A DESCENDANT OF CITIZEN GENET
One of the most graphic narratives of the part which the First Regiment of the Foreign Legion played in the battle before Navarin, in which Farnsworth lost his life, is to be found in the "War Letters of Edmond Genet." Young Genet---he was only nineteen when he took part in this desperate engagement ---was a great-great-grandson of Citizen Genet, whom the Revolutionary government of France sent to this country as its representative in 1792, and whose indiscretions led to the request that he be recalled. He did not return to France, but made his home in Albany, and later married the daughter of Governor Clinton.
Genet, whose home was in Ossining, New York, sailed for France at the end of January, 1915. He had already been in the service o£ the United States Navy, and was on the battleship Georgia in Vera Cruz harbor in the previous spring. He was, as he wrote his chum on the eve of sailing, "born to be a wanderer." Yet he was a youth of great independence and of resolute will, so that when he came to a full realization of the nature of the conflict and of the peril in which his beloved France was placed, his decision was prompt and was followed by immediate action. His high sense of duty and the call of the blood left him no alternative but to take his chances in the great war, as he phrased it, with the French. He had no illusions as to the probable outcome of his venture, but his religion---he was a devout Churchman ---enabled him to face the worst that might happen to him with composure of mind and with a resolute heart. "I expect to have to give up my life on the battle-field," he wrote to a friend. "I care nothing about that. Death to me is but the beginning of another life ---better and sweeter. I do not fear it."
Members of the Foreign Legion on leave in Paris, July 7, 1913. Seated in the centre is Edmond Genet, with William Dugan, from Rochester, N.Y., on his left. Standing, third from the left, is Joseph Lydon, from Boston, with Victor Chapman on his left.
Early in February, 1915, Genet carried out the definite plan which he had formed before he left America of enlisting in the Foreign Legion. After nearly two months in various training camps his regiment was put into the trenches in northern France, where, with alternate periods of rest and mild trench warfare, he passed many weeks. Finally, on September 22, in a short letter to his mother, he wrote that a "big fight" was coming.
The letter in which Genet described his part in the battle which began on September 25 miscarried, and consequently he sent a second, at a much later date, giving the details. From this letter the following selections are made:
Leaving the camp of concentration that same night we marched to a town called Suippes and thence to a woods about three kilometres beyond and nearer the front. The country all around there is made up of many large plains, with here and there small wooded parts which were admirable hiding-places for troops. There we camped until the morning of the 25th, about a two weeks' period in which we were served the necessities for the coming fight---new clothes for old if required, masks for protection from gas, the metal helmets and many other things including the extra ammunition; 120 rounds is "ordinarily carried per man and 250 for actual fighting. The latter is no light load. The last few nights of those two weeks we dug "leaders" to the trenches for the passage of extra troops....
The night before the 25th our colonel read to us in the dusk the order from Gen'l Joffre for the attack. The Division Marocaine was to be in the first reserve. The Colonial Division made the attack. Long before dawn on the 25th we marched to our position just to the rear of the first French line, to the west of the little village (then a mass of shattered ruins) of Sompey, amid a drenching misty rain. We had light loads in our sacks and plenty of cold rations in our musettes (food-bags). The bombardment of the German trenches before the charge was terrific. The German line looked like a wall of fire and hellish flames from the bursting shells. The batteries of both sides made the world sound like Hades let loose. From the sharp crack of the famous French 75's to the deep roar of the aerial torpedoes it was an incessant Bedlam. About nine o'clock a French aeroplane flew right over our first line, circled around and back. It was the signal for the French batteries to cease shelling the German first line and for the Colonials to charge. They did, and nobly too. Taking the German first line, with a vast number of prisoners, they forced the Germans back to their reserve lines.
Then it was that we began our advance in their rear as reserves. Passing through the leaders toward the old French line we passed scores of captured wounded Germans. Some of them, mere boys of 16 to 20, were in a ghastly condition. Bleeding, clothing torn to shreds, wounded by ball, shell and bayonet, they were pitiable sights. I saw many who sobbed with their arms around a comrade's neck. We passed French dying and wounded being hurriedly cared for by the hospital attendants. Blood was everywhere and it was simply sickening. The smell of powder filled the air and to me it is one of the most disagreeable odors we encountered with the exception of what came later---that of decayed bodies of horses and mules and even men, left unburied for whole weeks. That is too horrible for more than mention.
We followed up the Colonials and passed part of the late morning in the captured German trenches. They were battered beyond description and filled with dead---mostly Germans. German equipments lay thrown everywhere, discarded in the flight. Many German wounded could be seen making their way painfully to the rear. I remember one poor fellow who must have been totally blinded for he walked directly into the barbed wire and had a most trying and painful time to get out. .
About two o'clock we began to advance under fire behind the Colonials and then it was that I had about the closest shave from death in all that month. Our section had to advance over a ridge and we must have been seen by a battery which was sending shells of 320 mm. calibre into the advancing Colonials. Somehow we felt that huge shell coming; how, I don't know, but we all just threw ourselves flat into the mud. If I had been one little hundredth of a second late I wouldn't be telling the tale now. I felt that monster hurl directly over my head; the intake of air raised me at least an inch out of the mire which I was gripping with every finger and with all my might. The shell burst not more than three yards behind me and killed four of the section and wounded several others. My heart had one of the quickest jumps of its life....
We continued on our advance until darkness set in and lay all that night in a drenching rain in watery mud. Sleep was practically impossible. Shells were dropping around us every few minutes and anyway the horrors of the day just closed were too awful to allow pleasant dreams or even sleep to follow. All night the cries of the dying could be heard. I felt as though I were in some weird nightmare. I wish it had been, for then I could have awakened and found it to be only a dream. As it was it was a grim reality.
Just after we arrived at that place, when darkness had set in, was when Dave Wheeler [Note: Dr. Daniel E. Wheeler, of Buffalo, N. Y., a member of the Legion and a warm friend of Genet's] showed his coolness. There was a false cry for us to charge and the Third Company, in which he was, started forward with bayonets on. The Commandant of the Battalion, seeing the mistake, jumped in front of the advancing and excited men and tried to check them. One of the sergeants of the Third helped him and Dave, cooler than the rest, did the same. The check succeeded and Dave told me afterward that the Commandant asked who he was. The Commandant found a soldier's death directly in front of Dave on the 28th in our attack. Early the next morning I tried to find Dave and couldn't and so was very afraid that he had been killed in the previous day's advance.
We changed our position early that morning to a small woods behind the new French line which the Colonials were holding, and were under a terrific bombardment all the day, being in direct line between the dual fire of a French battery of 75's and one of the German 77's. The German shells landed nearer to us than they did to the French battery. That night our first lieutenant, a fine young man, was instantly killed by a bursting shell. We buried him where he fell like any other soldier.
Being out of rations, several of us had to go nearly six kilometres that night for new rations for the company. You can imagine how tired we were when we got back and it was raining again which didn't help sleeping a bit.
The following day we moved farther back to another woods, but here we got into a worse bombardment. We lost men there every day. To protect ourselves as much as possible from the bursting shells we dug individual trenches into the ground just large enough to lie in, but many a poor fellow merely dug his own grave for they are no protection should a shell fall directly into one on top of the occupant. It was hell and nothing less. That day I found Dave and felt much better for it. I guess he did too for that matter. That was the 27th--- only the third day of the horrors.
The 28th (it will live in my memory forever) brought no excitement until the middle of the afternoon. Then we were ordered to prepare to depart for the attack. The Colonel had chafed over continually being in reserve and had personally asked the General in command for permission to put the Legion to the front attack. His request was granted. The first and second companies of the First Battalion and the third and fourth of the Second Battalion were to take the advance. The other two companies of each battalion held the reserve. Ahead of us the Arab Tirailleurs made two strong charges and both times had to fall back. They were ordered to make a third and, refusing to face again the murderous fire of the German machine-guns, turned in flight.
Meanwhile we had started our advance in solid columns of fours, each section a unit. It was wonderful---that slow advance. Not a waver, not a break, through the storm of shell the Legion marched forward. Officers in advance with the Commandant at their head; it inspired us all to courage and calmness. We met the fleeing Tirailleurs and our officers tried to turn them back. I saw our Commandant, wrath written all over his face, deliberately kick one Arab to make him halt in his flight. Shells were bursting everywhere. One lost his personal feelings. He simply became a unit--- a machine.
Crossing a clearing we came at last to a woods just in front of the German line. There we met the decimating fire of the machine-guns, bayonets were fixed, and the order given to advance on the run. A faint cheer rose above the ping-ping of the bullets. Leaping a trench containing the terrified Tirailleurs, we charged. The forward French line which the Colonial troops were holding was still before us. There was a slight pause when we got there. The sections formed into a skirmish-line and, being in the fourth section of our company, the Fourth, I got away over on the left flank. The Third Company was on our right. Everywhere men were falling. The fire was terrific. As I ran for the left with the section I could hear the bullets cutting the leaves and twigs all around me---ping, ping, they hissed as they struck the trees. They came from the front and the left, hissing death in our ranks 'til there were few of us left.
While the woods ended at the French line in front, they extended far beyond on our flank. We leaped the first line where the Colonials were. Their duty was to stay there and hold that line. We charged on, but somehow about fifty metres ahead of the line I found myself alone with one other young fellow from my section. The others who had leaped the French line with us were nowhere to be seen. Seeing this, we dropped flat behind a bush, thinking the rest would rush up behind us and continue the charge. The Germans had begun to shell the wood just ahead of us. The din was terrific. Dead Tirailleurs were lying everywhere, killed in those two first charges, ghastly and bloody. There were none of the Legion around us to charge. I turned to my companion and said, "They're all dead here (motioning to the corpses); the section must be behind us; shall we beat it back?" He nodded, stood up and started back on the run. I followed and reached the Colonial line without a scratch. I never saw the young Italian again but heard a long time after that he had been wounded and was carried back that night.
Behind the Colonial line I found the two sergeants of my section with half a dozen men. They had retreated before my comrade and I had seen them, and were waiting there for further events. Darkness was falling. I had thrown away my sack in the commencement of the charge and in it were my rations some bread and a tin of beef---and my tent. I had a mouthful of water in my canteen but nothing to eat. We lay there until after seven and then the Adjutant, the only officer left of our company, found us and the remnants of the Third and our company were gathered together to go back to where we were before the attack. A half kilometre back of the line the Major (the Battalion doctor) had five badly wounded men of the two companies and asked the Adjutant to let us carry them back to the field-hospital in the rear. Tents were secured, and with four of us to each tent we carried them nearly four kilometres over rough muddy ground to the field-hospital. You can imagine the agonies of those five wounded men being carried along under such conditions. They stood it far better than I thought they would.
When the Adjutant counted us off in fours to carry them he counted just thirty-one, including himself, gathered there from the two companies of 250 each! I found my little S. American comrade safe among them and heard from a hospital attendant that he had seen Dave crawling off to the rear after the fight with a bullet wound in his leg. He said he had more pluck than any of them. Thus it was that I wrote to Mrs. Wheeler the next day and told her of Dave's condition and not to worry. As it was, she heard from him before she got my note, but just the same I was glad I had written. Brave Dave went down beside his captain, the last of his company in that section, and he saw his captain and the Commandant both make very brave ends.
The thirty-one of us reached our old camp about ten and dropped gladly into our little trenches for sleep. It was raining, there was an inch of water in my trench and I had no tent to put over me. I was soaked through, covered with mud, hungry, thirsty, and thoroughly exhausted but sleep was impossible. I dozed and shivered for the rest of the night, thinking of the afternoon's events and wondering fearfully whether Dave was alive and safely on his way to succor. I prayed it was so and dawn brought sunshine and some warmth.
We who were left looked around that morning to see who was there. Old faces were gone. Out of my squad of twelve there were only two of us left. We all had our little accounts to tell. Our Adjutant and the few sergeants left, at the order from the Colonel, got the Third and Fourth Companies together into one. There were, with those who turned up that day, about 120 all told---all that was left from nearly 500 ! We got soup and meat, a swallow of whiskey and wine, and tried to make ourselves comfortable. It was hard work....
The next day I found some of the Americans in the other Battalion and learned of Farnsworth's death in the attack. No other American was lost in the First Regiment.
October 2nd we were drawn back to the rear to the camp where we were the first day at Champagne. The French were strengthening their position all over. New positions were being established for the batteries. All the counter-attacks of the German forces had failed. The French victory was complete.
Soon after this terrific battle Genet's regiment of the Foreign Legion went into retirement near Paris, and he saw no more active service in its ranks. During the winter he was in this rest-camp, with occasional visits to Paris, where he saw much of his friends the Wheelers, Dr. Wheeler having recovered from the wound in his leg.* In the spring of 1916 Genet was able to secure a transfer from the Foreign Legion to the French aviation corps, a change for which he had been working since the previous autumn. His experiences as an aviator will be considered later.
*After serving as captain in the Canadian Army, Dr. Wheeler, when the United States entered the war, was transferred to the American forces with the rank of major. He served as regimental surgeon in Lorraine, at Cantigny, and at Château-Thierry, was killed in August, 1918, while attending the wounded under fire.
ALAN SEEGER, POET OF THE LEGION
THE fullest and the most serious and probably, as a consequence, the most valuable record thus far published of life in the Foreign Legion, is to be found in the "Letters and Diary of Alan Seeger." Seeger was somewhat older than the other American volunteers who were in the Legion and more mature in mind, having seen much of the world, having meditated deeply and having expressed himself in verse of enduring value. Then, too, it was vouchsafed to him, being in reserve yet by no means out of danger, to live through the battle of Champagne, so vividly described by young Genet, and to continue in the Legion until July, 1916, nearly two years, when he fell at Belloy-en-Santerre. His diary and letters, therefore, cover a longer period than those of any other American in the Foreign Legion. Born in New York of old New England stock, in 1888, Seeger passed his boyhood on Staten Island. When he was twelve the family moved to the city of Mexico, where the youth lived two years, a period which left a deep impression upon his temperament and his tastes. He entered Harvard in 1906 from the Hackley School at Tarrytown, New York, having in the interval spent a year with a tutor in California. The first half of his college course was given to his studies and to miscellaneous reading, the latter half rather more to his friends. The members of his family were exceptionally gifted as writers and musicians, and his tastes were along similar lines. Even when a boy in the city of Mexico he and the other members of the family had issued a home magazine, and in college he was one of the editors of the Harvard Monthly.
The two years following Seeger's graduation in 1910 formed a period of hesitation and uncertainty as to his course in life. Finally he decided that what he sought might be found in Paris---beauty, romance, picturesqueness, the joy of life. Thus it happened that when the war began he was living among the students of the Latin Quarter, absorbing experiences and recording his thoughts and feelings in verse. Before the war was three weeks old he, with a number of his fellow countrymen, enlisted in the Foreign Legion of France. He has explained, with simplicity and with obvious sincerity, the motive which led them to take this step. In a letter written from the Aisne trenches in May, 1915, to the New Republic he said:
I have talked with so many of the young volunteers here. Their case is little known, even by the French, yet altogether interesting and appealing. They are foreigners on whom the outbreak of war laid no formal compulsion. But they had stood on the butte in springtime perhaps, as Julian and Louise stood, and looked out over the myriad twinkling lights of the beautiful city. Paris mystic, maternal, personified, to whom they owed the happiest moments of their lives---Paris was in peril. Were they not under a moral obligation, no less binding than [that by which] their comrades were bound, legally, to put their breasts between her and destruction ? Without renouncing their nationality, they had yet chosen to make their homes here beyond any other city in the world. Did not the benefits and blessings they had received point them a duty that heart and conscience could not deny ?
A month later he wrote to his mother:
You must not be anxious about my not coming back. The chances are about ten to one that I will. But if I should not, you must be proud, like a Spartan mother, and feel that it is your contribution to the triumph of the cause whose righteousness you feel so keenly. Everybody should take part in this struggle which is to have so decisive an effect, not only on the nations engaged but on all humanity. There should be no neutrals, but everyone should bear some part of the burden. If so large a part should fall to your share, you would be in so far superior to other women and should be correspondingly proud. There would be nothing to regret, for I could not have done otherwise than what I did, and I think I could not have done better. Death is nothing terrible after all. It may mean something even more wonderful than life. It cannot possibly mean anything worse to the good soldier.
It was in this spirit of high chivalry and with a deep conviction of the justice of the cause for which he was ready to lay down his life that Seeger entered the Foreign Legion. Many weeks of hard drilling at Toulouse followed. Then his regiment, the Second Etranger, about 4,000 men, was transferred to the Camp de Mailly, and by the middle of October he had hopes of soon being at the front. "I go into action," he wrote, "with the lightest of light hearts. The hard work and moments of frightful fatigue have not broken but hardened me, and I am in excellent health and spirits.... I am happy and full of excitement over the wonderful days that are ahead."
Seeger's hopes for early action were not fulfilled. His regiment found itself in the trenches in the centre of the battle line in northern France in the early winter, without any prospect of open warfare, and his disappointment was keen. In a letter to the New York Sun, written early in December, he described life in the trenches as follows:
This style of warfare is extremely modern and for the artillerymen is doubtless very interesting, but for the poor common soldier it is anything but romantic. His role is simply to dig himself a hole in the ground and to keep hidden in it as tightly as possible. Continually under the fire of the opposing batteries, he is yet never allowed to get a glimpse of the enemy. Exposed to all the dangers of war, but with none of its enthusiasms or splendid élan, he is condemned to sit like an animal in its burrow and hear the shells whistle over his head and take their little daily toll from his comrades.
The winter morning dawns with gray skies and the hoar frost on the fields. His feet are numb, his canteen frozen, but he is not allowed to make a fire. The winter night falls, with its prospect of sentry duty, and the continual apprehension of the hurried call to arms; he is not even permitted to light a candle, but must fold himself in his blanket and lie down cramped in the dirty straw to sleep as best he may. How different from the popular notion of the evening campfire,- the songs and good cheer.
Early in January, 1915, Seeger's regiment was moved to a ruined village, where he found the life much less trying than in the trenches. The village, however, was in the most dangerous part of the sector, close to the German lines, from which patrols came down almost every night to harass the French outposts. In a letter to his father, dated January 11, Seeger narrated an incident, illustrating the nature of this patrol warfare:
Four days almost without sleep, constant assignment to petit poste, sometimes 12 out of 24 hours on guard in the most dangerous positions. It was in one of these that I came for the first time in immediate contact with the enemy in a most unfortunate affair. I was standing guard under the wall of a chateau park with a comrade when a patrol sneaked up on the other side and threw a hand grenade over, which sputtered a moment at our feet and went out without exploding. Without crying to arms, I left the other sentry on the spot and walked down to the petit poste, about 100 metres away and called out the corporal of the guard. We walked back to the spot together and had hardly arrived when another bomb came over, which exploded among us with a tremendous detonation. In the confusion that followed the attacking party burst in the door that covered a breach in the wall at this spot and poured a volley into our midst, killing our corporal instantly and getting away before we had time to fire a shot.
In a letter to the New York Sun Seeger described this incident with more particularity, adding this detail:
That night there was not much difference at petit poste between the two hours on guard and the two hours off. Every one was on the alert, keyed up with apprehension. But nothing happened, as indeed there was no reason to suppose that anything would. Only about midnight, from far up on the hillside, a diabolical cry came down, more like an animal's than a man's, a blood-curdling yell of mockery and exultation.
In that cry all the evolution of centuries was levelled. I seemed to hear the yell of the warrior of the stone age over his fallen enemy. It was one of those antidotes to civilization of which this war can offer so many to the searcher after extraordinary sensations.
Spring passed and summer came in comparative inactivity, though the regiment was moved from place to place. Early in July the Americans received permission to spend the Fourth in Paris, and Seeger notes that there were thirty-two to avail themselves of this privilege. The glimpses one gets of his American comrades are few and meagre, his French companions are apparently of more interest to him. His diary under date of July 27, however, notes that the regiment is billeted in a village in Alsace at the foot of the Vosges and that he and his college-mate, King, often spent the evening together at a little inn called Le Cheval Blanc. He passed some time, also, reading Treitschke's "Lectures on Politics," which Victor Chapman had lent him. On July 31 he made this entry: "Walked up to Plancher-les-Mines with Victor Chapman; there met Farnsworth who is in the 1er Etranger, and we all had dinner together.,'
In August Seeger wrote in this vein to his mother:
Given my nature, I could not have done otherwise than I have done. Anything conceivable that I might have done had I not enlisted would have been less than what I am doing now, and anything that I may do after the war is over, if I survive, will be less too. I have always had the passion to play the biggest part within my reach and it is really in a sense a supreme success to be allowed to play this. If I do not come out, I will share the good fortune of those who disappear at the pinnacle of their careers. Come to love France and understand the almost unexampled nobility of the effort this admirable people is making, for that will be the surest way of your finding comfort for anything that I am ready to suffer in their cause.
The great offensive that was to be launched by the French at the end of September found Seeger in a state of high expectation. His regiment was to support the Colonials. In October he wrote to his mother as follows of his share in the battle:
The part we played in the battle is briefly as follows. We broke camp about 11 o'clock the night of the 24th, and marched up through ruined Souain to our place in one of the numerous boyaux where the troupes d'attaque were massed. The cannonade was pretty violent all that night, as it had been for several days previous, but toward dawn it reached an intensity unimaginable to anyone who has not seen a modern battle. A little before 9.15 the fire lessened suddenly and the crackle of the fusillade between the reports of the cannon told us that the first wave of assault had left and the attack begun. At the same time we received the order to advance. The German artillery had now begun to open upon us in earnest. Amid the most infernal roar of every kind of fire-arms and through an atmosphere heavy with dust and smoke we marched up through the boyaux to the tranchées de départ. At shallow places and over breaches that shells had made in the bank we caught momentary glimpses of the blue lines sweeping up the hillside or silhouetted on the crest where they poured into the German trenches. When the last wave of the Colonial brigade had left, we followed. Baïonnette au canon, in lines of tirailleurs, we crossed the open space between the lines, over the barbed wire, where not so many of our men were lying as I had feared (thanks to the efficacy of the bombardment) and over the German trench, knocked to pieces and filled with their dead. In some places they still resisted in isolated groups. Opposite us, all was over, and the herds of prisoners were being already led down as we went up. We cheered, more in triumph than in hate, but the poor devils, terror-stricken, held up their hands, begged for their lives, cried "Kamerad," "Bon Français," even "Vive la France." We advanced and lay down in columns by two behind the second crest. Meanwhile, bridges had been thrown across trenches and boyaux, and the artillery, leaving the emplacements where they had been anchored a whole year, came across and took position in the open, a magnificent spectacle. Squadrons of cavalry came up. Suddenly the long, unpicturesque guerre de tranchées was at an end and the field really presented the aspect of the familiar battle pictures---the battalions in manoeuvre, the officers, superbly indifferent to danger, galloping about on their chargers. But now the German guns, moved back, began to get our range and the shells to burst over and around batteries and troops, many with admirable precision. Here my best comrade was struck down by shrapnel at my side painfully but not mortally wounded.
I often envied him after that. For now our advanced troops were in contact with the German second-line defenses, and these proved to be of a character so formidable that all further advance without a preliminary artillery preparation was out of the question. And our role, that of troops in reserve, was to lie passive in an open field under a shell fire that every hour became more terrific, while aeroplanes and captive balloons, to which we were entirely exposed, regulated the fire.
That night we spent in the rain. With portable picks and shovels each man dug himself in as well as possible. The next day our concentrated artillery again began the bombardment, and again the fusillade announced the entrance of the infantry into action. But this time only the wounded appeared coming back, no prisoners.
Seeger's regiment was held in reserve during September 28, the enemy's wire entanglements before a piece of woods to be attacked not having been sufficiently destroyed, and the commanding officer, who had replaced the wounded colonel of the regiment, refusing to risk his men. In his review of the battle Seeger admitted that, although the French had forced back the German line along a wide front, had advanced several kilometres and had captured many prisoners and cannon, the larger aim of driving the enemy across the Aisne, broken and defeated, had failed.
His admiration for the French was, however, undiminished. Under date of October 25 he wrote to his mother:
This affair only deepened my admiration for, my loyalty to, the French. If we did not entirely succeed, it was not the fault of the French soldier. He is a better man, man for man, than the German. Any one who had seen the charge of the Marsouins at Souain would acknowledge it. Never was anything more magnificent. I remember a captain, badly wounded in the leg, as he passed us, borne back on a litter by four German prisoners. He asked us what regiment we were, and when we told him, he cried, "Vive la Légion," and kept repeating "Nous les avons eus. Nous les avons eus." He was suffering, but, oblivious of his wound, was still fired with the enthusiasm of the assault and all radiant with victory.
What a contrast with the German wounded, on whose faces was nothing but terror and despair. What is the stimulus in their slogans of "Gott mit uns" and " für König und Vaterland " beside that of men really fighting in defense of their country? Whatever be the force in international conflicts of having justice and all the principles of personal morality on one's side, it at least gives the French soldier a strength that's like the strength of ten against an adversary whose weapon is only brute violence. It is inconceivable that a Frenchman, forced to yield, could behave as I saw German prisoners behave, trembling, on their knees, for all the world like criminals at length overpowered and brought to justice. Such men have to be driven to the assault, or intoxicated. But the Frenchman who goes up is possessed with a passion beside which any of the other forms of experience that are reckoned to make life worthwhile seem pale in comparison. The modern prototype of those whom history has handed down to the admiration of all who love liberty and heroism in its defense, it is a privilege to march at his side---so much so that nothing the world could give could make me wish myself anywhere else than where I am.
Seeger passed the winter of 1915-16 with his regiment in reserve. An attack of bronchitis took him out of the service for three and a half months, but did not diminish his ardor. "I shall go back the first of May," he wrote, "without regrets. These visits to the rear confirm me in my conviction that the work up there on the front is so far the most interesting work that a man can be doing at this moment, that nothing else counts in comparison." He passed a happy month in Paris. "I lived," he wrote, "as though I were saying good-by to life," as indeed he was.
After his return to the front-line trenches Seeger found time to write several sonnets which he sent to his "marraine," Mrs. Weeks. In two days, moreover, in the intervals of exhausting work with pick and shovel in boyau digging, he composed the "Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France," without doubt the most noteworthy poem which any American had contributed up to that time to the permanent literature of the war. He hoped to read it on Decoration Day before the statue of Washington and Lafayette in Paris, but this rare privilege was denied him, owing to the failure of his permission for forty-eight hours' leave to arrive in time. His last letter was dated June 28, and, anticipating active fighting, it was characteristic of him to end it with these courageous words:
I am glad to be going in first wave. If you are in this thing at all it is best to be in to the limit. And this is the supreme experience.
Seeger was killed in the successful attack on Belloy-en-Santerre, which the Legion made late on the afternoon of July 4. He was in the first line of his company that swept across the plain before the village, and, with many of his comrades, was mowed down by a cross-fire of German machine-guns.
"Mortally wounded," wrote a participant in the attack in La Liberté of Paris, "it was his fate to see his comrades pass him in their splendid charge and to forego the supreme moment of victory to which he had looked forward through so many months of bitterest hardship and trial. Together with those other generous wounded of the legion fallen, he cheered on the fresh files as they came up to the attack and listened anxiously for the cries of triumph which should tell of their success.
"It was no moment for rescue. In that zone of deadly cross-fire there could be but one thought---to get beyond it alive, if possible. So it was not until the next day that his body was found and buried, with scores of his comrades, on the battle-field of Belloy-en-Santerre."
As William Archer well remarks in the introduction to the volume of Seeger's " Poems," "He wrote his own best epitaph in the 'Ode'":
And on those furthest rims of hallowed ground
Where the forlorn, the gallant charge expires,
When the slain bugler has long ceased to sound,
And on the tangled wires
The last wild rally staggers, crumbles, stops,
Withered beneath the shrapnel's iron showers:---
Now heaven be thanked, we gave a few brave drops,
Now heaven be thanked, a few brave drops were ours.
VICTOR CHAPMAN AS A LÉGIONNAIRE
Victor Chapman's "Letters from France," dealing with his service for ten months in the Foreign Legion, after which he was transferred to the aviation corps, must be read in the light of the illuminating memoir which his father, John J. Chapman, prefaces to the volume. By far the most significant portion of this memoir is the vivid portrait of the boy's mother, half Italian by blood but wholly Italian in temperament and in the traits which she bequeathed to her son.
Young Chapman was graduated at Harvard in 1913. Before entering college he had spent a year in France and Germany, and on being graduated he became a Beaux-Arts student of architecture in Paris. When the war broke out he and his father and stepmother---his own mother had died when he was six---fled from Paris to London.
Even when he was a boy Chapman, according to his father, never really felt that he was alive, except when he was in danger. He did not care for books or for sports, but he was passionately fond of color and scenery. "If you could place him," says his father, "in a position of danger and let him watch scenery, he was in heaven. I do not think he was ever completely happy in his life till the day he got his flying papers." From his mother he got his large frame and his corresponding physical energy, which he loved to expend lavishly in the service of his friends. He "could eat anything, sleep on anything, lift anything, endure anything," says his father. " He never had enough of roughing it till he joined the Foreign Legion."
Chapman was in the Legion from the end of September, 1914, until August, 1915. During this period his battalion, though often under fire, was not actively engaged. He found the inactivity of trench life irksome, and felt that he was wasting his time. His chief interests were the odd characters in the Legion with whom he made friends, and the scenery. Here is his description of the Christmas truce of 1914, when, in certain parts of the line, the Germans and the Légionnaires fraternized:
Xmas in the trenches was interesting but not too exciting. Beginning the eve before, "conversations" in the form of calls. "Boches," "ça va," etc. In response: "Bon camarade," "cigarettes," "nous boirons champagne à Paris," etc. Christmas morning a Russian up the line who spoke good German wished them the greetings of the season, to which the Boches responded that instead of nice wishes they would be very grateful to the French if the latter buried their compatriot who had lain before their trenches for the last two months. The Russian walked out to see if it were so, returned to the line, got a French officer and a truce was established. The burying funeral performed, a German Colonel distributed cigars and cigarettes and another German officer took a picture of the: group. We, of course, were one half-mile down the line so did not see the ceremony, though our Lieutenant attended. No shooting was interchanged all day, and last night absolute stillness, though we were warned to be on the alert. This morning, Nedim, a picturesque, childish Turk, began again standing on the trenches and yelling at the opposite side. Vesconsoledose, a cautious Portuguese, warned him not to expose himself so and since he spoke German made a few remarks showing his head. He turned to get down and---fell ! a bullet having entered the back of his skull: groans, a puddle of blood.
Two months later Chapman sent his father this pen-portrait of Nedim:
There was Nedim, Nedim Bey, a Turk---a black, heavy-faced Turk, and a typical Asiatic. He always wore two passes-montagnes, one pulled down round his chin so that his grizzled unkempt beard and nose protruded through. -I believe he had been sent by the Turkish Government to study, and had worked in the French cannon factories. At any rate the Lieutenant had a high admiration for him which no one could understand. His French was wonderful ~ The article did not exist, but he was fond of the preposition de; as, mon de pain. He got permission at both places to build a separate hole for himself. After working night and day till it was finished he would light a roaring fire and sleep in an atmosphere warm enough to boil an egg. At the other position he had a dug-out about five feet long by two high, with a grate fire at the end of it. And he slept with his head against the fireplace! His love for fire resulted in his burning ends and patches of all of his clothes, and about his abri were always strewn pieces of burnt sacks.... He made an indestructible créneau from which he pumped shot. Inevitably the Germans soon located it and the other day he was hit in the head and evacuated.
Chapman's chief resource in the way of intellectual companionship was a Polish Jew named Kohn. Of him he wrote as follows. under date of January 30, 1915:
My great joy, though vexation occasionally, is Kohn. Though of such a lovable and childlike innocence of character, he is a softy from having been always pampered. His learning is immense. I picked up a New York Times last night---article by G. B. Shaw. So I casually asked Kohn, who was entirely between the sack curtains, what kind of Socialist was Shaw? "A Fabianist," and with that he gave me an account of the growth of Socialism in England, how it influenced the continents---the briefest kind of a sketch of the points of divergence between Socialism and Anarchism. Well, I was numbed by slumber soon and had to beg him to leave off till I was in a more receptive mood. And Political Economy is not his line, for he says mathematics is his specialty. With that he is of an artistic temperament, almost mystic, in his way of doing things. Herédia used to say that Kohn did the rude physical work as though he was performing a religious rite: in fact, with such devotion and zeal that he soon wore himself down and became more subject than any of us to the cliché we all suffered from.
Three weeks later, in a letter to his uncle, Chapman gave the details of the death of his friend Kohn, "shot beside us in front of our abri while taking observations with field-glasses of hills to the northeast." Chapman missed his companionship very much.
After his regiment was transferred to Alsace Chapman met several Americans who were in other regiments of the Foreign Legion---Alan Seeger, Henry Farnsworth, and David King. In the company of these men, all of whom, as it happened, had been at Harvard, and in a beautiful valley among the foot-hills of the Vosges, Chapman was "very happy." He was, however, to attain to his highest point of happiness, as will be revealed later, as an aviator.
Chapter VIII. John P. Poe, of the First Black Watch
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