of a Driver at the Front
Printed only for private distribution,
Fig. 1. Some of the Section at Pont-à-Mousson
THESE letters, according to ordinary ethics in such matters, should not, perhaps, be published. They were merely intended as tributes of friendship and remembrance. Casually written --- in pencil often --- at moments between duties, with no thought of their being destined to any further purpose than that distance and absence might count a little less through the pictures they would give of a day's work far away.
Excepting that here and there in each letter a few details quite personal have been omitted, and of course the names of places sometimes changed, they are untouched. Their author has had no chance to revise them, nor, it must be confessed, has his consent to their printing been asked. Knowing him, there seemed little likelihood of his believing them worthy of special attention; not at least without a correspondence of persuasion, and much loss of time. Only the exigency of the hour and a conviction of their worth have led me to take this step. If they give to those who may now read as clear a vision as they have given me of the chivalrous work our young American volunteers are doing in France, they will have achieved something. If occasionally, some reader --- grateful for this proof that our country is contributing so worthy a part to the heroism of to-day --- should feel inspired to do what he is able toward the encouragement and continuation of this work, these letters will have served a high purpose. The knowledge that a possibility so worth while would ultimately outweigh with my friend any personal consideration is justification of the liberty taken --- and of this book.
--- Perhaps for the time and effort the writer of these records so generously spent for friendship's sake in the midst of hard and hazardous days he may find recompense in the realization that, aside from the pleasure which their coming meant to one who looked for them, they may bring much benefit to "the Service" he so valiantly describes, and through that service, to thousands of men and women whose happiness death might otherwise have destroyed.
H. D. S.
FOR many years before the war there existed at Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, a semi-philanthropic institution supported by Americans and known as the American Hospital. At the outbreak of the war this institution instantly and naturally became the rallying-point for Americans who loved France and wanted to help care for her wounded soldiers. Within a few weeks it was evident, however, that larger quarters must be found. A splendid new school building, which was rapidly nearing completion in the neighborhood, was rented; its large, well-lighted, and well-ventilated rooms were transformed into hospital wards, operating-rooms, dormitories, and offices; a multitude of doctors, surgeons, and nurses were brought over from the United States; and thus the American Ambulance Hospital in the Lycée Pasteur, with accommodations for more than six hundred wounded soldiers, came into being. Soon the generosity of another American friend of France made possible a second American Ambulance Hospital, and the venerable College of Juilly, located about thirty miles east of Paris, was steam-fitted, electric-lighted and plumbed, and made over into a hospital for about two hundred additional wounded, with distinguished American surgeons in charge.
From the outset it was clear that the saving of soldiers' lives depended quite as much upon the quick transportation of the wounded as upon their surgical treatment, and in September, 1914, when the battle front surged close to Paris, a dozen automobiles given by Americans, hastily extemporized into ambulances, and driven by American volunteers, ran back and forth night and day between the western end of the Marne Valley and Paris. This was the beginning of the American Ambulance Field Service with which the following letters have to do. During the autumn and winter that followed many more cars were given and many more young Americans volunteered, and when the battle front retired from the vicinity of Paris, sections of motor ambulances were detached from the hospitals at Neuilly and Juilly and became more or less independent units attached to the several French armies, serving the dressing-stations and Army hospitals within the Army zone. To-day more than a hundred such ambulances given and driven by American friends of France are carrying wounded French soldiers along the very fighting front in Belgium and France.
In Belgium and Northern France, where the American Ambulance Field Service has had an important Section since the early months of the war, the valiant service rendered during the second battle of the Yser, and during the many bombardments from long-range guns in and about Dunkirk, has attracted official recognition from the highest officers in the Army. At the time of the prolonged battles in the vicinity of Ypres in May, General Putz wrote that the American Section had, by working five nights and days without interruption, assured the evacuation of the hospitals in Everdinghe, though under continual shell fire which covered all of the roads in the neighborhood and even the hospitals themselves. "I cannot praise too highly," he added, "the courage and devotion of which the men in your Section have given evidence, and I ask you to transmit to them my congratulations and my thanks for the great physical effort which they have so generously made and the signal services which they have rendered."
In the section of Alsace which France has definitely recovered from Germany, the American Ambulance Field Service has now the only automobile ambulances and they are performing a service which no other automobile ambulances could perform. Because of the lightness and power of our little cars, and because we are willing to use them up in this service and replace them without restrictions, our ambulances are running over steep mountain passes in Alsace which the French auto-ambulances are unable to cross and over which wounded soldiers were formerly carried on mule-back. They have been able to reduce the duration of the journey of the wounded between the dressing-stations and the hospitals from four or five hours to less than one, at the same time substituting transport in a comfortable springed vehicle for the agony of transport in the mule-litters. Two of the men in this Section have already received the " Croix-de-Guerre " for special acts of valor.
We have another Section of ambulances attached to an American army field hospital of thirty tents, which is also a branch of the American Ambulance Hospital made available to the French Army by generous American friends. This movable hospital is equipped to care for one hundred and forty wounded, and the whole installation of ward tents, officers' and nurses' tents, operating-tents, mess-tents, etc., can be mounted by our men or demounted and packed on motor-trucks ready for transportation in less than three hours. It is destined to be of great service in the devastated regions when the French Army begins its advance.
Finally, we have a Section of ambulances in Lorraine to which has been entrusted exclusively the service of carrying the wounded in the much-fought-over region around Bois-le-Prêtre. This Section alone has carried on the average about seventy-five hundred wounded per month.
The men work continually within range of the German shells and are almost daily under German fire. The Section as a whole, and their leader, have received honorable mention in official dispatches and have been given the "Croix-de-Guerre."
The daily life and activities of the men of this section are sketched by one of its members in the following, personal letters, which --- while written without any thought of publication --- are now privately printed in order that those generous Americans on the other side of the Atlantic who are making this chivalrous work possible may more truly appreciate its value and efficiency. From this unconscious story one gets an impression of the devoted service which young Americans are rendering in France and of the way in which they are reducing the agony and saving the lives of wounded French soldiers. One sees, too, how deeply this service is appreciated, and how through it the old friendship which has existed between France and the United States since the very beginning of our national history is being quickened and rejuvenated.
"Happy are all free peoples, too strong to be dispossessed,
But blessed are those among nations who dare to be strong for the rest."
A. P. A.
September 6,1 915.
AMERICAN AMBULANCE, June 17th.
I CAME here --- Pont-à-Mousson --- last night after a seven hours' journey to Nancy from Paris. On the way I found much to interest me, as (if you will look on your map) you will see that the railway runs beside the River Marne, then the Meuse, and lastly the Moselle. An officer pointed out to me all the interesting places where the Germans advanced and then retreated in a hurry, ---or practically a rout, --- leaving everything behind even to their flags, which I believe are now in London. After passing these and nearing Nancy I saw what looked like a fleet of aeroplanes, and the officer explained to me that it was a flying Taube being shot at by the French. It looked like this: --
I am told that they rarely hit one.
On arriving at Nancy I was met by Salisbury, our Section leader, and after a very good meal in the most beautiful little town you could hope to see (and where the Kaiser and ten thousand troops in dress parade were waiting on a hill close by to enter in state last October), we started by motor for Pont-à-Mousson. Some fifteen kilometres farther on, our lights were put out and we then entered the region under shell fire. It was a funny feeling listening to my conductor talking about how this shell and that shell hit here and there; and all along the route we passed torn-up trees, houses, and roads. At last we came to Pont-à-Mousson, a dear little village with about eight thousand inhabitants, and felt our way, so to speak, in the darkness and silence to the barracks which are now the Headquarters of the Ambulance. I found that there were about twenty cars and twenty-two men here, the latter all enthusiastic about their work and the help the Section were giving the French. The day before I arrived a shell hit the house next door, and on first sight one would think it was the barracks itself which had been hit. These huge high-explosive shells are sent into the town every two or three days, and everywhere one sees masses of brick and stone, all that remains of houses struck. The Germans have bombarded the town over one hundred and ten times.
After being introduced to the "boys," I went to my room which is some one hundred and sixty metres up the road --- nearer the trenches, but safer for all that. Here I found I was to share the house with another man, Schroeder by name, a Hollander and a very nice fellow, who has already lost one brother and has had another wounded in the French army. My bedroom is a quite typical French peasant room, very comfortable, and I felt grateful to know that I was to have a bed and not straw to sleep on. I went to sleep there my first night in comparative quietness, only hearing now and then a crack of a musket which in peace time one would think was merely a back-fire of some motor. In the morning I woke at six and went to breakfast in our barracks, which is always served at seven o'clock. Walking out of my front door I came into the main street. To the left is the way to the town and the barracks --- to the right the road goes straight on, an avenue of trees. My friend or housemate pointed out, about five hundred metres away, what looked like a fallen tree across the road. Imagine my feelings when he told me that they were the French trenches. To the right and left of this avenue are hills and on the left runs the River Moselle. On the ridge of hills on the right, one sees a brown line --- these are the German trenches, and walking down the road to breakfast, one gets the knowledge that a first-class rifle shot could pick one off. After breakfast I was asked by one of the men, Roeder, if I would like to look about the place, and I jumped at the invitation. We got into a Ford Ambulance (no one can realize the excellence of the Ford for this purpose until he has seen what they can do), and we started on a tour, or "petit promenade," as an officer told us we were doing.
Fig. 2. Bridge over Moselle ..............Fig. 3. Trench work
Pont-à-Mousson was in the hands of the Germans for five days and our Headquarters were the German Officers' Headquarters. The French partially blew up the bridge which crosses the Moselle at this most picturesque point, and for the last five days the Germans have been bombarding it, attempting in their turn to destroy it; many of the houses round it seem to have been hit, and the two places where shells have taken most effect are on the bridge the French have repaired with wood. The boys tell me it is a wonderful sight to see the water rising like a geyser when the shells hit in the river. To show how careless the few remaining peasants are, directly the Germans have "apparently" ceased firing, they get into boats to pick up the fish killed in hundreds by the concussion. We left the river (where we could be clearly seen by the Germans entrenched some thousand metres away), and I confess I sighed in relief --- for it is difficult to accustom one's self immediately to the possibility of receiving a bullet in one's head or a shell in one's stomach. We then went through the town, everywhere being told stories of how, on such and such a day last week, five men were killed there and three wounded here, etc. All the houses are left open, and one can walk into any doorway that looks interesting and do a tour of inspection. We left Pont-à-Mousson and started up the hill to our first "place de secour" --- X------, ---you will see it on your map some three kilometres from Pont-à-Mousson. Roeder, as we sped on, carefully explained that I was never to drive along this particular road, but was to take a back way, as the Commandant had forbidden any one to use this route which was in full view of the German artillery and trenches. If he could have realized how I felt, he would have taken me by the back way that time too.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
On the other side of the hill on our right extended the famous Bois-le-Prêtre; but it is no longer a wood --- it is just a wilderness with a few brown stumps sticking up. "Would you like to go into the Bois?" I was asked. I felt I had been in as much danger as I was likely to get into, so I said yes, and we turned to the left and mounted a steep hill and entered it. Here the birds were singing and all was green and beautiful (it was a part where the artillery had not been) but one could see trench after trench deserted. Here was an officers' cemetery, a terribly sad sight, six hundred officers' graves. Close by were also the graves of eighteen hundred soldiers.
Fig. 4. Soldiers' graves at Bois-le-Prêtre
The little cemetery was quite impressive on the side of this lovely green hill with the great trees all around and the little plain wood crosses at each grave. As we waited a broken-down horse appeared with a cart-load of what looked like old clothes --- "Les Morts." I had never seen a dead body until that moment. It was a horrible awakening --- eight stiff, semi-detached, armless, trunkless, headless bodies, --- all men like ourselves with people loving them, --- somewhere, ---all gone this way, --- because of --- what? I don't know, do you? A grave had been dug two metres deep, large enough to hold sixteen, and then we were asked to group ourselves around the car to be taken "pour souvenir." I managed to do it. I stood there by those dead men and tried to look as if it were a natural thing to do. I felt like being sick. Then one by one they were lowered into the grave, and when they were all laid out the identification started to take place --- the good boots were taken off --- and if a coat was not too bloody or torn it was kept --- "Surely we must be going said. "No, no! not before we have shown you the dead in the fosse there." "Good God," I cried, "I can't do that now"; and I did n't. We returned to Pont-à-Mousson for lunch at twelve o'clock and I felt a very different person --- and wondered how I could have felt faint the week before on merely seeing the photographs of wounded in our Neuilly Hospital; --- one becomes "habitué," they tell me. I was then officially handed over the car I am to drive, and I began looking over all the parts, as we have to do everything for ourselves here.
It hardly seems possible that we are so close to the German trenches --- fair food ---even hot water ---wonderful moonlight nights, and a comfortable bed. Every other night we have to sleep in barracks to be on duty any moment, and so we sleep on straw and don't undress. Every fourth night we are on duty all night and go to X----- and stay, there in the car taking wounded to the first, second, and third base hospitals. Thursday was my baptism of fire, for we had a great artillery duel, and it was very interesting, though not at all quieting to hear the big guns fired and shells exploded over our heads. About six o'clock it stopped and we went in to dinner. Afterward another boy --- Barclay --- went for a walk with me, and we stopped to talk to two peasant girls who still remained in the town. "Come in and have some strawberries," they invited. And the way these girls offered us all the little luxuries their house could afford showed us how respected the American Ambulance is by the peasants as well as the officers. "Do you fence?" one of them asked. "Yes, a little," I answered, and foils were brought out and we started in. The girl fenced well, but I managed to remember a little of what I once knew, when suddenly I heard a man's voice say in French, "Well done, well done --- give me the, foils, my daughter, quick"; and I was introduced to a fine old soldier who had fought in the campaign of 1870. We saluted and started again, but here I soon realized the touch of a master, and although I got in a few hits I was easily beaten and felt a little downcast. "But my husband is a professor of fencing for forty years," observed Madame. I retired to bed, feeling that though beaten I might have many happy games in the evening at fencing with the "vieux maître." Yesterday I took out my ambulance alone and carried eight wounded for the first time. I am now gradually slipping into my place and the sense of strangeness is passing off.
To continue from where I left off --- I am now on duty at the Bureau ---our Headquarters here. Last night as I was finishing my dinner I was told to go to F----- to fetch a contagious case and take it to the train.
I was suddenly interrupted by being called to fetch the wounded from X----- and I am just back.
My roommate offered to come with me to get the contagious case (which proved fortunately to be only measles), and we started off on what I thought then one of the most amazing trips of my life. Turning suddenly to the left from the main road, I drove our little Ford three kilometres along the road, which was in full view of the Germans and which had been the death place of many passers-by, then turning left again we drove slowly to a village so full of soldiers that it seemed impossible so many could even find shelter --- a quick turn to the right --- up --- up --- up --- first speed --- along a very narrow road with just room for the car. On both sides were stuck up cut tree branches to make the Germans think there was no road. Up we went through another tiny hill village full of artillery, and on every side, underground dugouts where they all live --- trees blown down --- branches stuck here and there to look like trees, and at last we reached the top. The water in the radiator was boiling, so we stopped, walked a bit in the most beautiful woods, and picked flowers and wild strawberries to the tune of birds and distant cannon. In this wood are heavy naval guns, but from where and how they were ever taken there is a puzzle. On we went through more woods until we were stopped by a sentry, who directed us still further, and then I saw what was the most dreamlike spectacle I ever beheld.
The thick woods teemed with soldiers, and dotted through the forests were little huts, very low, where they live --- thousands of them --- pathways starting every twenty yards to some new wood village. We heard music, and on reaching our destination were invited to inspect these quaint habitations. We walked down a path past hut after hut, and then suddenly the wood opened out and we came to a kind of amphitheatre, and my friend and I were conducted to "fauteuils," so to speak, and we listened (after much handshaking and "vive l'Amérique," "vive l'Angleterre," and "camarades," etc.) to a band of three, banjo, violin, and dulcimer (as I write a shell has just exploded near by. I jumped to see where --- about two hundred yards away and the smoke is slowly clearing).
We soon left our friends and took our contagious case to the station. After passing through wonderful valleys, hills, woods, and plains we returned home pretty tired --- wondering how such atrocities could be taking place in such a perfect country. We go regularly to X----- to get our "blessés," and for two out of the six kilometres we are exposed to German view and the whole of the way, of course, to shell fire. On my first arrival at this little mountain village I was horrified to see two people lying dead in the road in huge pools of blood. Six German "150's" had been suddenly launched into the village which is full of soldiers, and killed six soldiers and wounded some thirty. Three of the six shots had landed actually in the road itself. Two of our ambulances were in the street at the time and only chance spared them. I asked where the shells had struck, and my stretcher-bearer looked around for a moment and then pointed under my own car, and there was a hole some nine inches deep and two feet wide. It made me feel rather rotten, I must say. Only five minutes before and it might happen again at any moment. I took down three "couchés," as the lying-down ones are called, and had to pass in front of a battery of "75's " which fired as I passed and gave me a shaky knee feeling, I can tell you. Then backward and forward for two hours carrying more wounded, and to add to the excitement it rained so hard that I was thankful I had bought myself two uniforms and could change. To-day is Sunday, and after a rather uncomfortable night in my clothes and a snatchy sleep, I have a day off.
Fig. 5. Putting in upper stretcher............Fig. 6. Loading an ambulance
Salisbury, our Section leader, asked me to go with him to Toul, and I went for what proved to be a wonderful drive through sleeping villages and semi-tilled land and woods and valleys. Toul is one of the most fortified towns in France, and as we approached we saw trench after trench and wire entanglements, etc. The Germans, however, will never advance so far, I think. We stopped at the aeroplane sheds where we picked up a Captain (Australian) and with him entered Toul, a quiet sleeping town with a lovely church. Returning we were taken over the sheds and saw a large quantity of biplanes and monoplanes. I am now waiting to be taken up into the trenches, but the bombardment I spoke of earlier has continued so heavily that I doubt if we shall get up to them after all. The whole Section here does real work night and day amidst great hardships and no small danger, and the French appreciation is very apparent. German prisoners say that the Germans intend utterly demolishing Pont-à-Mousson if they have to retire any more, but it would take about two hundred and fifty thousand shells to do it and I doubt if it is worth their while. If any one can imagine the feeling of a peaceful man who suddenly hears a gun fired and a shell whistling overhead, followed by the explosion, and then vice versa by the enemy, he will perhaps sympathize with the disagreeable sensation I experienced when I first heard it happen. However, for five days it has gone on constantly and soon I shall become accustomed.
This very long letter will probably end in being so dull that it will not be worth reading, but when everything is fresh to me it is easy to describe. After three or six weeks I shall probably write that I have no news, for one day is doubtless a repetition of the other, therefore while my impressions are new I must scribble them down. I did not get to the trenches last night, as the bombardment became so bad it would have been foolish to take so great a risk sight-seeing. If we had had to go to get wounded, it would have been different. I stood in the road opposite the little house I live in and watched the Germans bombard X-----. It was rather like a stage scene or a colored picture show. X----- is a little valley town with the conventional church steeple about two and one half kilometres as the crow flies from Pont-à-Mousson.
The rough sketch shows the indirect fire of the opposing batteries. Every means to observe the effect of the batteries is used, such as aeroplane spotters, etc., and these observers communicate by electrical or visual signaling systems to correct the fire of the battery.
Shrapnel, curiously enough, is not considered very dangerous and the soldiers here treat it with contempt. The Germans use it to keep people from going on to the streets to put out fires which may have been started by their "210's" or "150" high explosives. Late yesterday afternoon they set fire to a haystack, and the smoke made them think that the village was on fire, so they sent about 100 shrapnel one after the other over it, and it was most interesting to see the flash in the sky, then a white cotton-wool effect --- and finally the sound of explosion. The French behind A----- immediately opened fire and the music began. It lasted about an hour, but as none of our men were wounded we did not have to go up there. After dinner three of us went for a little walk along the Moselle. One can see the Germans about a thousand metres away on the hills, and as you walk along the banks of the river they can see you distinctly, but they don't bother to fire, which is kind of them! We sat down and watched two soldiers fishing, and I took a photo of them, as I thought it so amusing for people to fish under the direct and easy rifle shot of the Boches. We then went and talked to a lot of soldiers about to return to the trenches. They are all nice to us, and it would make an American proud if he could see how the American boys here are respected and loved. One officer was very indignant because those "dirty Boches" had. actually thrown five shells into his trench yesterday! As he wandered off muttering, "I will show them! les cochons --- les cochons --- cochons," rather sleepily, I thought --- I could n't help remembering the Dormouse in "Alice in Wonderland." It appeared that at the particular line of trenches where he was they had agreed only to fire at each other with rifles! In several places here the trenches are only fifteen or twenty metres apart and the French and Germans are on quite good terms. They exchange tobacco for wine and paper for cigarettes and then return and shoot at each other quite merrily. About Christmas or February, I am told, by soldiers who were then here, they used to walk into each other's trenches and exchange stories, etc., but now they have become "méchant."
.......Fig. 7. Dieulouard...............Fig. 8. Fishing within rife-range of the Boches
I am feeling pretty sick to-day and rather dread to-night, as I have all-night duty at X-----. I am not at all well. It is the hard food we are having, I suppose. Anyhow, I find myself nice and thin again, so your shocking example of gaining weight last spring is now of no influence. "Doc" comes to-morrow and I will give him this letter to post, as it would never get through unless posted in Paris. I have just returned from Belleville where I took three couchés and two assis. One of the couchés was raving and he yelled and shrieked the whole seventeen kilometres. It was horrible. When I arrived at Belleville, where they are put on a train and sent to a Base Hospital, I found that in his agony he had torn off his clothes and broken the hangers of the stretcher, so it was a wonder he did not completely fall on the two men below. Our cars are packed like this --
I do not know what could be worse than having a poor peaceful peasant who, --- forced to fight and after perhaps months of agonizing trench life --- badly wounded, shrieks with pain and misery as you try to avoid the many bad bumps in the road.
We expect a big attack to-day and we have evacuated all the X----- hospitals. It looks, too, as if they were preparing for many wounded.
Any kind of news will be greatly appreciated. If you do not hear very regularly from me, remember it will be because work is too heavy.
"Doc" has not yet arrived (he was expected Tuesday), so I am afraid you won't have heard from me this week, as he will miss the mail. I am sitting at the window of my bedroom with the sun streaming through on the table and can imagine myself at "Beauport," or the bungalow --- but every three or four minutes, boom! and then bang! ---boom! -the Germans firing on Montauville and the French replying. As I sit here I can see the smoke rising from the village, and I wonder if either of our ambulances which are on duty there have been hurt. "'Doc" may come to-night, and if he does so I shall make him come to X----- to-morrow, as it is my day's duty there and he will have some excitement. On my right I can see, about a thousand metres away, the German trenches. It is strange to sit at a window and be in such a position, and yet be writing a letter as though we were all together again in Gloucester. I have been very sick, but to-day I am better again and am very grateful for my recovery. Yesterday I discovered that the main backspring of my car was broken and I had to replace it. Imagine me on my back all day, working like a madman to get the job done in time for duty last night. I managed it all right, however, and so feel myself quite a mechanic. My old bus has a horrid habit of running forward when I crank it. I think I have more dread of cranking my car than of a German "obus." Last night I went into the Square to see the civilians leave. There are not a great many left, but the women are a nuisance --- morally --- and so the Governor is turning them out as quickly as he can. Alas, that they could not have done their part better! It was a sad sight --- many, many tears ---and some hysterics! The Governor, a splendid old Colonel, came up and talked with us (there were four of us), and was eager to hear when America was to join the Allies. He quite spoils us all, and anything we want he sees we have if it is possible. Last night it was amusing to see his indignation when he learned that we were paid, as ordinary "poilus" (a familiar term of endearment referring to the unshaven men in the trenches), a sou a day (we don't draw the pay!). He gallantly declared that we should all rank as sub-lieutenants and should be compensated as such, for he added, "You brave boys do as much as any soldier at the front and take as much risk." I like the French gallantry and sincerity. One meets it everywhere. The officers all salute us and the poilus all cheer, smile, and " vive l'Amérique," etc., and I feel that the work of the Section is real. I have rarely met a happier lot of fellows and all so good-natured and generous. You never hear a hard word. All work for the good cause, and as efficiency is unity we try to be efficient. I wish you could see this dear old garrison town with its poplars and bridge and church and the lazy Moselle slowly creeping along to quieter and happier places. Here and there are fallen houses --- and often gaps in the walls --- and torn-up trees. The house next to us has been hit and looks like this --
with piles of stone and brick all over the road. I always try to talk with the soldiers (my French is improving, but still rotten) and I find they have become fatalists. Some of the regiments here have been filled up several times and I hear that thirty-five thousand French have been killed in the Bois-le-Prêtre. Every day great shells or hand grenades fall into the trenches and many a poor peasant or higher caste of Frenchman is called away. I took three wounded to the hospital this morning from X----- after they had only been in the trenches twenty minutes, having come straight from the Home Base. They talked so hopelessly about their chance of life.
An old chap asked me yesterday if I would like a German rifle. "Well, rather," said I. He promised he would bring it to me at seven o'clock, unless an "obus " hit him. He did not come, poor fellow, but perhaps he forgot his promise. I hope so.
PONT-À-MOUSSON, June 25th.
You will not have received any mail from me this week, and I am very sorry if I have caused you any anxiety. "Doc" said he would be here last Tuesday, and to our surprise he has not even arrived yet. I am a little anxious about him and so tried to send him a wire to ask if he is well. As yet I have received no answer. The three letters I have written could never possibly reach you from here, as we are only allowed to write little open letters or postals, so I shall wait until he comes before I send them. The last few days have been quiet, but for me full of interest and hard work. I am better, but my illness of the three days has pulled me down a lot and the food is not good enough to allow me to pick up strength quickly.
I have had many long talks with soldiers and they tell me most interesting stories. One told me that he got on such friendly terms with the Germans in a trench ten metres away that he asked them all to put their heads above the trench so as to take their photos, and I have been promised a copy. Also that they promised to tell each other when they meant to attack or blow up a trench. The mining of the trenches is the most horrible method of warfare existing, I think. There seems so little chance --- in fact, none. The worst implement of destruction for the trench-livers is the new kind of projectile called a "torpille," a sort of torpedo. It is fired from about four hundred metres and is noiseless, very large and terribly destructive. Nearly all of the poor fellows we take to the hospital have been "sauté "by a mine or hit by a torpille. The French have developed a projectile of the same sort,,, and neither side has had them more than six weeks. It has a kind of tail to its head (see sketch) and is shot from a sort of small gun. Of course they shoot big shells of say "210" or "280" into the trenches, and so marvelous is the accuracy of firing that they explode often on the floor of the trench.
A shell, however, one can hear coming. The whistle is very plain, and you have perhaps one second or two to hide. The torpille gives no warning, is just as large, and, therefore, very deadly.
Yesterday I visited the trenches. I left here at four o'clock in the morning and started up the hill through a little village, rather like what the French call me, "Booseville," which has been much bombarded, and then climbed up past disused trenches until we came to a sentry who directed us up to the company where a friend had promised to meet me. At last I found him and we started for the "premier ligne." I felt a little nervous and anxious, as I did not care to get killed sight-seeing. My friend pointed out some bushes to me, and I had not noticed what he said, when on passing within a foot of another bush I found myself looking into the muzzle of a "75 " gun. For some distance every inch seemed full of great guns and little guns, all so cleverly hidden that it would seem impossible to know they were there. At last we came to a hill and were told by a sentry that we could not pass that way (for some reason or other ---perhaps the position of a battery had just been changed), and we had either to go straight back or right across a field three hundred yards wide in full view of the Germans, three hundred and fifty metres away. Said my friend, "Oh, I think they are eating now; let's risk it. They never fire while food is about." So somewhat against human nature I assented, and we slowly trudged across the open. I confess I was relieved when we reached the shady wood. Still mounting up, we passed hundreds and hundreds of blue-coated soldiers returning from their night vigil in the trenches, and then the noise and chatter of men and birds seemed to die away and I could hear little else but the crack of some twig one of us walked on, or the occasional bang of a rifle. This deadly silence --- it was really quite awe-inspiring --- continued as we passed silent groups of soldiers sipping coffee, tea, or soup. Then we took three or four steps down and henceforth walked in trenches, --- winding, curving, zigzag we went, no trench being more than five metres straight.
The soldiers silently smiled, one heard whispered "Américains." I saluted an officer, who smiled in return and showed me his room. Really it was quite comfortable. At last we came to a trench where every metre soldiers stood looking and waiting. It was the thin blue line that guards France's frontier for four hundred kilometres. The Germans are not pressing or attacking this particular place at present, and so the whole trench is so wonderfully neat and so clean and so uniform and almost comfortable, one began to wonder whether it was only a side show in some exhibition. We walked very quietly along this trench for some two kilometres, and I suddenly discovered that in my interest I had allowed but forty-five minutes to get home if I was to be in time for duty at seven, so I made a hasty retreat and arrived back at barracks just in time.
Monday, the 28th.
Yesterday we heard from "Doc," who wired to say that he would arrive at ten o'clock Sunday night. I have just seen him and he looked splendidly. I soon retired to my room to read the mail which he brought: Letters from you and H----- being the only American ones. Last night I was on duty all night at X-----, and it was a great strain riding backward and forward in pitch darkness up and down the very steep and narrow road. I had to go to Auberge St. Pierre at about two o'clock this morning. This road is in full view of the Germans and much bombarded, and shrapnel burst close by, which reminded me that a lovely moonlight night with trees and hills and valleys dimly shaping themselves can be other than romantic.
It was a sad trip for me --- a boy about nineteen had been hit in the chest and half his side had gone, --- "très pressé " they told me, --- and as we lifted him into the car, by a little brick house which was a mass of shell holes, he raised his sad, tired eyes to mine and tried a brave smile. I went down the hill as carefully as I could and very slowly, but when I arrived at the hospital I found I had been driving a hearse and not an ambulance. It made we feel very badly ---the memory of that faint smile which was to prove the last effort of some dearly loved youth. All the poor fellows look at us with the same expression of appreciation and thanks; and when they are unloaded it is a common thing to see a soldier, probably suffering the pain of the damned, make an effort to take the hand of the American helper. I tell you tears are pretty near sometimes. I send you some photos taken by a little camera I bought, as my large one is too big. All my love to you and to those who make the memory of America so dear to me.
PONT-À-MOUSSON, July 2d.
I HAVE just written you a short letter, but as "Doc" was not here to take it and mail it from Paris, I could write nothing of interest in it, therefore follows this long detailed one for him to post for me when he comes. Since my last to you he returned to Paris after being here two days. He looks very well, indeed, and amuses us by pretending he does not see any excitement here.
As a matter of fact, whenever he comes, we do seem to have a lull in the fighting --- why, I don't know --- but one of these days he will arrive when something exciting is going on. Up to the day before yesterday, one day seemed very much like another --- continual explosions of shells---"departs et arrives" --- collecting wounded, etc.; but last Thursday ("Doc" left on Wednesday) we had forty-eight hours of truly hard time. I was on day service at X----- ---a little village, as I told you, about one and one half kilos away, of one street about two hundred metres long and one church. I got up there at seven thirty, and, after taking two or three trips with wounded to Dieulouard, was returning to lunch at eleven o'clock, when an urgent call took me to Auberge St. Pierre --- a little poste de secour on the top of the hill past Montauville. I also wrote you about Auberge St. Pierre in my last letter --- to get there you have to go on an uphill road within uncomfortable range of both German and French fire.
Fig. 9. Poste de secour at Auberge St. Pierre
On this trip, as my little car climbed along up the hill, I saw shells bursting on both sides of the road, and I do not hesitate to say that my feelings were strained as I entered the wood. When I arrived at my destination I felt a bit shaken, but the sight of some eight wounded made me realize that the sooner I got them down to safety the better for us all. So back I went down the little winding road to the sound of shells exploding uncomfortably near --- that was the day's start. Later the Germans fired fifteen thousand shells into the Bois-le-Prêtre; the noise was terrific --almost the whole of our first line of trenches was plowed up and our cars had to run all night. About six o'clock I went back to dinner, but no sooner had I arrived than a call took three of us back to X----- and I had another trip with wounded. I chatted with the "médecin chef " --- a fine-looking man --- and he told me he would give me some photos. My car was standing outside his little poste de secour, and he asked me a few questions about Fords in general, while the wounded were being put into my car. On the way down, several shells fell all around the road and I was glad to get back to the Bureau. Next morning, Friday, we learned at breakfast that the Germans had sent over a hundred shells into the little village of X----- (one street, only about three hundred metres long, remember!) and that there was urgent need for our men there. I went up on foot with Schroeder in the afternoon (I was off duty) and learned that my friend the médecin chef had been blown to pieces by a shell which landed exactly where my car had stood the night before. The poor little village looked very sad, for although a hundred "210's " would not utterly destroy a village, one of them makes a house look stupid after it has been hit. We had been asked to go and see the French "155's" firing, and on inquiring whether it would be safe to go --- a smile and an answer to the effect that shells were dropping eight at a time all around the battery sent the three of us back to Pont-à-Mousson.
The bombardment going on now is terrific ---I have been standing about a hundred yards from my little house and looked across the valley on Montauville --- Bois-le-Prêtre --- and watched the shells exploding by the dozens.
Monday, July 5th.
I was called away suddenly --- an emergency --- and this is the first moment I have had to myself since. I doubt if I shall ever forget the last thirty-six hours --- they have been so full of work, apprehension, and horror.
Tuesday, 5 P.M.
I must write down the events of the last three days, for I suppose they have been the most tremendous ones I have experienced. I tried to write yesterday, but only got as far as those three lines, and any moment I may be called for "an attack" which we expect hourly. Let me see --- I must go back to Sunday --- the Fourth of July. We had arranged a grand fête and the Governor, the Colonel, and the Major were our guests with three other Captains from various regiments. An elaborate meal was prepared and all was decorated --- a piano, a stage, and many flowers, etc. The feast was to start at seven o'clock, and nearly every soldier in all of the regiments round here knew it was the American Fête Day. Suddenly at about two o'clock commenced a tremendous artillery duel --- the whole earth seemed to tremble and the noise of rifle fire almost drowned the explosions of shells --- the Germans had attacked!
For some days most of the French batteries had been leaving here for up north where a large army is concentrating, and the Germans (who know everything) attacked us at the most unfortunate moment --- and by so doing won back in that short attack much of the land they had lost since December, the winning of which has caused France the loss of over forty thousand men! We all rushed to our cars to be ready for the call, and about six o'clock every car was ordered to X----- -poor little village already badly enough damaged by the bombardment of a few hours before! We worked late and I got to bed at three-thirty, having carried some fifty wounded a distance of about ten kilometres --- ten trips --- two hundred kilometres! In all we carried away over three hundred and fifty crippled wrecks who three hours before were the pride of their nation and families!
Fig. 10. Decorations for "the 4th" at Headquarters
Monday, of course, was a hard day's work, for I was on X----- service all night (i.e., two cars stay always in X----- all night for service). I took four long trips in the afternoon and about five o'clock managed to get an hour's sleep, and it was lucky I did. X----- was quiet when I got up there about seven o'clock, and till nine o'clock I chatted to soldiers and then turned into the telephone office to sleep on my stretcher (fully dressed) until I should be called. At one o'clock I woke up to the sound of what might have been an earthquake --- the Germans had attacked again and were bombarding X-----. We went down into a little "dugout" where we stood listening with strained faces for thirty-five minutes to the shouting of soldiers, the cracking of rifles, and the terrific reports of French "départs" and German "arrivés." Literally the whole place trembled, and when a shell, probably a "210," arrived in the village it always seemed to us, poor rats, that it had exploded in the room above us. No sooner had the attack stopped than a phone message came through, "Can an ambulance come immediately to Auberge St. Pierre?" ---and of course I climbed out of the cellar, wound up my car, and drove up the hill. The old car (which was in the battle of the Marne) seemed to know it was on a pretty dangerous trip and it went like a bird. Any unpleasant shocks of bursting shells, etc., I may have received on my way up were quickly compensated for by the greeting of the Major: --- "I wish to thank you and to congratulate you on the quickness and efficiency with which you and your comrades execute their orders!" I took four more trips and at twelve o'clock returned to X----- and thought I would get a little rest. I was just talking with the phone operator when we saw a flash --- and an explosion in the courtyard! After picking ourselves up from the floor where we had thrown ourselves, we hastily returned to the dugout. For three quarters of an hour the second attack went on, and in this dugout, some three hundred yards from the German trenches, the noise was terrific, and I wondered whether I was to be a corpse, a German prisoner, or still a "Conducteur Ambulance Américaine" When the attack and bombardment ceased, work began, and a general call was sent to our Bureau, and before long, as I descended the hill to Pont-à-Mousson with the first carload of mutilated, I passed our fellows tooting up the hill full speed. We worked until six o'clock carrying down a hundred and eighty or more wounded and then the cars returned to headquarters, as I could manage the few remaining blessés. About seven o'clock --- tired out --- I made a last trip to Auberge St. Pierre, and finding no wounded there, descended to the next poste de secour, Clos-Bois, and asked if they had any wounded --- "No ---none." "But surely there was a couché on the stretcher there?" "Come and see: --- he is, we fear, not suitable for your ambulance." I went up and lifted the covering from his head and all I saw was a headless trunk! --- "Our dearly loved Lieutenant," said one of the soldiers, and his voice was not a steady one --- nor were my thoughts peaceful as I went home to café-au-lait and some sleep. At four o'clock on Tuesday I woke up with orders to evacuate the Pont-à-Mousson Hospital (to Belleville). I turned in about two o'clock next afternoon to sleep again, pretty tired.
Wednesday came the counter-attack. I must now tell you what we have authentically learned. On Sunday, July 4th, the Germans made such a successful attack in Quart-en-Réserve and La Croix-des-Carmes (positions of the Bois-le-Prêtre) with petrol and gas, hand grenades, mines, torpedoes, "320's," "210's," and "155's," "105's," and "77's " that the French lost much that they had gained in the last six months: that they had been taken unawares, and that we must have everything ready to leave Pont-à-Mousson at a moment's notice! Next came the news that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday attacks had been so successful for the French that they had regained all they had lost on Sunday ! !
Wednesday was a very exciting day for me, and I had my nearest escape. We were evacuating Pont-à-Mousson Hospital for Belleville (we had not finished this on Tuesday) and I had three couchés and three assis in my car. A captain was seated next to me, wounded in the knee. As I neared Dieulouard I heard sounds of shells exploding, and as I reached the outskirts of the town I saw a "210 " land in the railway station some hundred yards to the right of the main road. I asked the Captain if he thought it better to wait till the bombardment was over, and he replied, "I must leave this to your judgment, as we are in your car"; so I decided that as the shells generally fall at regular intervals of three, five, or seven minutes (the Germans are so methodical that when you know the time they are firing you can know to the second when the next shell will arrive), I would go on. This time, however, more than one battery was shelling Dieulouard, and as I was passing a house on the road, it was hit by a shell. All was black dust and smoke and I had perforce to pull up a minute --- two people in the house were killed, and although my car was covered with brickdust and debris no one was even bruised! I don't want to come any nearer, however.
Fig. 11. Pont-à-Mousson house hit by a "210"
I carried over forty wounded yesterday a distance of a hundred and sixty kilos and at nine o'clock turned in to sleep, to be waked up at two o'clock to go to Auberge St. Pierre. Schroeder and I both went, as they had some fourteen wounded and it was necessary to have two cars. It was a glorious morning, and when I got to the top of the hill all was quiet and God's peace seemed to be everywhere. The Major was there to receive us, and so interested and appreciative is he that any one of us would do anything for him. Just as I was starting down with a full load I found I had picked up a nail and a puncture was the order of the day. Two fellows ran forward, and explaining that they were chauffeurs in peace time, refused to let me work on it, and the Major made me sit on a fallen tree by the roadside and smoke a cigarette and talk to him. We are, of course, mere soldiers, but to be treated so kindly and so thoughtfully makes us feel that we must go on forever! The Major said, "You have no idea what comfort and reassurance your cars and your work give to these French soldiers!" I made one more trip to Clos-Bois, where they gave me some coffee and I paid my respects to the bodies of three officers just killed in the trenches. I had a German wounded couché given me and I probed out the fact that there were some six or eight French waiting to be taken. " Oh, but he is seriously wounded --- take him first! " When I arrived at the hospital, I watched the German prepared f or operation. He had seven bullet wounds in the shoulder, five still remaining, three in the leg, and both arms broken! I picked up his overcoat, and I noticed that the top button was pierced by a bullet, so I cut it off and kept it as a remembrance --a gruesome one, but I shall always remember that in France the German went before the less wounded Frenchman!
Thursday, 4 P. M.
An attack is now going on and I suppose about seven o'clock there will be a general call to X-----.
My prophecy about an attack was correct. Now there is a lull again and I have some moments to myself to write about the last three days. Ever since Sunday, July 4th, there has been an attack and counter-attack, and life has been real hell for those poor fellows in the first line of trenches. Every imaginable kind of instrument of destruction has been hurled on them, mines (the narrow part fits into the gun which is a sort of mortar --- radius about four hundred metres), torpedoes (radius about four hundred metres) "320's," "250's," "220's," down to "77's," burning petrol, chlorine [NOTE: The Italians, I believe, fire their mortars by compressed air shipped in tanks to the trenches. The direct reading on a pressure gauge gives the range the mine will be hurled, and the system should be very practicable.]---all this not in dozens, but in thousands and tons. No one can believe what it is like there; it is indescribable, and the Germans are getting the same thing too. I
suppose the French have lost over twenty-five hundred this week in wounded and killed and many prisoners --- and this over a line of seven kilometres! And the Germans? Many more! Day and night our Section has gone backward and forward, full of wounded and dying, and we are all feeling pretty done up. Yesterday they bombarded Pont-à-Mousson and hit a church which burnt all day, and killed some people --- but there are not many left here now and hardly any soldiers.
Last night (as after every attack) we eagerly asked how the fight had gone --- here we had gained a trench --- there we had gained two trenches --- here we had not won or lost --- but always the same remark, "But the dead and wounded!" At any rate, the Germans are held and our many reinforcements have made the position fairly safe.
On Friday I again took down a German wounded ---this time a German of the Kaiser's or Crown Prince's Bodyguard (the German Crown Prince is against us here). He was dying. Picture to yourself a fine, truly magnificent man, --- over six feet four --- wonderful strength, --- with a hole through both lungs. He could not speak, and when I got to the hospital, I asked in German if he wanted anything. He just looked at me and then chokingly murmured, "Catholic." I asked a soldier to fetch the priest and then two brancardiers (stretcher-bearers) and the doctor---the priest and I knelt down as he was given extreme unction. That is a little picture I shall never forget --- all race hatred was forgotten. Romanist and Anglican, we were in that hour just all Catholics and a French priest was officiating for a dying German --- a Boche. --- the race that has made Europe a living hell. I came back about seven o'clock at night to the hospital with more wounded and asked if he still lived. "Yes; would I care to see him? " I went in and although he breathed his last within an hour after, his look showed recognition, and that man died, I am sure, with no hatred for France.
Fig. 12. Burning church at Pont-à-Mousson.......Fig. 13. Montauville
struck by incendiary shell
I could tell you a multitude of stories --- stories so horrible I cannot forget, so pathetic that tears are not rarely in my eyes. On Friday night, I was on Montauville duty ---and a new regiment arrived --- "Bon camarade " to me at once --- "How many wounded?" etc., --- they asked. I could not tell them that they were going to a place where between their trench and the German trench were hundreds of mangled forms, once their fellow-citizens, --- arms, legs, heads, scattered disjointedly everywhere; and where all night and all day every fiendish implement of murder falls by the hundred ---into their trenches or on to those ghastly forms, --- some half rotted, some newly dead, some still warm, some semi-alive, stranded between foe and friend, --- and hurls them yards into the air to fall again with a splash of dust, as a rock falls into a lake. All this is not exaggerated. It is the hideous truth, which thousands of men here have to witness day and night.
Saturday night they came back, some of those poor fellows I spoke a cheery word to on Friday --- no arms --- no hands --- no feet --one leg --- no face --- no eye --- One glorious fellow I took had his hand off, and although it was a long trying drive to Dieulouard he never uttered a word. I touched his forehead when I arrived and whispered, "Bon courage, mon brave!" He looked at me a moment and answered, "Would God he had taken my life, my friend."
To-day I went to take three wounded officers to Toul, some thirty kilometres, away, and before starting I went into the hospital to see if I could do anything for any of those butchered by "civilization." I saw a friend --- the man who had offered me a German bayonet. He beckoned me with his eyes and then --- "Have they forgotten me? I have been here for five hours and both my legs are shattered." It was true that every bed was full of wounded waiting to be dressed, but I went straight up to the médecin chef and told him that a friend was over there with both legs broken and could he be attended to? "Ah, we have been looking after the others first, as he must die, but I will do what I can." I stood there and watched his two legs put into a position that looked human and then I bade adieux to a newfound friend. I think I am glad he will die. I would prefer to die than to be crippled for life, and if my turn comes I only hope I may not recover to be helpless.
It is no good trying to make you understand what horror really is ---you must see a bit of it as we see it here to be able to semi-realize what that place, the Bois-le-Prêtre, is like. It was known by the Germans when held by them as " Hexenkessel" (witches' cauldron) and as "Wittenwalden" (widows' wood).
I wish you would cut out and keep for me anything mentioned in the official reports about the Bois-le-Prêtre, Pont-à-Mousson, Quart-en-Réserve (probably the most mutilated, unthinkable place in the world), La Croix-des-Carmes, etc.
I have just received the mail with lots of nice letters. It was so jolly hearing from you all. I am glad to tell you that this Section is to be mentioned by Order of the Army, and it will probably receive the Croix-de-Guerre, which our Section Commander will wear, of course --- we may all get some sort of medal some time as well, perhaps. If my letter seems too horrible, just don't send it on to the friends who might otherwise care to hear. My only object in writing so fully is that I do want you all to realize the futility, the utter damnable wickedness and butchery of this war.
P.S. The Governor of the department of Lorraine sent from Nancy the following tribute: --
"On this day, when you celebrate your national independence, at the same hour that France in violent combat defends her independence against an enemy whose madness for domination threatens the liberty of all nations, and whose barbarous methods menace civilization, I address to you the expression of the profound friendship of the French for your great and generous nation, and take this occasion to offer new assurance of the intense gratitude of the population of Lorraine for the admirable devotion of all the members of the American Ambulance of Pont-à-Mousson."
PONT-À-MOUSSON, July 16th.
IT so happened that a wounded officer was going to Paris and he posted the letters of July 2d to you for me, and therefore you got them two weeks earlier. Now "Doc" has suddenly returned on his way to Pagny and I am writing about the last few days. They have been full of misery and yet full of pleasure. The 14th of July, the day of the fall of the Bastille, was to be a fete day for France as usual, but I little thought I should spend such a wonderful day myself. Schroeder and I were invited to pay a visit to the batteries above one of our postes de secour, and as we were both off duty, about three o'clock we went up to B----- in one of our service cars and thence walked to see our friends. If any one doubts what grateful friends and how appreciative the soldiers are for our little help here, they should have seen the welcome we were given. We were shown the "soixante quinzes," the "220's," the "155's," and you must realize by that how completely we foreigners are trusted; for could the Germans but know where these guns are, few of our friends would live to see France win the war. Next we were shown all over the "abris" (little dugouts about ten to fourteen feet underground and covered with three or four layers of good-sized trunks like this ).
[NOTE: These temporary defenses have stood out against shells for weeks, while permanent works were leveled in a few days at Liège, Maubeuge, and Antwerp. High-explosive shells by the thousands are the only answer to field works.]
These they retire to when the Boches bombard the wood. All along the paths leading from one big gun to another were shells, two or three hundred great things about three feet, eight inches high. We then went and had some beer with our friends, all non-commissioned officers, and about four o'clock a corporal came to say that the "155's " were going to fire four rounds and would we care to go and watch, as the officer invited us? Of course we followed our guide to the gun and they all posed while I took a photo! Then the officer asked me if I would care to photo the gun being fired and I said yes. I stood some ten metres away, and had just pressed the button of the camera when I jumped half out of my skin at the noise of the explosion. I shall anxiously look for the negatives and I hope they will be good. It was now five o'clock and we had to return to Pont-à-Mousson. Would we stay to dinner --- the 14th July? --What! Spend France's fête day with France's artillery in a wood some two kilos from the Germans --- surrounded by the guns that were fighting for her liberty? It sounded too good! Of course we accepted; so five of us, three French artillerymen and Schroeder and I, walked down to get to B----- on the road our ambulances travel all day long.
We were all in one line across the road when without warning --- bang! --- thirty metres away earth was thrown yards into the air. The noise was terrific --- and then the black dense smoke began almost lazily to fade away. We all five stood still --- semi-crouching, although inwardly knowing that all precautions were then futile, ---that if we were to be killed by the éclats of that explosion we could not escape: it was too late. After five or ten seconds we breathed again, and I looked at my companions. Three of them had been firing heavy shells for eleven months, but their sunburnt faces had assumed the most haggard, pale expression I have ever seen. I had no looking-glass, but I expect if Schroeder writes his experiences to his people he will include my face as being like the rest. Had we been twenty yards farther on --- or thirty yards farther back --- finis! The éclats of a German shell always go like this --
but the French like this*---
[*NOTE: This effect may be due to the fact that the German shells have percussion fuses whose action is less rapid than that of the French shells. This would allow them to penetrate the target or ground before detonation, and would give them the geyser effect sketched. In the French shells, with less delay action in the fuse, the explosion would take place more immediately on impact, giving a more lateral burst effect. Of course the delay in the fuses is easily varied by the gunners.]
The strain made me give a little laugh which froze pretty quickly on my lips, for I was silenced with a look --- "Attends! ---listen for the next depart" --- ten anxious ears listened, but it was just a chance German shell and no more arrived. When we returned to go to dinner about an hour and a half later, I asked them to help me to find the fuse, and there it was still hot. I shall keep it in memory of July 14th, 1915. We sat down in that little wooden shelter, about sixteen of us, and I cannot tell you what a happy party we were. Laughter and song fêting the two honored guests, the "Américains." The Captain heard we were dining with his non-commissioned officers and sent up three bottles of white wine to drink the health of the Allies. We had brought some Moselle as a present to our hosts, and when the others were finished our bottles were a great surprise. They were quickly emptied, a candle was stuck in each and we started singing and telling stories. Then, as an act of courtesy, I was asked to sing our national hymn. I got up (a bottle of wine was fetched to fill our glasses) and did so as loud and as heartily as I knew how. It must have been a strange sight for the casually passing French soldiers, to see their sixteen compatriots standing silently --listening to a man sing a song that they scarcely knew, though one which means so much to so many thousands of our countrymen. I had but finished, when bang! bang! bang! bang! --- four "75's " fired over our heads --- going to kill those who should sing another national anthem. The "Marseillaise" followed and I have never heard it sung in surroundings more fitting or more impressive. Then an artillery duel started, and backward and forward above us went and whistled the shells. Five of our friends suddenly left us, and in three minutes we heard the big "220" firing its death-gift into the German trenches. All the time the songs continued, and those woods must have echoed and reëchoed with the strains of the "Marseillaise," etc. Schroeder and I, however, began to get anxious, for the noise of the artillery increased and increased, and we knew that in about two hours all the ambulances would be needed at X-----, so we bade our friends good-bye and arrived home to find that only half of our cars would be required. We then turned in to bed with the conviction that we had really experienced the true feeling of France on the anniversary of the great step toward what she believed would be for the freedom of the people.
"Doc" had arrived unexpectedly from Paris and your letters were very welcome, also one from mother and Mrs. A----. It was the very night, 14th July, that you were giving your lecture. I am sure it was a success.
"Doc" and I spent the day together. It was my duty day in Montauville; and although it poured I enjoyed it very much. All we did and saw I shall leave to him to tell you about, so, good-night. God bless you all.
PONT-À-MOUSSON, July 24,1915.
WHEN I last wrote you I little thought my next letter would follow such a tragedy as occurred on Thursday the 22d. It is now two days ago, so in the comparative calm of perspective, I must try to tell you the whole story from beginning to end. Thursday morning, Schroeder and I went to visit the hospital on the other side of the Moselle, and there we were received by the Sister Superior, who personally showed us all over the building. The corridors are now used as wards, as every room but one in the large old convent has been hit by a shell. We got back to lunch about twelve o'clock, and Mignot, our indefatigable friend in the position of general servant, upbraided us for our unpunctuality, etc. We had hardly finished lunch when a shell burst some twenty metres away and we hurriedly took to the cellar, while eleven more shells exploded all around our headquarters, or "caserne," as we call it. We then went for a round of inspection and found that the twelve shells had all fallen on our side of the road and were all within forty or fifty metres of us. This made us feel pretty sure that the shells were meant for us or for our motors. Schroeder and I discussed the matter, and came to the conclusion that we did not like the situation very much, and that if the Germans sent perhaps six shells, all at once, we should many of us get caught. I was very tired, and at about one-thirty went to sleep and slept until five-thirty, when I went to dinner at the caserne. The evening meal over, an argument started about the merits of a periodical called "Le Mot" (do you know it?) --- a kind of futurist paper. After a rapid-fire commentary from one and then another of us which continued until about eight-thirty, Schroeder and I decided to go to our rooms to bed. We were walking home when I reminded him that he had been asked to tell four of our fellows who slept in a house near by to be sure that no light could be seen through the shutters; so turning back, we rapped on the window and heard merry laughter and were greeted with a cheery invitation to join the nine who had gathered inside. It seems one of them, who had been on duty at Montauville, had managed to get some fresh bread and butter and jam, and they were celebrating the event! We had to decline their friendly hospitality, however, as we wanted to get some sleep. I had just got my boots off when --- whish-sh-sh --- bang! bang! bang! bang! -four huge shells burst a little way down the road toward our caserne. Thirty seconds after came two more --- five minutes later six more --- and then we heard a screaming woman ejaculating hysterically, " C'est les Américains." Schroeder and I looked at each other without speaking. We hurriedly dressed and started to run to the caserne --- women and soldiers shouting to us to stay where we were; but rushing on through the fog, smoke, and dust, we reached headquarters. There we found the rest of the Section in the cellar, and hurriedly going over those present, realized that two were absent ---Mignot, and the mechanic of the French officer attached to us. Out we ran, shouting "Mignot! Mignot! " From the dust and smoke there staggered some one we did not know, blood flowing from head, legs, and arms --- "Au secours! Au secours!" --- it was the mechanic. Leaving him with the Section to be dressed, we rushed madly through the fog-bound street crying, "Mignot! Mignot! "Then suddenly --- across the road --- a shadow --- a dark spot on the ground --- two women quite dead, a boy dying, a man badly wounded and --- farther on --- a still, blue form. "Quick, old man, listen --- his heart!" It was he --- Mignot --- and dead. Our loyal and devoted servant who was almost the living incarnation of Kipling's Gunga Din. We rushed back to get stretchers and a car. Ogilvie got his car and we got our stretchers gut to take away the blessés. There were a few of us grouped about --- some seven or eight --- and a car --- with the wounded just put on stretchers, when--- "Look out!" Bang! Bang! Bang! --- three more shells.
We had already thrown ourselves on the ground, and then, finding we were still alive, feverishly loaded the car. "Good God! I've stalled it," said the driver --- then the cranking ---would it never start --- try again --- thank Heaven, it was off! Hardly thirty seconds after, whish-sh --- bang! bang! two more came. We retired to a cellar for a few minutes, as the three dead could stay there while it was so terribly dangerous. At last we emerged and were about to lift Mignot's body when both arms moved. Was he alive, after all? No! it was only the electric wires he was lying on that had stimulated his muscles. The car turned the corner with the three dead and we ran back to the caserne. There we found the rest of our Section very shaken, indeed. A shell had burst just outside of the house where the nine were making merry and the violence of the impact had hurled all of them to the ground. Two feet nearer and the whole lot would have been killed. Schroeder and I decided we had better go back to bed, and we insisted that Ogilvie (who lived in the house so nearly destroyed) should come with us. We made him a sort of a bed on the floor and turned in. As the light went out, a strange silence crept over us three, and I am sure that I was not the only one who was offering a silent prayer --- for the wife and children of our devoted friend Mignot, and of gratitude for our miraculous escape from death.
I must have dozed off when I was awakened by the whole house shaking and six more terrific explosions followed --- and then still six more! Should we go out again? No; all the rest were certainly in cellars and out of danger.
Fig. 14. House in which the nine men were sitting when hurled to the floor by shell exploding just outside. Soon afterwards a shell arrived making the large hole shown---and completely demolishing things within.
About two o'clock a tremendous attack woke us up, and for an hour the whole place shook and reëchoed with the sound of artillery, hand grenade, and rifle fire. We stayed awake, expecting a call, but none came till five o'clock, when we were told that the "médecin divisionnaire" had ordered us to leave Pont-à-Mousson immediately. We dressed and packed and got around to the caserne to find that nearly every one had already left and that all thought Ogilvie dead. "Why?" we asked. His house had been completely destroyed, --- even a "280 " shell had burst in the cellar itself. Two shells had burst in our caserne and all around was wreckage and mess. I got some coffee at a little cafe, and being on Montauville duty went up there, a sad and depressed being.
That afternoon, about one o'clock, a shell burst right in the middle of the street at X----- ---killing one soldier and badly wounding four more. I was not far away. I took them to the hospital at Dieulouard, where I found the rest of the Section getting themselves installed in their new quarters.
In the evening we went, at eight o'clock, to poor Mignot's funeral. Sad and horribly gruesome it was. Imagine a little chapel with four coffins in front of a small altar --- one of them with many flowers, and of oak --- Mignot's --- the other three just pine wood --- the ordinary war coffin. The Governor came, and I shall not forget the dim scene --- the priest who intoned the Latin burial service out of tune, and the "choir" consisting of one man who sang badly and as loud as he could, and a congregation of silent mourners. Every note, every word, as it reechoed through the chapel, seemed like the cry of despair of France --- a small but pitiful note of the anguish of this country. Over at last, the coffins were shuffled out of the little chapel, and we were allowed to follow them to the bridge to St. Martin, where they were buried in a cemetery constantly upheaved by German shells. Horrible! horrible! horrible! ---that is all I can write.
There had not yet been time to find rooms in Dieulouard, and I was asked if I minded sleeping in Pont-à-Mousson. "No, not a bit! " So I spent last night there alone, and perhaps for the last time --- in our little room, Schroeder's and mine, of which I once sent you a photo. He was at X----- on night duty.
This morning I am sitting in that room at the window writing this --- all's quiet ---the sky, cloudless and blue ---birds are singing ---the red roses in the garden blossom in the sun, and the peace of Heaven is really on earth around me. Then comes the memory of Thursday night; a vision of another world.
"Doc" will probably arrive here today, as we had to wire him at once, and so you may get this letter next mail.
With the American Ambulance Field Service in France, continued