacuate wounded to the large central hospitals of Bar-le-Duc. The big attack at Verdun on the morning of that day had resulted in a tremendous success for the French. The number of blessés was large, and fifteen of our ambulances were employed in carrying the couchés. Five cars remained at Vadelaincourt, and were present on the night of the 20th, during the Boche air raid there, which so completely destroyed the operating-wards of the hospital and brought death to a number of devoted doctors and nurses. This raid, the main topic of conversation for weeks to come, was a strenuous but fitting introduction to Boche methods and gave us a taste of what lay in store for us.
Issoncourt's proximity to Souilly, the Headquarters of the Second Army, made it a favorite place of visitation for enemy avions, and every clear night found the Section safeguarding itself in caves voûtées, lying down with the sheep in folds secure. Two of these raids, I may add, proved most exciting. But just as we had got accustomed to this sort of thing, the Section moved on September 7 to Glorieux, a half-kilometre from Verdun, where for five days it assisted Section Four in evacuation work from the triage at Glorieux to the various hospitals at Landrecourt, Souilly, Souhesme, and Fleury-sur-Aire. The task was difficult, but especially interesting to us as the Section here had its first opportunity to serve as a unit; and our return to Issoncourt, which followed, brought us discontent, for real work had tasted good. But we were destined to remain only four days in Issoncourt, as we were soon attached to the 131st Division of the French army and went in convoy to our new cantonment at Génicourt in the Mouilly sector, where we remained from September 14 to September 19.
The cantonment at Génicourt was only a makeshift, and the nights found most of us on the floor of the abri, for hostile avions were very numerous. Later we returned to Glorieux: and were billeted in the old seminary, where we were most comfortable. While working at the difficult poste of La Fourche, five of our cars were pierced with éclats, but during the work on the Verdun front no member of the Section met with any serious mishap. Two Croix de Guerre were awarded to members of the Section for work done with the Division. The Section left Glorieux: on October 18, to go en repos with its Division at Chardogne, near Bar-le-Duc, where the United States recruiting officers visited us, and the Section again made an excellent showing --- twenty-one men enlisting and the Chef getting a commission. On October 20 Lieutenant Butler and the men who had enlisted were moved to Ancemont, where they took over the Ford ambulances of Field Service Section Twenty-Six. The Section became officially Six-Thirty-Eight and continued to serve the French Army until long after the Armistice,
HENRY B. RIGBY*
*Of Mansfield, Ohio; Yale, '15; Sous-Chef of Section Sixty-Nine. later Chief of Disbursements, War Registration, and Draft for Ohio for the remainder of the war.
August 24, 1917
I SHALL never forget the night of August 20, 1917. We were sent to the evacuation hospital at Vadelaincourt to help take back to the rear the many wounded of the first day's fighting of the great French attack of the day before; and many there were, too. It was late in the afternoon when we reached the hospital; the sun was just setting against a beautiful, clear sky. We had to wait until about nine o'clock, and the night was clear and still. Scarcely any breeze was stirring, but the cannon flashed and thundered continuously on the horizon. Mack and I, our Chef, and the drivers of the other two cars were all sitting on a bench just outside the main hospital shack, watching the beautiful star-shells burst in the distance, while now and then two or three powerful searchlights would scan the sky above our heads for enemy craft. We were all enjoying this; and some one jokingly remarked, "Doesn't it remind you of a great Fourth-of-July celebration in the United States?" Suddenly the whirr of an aeroplane in motion sounded over our heads. Scarcely had we jumped to our feet when two crashes sounded about a square away from us; and for ten seconds at least everything was aglow and lighted up as bright as day. We all realized instantly what had happened.
There is a large aviation parc not far from the hospital. An enemy plane had climbed high into the air on his side of the line, and then shut off his motor and glided down until he came to this parc, dropping two incendiary bombs as he passed. It was the explosion of these that we heard and saw. just as he dropped them he turned on his motor and darted back toward his own lines, amid a shower of bursting shells from the French anti-aircraft guns. We could see him just a little way above us in the bright glow of the explosion, dashing ahead at a terrific rate.
As soon as this occurred, the Chef gave orders to put on our steel helmets, stay near our cars, and to have our gas-masks ready, because a gas-bomb might be dropped. In the meantime our three cars were lined up in front of the main hospital shack. There are about sixty of these long wooden buildings arranged in two rows facing each other.
About ten-thirty we were all inside the shacks looking at some of the many wounded Boche prisoners, when just as one of us was remarking, "I feel sorry for them," we heard the same roar again, and in an instant three crashes hurled showers of earth and missiles upon our hospital, caused every light in the place to go out, and everybody, including ourselves, fell flat on the floor. It was then quite evident that the Germans were trying to hit this hospital, for these three bombs had missed it by only about one hundred feet, landing in a field just behind the hospital where they made three deep pits.
Things were becoming really serious, so the Chef told us to look for an abri. But alas! before we could. do this, six more bombs fell all around us. Then wild excitement followed. Frenchmen were dashing at full speed for an abri; and we followed suit. Some fell down in the gutters beside the hospital, some dived under the ambulances. By this time there were several planes above us, and one of their bombs had hit its mark, for the section of the hospital across the road was now a mass of roaring flames, and the whole place was as bright as day. The screams of the wounded were drowned by the crashes of the bombs, and, to add to the horror, the gas-signal was flashed, for the Germans were dropping bombs charged with gas, one whiff of which would finish any one.
We clapped on our masks as did every one else, and it is needless to say we all thought our time had come, for the bombs were now raining in all directions, and the whole village was aglow from the burning hospital. The miserable aviators had been able to swoop down low and take good aim before letting a bomb fall; so of course the hospital was set on fire. We had to crank our cars and stand by them so as to be ready to rush the wounded away as soon as they could be brought from the burning building. But presently another bomb burst still closer to us, when we were all ordered to fly to an abri at once. While Mack and I, along with three French officers, were doing so, we looked up and saw a plane just above us. The bomb beat us; we were still about twenty feet from an abri; and just as it burst, we dived under an ambulance near by, the Frenchmen coming down right on our backs. The explosion sent a shower of rocks and earth against and on top of the car; but I am thankful to say that no one was hurt. We did n't wait there for the next one, however. We scrambled out from under the car, and all of us dived into the abri, head-on. It was quite a "mix-up" when we hit the bottom; but that was better than a "blow-up," we thought.
After this bomb had fallen, there seemed to be a little lull. So our Chef led the way out of the abri, and we all hurried back to our cars. The hospital was still burning furiously, but the fire had not reached across the road where we were. The lull was only for a moment; another lot of planes now flashed over our heads strewing incendiary and gas-bombs in all directions. The work was now too serious for us to leave our cars, for the wounded were being rapidly loaded into them; so we stood by, patiently awaiting our finish.
My car was the last one to be loaded; and you can imagine how Mack and I felt when we saw the other two cars load up and pull out, leaving us still there! I confess, however, that I never want to be caught in such a place again; the suspense was a little too much. It seemed to us as if the brancardiers took months to load our car, while every moment the flying machines increased in number. Apparently the big anti-aircraft guns were having no effect on them. I never felt so happy in all my life as I did when the signal was given for us to pull out, when we passed right beside the burning buildings and could see many of the poor, helpless wounded trying to drag themselves out of reach of the hungry flames.
As this hospital was filled with seriously wounded patients, none of them had the slightest chance of escaping unless some one helped them, which, of course, everybody tried to do. Strange to say, the majority of cases were Germans, and most of those lost were Boche wounded. Of course, many were killed by the explosion of the bomb and many were lost in the fire. Needless to say, the part of the hospital which was hit was totally destroyed, but the part on the other side of the road was not harmed.
This is another addition to the long brutality list drawn up against the Germans. I may add that the Boches make this kind of addition quite frequently.
It was four-thirty in the morning when we finally got our ambulance loads of wounded back to the hospital in the rear of the fighting zone and got into our beds.
ROBERT RANDOLPH BALL*
*Of Biltmore, North Carolina; University of Virginia, '17; served in Section Sixty-Nine of the Field Service until October, 1917; subsequently a Second Lieutenant of Artillery in the French Army. The above are extracts from a home letter.
EDITOR'S NOTE. --- The subsequent history of the greater part of the personnel of old Section Sixty-Nine is told at the end of Section Twenty-Six's history, as they took over the cars of this Section which became Six-Thirty-Eight of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service with the French Army.
||ALBERT EDWARD MacDOUGALL|
||J. OLIVER BEEBE|
AFTER a month of inactivity at May-en-Multien, Section Thirty was at last formed, and on the 16th of July, 1917, left Paris for Dugny, near Verdun. From this base it served Vadelaincourt, Chaumont, Monthairon, and other hospitals. On September 4 it left Dugny for Rambluzin, near Benoite Vaux for repos. During the second week in October the Section was moved on flatcars to Blanzy, south of Soissons, where the recruiting officers found it. On October 15, it moved to Vauxrot in the same sector, from there aiding in the Fort Malmaison attack of October 23, and finally moving on October 28 to Saint-Remy, en repos. Upon the militarization of the Service the remaining members of Section Thirty were combined with those of old Section Eighteen to form Six-Forty-Two of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
Verdun! A clarion thy name shall ring
THE "Harvard Section" was composed of twenty-five Cambridge graduates and undergraduates, plus a few aspirants, and all of us must express our gratitude to Mrs. Henry B. Duryea, whose energetic efforts terminated successfully in raising a sum sufficient to equip the Section with Fords.
On June 2, 1917, we sailed from New York for Bordeaux. During the trip across, Paul Rainey, the lion-hunter, decided to obtain moving pictures of the stern gun in action; so when the gunners went through the usual motions of loading, one of them slipped a shell into the gun while the second was posing, with the result that the latter touched off the firing-pin and the obus went skipping past a passing cargo ship. Whereupon the captain gave the gunner two months in prison, the passengers went back to their books and shuffle-board, and Rainey developed his film.
We spent only a week in Paris and a month at May-en-Multien waiting for the promised "flivvers," when finally on July 16 we took up our work under the wise and kind leadership of Ralph Richmond, formerly of Section Fifteen, and just fresh from the officers' school at Meaux.
Travelling in convoy, we arrived in Châlons for our first night. Here we saw our first Boche prisoners, and caused considerable excitement among the French poilus by playing baseball. They rather marvelled at the distance the Americans could throw the ball, and were quite unable to imitate us. The next morning, with sore arms from cranking stiff cars, we got an early start and reached Bar-le-Duc in the forenoon, where every one stocked up with the famous jelly of the town. In repacking some of the cars six months later, we found a few jars of this jelly carefully hidden in the side-boxes where they had been put at that time.
At our Dugny cantonment we were assigned two tents connected with the large evacuation hospital built for the coming attack at Verdun, where we lived in more or less luxury, having electric lights and being able to take shower baths under the water spigots when the military doctors were not about. Wounded did not begin coming in for about ten days, so under the able direction of our first Sous-Chef, Bingham, all took turns in stringing barbed wire around the cantonment, putting up an eating-tent, building a cook-shack, and cracking stones for a road for the cars. Avion combats, passing troops, and now and then a burning saucisse were the only things that looked like war until the heavy artillery began to speak, and wounded poured in. Then the cars started to work, carrying blessés to Vadelaincourt, Chaumont, Monthairon, and other hospitals varying distances away.
The most distasteful trip was that to the railway station in our town. The Boches were evidently bent on forcing the ravitaillement base to move farther back, for they began dropping close to the station "380's" from their naval guns. At first the shells came at weekly intervals --- on Sunday mornings; but gradually the intervals grew shorter until at the end of August a certain number were sure to come twice a day. The town soon began to take on a more desolate appearance as the houses here and there commenced to tumble and the few civilians and many soldiers moved out. At the hospital in the centre of the town --- to give one example of these changed conditions --- seven nurses were one day huddled in an open trench while the shelling lasted, when a misguided shell fell directly on their temporary refuge, killing three of them and wounding the other four. It was our No. 757 that carried to the hospital Mlle. Yolande de Baye, who shortly afterwards was decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honor in recognition of her heroic conduct on this occasion.
During August the average of cars rolling per day was about ten, and at no time did we call on the ten French cars held at the hospital as a reserve for our Section. In the last days of this month shells landed upon the operating-room of Hospital 225 and in consequence the medical authorities decided to evacuate it, which gave our twenty cars a busy two hours. But after this the work gradually slackened up, until at the beginning of September, when our hospital shut its doors, the cars stood idle.
THE last moonlit nights of August were made memorable by the aviation raids about which much appeared in the newspapers. Not only were bombs dropped on over five of the hospitals near Verdun, but the aviators also raked the roads with their machine guns. In consequence of this heartless conduct, two military doctors were killed and four wounded as they worked in the hospital where we were quartered. Other bombs dropped on all sides, but did little damage except tearing holes in our tents and upturning a few graves in the near-by cemetery. So, after spending several nights in near-by trenches and under haystacks, the fellows received with pleasure the order to move for a three weeks' repos, which was spent in the Bois de Chanois at Rambluzin, a typically French village near Benoite Vaux, noted for its shrine, to which many pilgrimages were made before the war.
Our peaceful existence in these delightful woods was interrupted by the rumors of the nearness of the recruiting commission sent out to take over the Field Service sections. Then came an unexpected order to entrain for an unknown destination. It did not take long to pack and at the appointed hour we were at Ligny-en-Barrois, where our Fords were put atop of flatcars. It was a somewhat perilous trip in a sense, because of the strong temptation to visit your neighbor on the next car while the train was moving along. On the other hand, it was interesting, for a change, to sit inside your ambulance and watch through the window the French scenery. At 2 A.M. the train came to a stop in Villers-Cotterets, where we learned that we had changed from the Fourth to the Sixth Army. Then the heavy French ambulances on the forward part of the train had to be unloaded first, and as there was but one platform on which the cars could be placed it was not until seven that the first Ford was taken off. For this work the Section was divided into squads working in relays: one squad detaching the freight car and pushing it by hand to the platform, another running the ambulance off the car, and the third switching the empty car. It took just an hour and a half to unload and park, ready for the start to Blanzy, where the Section was to be held in reserve for the Tenth Army Corps.
IT was at Blanzy that the U.S. recruiting commission found us living in our cars and trying to keep dry. The officers, who appeared unexpectedly and in a downpour of rain, sat down in the only room near by which boasted a fireplace, and there the Section gathered around to ask questions. But the fact that interested us most in this connection was the official promise that the group should continue to be known as Section Thirty.
About October 15 we moved to Vauxrot, north of Soissons, to do the evacuation work, and were quartered in a barrack in a destroyed distillery. After shovelling bottles for over an hour, we were able to park the cars without losing any tires. There were bottles everywhere --- empty ones --- and as a further disappointment the proprietor of the place refused to allow old grenades and spent shells to be thrown at the stock!
During the Aisne attack the work was not too heavy. Yet with Section Sixty-Seven, which was with us at this moment, we received the felicitations of the Minister of War for what we did during this October push.
On October 28 we again went en repos, this time at Saint-Remy, where the official cantonment was a large farmhouse. But the men preferred to scatter to all parts of the town. Coffee and bread would be served by the Section at seven-thirty, and by eight the various groups would be breakfasting before the open fires on chocolate with omelettes and toast.
Before the breaking-up on November 10, the Section made one more move to Soissons, when its personnel was completed by men from Section Eighteen and the Ambulance Base Camp, when, for just a month thereafter, five cars worked daily from the Central Hospital at Soissons, at the end of which period we were attached to the 22d Division of the Eleventh Army Corps.
From July, 1917, when the Section started out, up to the end of the year, we carried 3773 wounded and 1651 sick cases.
ALBERT EDWARD MACDOUGALL*
*Of Flushing, New York; Harvard, '18; joined the American Field Service in June, 1917, when he became Sous-Chef of Section Thirty; subsequently a First Lieutenant in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
Dugny, August 3, 1917
YESTERDAY afternoon I took three severely wounded men to the railway station where they were to be shipped farther back for further treatment. One of these chaps --- they were peasants between thirty and forty years old --- had both legs off, another an arm lost, and the third some shrapnel in his head and chest. They remained lying in my car for about an hour without a murmur, awaiting the arrival of the train, which was late. In the meanwhile a soldier came up and asked me for a cigarette, and we talked as he smoked. He was twenty years old; two brothers had been killed in the war, and his father and mother had been lost, soon after the destruction of his home, in territory over which the Germans swept at the beginning of the war. He is now alone in the world, and rather a bitter soul, to say the least. He was seventeen when the Germans came riding into his home town and took possession of the house. In one room lay a wounded French sergeant who was decidedly in the way of the German officers. One of the latter caught a youngster of thirteen giving the sergeant a cup of water, and knocking this out of his hand, ordered the boy to shoot the sergeant. The boy raised the gun that was thrust into his hands and aimed it at the sergeant as he lay on the straw, but just as he pulled the trigger he twisted the muzzle around so that the bullet pierced the chest of the German lieutenant, who dropped at his feet. The young chap who told me this said that this was a part of what he had witnessed, and gave it as the reason why he no longer took prisoners when the choice came to him. He had played marbles with the boy of thirteen many a time in happier days before the war. Some of my friends here don't believe the story, but I do, he was so evidently sincere, and a man does n't wipe tears from his eyes when joking.
IT has rained continuously for several days and you have no idea what mud is until you have run a car through this mud and then tried to wash it off. I came off twenty-four hours' duty at the hospital-church yesterday and then attempted to live up to regulations by washing my car. I ran it down to an open space a little off the main road and near a running brook. The car was caked several inches thick, for it had had several trips the night before, and after two hours' steady scrubbing I tossed aside my worn sponge and gave up the job. Some of the mud did come off, but the brook water had left broad streaks, effectually disguising the car, but not brightening it, and when I finally got it parked in front of our tents, it looked worse than ever. The spigot shower got most of the mud off my slicker and shoes, although it did n't exactly dry them; but a quick change, a cup of coffee, and all was well. And even the war was forgotten when a letter came giving all the news from home.
By chance I have had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of the major in charge of some heavy artillery batteries here, and his officers have taken me over the whole outfit, even showing me the photos, made by aviators, of German trenches and present positions. This evening I took Gardner Emmons back there with me, where I found several more French officers added to the company. We two conducteurs ---young Americans --- sat there as big as life, keeping them amused, while we ate their Breton cakes with jam and drank their tea. Gardner said how much he liked tea and how difficult it had been to find any, so that finally he bore off in triumph a whole can of it, thanks to the kindness of the major, who offered to take us along with him, promising better training than any artillery school can offer; but some questions as to citizenship and its retention stand in the way. Later, the major, who is a real old soldier and has been in service in all the colonies as an engineer, took me out in his car to see some mined towns and to point out various positions, and then invited me to lunch in his dining-car. We had omelette, roast duck with lettuce and peas, three kinds of wine, and chocolate pudding with baked apples and jam. It would have amused you to see me trying to keep up conversation in French with two captains, a lieutenant, and a major. Much to the amazement of the rest of the crowd here, the old major asked our lieutenants, French and American, and myself, to tea again the next day, and we enjoyed it a lot. I am going to ask father to send him a box of cigars soon, when I am permitted to give his name.
No matter what you say about the horrors of war, there are inspiring sights in connection with it. It is hard to judge what class of men are to be most admired; but the doctors are certainly playing an important and difficult part. It must be a strain on any man to be at top speed. day and night performing necessary operations. We bring in frightful cases, yet the doctors work cheerfully and continuously. The sisters of charity and nurses, who come so close to the front and have to work under an occasional shelling, also deserve great praise. As a general reflection, I should say that the French have stood the strain wonderfully and no praise of this nation can be exaggerated.
I HAVE had no time to write this week on account of the attack in this sector, which we had been waiting for ever since we arrived here, knowing that when it did come there would be plenty of work. Last Saturday every car was gone over and finishing-touches put on, for we had been told that the great event would come in the morning; and sure enough, by eight o'clock the first wounded began to come in, when from then on car after car drew up and was unloaded. The sitting cases were smiling and happy for the most part, glad of a wound to keep them out of it for a time, though many complained that they would only be out for a month or so. But the lying cases were frightful and showed war in its most ghastly aspects. It was our first experience with any number of cases which had had only rough poste treatment, and I admit it was sickening. That feeling, however, has gone now, after a week of steady work and seeing such revolting sights so often. The mud from the trenches, of course, made the shattered men lying on the stretchers appear far worse. Most of them seemed to be hurt in the head or about the legs, and were carried into the big tents to a long table, where their wounds were examined hastily and the men assigned to different tents, according to the nature of the wounds. The surgeons soon were busy, performing one operation after another, while a long line of stretchers waited their turn. They stood on their feet doing this difficult work all day and most of the night without a let-up, and have stuck to it. For the most part, no anæsthetics were used. These French soldiers are a brave lot.
It was n't long before all our cars began to roll, taking men from a central tent to hospitals in all directions, the hospital depending on the nature of the case. Fractures, for instance, go to a town which is our longest trip, to make which takes us three hours in daytime. All trips take longer at night because it is difficult to drive without lights and then there is more traffic on the roads. It was something new for the Section to have all the cars rolling; but every one worked hard, and things went well. After the first two days ten cars went on for twenty-four hours, and then the next ten changed off. We keep the cars lined up outside the clearing-house tent and move out in the order in which we come in. During the day every one wants to get a long trip, and is disgusted when his car stands first and he has to go just about two kilometres to a hospital for very serious cases. At night this does n't hold, because then the strain tells before you get back.
WEDNESDAY morning I went on at six and worked all day, getting meals, mostly cold, from one to two hours late. Finished a seventy-kilometre trip at eleven-thirty that night and then lay down on a stretcher in a spare tent to sleep. At twelve-thirty a call came for a little longer trip to two hospitals to which I had never been before; but as we are provided with small maps, I anticipated no trouble finding the hospitals in question. So three couchés were loaded in the dark, and off we started. I knew the roads for a quarter of the distance, and so had no trouble in dodging trucks and officers' cars, which fly by at a terrific rate. But it was a different proposition on the strange roads, and the few stars that were out helped but little. You are keyed up to the highest pitch, staring into the darkness ahead of you and trying to keep on your side of the road without getting into the yawning ditches. Fortunately, I had only one man who groaned at the bumps; so it made going a bit easier.
On the crossroads in most of the towns stood sentinels with a dull light; so with their help I found the first hospital and there left two of my wounded. Then I started off again, praying, for the sake of the man in the rear of the car, that I should be able to find the next place without delay. No sooner had I made the first turn out of the town than I met wagon trains coming in the opposite direction. Of all things to pass at night, these wagon trains are the worst, for the horses and mules walk all over the road, in spite of efforts to keep them on their own side. Especially when the train halts the horses turn sideways and the men sit beside the wagons.
I crept on through the next town --- most of the houses were shattered by shell-fire and were ghastly at night --and finally began to worry about finding my hospital. In the next village I woke a guard who,. when he was sufficiently awake, told me that I had passed the town in which the hospital was located. It was discouraging to have to turn back, and I felt sorry for the chap in the car; but it had to be done. I got back to the town in due time, and found the wagons still filing through it, but saw no hospital. So leaving the car in the road with a sentinel, who swore he had never heard of a hospital in that town, I started off on foot to locate it. I ran in one direction and then up the street in an opposite way, afraid at first to go far from the car. About every block I would pound on a door and try to stir up some one; but nothing stirred. In one place some one stuck his head out of a window, cursing at me for flashing a spot-light, because of flying machines. In two houses the voices of women replied to my shouted inquiries; but neither had ever heard of a hospital there. By this time I was hot and about ready to give up, when an officer of a wagon train helped me wake up a truck driver, fast asleep in the bottom of his vehicle, who put on his shoes and started up the road with me in the direction from which I had originally passed through the town, though he had arrived just that evening and was weary, after a forty-eight-hour drive. After walking for five or ten minutes, he stopped and told me to fetch the car, for we were now near a hospital which he had passed as he came in that day; and sure enough, not five hundred yards off, was the hospital I was looking for, totally hidden by trees and its entrance concealed by a wagon train. It stood on my left as I came into the town and I had missed it quite naturally. We now woke up the stretcher-bearers at the hospital and took the wounded man out of my car. He was asleep, and evidently had been so for some time; so all was well. But he finally woke up when he was rolled off the stretcher in order to give it to me. I would do anything for that driver, for to me he is a nameless friend and benefactor.
It was so late now that I decided not to hurry; so I stopped to drink a thermos bottle of hot black coffee. This was a godsend and helped make the ride back a lot easier. Anyway, you always start home with a breath of relief and a care-free feeling, since you are relieved of your wounded or sick cases. But this particular return trip was a bit different from ordinary ones, for most all the way back I had to pass the same wagon trains which I had met coming. I was now going with them, which is harder, for you have to get into the train somehow, and it's often hard to get out again. For instance, at one place I was held up on a narrow bridge, between two huge carts, for half an hour, while at another spot they were kind enough to move over twenty carts into the field, so that I could get by. It was necessary all the way back to drive with the right hand on the wheel and the left continually blowing the horn. I skinned a few trees and ran over some piles of stones where the road was being mended, but finally got safely back to our poste at the hospital, at just 4.30 A.M.
I HAD a trip yesterday afternoon, and a long one it was; but I did n't have to go out during the night. We slept in a spare tent, fully dressed and ready to go out, which ten of the cars did do. It was pouring rain and very cold. No one slept a wink, not because the stretchers were hard, but because one blanket did not keep the cold out. Charlie and I talked part of the night, and now and then got up for coffee. We are on again to-night, but will have some trips so that we shan't think so much about the cold in bed. By the way, up to three or four days ago, we had carried, since August 1, fifteen hundred men. But during the last few days the average has been higher because of the attack. I have been chosen Sous-Chef, and certainly appreciate the honor, for I would rather be with this Section than do anything else. I think far more of the Service after the hard work we have gone through, and I want to stick to it now. There is something more personal in this branch of the Service than in any other, especially when you help run one of these sections; and I shall now be busier than ever getting into my new job.
LAST night I celebrated my twenty-first birthday by adding knickknacks to the dinner. We had quite a feast, and palatable things which are different from our usual menu make a strong appeal to twenty-five hungry men. Davis, our supply purchaser, helped me out by getting a few things in a large town near by, and then Charlie, Gardner Emmons, and Sammy Wendell aided by peeling potatoes, so that the cook would have time to cook stuffed tomatoes. Well, the first extra was butter, served with the soup, the same kind we have had every night since leaving Paris. With the stuffed tomatoes, potatoes, and meat, we had some of the thermos-kept chocolate, which was a great treat. Then came two bottles of champagne for each table, which was the trump card, of course. To the dessert of canned pears were added sweet crackers, candy, and grapes, which rounded out the dinner.
ON Thursday all were quite busy, as "155's " kept going for about ten hours. Most of the cars had a call at seven, just before breakfast, to carry gas cases --- trench artillerymen affected by a new gas which burns deeply through their uniforms. The acid is sent off after the explosion of the shells. The gas-masks proved ineffectual, as most of the men's eyes were visibly swollen. Then I had a long trip to base hospital for medicines for these cases and got back to our evacuation hospital just in time for two more trips to the town, to which we went in the morning and to the station. On the way to the hospital for gas cases, you have to cross a wide meadow, river, and canal by a narrow bridge, which is just wide enough for a single wagon, and as there always are wagons just ahead of you, one has to crawl along in low for an interminable length of time, which is tiresome. But Charlie and I found the bridge by which you return empty of trucks, and it was a great relief to rattle along unimpeded.
The next day I had a call from my battery commander to come to his post, as they were about to open up for the first time and wanted a car on hand in case of trouble. Bingham went along with me to see the guns fire, but we did n't expect much work. Right after coffee we hustled along and left the car on the road at one of the entrances to the field, just as the commander had instructed me to do on my first visit. We went through the camouflage which hides the road and into the field, where the guns stood uncovered, ready for action, lined up parallel, with ammunition cars directly in rear. The guns were not loaded, as this is about the last step before firing; but the crews were ready and one shell lay on the steel slot waiting to be shoved into the open breech. Two bags of powder in baskets were placed farther back on the gun platform, while another shell hung ready to take the place of number one. Twenty minutes later we were startled to hear the telephonist, in a half-covered dugout beside the gun, repeat the commands to charge the piece, whereupon the crew rushed to position, the fuse was screwed in, the shell shoved far into the breech, the heavy lock swung, the cord attached to the firing-pin, and as the muzzle of the gun swung upwards by the turning of a crank on the side, the crew jumped from the platform and stood beside the ammunition car. All was now ready, and the sergeant stood with raised hand ready, at the word from the telephonist, who listened eagerly for the captain's voice from the field headquarters, to signal to the man holding the firing cord. "Tirez!" came the order, the hand dropped, and the man beside the gun pulled the cord with both hands, when, with a loud resounding report and a spurt of flame, the huge gun jumped back about six feet, and the shell sped out on its way, sounding like a locomotive drawing heavy Pullmans at break-neck speed; and as the wind took it, you could imagine you heard the train rounding sharp curves until finally no sound could be distinguished. A small ring of white smoke went circling up as the crew jumped forward again to reload, while the three other guns were touched off. It all goes much quicker than this; in fact, you just have time to watch the shell from one gun go toward a white cloud when the next fellow speaks. There is considerable concussion, but you expect something so much worse, that, after No. 1 has spoken, you let your curiosity overcome your standoffishness. The crews race one another in reloading, so that it is seldom more than a couple of minutes before all is ready again. Two men rode on the platform while gun No. 3 was fired, which is quite a feat.
Yesterday, just after breakfast, the Germans started to send "380's" into the town for the first time since our first Sunday here. The whole thing lasted about an hour and a half. Wiswall, Dadmun, and Frenning were on duty and had to make trips, but nothing went amiss. One of them carried two nurses, one a girl of seventeen who had arrived at a hospital in the town the night before. She was very severely wounded and is in a doubtful condition. The other was wounded in the face. They were brave women and deserve all honor. A nurse from Pittsburgh was in the same dugout at the time, and told us the circumstances. Three men in the same dugout were killed outright and were buried this morning.
Dugny, September 4
IT has become necessary to close the hospitals in this town because of shell-fire, which did not spare them. Ours was the last to empty its wounded, and this was finally accomplished yesterday morning. Of course, this left the plant still here with most of the doctors and nurses and ourselves. So we took off all the cars and prepared to enjoy our first night of rest, as we thought it would be! It was the first clear, bright night that we have had for two weeks. A full moon lit up the sky and earth, while the flares and flashes from the trenches showed clearly over the ridges in front. It was a glorious sight. We watched it from the bridge for a while, and reluctantly turned in, when I was suddenly awakened by our Lieutenant's voice on the 'phone --- "Three cars wanted immediately in front of the operating-tent!" Bombs were falling! Our Chef had heard the first ones, and being up, went into the next tent and called out Squibb, Clynch, and Emmons. I got dressed and went out to help them start the cars. It was about midnight and the full moon still lit up our red crosses, so that they could have been seen for a long distance. The German flying-machine was hovering just overhead, while fusées and two searchlights were directed up toward him to guide anti-aircraft gun-fire. In the meanwhile two more bombs dropped on the other side of the hospital from us. Two of the cars were now ready; so we started up toward the operating-barracks, when a fallen telephone wire got entangled with both cars, one at a time, causing some delay and bringing some oaths from the drivers. The third car now joined us, and we backed them up ready when the doctors put the stretchers in with the wounded, who had received only first aid. There were five of them --- one captain and some non-commissioned officers, who, at the sound of the Boche machine, had come out of their tent to watch it, when a bomb dropped just between their tent and the office twenty feet or so away, with the fatal results just noted. Only two of the cars were needed for these cases, and they soon got off for the nearest hospital still open. We left the other car standing where it was, and stepped into the barracks for another fellow, when the sound of a motor kept coming nearer and nearer and every one fell flat on his face. An open abri, a narrow, deep trench in front of us, was soon filled with doctors who popped up now and then from nowhere, producing a rather amusing effect. On the ground close by was the huge red cross of crushed stone, showing the Boches that this was a hospital. There we found a small hole, not two feet deep, and two steel helmets, one of which had a clean quarter-inch hole through the lower part. These helmets belonged to the two doctors who had been killed and who had been doing wonderful work. Their loss is consequently a hard one. The red cross was no protection to them, although they have treated Boche and French wounded alike. The head doctor, who had his finger cut by a splinter of one of the bombs, said to us: "The huge crosses of red on the centre tents were also certainly visible on a night like last night." So, though they knew it was a hospital, these abominable Germans deliberately dropped bombs on it --- eleven in all. Two dropped just before the large centre tent, riddling it with holes from one end to the other; another took off the end of a tent in the rear; one more passed through the roof of the pharmacy and tore a narrow hole about fifteen feet deep before exploding; while three fell not far from our tents, two across the railroad tracks, and the third in back of us.
We lay down again to sleep at about two, then another call came at four to get a wounded man at a railroad crossing on the other side of the town. So I got up the night man on reserve and went along with him to help find the blessé, whom we found in rather bad shape, as it had taken some time to send a message to us, the telephone wire having been cut. We took him to the hospital, and got back at six-thirty in the morning.
The next night was again clear, a moonlit, glorious September night. But every one was prepared this time. Frenchmen about here began filling the dugouts as early as six o'clock. Our crowd waited until after six-thirty supper, and then began to scatter in all directions. Some took blankets and coats and went into the fields to the right, to spend the night. Others camped behind haystacks over beyond the railroad tracks, while more slept in the narrow trenches outside the tent, in which only three spent the night. But no one was so far away that he could not have been found in a short time if cars were needed. I slept in our tent near the telephone, or rather slept most of the time. Aviators came over and at times got very close to us, but dropped nothing so near as on the previous night. Possibly, seeing that most of the hospital tents were down, they decided that this place had had enough.
FOR a change of diet, "English" arranged a dinner for Richmond and me in the village at a small cottage where live two old Frenchwomen, who have been shelled from their own district and so have settled down here. You enter by a narrow alley, at the end of which are two doors, one leading into the stable, which is part of the cottage, while the other opens into the main room-kitchen, living- and dining-room all in one. In the centre is a large table with places set and goblets polished brightly, while at one end is an open fireplace with the mantel a foot from the low ceiling. On the hearth a small fire crackled and warmed three-legged pots in which our dinner was cooking. Above the table hung the wooden rack, familiar to these houses, laden with lard and bread. On the sides were suspended pots of every description, and in the corner opposite the stairway leading to the wine-cellar stood a grandfather's clock, which I have no doubt would be highly prized by an American. One of the old women cooked over the fire, while the other talked incessantly about all the noble families who lived near their former residence before the war. She had supplied them with milk, and so knew all there was to be known about their affairs. Finally, when the meal was ready, we found that we had an omelette, green peas, chicken, lettuce, a chocolate pudding with crackers, and, to finish, coffee with cream, which is considered quite a treat and is served in glasses. Persuaded by "English," the talkative one dived into the cellar and reappeared with a choice bottle of Burgundy. While at coffee, she suddenly became nervous, running back and forth into an outside room, for she had heard an aviator overhead and knew it to be a Boche. So she packed her belongings in a great handkerchief tied in a huge knot, dumped from a box into her apron the money which they had made selling eggs, beer, etc., to the soldiers, and went into the stable, where she took refuge under the cow, whence she finally came out long enough to allow us to pay for our supper. The bill amounted to five francs each, and it took her at least half an hour to figure it up.
WE have just made an interesting visit to a French prison camp for Germans in a fair-sized town near here. The captain in charge led us along a high barbed-wire fence to a gate guarded by two sentries. It was about noontime in the camp, so the fifteen hundred or more Boches were lined up in a column four wide, facing the large soup pails. The French guards were careful that after the tin mess kits had been once filled, the prisoners did not come back for more. They sat about on the ground eating with apparently much relish their steaming soup with macaroni in it. They get coffee in the morning, and at lunch and at supper a mess kit of this soup, which contains one vegetable. Sometimes when they have been working hard, boxes of "monkey" meat are divided among them. In addition, they are given a liberal allowance of bread. The prisoners seem to be of a low caste, and so probably eat here as well as they would at home. Their cooks are Boche prisoners; so if there is little variety in their food, it is often the fault of their own cooks. These men were of all ages, some very old, others young.
This camp, which is merely an open, bare field enclosed by a high double fence of barbed wire, is a front one, a sort of clearing-house in which the prisoners are gathered, sorted, and sent to the interior where their quarters are far more comfortable. They sleep in barracks, but have neither beds nor blankets. Some are lucky enough to have overcoats of their own, while the rest have ground sheets which they carry over their shoulders all the time. Many a button is missing, many a trouser leg patched, but they are fed, have a place to sleep, and are "out of it," which is more important; so "What more could you ask?" seems to be their mood. After that we thanked our guides and left, bearing away with us the feeling that the prisoners of war on this side of the lines were being fairly treated.
Near Soissons, October 1
The house we are in belongs to an old lady, who has lived here for sixty-five years and who lets chicken, geese, and a dog run loose in the courtyard; and between them they keep things lively. At first, the dog was as timid as the old lady toward "the Americans"; but they soon got used to us. The old lady now even makes the beds and brings water. Since the war began, she tells us, she has had English, Australian, and French officers of all ranks quartered with her, and as each one wanted his bed made differently, she says she never knows what to do. But now that she has found out that we don't care how she makes the beds, she has become all the more friendly to "those easily pleased Americans."
Vauxrot, October 27
THE French have made a successful attack here. We worked with a French section, and carried about one-third Boches. It was a revelation to see the way these Boches were treated with just as much consideration as the French wounded. The stretcher-bearers saw that they got bread and hot soup from the buffet and showed no bitterness toward them at all. The stretchers of these Germans were always surrounded by a crowd, including many Americans, questioning them and joking about the Kaiser. All the Americans present naturally came away with Boche helmets, gas-masks, caps, and all sorts of things, much to the amusement of the French doctors. You usually throw all these things away after a couple of days, or when you move, though the gas-masks are worth preserving because of their effectiveness. They are heavy, but well made, and serve their purpose. The stretchers are too heavy and complicated to be useful, and are characteristic of the Boches.
ALBERT EDWARD MAcDOUGALL*
*These extracts are from a personal diary.
AT the formation of new Section Six-Forty-Two --- Old Thirty as we still liked to call it --- Chef Richmond immediately became Lieutenant Richmond, Sous-Chef MacDougall, First-Sergeant MacDougall, and J. Oliver Beebe, Sergeant. Late November and early December were spent at Soissons, serving the Hôpital Militaire. On the 9th the Section went to Chacrise, five miles to the south of Soissons, and was attached to the 22e Division d'infanterie, which consisted of the 19th, 62d, and 118th Regiments and the 39e Régiment d'artillerie. Here were first met M. Petit, real if not nominal, head of the G.B.D. 22, and M. l'Aumonier Bossuet, the Division Priest, who could boast, but did n't, that every man in the Division was his friend. On the 19th the Section went to Juvigny, north of Soissons, where it remained until the 12th of March, serving postes in the sector between Coucy-le-Château and the Vauxaillon-Pinon region.
Leaving here the Section slowly went with the rest of the Division to Lagny, near Paris, supposedly for repos, but had scarcely encamped when at 6 P.M. on the 21st of March the alerte was received; at midnight orders to move; and at sunrise movement in the direction of the great retreat of the Somme began. Five days and five nights the Division worked, the men almost without equipment or ammunition, and it aided most effectually in the final arrest of the Hun on about the 29th. This was probably the hardest work which the Section was called upon to do, though the costs were much less than in the next retreat. The work done by the Section may be judged by the seven individual citations received by the officers and four men.
From this battle the Division went to the Aisne front, stopping en route at Vic-sur-Aisne and Braisne. The Section was stationed April 29th at uilly, just north of the Aisne, serving various postes on the Chemin des Dames. Here the Section suffered the loss of its much-loved Lieutenant Ralph Richmond, who went to take command of a parc and was replaced by Lieutenant Brady.
A comfortable time was spent here during the following weeks of spring. All day the 26th of May nothing went on out of the ordinary. The General sent his Chief of Staff to Paris for a twenty-four hour permission. Still all continued calm. At six o'clock came the alerte. At midnight the barrage and the gas, the most intense fire imaginable. At five o'clock the Boches came over, and Section Six-Forty-Two, with what was left of the Division, started the second great retreat, but not until it had left four men, Wright, Thorpe, Al Brook, and Murphy, and eight cars, in the hands of the enemy. Jack Adams was wounded by a shell, which blew in the stone wall of the cantonment at Fismes at noontime, after a morning of most commendable work, James was seriously wounded and captured later in the day; the car he was driving also went to the enemy after not inconsiderable effort had been made to save it. The Section retired, with the Division, through Fismes, Fère-en-Tardenois, and crossed the Marne to be relieved at Condé-en-Brie on the 31st of May, after the remaining eleven cars from the Section had taken the last of the wounded from the hospitals at Château-Thierry --- the last transportation in the town before its capture. At Montmirail, where we were next located, the American troops passed us heading for Château-Thierry to stem the tide of invasion.
From June 5 to 14 the Section was en repos at Marcilly-sur-Seine. On the 14th, a three-days' convoy was started for Alsace. The Division was assembled at La Thillot and then went in line on the 21st in the Thann-Hartmannsweilerkopf-Col-de-Bussang sector --- the État-Major going to Wesserling and the Section and the G.B.D. to Ranspach. Here a most delightful five weeks of beautiful summer were passed in reconquered Alsace. Only one thing marred the general happiness and that was the incessant changing of speed-bands. Here two of the Section's most-liked and valued men left: "Ed" MacDougall got his commission and took command of S.S.U. Five-Seventy-Four, and "English," Maréchal des Logis, was assigned to do liaison work with the American Army. The latter was replaced by Schoeler, long with Old Seventeen.
On September 1 convoy was made by easy stages to Brusson, near Vitry-le-François, where we waited for the expected attack in the Champagne. After the Saint-Mihiel drive, all the high officers of the Division were taken up there in twelve cars to observe the work of the Americans, which was considered to have been carried out in a most remarkable manner.
Then came a slow movement toward the front. On the 25th, definite news of the attack came. On the 26th we were in line at Souain, and at that point took place the first real advance which the Section had enjoyed. It was a delightful sensation, particularly for the officers and non-coms, as it was a relief from much of the responsibility which came with the earlier retreats.
September 26 to October 6 was spent in General Gouraud's offensive, with numerous postes served in the region of Souain, Somme-Py, Saint-Clément-à-Arnes, Saint-Étienne-à-Arnes, Sainte Marie-à-Py, Ville-sur-Retourne, and Le Ménil. For services during these days the Section was honored by a citation to the order of the Corps d'Armée. Also seven more men received individual citations from the Division.
From October 16 to the 27th we were en repos at Trepail. From October 27 until November 6 we went back with our Division for a continuation of the Champagne-Ardennes offensive. The Section cantonment was at Dricourt and it served various postes in the Attigny-Vouziers sector. It was about this time that Sergeant Beebe was sent away to get his commission and take command of S.S.U. Five-Seventy-Eight. From November 6 to 10 the Section took part in the final rapid advance of the Allies through Tourteron and Bouvellemont, toward the Meuse. November 11 found it en repos at Saint-Lambert. November 12 until the 23d it convoyed across Northern France and Belgium via Flize, Carignan, and Isel. From November 23 until December 11 it remained at Martelange, in Belgium, and from the latter date until December 27 at Redange, in Luxembourg.
On December 27 and 28 it convoyed back to France and went to Montmédy, where it remained until called into Base Camp on February 18, 1919, preparatory to going home. Here the time was wearily and expectantly passed until March 4, when it went to Brest, en route for Camp Dix and demobilization.
Thus briefly ends the glorious history of S.S.U. Six-Forty-Two, née Thirty, and few moments, indeed, will ever be forgotten and few of the friendships lost, it is hoped, that were started and made during those memorable months and years.
J. OLIVER BEEBE*
*Of Boston, Massachusetts; Harvard, '16; served with Section Thirty of the Field Service, and as sergeant of Section Six-Forty-Two; subsequently a Lieutenant in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
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