History of the
American Field Service in France
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917, TOLD BY ITS MEMBERS
As you come along the Compiègne-Soissons road, proceeding in the direction of Soissons, about midway between the two cities you sight a small cluster of gray stone buildings. It is the village of Jaulzy. Here it was we had cast anchor. Before reaching the village you will have noticed a dark round spot in the walls. As you approach, this resolves itself into an arch. Passing through you will find yourself in a muddy stable-yard. I say "muddy" advisedly, for I firmly believe that whatever the season or whatever the weather conditions are, or may have been, you will find that courtyard muddy. Whether the mud is fed from perennial springs or gathers its moisture from the ambient atmosphere, I do not know. The fact remains, that courtyard was, is, and always will be, muddy. Facing the arch on the farther side of the yard, stands a single-storied building of one room. Its inside dimensions are, perhaps, fifty by twenty-five feet. Access is had by a single door and three windows admit a dim light. We found it simply furnished with a wire-bottomed trough, raised about three and a half feet above the floor and extending about double that from the walls on three sides of the room. This left free floor space enough to accommodate a table of planks stretched across essence boxes, flanked on either side by two benches belonging to the same school of design. Such was our cantonment. In the trough twenty of us slept, side by side. At the table we messed, wrote, mended tires, played chess, or lanced boils. Two of the windows lacked glass, so there was plenty of cold air; a condition which a small stove did its inefficient best to combat. The galley was established in a tiny hut on the left of the yard and from here the food was transported to the mess by the two unfortunates who happened to be on "chow" duty. Since the courtyard was not sufficiently large to accommodate all the cars, half were placed in another yard about two hundred metres down the road, where also was established the atelier. At night a sentry was posted on the road between these two points and "le mot" was a condition precedent to passing, a circumstance which sometimes gave rise to embarrassment when the password was forgotten.
THE village of Jaulzy is made up of some two-score forbidding-looking houses. It is situated on the south bank of the Aisne and is bisected by the road from Compiègne to Soissons. At this time, February, 1916, it was, as the shell travels, about four kilometres from the line. Though thus within easy reach of the enemy's field artillery, it showed no signs of having been bombarded, and during our entire stay only five or six shells were thrown in. This immunity was probably due to the insignificant size of the place and the fact that no troops were ever quartered there. Back of the village proper, on the top of a steep hill, was Haut Jaulzy, or Upper Jaulzy. Here a large percentage of the houses was partially demolished --- from shell-fire, one of the few remaining inhabitants informed me. Halfway up the hill, between Upper and Lower Jaulzy, stands an ancient stone church. A line of reserve trenches, crossing the hill, traverses the churchyard. Here are buried a number of soldiers, "mort pour la patrie." Above one grave is a wooden cross upon which appears the inscription: "To an unknown English soldier; he died for his father's land." And this grave is even better kept and provided with flowers than the others.
THE region roundabout Jaulzy is surely among the most beautiful in all France. Hills, plateaus, and wooded valleys, through which flow small, clear streams, all combine to lend it natural charm, a charm of which even winter cannot rob it. Numerous villages are everywhere scattered about, and while those near the front had a war-worn aspect, in proportion to their distance from the line their freshness and attractiveness increased. Railhead for this sector was Pierrefonds, a pleasant town overshadowed by the fairylike castle from which it takes its name. It was at Pierrefonds we obtained our supply of essence and huile. Off to the southwest, in a magnificent forest bearing the same name, is the quaint little city of Villers-Cotterets ---by the Squad rechristened "Veal Cutlets." It was here Dumas was born and lived. The city owed its chief interest to us, however, to the fact that here was located one of the field hospitals to which we transported wounded. Some twenty kilometres to the west of Jaulzy is the old city of Compiègne, reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson, and here too were located evacuation hospitals. Its curious town hall, its venerable houses, and dark, mysterious shops are interesting, but our most lasting memories of the city will be of its silent, windswept streets through which we carried our wounded on those dark, icy nights.
The day began at 6.30 A.M. when the detested alarm clock went into action, supplemented by shouts of "everybody out" and sleepy groans of protest. A quick shift from flea-bag to knickers and tunic, and a promissory toilet was accomplished by 7, by which time, also, the two orderlies for the day had set the table with coffee, bread, and jam. This disposed of, the cars were cranked --- and a bone-wrenching job this usually was, the motors being so stiff from the cold it was next to impossible to "turn them over." There was a Squad rule for "lights out" at 9.30 P.M., but as there were always some individuals who wished to write or play chess or read after this hour, excellent target practice was nightly furnished to those who had retired in the trough and who objected to the continued illumination. Thus I have seen a well-directed boot wipe out an intricate chess match as completely as did the German guns the forts of Liège. The "gunner" in these fusillades always endeavored to see that the ammunition employed --- usually boots --- was the property of some one else and the joy which a "direct hit" engendered was apt to suffer abatement on discovery that they were your boots which had been employed.
THE schedule under which the Squad operated while on the Aisne was a varied one, and yet so systematized that a driver could tell a fortnight in advance, by the list of sailings posted on the order board, where he should be and what his duties at any given day or hour. There were three regular-route runs, to each of which were assigned two cars a day. These were known as "evacuation runs" from the fact that the blessés were picked up at regularly established field dressing-stations, from two and a half to fifteen kilometres back of the line, and transported to an "evacuation hospital," either at Villers-Cotterets, Compiègne, or Pierrefonds. The longer of these routes was made twice each day, a run of about forty kilometres.
About two kilometres to the east of Jaulzy, on the north side of the river, is the village of Vic-sur-Aisne, at this time not much above a kilometre back of the line. Here was established our picket post and here we maintained always three cars, serving in twenty-four-hour shifts. From this station we served nine frontal postes de secours, or line dressing-stations, some of which were within five hundred metres of the German line. Such were the postes of Hautebraye and Vingre. The crossing of the Aisne to reach Vic is made by a single-spanned iron bridge, over which passed all the transport for this portion of the line. Because of the importance thus given it, the bridge was a continual object of the enemy's fire, being within easy range. The village itself, considering the fact that it was within sight of the Germans and had been under more or less continuous fire for months, was not so complete a wreck as might be imagined. This was due to the fact that the buildings were of stone and the shelling was usually done with small-calibre guns. To obstruct the enemy's view and prevent his spotting passing traffic, the roads leading from the village were screened with brush and poles. These served their purpose in winter when the roads were muddy, but when the roads dried, the rising dust betrayed the passing of the transport and then the enemy was able to shell with a greater degree of accuracy. Our station at Vic was located in the carriage-house of a château which stood on an eminence overlooking the river, about a quarter of a mile to the east of the village. When on duty there, we messed with some sous-officiers in the cellar of the chateau, the place being fairly safe from shell éclats though not from a direct hit.
Besides the three route runs described and the Vic service, the Squad was subject to special calls at any time of the day or night from any part of our sector or the surrounding country. This service was known as "bureau duty," from the fact that the cars assigned to it were stationed at our office or bureau, which was in telephonic communication with the line and region about. Twice a week one of the cars on bureau service was despatched to Compiègne on "chow" foraging, an assignment much coveted, since it meant a chance for a hot bath and a good feed.
Under this schedule a driver had one day in every seven for repos. This was more in theory than actuality, however, as the seventh day usually found work needed on his car.
We had reached Jaulzy on the 27th of January. On the first day of February we took over the sector from the retiring French Ambulance Section, and that day went into action. Heretofore we had watched the passing panorama of war; now we were of it. My first voyage was an evacuation route and hence wholly back of the line. I went in company with another car, and as there were only four assis which the other car took, I had no passengers. Coming back from Cuvres, the road leads across a plateau which overlooks the Aisne Valley, and the country behind the German lines was plainly visible. It was from this plateau road that for the first time I saw shells bursting. The French batteries in the valley below were in action and over there in Boche-land white puffs of smoke showed where the shells were breaking.
Though I had several times been very close to the line, it was not until February was nine days old that I received my baptism of fire. On that day I was on twenty-four-hour duty at Vic and my journal written just after I came off duty, will, perhaps, give an idea of a typical shift at this station:
"JAULZY, February 10. Relieved the other cars at Vic promptly at eight o'clock yesterday morning. The French batteries were already in action, but there was no response from the enemy till about ten; when a number of shells whistled by overhead, dropping into the village of Roches, about a half mile down the road. Toward noon the range was shortened, and as we went to mess in the dugout an obus struck the wall back of the château, a hundred yards away. After lunch I went out with a soldier to look for the fusée, as the bronze shell-head is called. To my surprise, the man suddenly dropped flat on his face. Then I heard an awful screech, followed by a crash, as though a pile of lumber were falling, and a cloud of dust rose in a field, perhaps ninety metres away. Almost immediately two more crashed in. I am unable to analyze or describe my sensations and I question whether a trained psychologist would be much better off. There is something "disturbing" about shell-fire which is not conducive to abstract or analytical thought. I do not believe I was especially frightened; my feelings were more of curiosity. I knew this shelling would soon mean work for us, so I got back to my car and saw that everything was ready for 'marching.' Meanwhile a shell had dropped just back of the château, getting one of the stretcher-bearers. Joe carried him to the dressing-station at Roches where he died a little later. My first call came at two o'clock, from Roches. Here I got three men, just wounded by shell éclats, evacuating them to the field hospital at Attichy. Got back to Vic about four. Found the village still under fire, both our own and the enemy's fire having, if anything, increased. Both of the other cars were out, which meant I was due for the next call. Got into my sleeping-bag to try to get warm, but was hardly settled before a Médecin Major came in announcing a call for Vingre. In five minutes we were on our way. After leaving Vic the road was a sea of mud. An enemy observation balloon had the way in full view, so the word was vite.
"Through deserted, shell-shattered villages we ploughed, the mud spraying us from tires to top and filling our eyes, over the wind-break. It was nearing dusk as we reached the poste, a dugout in the side of a hill. Just above us, on the crest was the line and we could hear distinctly the popping of hand-grenades between the battery salvos. Our men, one shot through the leg, the other hit in the chest, were brought in from a boyau and we started back, this time going more slowly. It was a desolate scene through which we passed, made more desolate by the fading light of a gray day. The miry, deserted road, the stricken villages, the overgrown fields it seemed the very stamping-ground of death and the voice of that death passed overhead in whining shrieks. There was little of life to dispute its reign. Now and then, at the nozzle of a dugout, there appeared a soldier's head, but that was all, and, for the rest, there might not have been a soul within a thousand miles.
"One of my blessés required an immediate operation, so I passed on through Vic and headed for Compiègne, reaching there about seven o'clock and evacuating to St. Luke's Hospital. At once started back to my station. Found the cook had saved me some dinner, and after stowing this crawled into my flea-bag. The blankets were barely around me when a brancardier came in with a call for the poste at Hautebraye. The moon gave a little light, but not enough to drive fast with safety, so we drove fast and let safety look out for itself, our motto being not "safety first," but "save first." We found our man ready, shot through the body, raving with delirium, his hands bound together to prevent him tearing his wound. Though a part of our way was exposed to the enemy's machine-gun-fire, the road was too pitted with shell-holes to permit of fast driving with so badly wounded a man and so we crept back to Vic. The order was again to Compiègne. It was close to midnight when, numbed with cold, we rolled through the silent streets of the town. On my return trip I twice found myself nodding over the wheel. Nevertheless, we made the thirty-two kilometres in less than an hour. Found Vic quiet, the shelling having ceased, and save for an occasional trench-flare, little to indicate it was the front. At one o'clock I turned in on the stone floor, this time to rest undisturbed till morning.
"Roused out at 6.30 to greet a gray winter day and falling snow. The batteries on both sides were already in action and the put-put-put of machine guns came to us through the crisp air. The relief cars rolled in at eight and we at once cranked up and set out for quarters. As we crossed the Aisne, the Germans were shelling the bridge, with '150's,' I think. They had the exact range, as regards distance, but the shells were falling about a hundred yards to one side, throwing up great geysers of water as they struck the river. On reaching the other side I stopped, and watched them come in., They came four to the minute. Reached quarters here, Jaulzy, at 8.30 --- completing the twenty-four-hour shift."
So it was I had my baptism of fire. Perhaps I was not frightened by those first shells; curiosity may have supplanted other sensations, but. as time went on, and I saw the awful destructive power of shell-fire, when I had seen buildings levelled and men torn to bloody shreds, the realization of their terribleness became mine, and with it came a terror of that horrible soul-melting shriek. And now after a year and a half of war, during which I have been scores of times under fire and have lived for weeks at a time in a daily bombarded city, I am no more reconciled to shell-fire than at first. If anything, the sensation is worse, and personally I do not believe there is such a thing as becoming "used" to it.
IT was early in February that I got my first experience at night driving without lights. To you gentlemen who have shot rapids, great game, and billiards, who have crossed the Painted Desert and the "line," who have punched cows in Arizona and heads in Mile End Road, who have killed moose in New Brunswick and time in Monte Carlo, who have tramped and skied and trekked, to you who have tried these and still crave a sensation, let me recommend night driving without lights over unfamiliar shell-pitted roads, cluttered with traffic, within easy range of the enemy, challenged every now and then by a sentry who has a loaded gun and no compunction in using it. Your car, which in daylight never seems very powerful, has now become a very juggernaut of force. At the slightest increase of gas it fairly jumps off the road. Throttle down as you may, the speed seems terrific. You find yourself with your head thrust over the wheel, your eyes staring ahead with an intensity which makes them ache --- staring ahead into nothing. Now and then the blackness seems, if possible, to become more dense, and you throw out your clutch and on your brake and come to a dead stop, climbing out to find your radiator touching an overturned caisson. Or mayhap a timely gun-flash or the flare of a trench light will show that you are headed off the road and straight for a tree. A little farther on, the way leads up a hill --- the pulling of the engine is the only thing that tells you this --- and then, just as you top the rise, a star-bomb lights the scene with a dense white glare and the brancardier by your side rasps out, " Vite, pour l'amour de Dieu, vite! ils peuvent nous voir!"--and you drop down the other side of that hill like the fall of a gun-hammer. Then, in a narrow, mud-gutted lane in front of a dugout, you back and fill and finally turn; your bloody load is eased in and you creep back the way you have come, save that now every bump and jolt seems to tear your flesh as you think of those poor, stricken chaps in behind. Yes, there is something of tenseness in lightless night driving under such conditions. Try it, gentlemen.
On the afternoon and night of February 12, there was an attack on the line near Vingre, preceded by drum-fire. As such things go, it was but a small affair. It would perhaps have a line in the communiqué, as, "North of the Aisne the enemy attempted a coup upon a salient of our line, but we repulsed him with loss." That and nothing more. But to those who were there it was very real. The big guns spat their exchange of hate; rifle-fire crackled along the line; the machine guns sewed the air with wicked staccato sounds, and men, with set jaws and bayonets, charged to death through barbed entanglements. As night closed down, the flare-bombs spread their fitful glare on mutilated things which that morning had been living men: now set in the bloody back-wash of wounded. With the coming of the night, the enemy lengthened the range of his artillery, so as to harass the transport, and the zone back of the line was seared with shells. The field dressing-station at Roches, near Vic, suffered greatly, and it soon became apparent that its evacuation was necessary.
I had already been on duty fourteen hours when the call reached quarters for the entire Squad. My journal for the 13th reads: "I'm too tired for much writing as I've had but two hours' sleep in the last forty, during which I have driven close to three hundred kilometres, been three times under fire, and had but two hot meals. The entire Squad was turned out just after I got into the blankets, last night. Roches was being bombarded, and it was necessary to take out all the wounded. There were a number of new shell-holes in the road and this made interesting driving. It was 1.30 when I reached Compiègne, 3 when I had completed my evacuation, and 4.15 this morning when I reached quarters. Up at 6.30 and working on my 'bus. This afternoon made route 3. Tonight I am bien fatigué. Firing light to-day, possibly because of sleet and rain. The attack was evidently repulsed."
The Squad did good work that night. Afterwards we were commended by the Colonel in command. It was in this attack that "Bill" won his Croix de Guerre when à un endroit particulièrement exposé, au moment où les obus tombaient avec violence, a arrêté sa voiture pour prendre des blesses qu'il a aidé avec courage et sang-froid." A week later he was decorated, our muddy little courtyard being the setting for the ceremony.
In celebration of his decoration, "Bill" determined to give a "burst." There would seem to be few places less adapted to the serving of a banquet or less capable of offering material than poor little war-torn Jaulzy. Nevertheless, at six o'clock on the evening of February 27, the Squad sat down to a repast that would have done credit to any hotel. "Bill" had enlisted the services of a Paris caterer, and not only was the food itself perfection, but it was served in a style that, after our accustomed tin cup, tin plate service, positively embarrassed us. Our dingy quarters were decorated and made light by carbide lamps; a snowy cloth covered our plank table; stacks of china dishes --- not tin --- appeared at each place; there were chairs to sit upon. Even flowers were not forgotten, and "Bill," being a Yale man, had seen to it that beside the plates of the other Yale men in the Squad were placed bunches of violets. The artist of the Section designed a menu card, but we were too busy crashing into the food to pay any attention to the menu. For a month past we had been living mostly on boiled beef and Army bread, and the way the Squad now eased into regular food was an eye-opener to dietitians. Hors d'oeuvres, fish, ham, roasts, vegetables, salads, sweets, wines, and smokes disappeared like art in a Hun raid. Twenty men may have gotten through a greater quantity and variety of food in three hours and lived, but it is not on record. And through it all the guns snarled and roared unheeded, and the flarebombs shed their fitful glare. Verity, in after years, when men shall foregather and the talk flows in Epicurean channels, if one there be present who was at " Bill's burst," surely his speech shall prevail.
February, which had come in with mild weather, lost its temper as it advanced; the days became increasingly cold and snow fell. The nights were cruel for driving. One night I remember especially. I had responded to a call just back of the line where I got my blessé, a poor chap shot through the lung. It was snowing, the flakes driving down with a vicious force that stung the eyes and brought tears. In spite of the snow it was very black, and to show a light meant to draw fire. We crept along, for fear of running into a ditch or colliding with traffic. At kilometre 8 my engine began to miss. I got out and changed plugs, but this did not help much and we limped along. The opiate given the blessé had begun to wear off, and his groans sounded above the whistling of the wind. Once in the darkness I lost the road, going several kilometres out of my way before I realized the error. The engine was getting weaker every minute, but by this time I was out of gun range and able to use a lantern. With the aid of the light, I was able to make some repairs, though my hands were so benumbed I could scarcely hold the tools. The car now "marched" better and I started ahead. Several times a "qui vive?" came out of the darkness, to which I ejaculated a startled "France." The snow-veiled clock in Villers-Cotterets showed the hour was half after midnight when we made our way up the choked streets. But "the load" had come through safely.
Uncomfortable as these runs were --- and every member of, the Squad made them not once, but many times --- they were what lent fascination to the work. They made us feel that it was worth while and, however small the way, we were helping.
It was about this time that the Service was militarized and incorporated into the Automobile Corps of the French Army. Thereafter, we were classed as "Militaires " and wore on our tunics the red-winged symbol of the Automobile Corps. We were now subject to all the rules and regulations governing regularly enlisted men, with one exception --- the duration of our enlistments. We were permitted to enlist for six months' periods with optional three months' extensions, and were not compelled to serve "for duration." As incident to the militarization, we received five sous a day per man --- the pay of the French poilu --- and in addition were entitled to "touch" certain articles, such as shelter tents, sabots, tobacco, etc. We had already been furnished with steel helmets and gas-masks. We were also granted the military franchise for our mail.
While at Jaulzy, the personnel of the Squad changed considerably. The terms of several men having expired, they left, their places being taken by new recruits. Thus "Hippo," "Bob," "Brooke," and "Magnum" joined us. Nor must I forget to mention another important addition to our number --the puppy mascot "Vic." He was given to us by a tirailleur, who being on the march could not take care of him, and one of the fellows brought him back to quarters in his pocket, a tiny soft, white ball who instantly wriggled himself into the Squad's affections.
When we got him, he could scarcely toddle and was never quite certain where his legs would carry him. Yet even then the button, which he fondly believed a tail, stuck belligerently upright, like a shattered mast from which had been shot the flag. For he, being a child of war, had fear of nothing, no, not gun-fire itself, and as he grew older we took him with us on our runs and he was often under shell-fire. He was always at home, in château or dugout, always sure of himself, and could tell one of our khaki uniforms a mile away, picking us out of a mob of blue-clad soldiers. Such was "Vic," the Squad mascot.
ON the evening of March 3, orders came in to be prepared to move, and the following afternoon, in a clinging, wet snow, we left Jaulzy and proceeded to the village of Courtieux, some three kilometres distant. The village is in the general direction of Vic-sur-Aisne, but back from the main road. For months successive bodies of troops had been quartered here and we found it a squalid, cheerless hole, fetlock deep in mud. Our billet was a small, windowless house, squatting in the mud and through which the wind swept the snow. There was also a shed, with bush sides and roof wherein our mess was established.
Why we had been ordered from Jaulzy to this place but three kilometres away, it would be impossible to say. We were maintaining the same schedule and Courtieux was certainly not so convenient a place from which to operate. We cogitated much on the matter, but reached no conclusion. It was just one of the mysteries of war. The three days succeeding our arrival were uncomfortable ones. The weather continued bad with low temperature. When we were off duty there was nowhere to go, save to bed, and there were no beds. What Courtieux lacked in other things it made up in mud, and our cars were constantly mired. --- As a relief from the monotony of the village, three of us, being off duty one afternoon, made a peregrination to the front-line trenches, passing through miles of winding, connecting boyaux until we lost all sense of direction. We really had no right to go up to the line, but we met with no opposition, all the soldiers we met greeting us with friendly camaraderie and officers responding to our salutes with a bonjour. We found the front line disappointingly quiet. There was little or, no small-arm firing going on, though both sides were carrying on a desultory shelling. Through a sand bagged loophole we could see a low mud escarpment about ninety metres away --- the enemy's line. It was not an exciting view, the chief interest being lent by the fact that in taking it you were likely to have your eye shot out. All things considered, the excursion was a rather tame affair, though we who had made it did our best to play it up to the rest of the Squad upon our return.
We remained at Courtieux but three days, and then, at nine o'clock on the morning of the 4th, assembled in convoy at Jaulzy. It was one of the coldest mornings of the winter; the trees were masses of ice and the snow creaked beneath the tires, while our feet, hands, and ears suffered severely. As usual, we had no idea of our destination. That our Division had been temporarily withdrawn from the line and that we were to be attached to another Division, was the extent of our information. By the time the convoy had reached Compiègne we were all rather well numbed. When the C.O. halted in the town, he had failed to note a pâtisserie was in the vicinity, and the motors had hardly been shut off before the Squad en masse stormed the place, consuming gâteaux and stuffing more gâteaux into its collective pockets. Meanwhile, outside, the "Lieut" blew his starting whistle in vain.
SHORTLY before noon we made the city of Montdidier, where we lunched in the hotel and waited for the laggard cars to come up. About three we again got away, passing through a beautiful rolling country, and as darkness was falling parked our cars in the town of Moreuil. It was too late to find a decent billet for the night. A dirty, rat-infested warehouse was all that offered, and after looking this over, most of us decided, in spite of the cold, to sleep in our cars. Our mess was established in the back room of the town's principal café, and the fresh bread, which we obtained from a near-by bakery, made a welcome addition to Army fare. Moreuil proved to be a dull little town, at that time some twenty-five kilometres back of the line. Aside from an aviation field there was little of interest.
On the third day of our stay we were reviewed and inspected by the ranking officer of the sector. He did not appear very enthusiastic, and expressed his doubt as to our ability to perform the work for which we were destined, an aspersion which greatly vexed us. Our vindication came two months later when, having tested us in action, he gave us unstinted praise and spoke of us in the highest terms.
After the review, the C.O. announced that we had received orders to move and would leave the following day for a station on the Somme. He refused to confirm the rumor that our destination was "Moscow."
IT was 10-50 on a snowy, murky morning ---Friday, March 10 --- that our convoy came to a stop in the village of Méricourt, destined to be our Headquarters for some months to come. There was little of cheer in the prospect. One street ---the road by which we had entered--- two abortive side streets ---these lined with one- or two-storied peasants' cottages, and everywhere, inches deep, a sticky, clinging mud: such was Méricourt. This entry from my journal fairly expresses our feelings at the time: "In peace times this village must be depressive; now with added grimness of war it is dolorous. A sea of mud, shattered homes, a cesspool in its centre, rats everywhere. This is Méricourt: merry hell would be more expressive and accurate."
Our first impression was not greatly heightened by viewing the quarters assigned to us, and we felt with Joe that "they meant very little in our young lives." Two one-and-a-half-storied peasants' cottages,. with débris-littered floor and leaking roof, these rheumatic structures forming one side of a sort of courtyard and commanding a splendid view of a large, well-filled cesspool, constituted our cantonment. It would have taken a Jersey real-estate agent to find good points in the prospect. The optimist who remarked that at least there were no flies was cowed into silence by the rejoinder that the same could be said of the North Pole. However, we set to work, cleaned and disinfected, constructed a stone causeway across "the campus," and by late afternoon had, to some extent, made the place habitable. A bevy of rats at least seemed to consider the place so, and we never lacked for company of the rodent species.
The twenty of us set up our stretcher-beds in the two tiny rooms and the attic, and were at home. One of the ground-floor rooms --- and it had only the ground for a floor --- possessed a fireplace, the chimney of which led into the attic above. Here it became tired of being a chimney, resigned its duties, and became a smoke-dispenser. It was natural that the ground-floor dwellers, having a fireplace, should desire fire. It was natural, also, that the dwellers above, being imbued with strong ideas on the subject of choking to death, should object to that fire. Argument ensued. For a time those below prevailed, but the attic dwellers possessed the final word, and when their rebuttal --- in the shape of several cartridges --- was dropped down the chimney on the fire, those below lost interest in the matter and there prevailed an intense and eager longing for the great outdoors.
We established our mess in what in peace times was a tiny cafe, in the back room of which an adipose proprietress, one of the few remaining civiles, still dispensed pinard and hospitality. It was in the same back room one night that a soldier, exhibiting a hand-grenade, accidentally set it off, killing himself, a comrade, and wounding five others, whom we evacuated. Incidentally the explosion scared our zouave cook who at the time was sleeping in an adjoining room. He was more frightened than he had been since the first battle of the Marne.
The front room, which was our mess hall, was just long enough to permit the twenty of us, seated ten to a side, to squeeze about our plank table. The remaining half of the room was devoted to the galley, where the zouave held forth with his pots and pans and reigned supreme. The walls of this room had once been painted a sea-green, but now were faded into a bilious, colicky color. Great beads of sweat were always starting out and trickling down as though the house itself were in the throes of a deadly agony.
MÉRICOURT is situated about a fifth of a mile from the right bank of the river Somme, and at this time was about seven and a half or eight kilometres from the front line. The Somme at this point marked the dividing line between the French and English armies, the French holding to the south, the English to the north. Though within easy range of the enemy's mid-calibre artillery, it was seldom shelled, and I can recall but one or two occasions during our entire stay when shells passed over.
As on the Aisne, we got our wounded from a number of scattered postes, some close to the line, others farther back, some located in villages, others in mere dugouts in the side of a hill. Evacuations were usually made to the town of Villers-Bretonneux where were located a number of field hospitals, or to an operating hospital at the village of Cérisy about fifteen kilometres from the line. A regular schedule of calls was maintained to certain postes, the cars making rounds twice a day. Such were the postes at the villages of Proyart, Chuignes, Chuignolles, and in the dugouts at Baraquette and Fontaine-lès-Cappy, all some kilometres back of the line, but under intermittent shellfire. Besides these postes there were several others which, because of their close proximity to the enemy and their exposure to machine-gun-fire, could only be made at night. There was Rainecourt, less than half a kilometre from the enemy's position; the Knotted Tree, four hundred metres from the Germans, and actually in the second-line trench, where, in turning, the engine had to be shut off and the car pushed by hand, lest the noise of the motor draw fire. There, too, was the poste at the village of Eclusier, a particularly fine run, since it was reached by a narrow, exceedingly rough road which bordered a deep canal and was exposed throughout its length to milrailleuse fire. Besides this, the road was lined with batteries for which the Boches were continually "searching."
WE went into action on the afternoon of the same day we reached Méricourt. My orders were to go to a point indicated on the map as the Route Nationale, there pick up my blessés and evacuate them to the town of Villers-Bretonneux. I was further instructed not to go down this road too far, as I would drive into the enemy's lines. How I was to determine what was "too far" until it was "too late," or how I was to determine the location of the poste --- a dugout beneath the road --- was left to my own solution. With these cheering instructions I set out. I reached the village of Proyart through which my route lay, noted with interest the effect of bombardment, passed on and came to the Route Nationale. Here, as were my instructions, I turned to the left. I was now headed directly toward the line which I knew could not be very far away and which transversed the road ahead. I pushed rather cautiously up two small hills, my interest always increasing as I neared the top and anticipated what sort of greeting might be awaiting me. I was on my third hill and feeling a bit depressed and lonesome, not having seen a person since leaving the sentry at Proyart, when I heard a shout somewhere behind me. Looking back I beheld a soldier wildly semaphoring. It did not take me long to turn the car and slide back down the hill. Reaching the bottom, I drew up by the soldier, who informed me that the crest of the hill was in full view of the enemy and under fire from the machine guns. I felt that the information was timely.
The poste proved to be a dugout directly beneath where I had stopped my car. Here I secured a load of wounded and by dusk had safely evacuated them to the hospital at Villers-Bretonneux. Consulting my map at the hospital it became evident that there was a more direct route back to quarters, and I determined on this. As I was by no means sure of the location of the line, I drove without lights, and as a result crashed into what proved to be a pile of rocks, but which I had taken to be a pile of snow, the jar almost loosening my teeth-fillings. The car was apparently none the worse for the encounter and I reached quarters without further mishap.
The aftermath of the mishap occurred next day. Driving at a good pace up a grade --- fortunately with no wounded on board --- I suddenly found the steering-gear would not respond to the wheel. There was half a moment of helpless suspense, then the car shot off the side of the road down a steep incline, hit a boulder, and turned completely upside down. As we went over I managed to kick off the switch, lessening the chance of 'an explosion. The Quartermaster, who was with me, and I were wholly unable to extricate ourselves, but some soldiers, passing at ,the time, lifted the car off us and we crawled out none the worse. "Old Number Nine," save for a broken steering rod, the cause of the spill, and a small radiator leak, was as fit as ever, and half an hour later, the rod replaced, was once more rolling.
OUR picket poste was established at the village of Cappy. To reach the village from Méricourt we passed over a stretch of road marked with the warning sign, "This road under shell-fire: convoys or formed bodies of troops will not pass during daylight." Continuing, we crossed the Somme, at this point entering the English line, and proceeded to the village of Bray. Thence the road wandered through a rolling land for a kilometre or so, again crossing the river and a canal at the outskirts of the village.
Cappy lay in a depression behind a rise of ground about a kilometre and a half from the line. In peace times it was doubtless a rather attractive little place of perhaps three hundred people. Now, devastated by days and months of bombardment, and the passing of countless soldiers, deserted by its civil population and invaded by countless rats, it presented an aspect forlorn beyond imagination. On a gray winter's day, with sleet beating down and deepening the already miry roads, and a dreary wind whistling through the shattered houses, the place cried out with the desolation of war. And when, at night, a full moon shone through the stripped rafters, when the rats scuttled about and when, perhaps, there was no firing and only the muffled pop of a trench-light, the spirit of death itself stalked abroad and the ghosts of the men who had there met their doom haunted its gruesome, cluttered streets. And then, while the silence hung like a pall until it fairly oppressed one, there would come the awful screech, and the noises of hell would break loose.. There was no way of telling when the bombardment would come. It might be at high noon or at midnight, at twilight or as the day broke. Nor could the duration be guessed. Sometimes a single shell crashed in; sometimes a single salvo of a battery; or again, the bombardment would continue for an hour or more. It was this uncertainty which gave the place a tense, uncomfortable atmosphere so that even when there was no shelling the quiet was an uncanny quiet which was almost harder to bear than the shelling itself.
In Cappy no one remained above-ground more than was necessary. Nearly every house had its cellar, and these cellars were deepened, roofed with timbers, and piled high with sandbags. A cave so constructed was reasonably bomb-proof from small shells --- "77's"---but offered little resistance to anything larger, and I recall several occasions when a shell of larger calibre, making a direct hit, either killed or wounded every occupant of such a shelter. The resident population of the town was limited to a group of brancardiers, some grave-diggers, the crews of several goulash batteries, and some doctors and surgeons. I must not forget to mention the sole remaining representative of the civil population. He was an old, old man, so old it seemed the very shells respected his age and war itself deferred to his feebleness. Clad in nondescript rags, his tottering footsteps supported by a staff, at any hour of the day or night he could be seen making his uncertain way among what were the ruins of what had once been a prosperous town --- his town. With him, also tottering, was always a wizened old dog who seemed the Methuselah of all dogs. Panting along behind his master, his glazed eyes never leaving him, the dog, too, staggered. There, alone in the midst of this crucified town, the twain dwelt, refusing to leave what to them was yet home. And daily as their town crumbled, they crumbled, until at last, one morning, we found the old chap dead, his dog by his side. That day was laid to rest the last citizen of Cappy.
The dressing-station was located in what in peace times was the town hall, or mairie, a two-story brick building having a central structure flanked by two small wings. The building was banked with sandbags which, while not rendering it by any means shell-proof, did protect it from shrapnel and éclats. The central room was devoted to the wounded, who were brought in from the trenches on little two-wheeled, hand-pushed trucks, each truck supporting one stretcher. A shallow trough was built around the sides of the room and in this, upon straw, the wounded were placed in rows, while awaiting the doctor. In this portion of the building was also located the mortuary where those who died after being brought in were placed preparatory to burial. The bodies were placed two on a stretcher, the head of one resting on the feet of another. It was a ghastly place, this little room, with its silent, mangled tenants lying there awaiting their last bivouac. On one side of the room was a small, silver crucifix above which hung the tricolored flag of the Republic guarding those who had died that it might live.
In the left wing was the emergency operating-room where the surgeons worked, frequently under fire. At the opposite end of the building was the room we had for our quarters and where we slept when occasion permitted. The place was quite frequently hit --- on five separate occasions while I was in the building --- and its occupants suffered many narrow escapes. The location was regarded as so unsafe that an elaborate abri was finally constructed back of the mairie. This was an extraordinarily well-built and ample affair, consisting of several tunnels seven feet high in the centre, walled and roofed with heavy galvanized iron supported by stout beams. The roof at the highest point was fully ten feet below the surface of the ground. There were two rows of shelves running along both sides of the tunnels which had a total capacity of forty stretcher cases. At one end was a small operating-room, and there were two exits, so that, if one became blocked, the occupants might find egress through the other. Both of these exits were winding so as to prevent the admission of flying shell fragments and were draped with curtains to keep out the poison gas. Beside these curtains stood tubs of anti-gas solution for their drenching. This structure was proof against all save the heaviest shells and took some eight weeks in building.
WHEN on duty at Cappy we messed with some medical sous-officiers in a dugout, entrance to which was had by descending a steep flight of steps. Down in this cellar, in the dim twilight which there prevailed, we enjoyed many a meal. The officers were a genial lot, like most Frenchmen delightfully courteous and much given to quaffing pinard. Their chief occupation was the making of paper knives from copper shrapnel bands, and they never lacked for material, for each day the Boche threw in a fresh supply..
One of these chaps, through constant opportunity and long practice, could give a startling imitation of the shriek of a shell, an accomplishment which got him into trouble, for happening one day to perform this specialty while a non-appreciative and startled Colonel was passing, he was presented with eight days' arrest.
The cook of the mess was a believer in garlic --- I might say a strong believer. Where he acquired the stuff amidst such surroundings was a mystery beyond solution, but acquire it--- he certainly did. Put him in the middle of the Sahara Desert and I am prepared to wager that within a half-hour that cook would dig up some garlic. He put it into everything, rice, meat, whatever we ate. I am convinced that, supposing he could have made a custard pie, he would have added garlic. His specialty was beef boiled in wine, a combination hard on the beef, hard on the wine, and hard on the partaker thereof.
Coming out of the cellar from mess one noon --- a wet, dismal day I remember --- I was startled into immobility to hear the splendid strains of the "Star-Spangled Banner," magnificently played on a piano. I was still standing at attention, and the last note had barely died away, when the one remaining door of a half-demolished house opened and a tall, handsome young fellow with the stripes of a corporal appeared, saluted, and bade me enter. I did so, and found myself in a small room upon the walls of which hung the usual military trappings. Stacked in the corners and leaning against the walls were a number of simple wooden crosses with the customary inscription, "Mort pour la patrie." Five soldiers rose and bade me welcome. They were a group of grave-diggers and here they dwelt amid their crosses. Their profession did not seem to have affected their spirits, and they were as jolly a lot as I have ever seen, constantly chaffing each other, and when the chap at the piano --- who, by the way, before the war had been a musician at the Carlton in London, and who spoke excellent English --- struck a chord, they all automatically broke into song. It was splendidly done and they enjoyed it as thoroughly as did I. The piano they had rescued from a wrecked château at the other end of the town and to them it was a godsend indeed. Before I left, at my request, they sang the Marseillaise. I have seldom heard anything finer than when in that little, stricken town, amidst those gruesome tokens of war's toll, these men stood at attention and sounded forth the stirring words of their country's hymn. When I left it was with a feeling that surely with such a spirit animating a people, there could be but one outcome to the struggle.
We had another twenty-four-hour station at the village of Cérisy some fifteen or more kilometres back of the line, where was located an operating hospital. Here we maintained always one car for the transportation of such wounded as required evacuation to the railhead. At this station we were privileged to sleep on stretchers in the same tent with the wounded. Personally I found one night in their quarters was quite enough for me. The groaning, the odor of anæsthetics, the blood, the raving of the delirious, and "the passing" of two of the inmates before morning drove me out to my car, where I often slept when on duty at the station.
We soon began to feel completely at home at Méricourt. Our schedule kept us busy without overworking us, and there was just enough risk in the life to lend it spice. We had a splendid Commander, an efficient Chef, and as a result the Squad worked in entire harmony. At this time we were attached to the 3d Colonials, a reckless, hard-fighting bunch, as fine a lot as serve the Tricolor. The relations existing between ourselves and the French could not have been more cordial. The innate courtesy and kindness, which is so characteristic of the people, found expression in so many ways and their appreciation so far exceeded any service we rendered that we could not help but be warmly drawn toward them, while their cheerful devotion and splendid courage held always our admiration.
Perhaps a few entries taken at random from my journal will serve as well as anything to give some idea of our life and the conditions under which we worked.
"TUESDAY, March 14. After a rat-disturbed night, got away on Route No. 3 to Proyart and Baraquette, evacuating to Cérisy. At four this afternoon, with Brooke as orderly, made same route, evacuating to Villers-Bretonneux. There were so many blessés that I had to return to Baraquette for another load. We are just in from Villers-Bretonneux at 10 P.M. after a drive through the rain.
"Saturday, March 18. On route No. 2 to Chuignolles. Road was under fire, so sentry refused to let me return over it, as the way was up-grade and with a loaded car I could not go fast. Ran down it this afternoon, evacuating by another route. Put in an hour to-day making an almost bedstead out of old bloody stretchers and now the rats will have to jump a foot or so off the floor if they want to continue to use me as a speedway.
"Thursday, March 23. Slept well in the car at Cappy, but lost all inclination for breakfast on opening door of stretcher-bearer's room and seeing two bodies, one with its jaws shot away, the other, brought in from No Man's Land --- half eaten by rats. Got a call to Chuignes before noon, evacuating to Cérisy. Of course worked on my car this afternoon; that goes without saying --- the work, not the car. To-morrow we have another one of those dashed inspections, this time the General commanding the Division.
"Thursday, March 30. To Cappy early, with as many of the Squad as were off duty, to attend the funeral of the Médecin Chef. He was killed yesterday when peering over the parapet. It was a sad affair, yet withal impressive. We walked from the little shell-torn town, Cappy, to the cemetery just beyond the village, following the simple flag-draped box, upon which rested the tunic and képi; and then, while the war planes circled and dipped above us and all around the guns spoke, we paid our last respects to a very gallant man. Waited till ten for wounded. At the exact minute I was leaving, three shells came in. One burst by the church and the other two just back of my machine as I crossed the bridge. They must have come from a small-bore gun, possibly a mortar, as they were not preceded by a screech as with a rifle shell.
Visited regimental dentist this afternoon and found him operating on a poilu whose teeth had been knocked out by a Boche gun butt in a recent charge. To-night the guns are going strong.
" Wednesday, April 5. The mess-room presented a ghastly sight this morning, a hand-grenade having been accidentally exploded there last night, blowing two men to bits which bits are still hanging to the walls. Got my spark-plugs in shape this morning. This afternoon attempted to take a nap, but a confounded battery just stationed here insisted on going into action, and as the shots were at half-minute intervals I got to counting the seconds in the intervals, banishing all chances of sleep. Two of the Squad are down with the gale --- a skin disease contracted from the blessés, and which seems almost epidemic with the Division."
IT was toward the end of March, and hence some three months after leaving Paris, that one morning I received orders to evacuate a load of wounded to the railroad hospital at Amiens, some forty kilometres from Méricourt. Amiens is a modern city, one of the most pleasant in France, a city of about one hundred thousand inhabitants with up-to-date shops, tramways, tea-rooms, and a decided air of gayety. As I drove my mud-spattered ambulance down its main street I felt singularly out of place. An hour and a half before I had been within rifle range of the German trenches where men were battling to the death and big guns barked their hate, and now, as though transported on a magic carpet, I found myself in the midst of peace, where dainty women tripped by, children laughed at play, and life untrammelled by war ran its course. After the weeks amid the mud and turmoil of the front, the transition was at first stupefying. After evacuating my wounded, I parked my car, and being off duty for the rest of the day I strolled about gaping like a countryman. A "burst" at the best restaurant I could find and a good cigar put me in an appreciative frame of mind and my impression of Amiens will always remain the most favorable. Though the city had been in the hands of the Huns for nearly a fortnight in the early part of the war, and had several times been the object of air raids, there was little indication of either. The beautiful cathedral was piled high with sandbags and the beautiful windows were screened as precaution against bomb éclats, but of the precautions such as I later saw in Bar-le-Duc, there were none.
Amiens at this time was the administrative Headquarters of the English Army of the Somme. Its streets were alive with English officers and Tommies. There were many "Jocks" in their kilties, besides, of course, many French officers. Being well back of the lines it was a great place for swanking, a condition of which the English officers especially took full advantage, and in their whipcords and shining Sam Brownes, they were the last word in military sartorialism.
HAVING now been at the front for three months I became entitled to la permission, the six days' leave, in theory granted the soldier once every three months. George's permission was also due, and we managed to arrange it so that we secured leave simultaneously. One of our cars was so well wrecked that it had to be sent to Paris, and accordingly we secured the assignment of taking this in. This car had lost its mud-guards and part of the top of the driving-seat; its lockers, were gone and its sides had been pierced by shell splinters. It certainly looked as if "it had been through the war." It was afterwards sent to New York and there put on exhibition at the Allied Bazaar.
We set out for Paris on the morning of April 15. It was a fearful day for driving, hail and rain and a piercing wind, but we were en permission, so what cared we. It was on this voyage that, for the first and only time during my service in the Army, I saw lancers. This group was some seventy kilometres back of the line. With their burnished casques, graceful weapons, and fluttering pennons they have left me one of the few memories of the picturesque which the war has furnished.
We made Beauvais in time for luncheon; found the little restaurant, and our mere appearance was sufficient to set the little waitress off into a severe attack of giggles. By four that afternoon we were in Paris. After one hundred days in the war zone, it seemed like another world. We took the military oath not to reveal information likely to be of value to the enemy and were free to do what we liked for six days. Personally, as I remember it, I pretty well divided the time between taking hot baths and consuming unlimited quantities of white bread and fresh butter. Often we found ourselves subconsciously listening and missing something, --- the rumble of the guns. We enjoyed the respite, but the end of our permission found us willing, almost eager, to get back "out there."
It was after midnight --- Easter morning --- and the rain was falling when we ploughed our muddy way across "the campus" at Méricourt. It was cold, and the rat-infested garret, in the flickering light of an oil lamp, looked dismal enough as we felt our way across its dirty floor. Outside the sky was now and then lighted by a flare and from all around came the boom of the guns. We were home.
MAY opened with delightfully warm weather, a condition that was not to continue. The brown fields were clothed in green. Up to within a few kilometres of the line the land had been cultivated, and wheat and oats flourished as though shells were not passing over and the grim Reaper himself were not ever present.
Early in the month our Division moved, going into repos some fifteen kilometres back of the line. It is a simple statement --- "our Division moved." But think of twenty thousand men plodding along, twenty thousand brown guns bobbing and twenty thousand bayonets flopping against as many hips. Think of twenty thousand blue steel helmets covering as many sweaty, dusty heads; think of the transport for the men, the horses straining in their traces, the creaking wagons, the rumbling artillery, the clanging soup-wagons, the whizzing staff cars, and the honking of camion horns --- think of this and you have some idea of what is embraced in the statement "our Division moved." We did not follow them, though we did assign four cars to serve them during repos, and to take care of the sick. Instead we were attached to the incoming Division, the 2d Colonials.
My journal shows there were some hectic days in May. In the record of May 2 I find: "Rolled pretty much all night, one call taking me to Éclusier. The road was shelled behind me while I was at the poste, knocking a tree across the way---so that on my way back, the night being so dark, I could see absolutely nothing and I hit the tree and bent a guard. It's as nasty a run as I have ever made, a canal on one side, batteries on the other, and the whole way exposed to machine-gun-fire. Expected to be relieved here this morning, but one of the replacement cars is out of commission so that I am on for another twenty-four hours. To-day I measured the distance from where I was sitting last night to where the shell hit. It was exactly fourteen paces."
Again a. week later: "Two cars out, of commission, so I am fated for another forty-eight hours shift here in Cappy. Last night was uneventful. To-day we have been bombarded five times. So far have made but two runs, returning from second under fire. We have been ordered to sleep to-night in the partially completed dugout, so I am writing this fifteen feet underground, with sandbags piled high above my head. Verily the day of the cave man has returned. Now for the blanket and, thanks to the dugout, a reasonable assurance of greeting to-morrow's sun."
It was in May that "Josh" won his recognition for bringing in his wounded from Éclusier under machinegun-fire. I was not there, but I know he could not have been cooler had he been driving down Broadway.
ON the 30th of May we received orders to change our base. The Squad was genuinely sorry to leave Méricourt. The village, which had looked so forbidding to us when we had first arrived, through the familiarity of three months' residence had grown to mean home. The peaceful canal with its graceful poplars where we used to swim, "the campus," the scene, on moonlight nights of many a rousing chorus, the lane where the cars were parked, the little café, all held pleasant memories. Here we had endured the rigors of winter, had seen the coming and passing of spring, and now as summer was upon us we were leaving.
We left in fleet, about one in the afternoon, and an hour later drew up in the village of Bayonvillers on the farther side of the Route Nationale. We found it an attractive place, having two squares well shaded with fine trees. In peace times its population probably numbered about four thousand. The town was far enough back of the line to be out of range of field artillery and showed no sign of bombardment. Being only slightly off the main road and about midway between the line and Villers-Bretonneux, the location was a convenient one for us, as for the present we were maintaining the same schedules and routes which prevailed at Méricourt. We were assigned quarters in the loft of a brick barn, but some of us preferred more airy surroundings and pitched a tent under the trees in a little park in the centre of the town, thus establishing the "Bayonvillers Country Club." Later, because of the arrival of a fleet of camions, we moved the club to a meadow on the outskirts of the town. Mess was also established in a tent.
EARLY in the spring it had become apparent that something was in the air. Ammunition dépôts began to appear, placed just out of gun range; génie parcs, with enormous quantities of barbed wire, trench-flooring, and other construction materials were established; a new road was being built from Bray to Cappy; additional aviation fields were laid out, and rows of hangars, elaborately painted to represent barns and ploughed fields, to deceive the enemy airmen, reared their bulky forms. Back of the line numerous tent hospitals sprang into being. Near Cappy immense siege guns, served by miniature railways, poked their ugly noses through concealing brush screens. Through the fields several new standard-gauge tracks made their way. The roads back of any army are always cluttered with supporting traffic, and as the spring wore on the traffic in the Somme increased day by day. There were huge five-ton camions loaded with shells, steam tractors bringing up big guns, caterpillar batteries, armored cars, mobile anti-aircraft guns, stone boats, mobile soup-kitchens, oxygen containers to combat poison gas, field artillery, searchlight sections, staff cars, telegraph and telephone wagons, long lines of motor busses now used as meat vans, horse wagons piled high with bread, portable forges, mule trains carrying machine-gun ammunition, two-wheeled carts carrying trench mortars. All the transport of war was there until by the first of June the roads back of the Somme front presented a congestion of traffic such as the world has never before seen. To the most casual observer it could not but be apparent that all this tremendous activity, the enormous supplies, the preparations, were not solely for defensive purposes. It could connote but one thing --- an offensive on a great scale.
Directly opposite Cappy, within the German lines, lay the little shell-riddled village of Dompierre. Between the sandbags of the first-line trench I had peeped forth at it, and as early as April I knew that the village was mined, for the electrician who wired the mine was a friend. I felt sure, therefore, that our Section was to be in the offensive when it came. But as to the day of the attack, of course that was a matter of speculation. As the days wore on all the talk was of "the attack." There was no longer any doubt as to the fact that an attack was to be launched; the question now was, simply, when? Both the firing and activity in the air had increased. Sometimes for hours at a time there would be continuous drum-fire and scarcely an hour passed without a fight between planes.
The opening days of June were wet and sodden. The weather was raw, almost cold, with frequent hailstorms, so that it was difficult to determine just what season was being observed. The roads, trodden by thousands of hobbed feet and cut by horses' hoofs and by tires, were deep with mud. It was sale temps. We found Bayonvillers teeming with troops. But if we thought the place already crowded, it was nothing compared to the congestion which the succeeding days brought. Day by day, almost hour by hour, the troops continued to come in, colonials, chasseurs, the famous zouaves, the Senegalese; and the sound of drum and bugle scarcely ever died.
THE Senegalese were an amusing lot. I have been in Senegal, and when in the Congo, had a Senegalese for a headman, so I know a few words of their language. When I hailed them in this, they would immediately freeze into ebony statues, then their white teeth would flash in a dazzling smile as they hailed me as a white chief who knew their home. They were armed with deadly bushknives, and for a dash over the top made splendid soldiers. In the trenches, however, they were nearly useless, as artillery fire put fear into their souls. It was said they never took or were taken prisoners, and many gruesome tales were current regarding this. Most certainly they must have been useful in night manuvres, for with that complexion it would be a matter of impossibility to determine which was the Senegalese and which was the night.
The lot upon which the "Country Club" had been the original and only squatter began to fill. A "155 " battery moved in alongside us, and several "75" batteries with their ammunition transports became our neighbors; some horse transport convoys also creaked their way in. Horses by the hundred plunged and pulled at restraining ropes or stood with downcast heads --- bone-weary of the struggle. All around us rose the little brown dog-tents and at night countless small fires flickered. It was like camping in the midst of a three-ring circus.
WE mingled with our neighbors and talked with them, but no matter how the conversation started, it was sure to come around to the one, great, all-important, subject ---the attack. Even for us, who were not to be sent in, but whose duty it would be merely to carry those who had been, the delay and suspense were trying. How much worse, then, it must have been for those men who "were going over the top," waiting, waiting, many of them for their chance to greet death. I remember one afternoon talking with a chap who before the war had kept a restaurant in Prince's Street in Edinburgh, a restaurant at which I remember having dined. He was an odd little Frenchman, alert and bright-eyed , and every now and then as he talked he would pat me on the shoulder and exclaim, "Oh, my boy." He assured me that very soon now we should see the attack. "Oh, my boy, the world very soon will talk of this place. You will see the name of this village on maps" ---a true prophecy, for when the New York papers came to us weeks after the attack had started, I saw a map with Cappy marked upon it.
"Soon greater than Verdun we shall see great things, and oh, my boy, we are here to see them; we are part of them. C'est magnifique! but the waiting, the waiting; why can't they end it? Send us in! Quant à moi --- I go with the second wave, and if I come out après la guerre, you will come to my place, my place in Prince's Street which you know, and for you I will open the finest champagne of la belle France and we will raise our glasses and drink to these days; but oh, my boy, the waiting, c'est terrible!
My journal for these days reflects the feeling of suspense: "Tuesday, June 13 . En repos to-day for which I was thankful, since the rain still continues, with a low temperature. Spent most of the day in my bag reading, as being about the only place I could keep warm. The 20th zouaves marched into town to-day, their bugles playing. Their arrival and the presence of the Senegalese can mean but one thing: the attack will soon be launched. Well, if it's coming it can't come too soon. This suspense is trying. If this weather continues I will have trench foot again, as my shoes are leaking. Firing has been unusually heavy to-day, and to-night a terrific bombardment is in progress.
"Thursday, June 15. Encore this ghastly weather. More Senegalese coming in until the place looks like a Georgia camp-meeting. Three runs to-day; slow progress working through the traffic. Surely attack cannot be far off. Passed wreck of plane near Villers-Bretonneux which was fired on, falling and burning to death both pilot and driver.
"Sunday, June 18. To Fontaine lès Cappy, which incidentally was being shelled, evacuating to Villers-Bretonneux. Changed rear spring on my 'bus this afternoon, other having proved too light. Have fixed some hooks and straps on the car so that I can carry blanket roll and dunnage bag in event the line breaks and we follow the advance. 'New Number Nine' is ready for attack. Rumor says it will start in three days. Now that the clock has been set ahead --- this occurred several days ago --- we turn in by daylight."
Dry, hot weather succeeded the rains and in a day the mud of the roads had been beaten into dust. A khaki-colored fog hung over the sinuous line of never-ceasing traffic and choked man and beast. It was trying work driving now but still it was exhilarating, the feeling of being a part of a great push. By the middle of June the advance position from which we should operate from the time the first wave went over the top had been chosen. It was close back of the line near the boyau of Fontaine lès Cappy. It was very much exposed and much in advance of the position usually taken by transport sections, but it appeared the spot of greatest usefulness and this being determined, our C.O. was not the man to question further.
ON the morning of June 20 I left for duty at Cappy. My journal for that date reads: "Left quarters at eight this morning, reaching Cappy an hour later, taking on a load, evacuating at once to Villers-Bretonneux. This afternoon evacuated to Chuignolles. So far I have heard but one shell come in to-day. Our batteries, too, have been singularly quiet. The calm before the storm. If possible, the roads to-day were more congested than ever with every sort of vehicle from bicycle to steam tractor. It's now nine o'clock, though owing to change of time not nearly dark. Am a bit tired to-night, but have small idea of getting much rest."
Nor was I disappointed, for throughout the night the wounded came in and we drove almost without pause. From my last evacuation I got back to Cappy about six in the morning, and as our relief was due at eight I did not consider it worth while to turn in. The day promised to be hot and clear. Already the shelling had started. It was a point of honor among the Squad to be prompt in our relief, and Gile and I were therefore surprised when no cars had appeared by 8.30. It was about ten o'clock and we had exhausted our conjectures when two cars of a French Section rolled up. We sensed at once that something had happened. One of the drivers climbed down from his car and came over to where we were standing.
We exchanged salutes. "Messieurs," he said, "your Section has been replaced by ours. I am directed to instruct you to report at once at your quarters." The concussion from a "210" could scarcely have stunned us more than the announcement, " Replaced." It was impossible; there must be some mistake. After all our months of work, which we knew had been efficient, after all our preparations for the attack. Replaced? No, it could not be. We would find out there had been a misunderstanding. In a daze we cranked our cars and drove slowly away from the familiar old poste.
Several shells had passed us as we had stood talking, and as I reached the canal bridge I found one had hit there. Beside the road lay a dead man, and three wounded were being dressed. I got out my stretchers and evacuated them to the field hospital at Cérisy. It was my last evacuation from Cappy. I reached quarters about noon, finding the Squad at mess. One glance at the fellows confirmed the morning's news. I have seldom seen a more thoroughly disgusted bunch of men. It was true; we had been replaced and were leaving for parts unknown tomorrow. Somewhere back in Automobile Headquarters in Paris a wire had been pulled, and that wire attached to us was to pull us away from the greatest offensive in history. We felt rather bitter about it at first, for we felt that in a way it reflected on our ability or even our nerve, but when we learned that the Médecin Divisionnaire and even the General of our Division had protested against our removal, had spoken of our work in the highest terms, our disappointment was softened, and so with the philosophy which army life brings we said, "C'est la guerre," struck our tents and prepared for the morrow's departure.
WHATEVER may have been the aspect of Bar-le-Duc in normal times, now it impressed me as a city utterly weary, a city sapped of vitality. As a weary man, exhausted by constant strain and tension to a condition of listless indifference --- thus did Bar-le-Duc impress me. And well might it be weary. For months troops had poured through its streets, men of a score of races, men from far countries and from the heart of France. Here they had passed on their way to the Vortex, and through these streets the bleeding wrecks of the same men had been borne back. Day and night without ceasing the munition camions had rumbled by. While winter ended, spring came and passed, and summer blossomed, the thundering guns had not ceased to sound. For five months this unrelenting strain had endured and Bar-le-Duc was like a weary soul.
SHELL-POCKED ROAD NEAR DOUAUMONT OVER WHICH THE AMBULANCES ROLLED ALL THROUGH THE BATTLE OF VERDUN
It was close to midnight, and "dark as the inside of a cow," when the camp was startled into wakefulness by the cry, "Show a leg! Everybody out, we're called!" Outside the rain beat against the cars and a mournful wind slapped the branches overhead. It was a painful transition from the warm comfort of the blankets to the raw chill of the night, but no one hesitated. Lanterns began to flicker; figures struggling into tunic and knickers tumbled out of cars; objects were pulled forth and piled on the ground, bedding was thrown under ground-sheets; stretchers shot into places; engines began to cough and snort, and searchlights pierced the night. The C.O., moving from car to car, issued the order, "In convoy order; gas-masks and helmets; head-lights till further orders." In twenty minutes after the first call, every car was ready, every man in his place, and the convoy formed. "Where are we going? " was the inquiry which shot from car to car, and, though no one knew, the answer was invariably "Verdun."
Presently the whistle blew and we moved out. Down through the sleeping city of Bar-le-Duc we went, and there, where the transparency blazoned the legend, "Verdun," we obeyed the silent injunction of the pointing arrow and turned to the left. We passed through the outskirts of the city and presently entered upon a broad, pitted road. Well might the road be pitted, for there was the Voie Sacrée --- the Sacred Way --- over which had passed every division of the French Army, the way over which thousands of the men of France had passed never to return.
Beyond question one reason why Verdun was chosen by the Germans as the point against which their great offensive was launched was the weakness of the supporting railroad facilities. Normally the city is served by two lines of railways, one running north from Saint-Mihiel, the other coming in from the west by Sainte-Ménehould. Since Saint-Mihiel was in their hands, the first road was eliminated, and though the second was not in the enemy's hands, it was commanded by his batteries. This left the position of Verdun without supporting railroads, heretofore considered necessary for maintaining an army. But the Hun had reckoned without two things, the wonderful organization of the French motor transport, and the Voie Sacrée. Never had a road been called upon to bear the burdens which now were thrown upon this way. An armada of ten thousand motor camions was launched, and day and night in two unbroken lines this fleet held its course and served the defending armies of Verdun.
Now we, too, passed down the road, privileged to become part of that support.
A half-moon, blood-red as though it, too, had taken on the hue of war, appeared in the broken sky, described a half arc and disappeared. Once a tremendous light illuminated the whole northern sky. Possibly it was the explosion of a mine. We never knew what. The noise of the guns grew louder as we went on. The gray fore-tone of dawn was streaking the east when we halted by a group of tents at the roadside. We were beyond Lemmes, some one said, but this meant nothing to us. It was a field hospital and here we found our men, a hundred of them. They were all gas victims as their wracking, painful coughs indicated.
The rain had ceased. The sun rose and warmed things a bit. It was seven o'clock in the morning and Bar-le-Duc was beginning to stir itself for another weary day as we reached the evacuation hospital. Three quarters of an hour later we straggled into Véel, having covered over a hundred kilometres since midnight.
After the hard rolling of the last few days there was much to be done about the cars. Bolts needed tightening, grease-cups had to be filled, and many minor repairs were to be made. This consumed most of the day and with only a couple of hours' sleep to our credit from the night before we were genuinely tired when we rolled into our blankets that night and fervently hoped for an undisturbed rest.
But such was not to be our fortune. At 2.30 in the morning it came ---the call. In the gray of dawn we wound through Bar-le-Duc. In the doorways and on street benches we could just discern the motionless forms of soldiers wrapped in chilly slumber. Once more we turned out upon the Sacred Way. Our destination was the village of Dugny, of which I shall have more to say later, --- perhaps seven kilometres from Verdun. A blowout just beyond Bar-le-Duc lost me the convoy, which in turn lost me the road, and I wandered through a series of half-demolished villages, not knowing how near I might be to the line, before I finally again emerged on the Voie Sacrée and reached Dugny. Here I was surprised to see another section of the American Ambulance. It proved to be Section Eight which we were shortly to replace.
We found the driving station at Dugny overflowing with wounded and the men placed in rows on straw in a stable. Again we filled our cars, this time mostly with couchés, as before gas victims. It was now broad daylight. The roadway even at night was a mass of traffic, mostly convoys of heavy camions. These followed each other in an endless belt, the loaded ones coming toward Verdun, the unloaded going away. They proceeded at an average speed of eighteen kilometres an hour at a distance of sixty feet from each other. It became necessary for us, if we were to make any progress at all, to squirm our way through the maze, continually dodging in and out of the convoys to avoid staff cars, yet always working by the slower moving vehicles. It was the most trying kind of driving and required extreme care lest our cars be crushed beneath the giant munition trucks or lest the unforgivable sin of causing a block be committed. It was disheartening to work by a convoy of eighty camions, dodging in and out to avoid cars coming in the opposite direction, and then just as the head of the line was reached to have a tire go bang. It is such happenings that try the soul of the ambulancier.
Not till two o'clock in the afternoon did we reach Véel, having completed the evacuation, and get our first meal of the day. We were content to rest the remainder of the day and the day following, doing only such work as the cars required, and we were very glad that no demand came for our services. On the third morning a number of us secured permission to go into Bar-le-Duc in the "chow" camion. We had just completed a hot bath and were making for a pâtisserie when the Lieutenant's car came up. "Get everybody together!" he shouted; "we're leaving for Verdun at one o'clock."
At camp we found the tents already struck and a cold singe lunch awaiting us. Promptly at one we formed in convoy and again headed for the Sacred Way. At four o'clock that afternoon we reached the village of Dugny. This was the 28th of June. The trek from the Somme to Verdun was finished.
ROBERT WHITNEY IMBRIE*
*Of Washington, D.C.; George Washington and Yale Universities; served in Sections One and Three, 1915-17; subsequently with U.S. Army. The above extracts are from his book, Behind the Wheel of a War Ambulance (McBride, 1918).
ON June 21, 1916, like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, came the order from General Headquarters, commanding the Section to proceed immediately to Verdun, where the great battle had been raging constantly since February. When Section One arrived on the Meuse the Boches were making their final great attempt to capture Verdun and the inner line of forts --Tavannes, Saint-Michel and Souville --- as well as the city itself. The roads in the vicinity were under heavy bombardment and gas hung for days in the low places, all of which added to the strenuousness of our work.
By June 28 the Section was quartered at Dugny, a tumble-down town a few miles south of Verdun, where we relieved Section Eight on the right bank of the Meuse, the postes being located at Fort de Tavannes, the Cabaret Rouge and the Mardi-Gras redoubt. The cantonment at Dugny left much to be desired. The sleeping quarters for the entire Section, including the French personnel, were in a barn loft, beneath which horses were stabled. What with the coming and going, the noise from the "Atelier Club," as the poker players called themselves, the coughing of gas victims, frequently placed in the entrance of the barn, and many other disturbances, the situation was not conducive to rest. Then, too, it rained most of the time, except when it drizzled, and mud was not among the things which the place lacked.
Nor at the poste of the Cabaret Rouge could conditions be said to be cheery. The festive name which the place bore was scarcely justified. It was a stone barn with a straw-covered floor and a leaky roof, the walls pierced in three places with shell holes, and mud ankle-deep all around. Then there were the wounded who were stretched by the walls; and the air was heavy with the smell of wet clothing, disinfectants, and drying blood. In the only other room of the barn were the dead awaiting burial, their rigid mangled forms lying in rows on brancards. In addition the poste was entirely surrounded by batteries whose din was unceasing, and furthermore there was hardly a minute when German shells were not coming in.
Although there was not a man in the squad who was not repeatedly under fire during the Section's stay at Dugny, it remained for Brooke Edwards, of Philadelphia, to experience the most remarkably close call. While en route at night to "Cabaret," a shell exploded by the side of his car, blowing off two tires, the éclats passing entirely through both sides and the roof of the car, and some of the fragments lodging within six inches of Edwards, who nevertheless was unscratched. A day or so later, when Tingle Culbertson was pushing along the Belleray Road in his little car, he heard a crash, and a column of earth, not twenty yards off the road, spouted into the air. Two more shells came in quick succession, but they were, so to speak, unneeded, for Culbertson was doing all that essence and an intimate knowledge of a Ford could do to make "numéro douze" exceed any previous records.
On the morning of July 12 the Section completed its work at Verdun, every ambulance having served up to the last moment to the limit of its capacity. Exceptional luck had followed the Section. The French Section, with which it shared the work, had lost two men, one by gas, another by shell-fire; the American Section which preceded us had had one man wounded, and the English Section, up to the time when we left, had been five days in the field with the loss of one man.
An account of our stay at Dugny could not be perfect without mention of the Section's Chef, Herbert Townsend. Instead of remaining out of the zone of fire, as he might have done, he was probably under fire more than any other member, remaining at "Cabaret" for hours at a time, putting new spirit into his men by his presence and giving them confidence and encouragement when they most needed it. As though this were not enough, he insisted on accompanying the ambulances on their most dangerous run, the nightly trip to Fort de Tavannes.
THE Section left the Verdun sector on July 13 and went en repos, but returned there on August 15, taking up its quarters in a handsome country house north of Dugny, known as Château Billemont. The trip to the poste --- Caserne Marceau --- though it could scarcely be described as enjoyable, proved very interesting. Leaving Billemont, the cars ran some two miles over excellent roads, entering Verdun by the Porte Neuve. On the right, and dominating the ruined city, lay the imposing citadel, constructed by Vauban for Louis XIV. Farther on, the cars passed the huge shell-wrecked market, the slightly damaged theatre, then on through a blackened, chaotic mass of stone, bricks, and twisted steel, past the fine old gray stone tower of the Pont Chaussée. Leaving the city by the Pont Chaussée, the ambulances followed the Faubourg Pavé to the Fort de Souville road, where the poste was located, near the shattered buildings of the Caserne Marceau and a wrecked cistern --- a cement tank mounted on a tower --- on account of which the poste was often called La Citerne and considered at this time the most important one on the Verdun front.
THE German trenches were just across the ridge from La Citerne, about half a kilometre distant, where the battle of Fleury was in progress, the village changing hands some ten times before it finally remained in possession of the French. Here the entire Section worked almost day and night for about three weeks, the hardest strain it had yet been under.
On September 9 the Section was relieved, having served at Caserne Marceau longer than any preceding section. Two days later two French ambulances were destroyed at this poste and several drivers and brancardiers were killed, in consequence of which the poste was abandoned for a location farther back.
On account of the service rendered at Caserne Marceau, Herbert Townsend, Giles Francklyn, Robert Bowman, Brooke Edwards, and James M. Sponagle, and the Section as a whole, received citations.
Leaving the Verdun sector on September 11, three days were spent en repos at Triaucourt, when we moved into the Argonne, being quartered at La Grange-aux-Bois, just east of Sainte-Ménehould. The work was light and without special incident during the four months there, which, with the beautiful scenery, furnished a very pleasing contrast to our experience at Verdun.
THE first death in the Section occurred during this period, when, on December 23, 1916, Howard B. Lines, of Dartmouth, succumbed to pneumonia. The funeral took place on Christmas morning. A Protestant chaplain of the division read the burial service in the open entry way of the house where Lines had died, and the body accompanied by French soldiers and the members of the Section, and Inspector-General Andrew, and Hon. Robert Bacon, who had come from Paris, was carried to the snow-covered military cemetery on a neighboring hill. Young Lines was with the Section in Belgium from September, 1915, to January, 1916, when he returned to America to complete his work at Harvard Law School; he had rejoined the Section in October, 1916.
On January 19, the Section left La Grange-aux-Bois for Triaucourt where we were quartered in a large room on the lower floor of a hospital. The place was cheerless and quite cold. Our meals were served in an old stable several blocks distant. We soon discovered that the facilities for recreation and amusement in Triaucourt in winter were limited in the extreme. About the only relief from continual strolling about the village were the two or three little cafés where a few of the hours might be whiled away and the canteen conducted by some English women where hot coffee, tea, and cocoa were served free and where English papers might be read in comparative comfort. The many little courtesies shown us by these ladies will be long remembered.
AFTER three days were spent en repos at Triaucourt, we went into the Hill 304-Mort-Homme sector, with postes at Esnes, Montzéville, the Bois de Récicourt and the Bois d'Esnes. The combination of extremely cold weather and very poor quarters at Ippécourt gave the section another taste of the hardships of war, until, two weeks later, better quarters were found at Dombasle.
Ippécourt, by the way, is a village situated twenty-one kilometres southwest of Verdun, and our quarters were located a kilometre east of it, on the road to Souilly. They consisted of a long shed, set on a hillside, and constructed of rough boards and branches of trees. The architect's predominating idea seems to have been to secure ample ventilation, and in this he was highly successful. The shed was divided by partitions, even more flimsily constructed than the walls of the structure, into small rooms with space --- shelter is hardly the word --- for from three to five men each. A larger room at the north end served as a dining-room. Light was admitted through windows which were covered with glazed cloth and through numerous cracks as well. The heating apparatus consisted of a number of home-made stoves left behind by our predecessors in Section Four, but which they reclaimed three or four days after our arrival, so that even the modicum of comfort which these stoves afforded was thereafter denied us. We did manage, however, by hook or crook, to secure stoves for two or three rooms which radiated, at times, enough heat to thaw out half-frozen fingers or toes. Our fuel consisted of scraps of green timbers secured from a near-by sawmill and whatever underbrush we were able to find in the vicinity. One of the vivid, if unpleasant, memories of these days is the sound of the bell at 7 A.M., which called us from between comparatively warm blankets to the dining-room which was devoid of even the small amount of heat that a bright sun contributed to the world outside. At breakfast the bread was warm, that is, it had been. placed in the oven long enough to raise considerably the temperature of the exterior, but the inside of the loaf was always frozen. The coffee seldom was hot. After breakfast the most effective means of becoming comfortably warm was to attempt to crank one's Ford. Two hours was the average length of time required to start a car. The water in the radiators froze in an incredibly short time if the motors were allowed to cool. On one occasion when the radiator on the staff car had become overheated, the boiling water which was thrown out turned to ice before it struck the windshield. During the seventeen days we were quartered at Ippécourt, the thermometer was almost constantly below zero (Fahrenheit).
The feature of the work at this time was the German attack on Hill 304 which began on January 25, after a violent bombardment. The attacks and counter-attacks continued for about a week, during which time every car that was not disabled by the miserable roads and the even more miserable weather was running almost constantly.
After these attacks had subsided, we had a moderate amount of work, an average of six cars a day running. But the sector was never entirely quiet, there being more or less artillery activity at all times, considerable gas sent over by the Boches and a coup de main occurring every few days. Montzéville, Esnes, and the road between these two villages received shells quite often, and narrow escapes were common enough to relieve the monotony of camp life. This road, in fact, was exposed to the view of the Germans whose trenches were barely two kilometres distant on Mort Homme, and merely to go over it was always something of an adventure.
THE following description of this road from Jubécourt to Esnes, taken from the Section's "Blue Book," will give the reader a good idea of the troubles and trials of our rolling:
"Leaving the poste des brancardiers at Jubécourt, turn right on sharp grade. This is Ringwalt Corner; for it was here that Ringwalt went over the bank on the night that we took over the sector, his car turning over twice. How he managed to get over on the left-hand side of the road and slip over the bank while going up hill on low speed, nobody knows; but he did it. Continue north over fairly level route, part of it very rough, to Brocourt (3.5 km.) entering the village over miserable piece of corduroy road after left turn at cemetery. Bear right, passing to rear of church. Beware of other roads leading to Auzéville, Brabant, and Jouy. Sentry at comer. Pass sign, 'Éteignez vos lumières' descending steep hill, cross small railroad, --- munitions dépôt down gulch to the left, large gun to the right. Ascend steep grade and continue along level road, cross old Roman road and pass on the right a génie camp situated in a small wood --- Bois de Fouchères. Continue over very rough stretch of road to sentry box (6.5 km.) turn sharp to right. Country immediately surrounding the sentry box is quite bare. From this point there is a very good view of Clermont-en-Argonne, due west; and the eastern slope of the Argonne Forest, as far south as the Côte des Cerfs near Brizeaux, is also visible, Continue along winding road --- fine view of Dombasle and country to the northeast, especially the Bois de Béthelainville --- downhill into Dombasle-en-Argonne (11.1 km.) cross Sainte-Ménehould-Verdun railroad, turn left over small bridge and cross Paris-Metz Grande Route (elevation 235 m.) passing on the right a picturesque ruin with tall chimneys and extensive garden; bear left through the village and continue on gentle upgrade. Barracks on hillside to left; Béthelainville poste de secours in cave on hillside on right. Road from this point is extremely rough. Pass source on right and enter Bois de Béthelainville --- ammunition dépôt resembling stone quarry on right. Continue through wood --- batteries on both sides of the road. Emerging from the wood (elevation 328 m.), we have good outlook, including view of hills near Chattancourt, le Mort Homme, Hill 310, Hill 304, and vicinity of Montfaucon and other points beyond the German lines. Descending from this point by easy grade along tree-lined road with shell-holes on either side, enter Montzéville (17.8 km. elevation 240 m.). The poste de secours is situated in a cave on the left. Along the left or west side of the village lies Hill 310 on which many batteries are planted. Pedestrians may take path across Hill 310 to Esnes --- 2 km. Leaving Montzéville, road bears slightly left and enters the 'Bad Lands' road --- extremely rough passage over slight rise and stretch of uncrushed stone. In field to left are batteries of soixante-quinzes disguised as pig-sties. Road is bordered by stumps. Beware of extremely rocky place, which must be crossed on low speed, and a short distance farther on, another one even worse. Bear left at fork ---road to right goes to Chattancourt. Ascend easy grade; road very rough, soixante-quinze batteries to left, camouflage made of branches erected on right side of road. In this vicinity drivers may expect to meet field kitchens and droves of burros at any hour after dark, until 3 A.M. Pass inverted fork in road where highway from Marre joins at acute angle. Now we are at Toy's comer. The road from this corner to the next corner --- about half a kilometre --- is within plain view of the German trenches on le Mort Homme, two kilometres to the north. Begin gentle descent, watch for new shell-holes, turn abrupt left (elevation 234 m.) probably the most dangerous point on the road, the corner being subject to indiscriminate shelling at all hours, and extremely skiddy in icy weather. We are now overlooking the village of Esnes. Continue---gentle descent, pass wrecked ambulance on right, where is fine view of Hill 304 about a kilometre to the right, ruins of houses on either side, dead horse on the right, dead donkey and pile of wire and other génie material on left. At this point the road becomes a perfect morass of mud and ice, which can be crossed only on low speed and by the exercise of the utmost caution to avoid crevices, boulders, and sink-holes. Pearl, Tyson, and Hibbard became fast in this hole on the night of January 25-26, and Farlow, Kurtz, Flynn, and Wood on the night of February 16-17. Arriving at corner with tower of ruined church on right (elevation 225 m.) cross bad ditch and turn into narrow lane passing to left of church. Avoid large shell-holes on left side of road and 15 metres farther on, another shellhole on left, opposite stone watering trough on right. Continue 10 metres over rocks to ruined château on right (21.8 km.). Turn car in small yard covered with rubbish. End of route."
ON March 14, 1917, the Section went en repos near by, at Vadelaincourt. While there Benjamin R. Woodworth became Chef of the Section, James M. Sponagle being made Sous-Chef. The men were quartered in an aviation field and became well acquainted with many of the aviators, a pleasant feature of our sojourn there. We remained at Vadelaincourt one month and then departed for the Champagne front, stopping, however, for two days at Dombasle, to renew acquaintance with familiar scenes around Côte 304. Here General Herr, commanding the Sixteenth Army Corps, reviewed the Section, shaking hands with each man and expressing his appreciation of our work and his keen regret at our departure. A short time later the Section was cited by order of the Sixteenth Army Corps, and four of its members were cited individually.
It was with the anticipation of great things that the Section departed for the Champagne front where, it was rumored, we were to take part in the great offensive just beginning in the neighborhood of Reims. But instead, we found ourselves once more en repos, this time in the sector where every one had looked forward to the most stirring times in the Section's history. The keen disappointment of the men was hardly allayed by the fact that they were quartered in a seventeenth-century château and that they were able to make occasional visits to Reims and the historic cathedral. Some of the men witnessed the burning, on May 3, of the Hotel de Ville, after a large number of incendiary shells had been thrown in the vicinity.
ON April 29, 1917, Inspector-General Andrew received the Cross of the Legion of Honor, the ceremony being held in front of the chateau at Muizon. If the presentation had taken place at the Invalides the setting could not have been more impressive. There was a military band which supplied music, punctuated by the thundering of some big guns located near by. The presentation of the Cross was made by General Ragueneau, of General Nivelle's staff. In front of an imposing group of French officers stood two standard bearers, one a French Lieutenant carrying the tricolor and the other James M. Sponagle, carrying our Section flag on which appeared the Croix de Guerre and the names of the campaigns.
While we were at Dombasle, by the way, we enjoyed several visits from Mr. Andrew. On March 1, he and Sponagle inspected the cars with a view to possible improvement in the construction of the bodies. Townsend offered the suggestion that the side boxes should be enlarged to provide ample space, not only for tools, but for personal equipment which drivers require while on service. Mr. Andrew argued that there was already plenty of room; in fact if more space were provided it would simply mean that many of the cars would be loaded down with souvenirs and junk. But Townsend insisted that more space was necessary, whereupon Mr. Andrew said, "Well, Ned, let's see what you've got in your boxes, anyway." So lifting up the lids they found several obus in his side boxes and in an arm box a dead owl!
GENERAL RAGENEAU CONFERRING UPON MR. ANDREW THE CROSS OF THE LEGION OF HONOR IN THE QUARTERS OF SECTION ONE AT MUIZON (NEAR REIMS), APRIL 29, 1917
On May 6 the Section suffered one of the most severe losses to its personnel that had occurred since its organization, when Lieutenant de Kersauson, who for two years had been its energetic and highly prized leader, was ordered to take charge of the new training school for American officers at Meaux, A day or two later, Lieutenant James F. Reymond arrived and assumed charge of the Section.
During the latter part of May the Section began working in connection with a division of dismounted cavalry attached to the Fifth Army. The line extended from Cauroy to Brimont, the poste de secours being located on the Reims-Laon highway, in sight of the German trenches. The work was very light and two cars, stationed at Villers-Franqueux, went down at night only. One of the interesting sights from this village was the occasional shelling of Brimont, about three kilometres away, by the French guns, which from various points on the road between Muizon and Villers-Franqueux, the German shells could be seen falling on Reims.
ON June 15 Benjamin R. Woodworth, the Section's Chef, was instantly killed while riding as a passenger in a French aeroplane. The accident occurred as Woodworth and Chatkoff, the pilot, a member of an escadrille near Muizon, were leaving the grounds of the Lafayette Escadrille near Soissons. The interment took place at Châlons-sur-Vesle with military honors. "Woody" was a member of the Section from June, 1915, to July, 1916. He reëntered the service in November, 1916, and had been Chef of the Section since April, 1917. W. Yorke Stevenson succeeded him as Chef, and the latter part of June, James M. Sponagle resigned as Sous-Chef to be come Chef of Section Sixty-Five, being succeeded by James M. White.
On June 21, the Section moved to Louvois, an attractive village in the midst of the Champagne district some fifteen kilometres southeast of Reims where were two postes --- one in the almost demolished village of Sillery and the other at a point on the Aisne-Marne canal, known as l'Espérance. One car was kept constantly at the latter poste and another was held at the Château Romont, a beautiful place, while four cars remained at the near-by village of Ludes to relieve these two.
The sector was comparatively quiet. The lines had remained practically stationary for more than two years and the peasants could be seen working daily in the fields within plain view of and almost up to the trenches. From Ludes and Chateau Romont the German positions were visible from Reims to Mont Cornillet. At this time there was considerable activity around Mont Cornillet and Mont Haut, a little farther east, and there was an occasional bombardment or a coup de main in front of Sillery or l'Espérance, because of the proximity to the more active sector. Evacuations were to Ludes, Chenay, Louvois, and Épernay.
ON the evening of July 12 George Frederick Norton was killed by an air bomb while on duty at Ludes. Norton and the other men on duty there at that time --- Robert H. Gamble, Hugh Elliott, and Richard Oiler --- had turned in for the night, when at about ten-thirty a German plane was heard in the vicinity and two bombs exploded on the other side of the village. Norton arose, and was looking out of the window of the chalet, when a third bomb exploded just across the road about twenty yards away, at least three éclats striking him, killing him instantly and piercing the wall of the chalet in many places. The other men had very narrow escapes; indeed Gamble received a slight wound in the shoulder, though he was able to continue on duty for forty-eight hours.
The funeral service over the body of Norton was held the following evening at dusk. As the village was within plain view of the German lines, it was not possible to hold it during the day. The French chaplain who conducted the service spoke simply but eloquently of the beautiful spirit of sacrifice which led Norton to offer his services to France. The body was interred with full military honors in a new cemetery on the edge of the village. Norton was cited to the order of the Army and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm. Three other members of the Section were also cited on the same occasion.
ON July 23 the Section left this beautiful region of the Champagne and went via Bar-le-Duc to Évres where one week was spent en repos. Everywhere were rumors of the great offensive about to be started on the Meuse, and in August the Section moved on to Verdun and began work on the right bank. How many had been the changes on the historic battlefield within the past year! The village of Fleury, the centre of such terrific attacks and counter-attacks a year before, was now so utterly razed that some of the men passed it several times before they could believe that the maps had it correctly located, while the Caserne Marceau, near Fort Saint-Michel, which in August, 1916, was an advanced poste with the German trenches less that a kilometre distant across the ridge, was now well to the rear.
Four cars stationed here went on call to postes at Saint-Fine, near Fort Souville, La Source near Vaux, and Chambouillat and Carrière Sud near Douaumont. Other cars served postes near Fort Tavannes and at Carrière d'Haudromont near Louvemont, all of which points were held by the Germans when the Section worked there the year before and some of which were then well behind the battle lines. The conditions under which we labored were trying from the very first, for the roads were congested with traffic, were frequently shelled, and gas was encountered almost every night.
The men were quartered at first at Haudainville; but after a few days we secured a site for our tents just outside the hospital grounds at the Caserne Beveaux, on the south side of Verdun. All cars evacuated to this hospital, except during the first few days when the Maison Nathan in Verdun, near the Porte de Saint-Paul, was used.
The artillery bombardment, which was expected daily, did not begin in earnest until about August 14. A day or two later a Red Cross ambulance section --- S.S.U. 61 --- began working with Section One at all the postes except Carrière d'Haudromont, which we continued to care for unaided until the infantry attack began, when we surrendered it to two French ambulance sections.
ON the evening of August 16 William A. Pearl, the Section mechanic, was severely wounded while on the way to Haudromont with Rice, to repair a disabled car. A shell exploded a few yards from the car in which they were riding and a large éclat passed through Pearl's forearm, completely disabling his hand so that he had to be evacuated to Paris.
The first infantry attack was launched early on the morning of the 20th with magnificent success for the French. Hill 304, the Mort Homme, the Bois des Corbeaux, the Bois de Cumières, the Côte du Talon, Champneuville, Hill 344, Mormont Farm, and Hill 240 were entirely retaken. In the morning Lieutenant Reymond went with the first cars to the Carrière Sud and rendered such valuable aid in clearing the roads of wrecked wagons, dead horses, and munition trucks that he was cited shortly after by the Division. German counter-attacks followed, but the French continued to attack with vigor, Beaumont falling into their hands on the 26th.
The fighting on both sides, especially the artillery activity, continued heavy day and night and reacted on us. Every car in the Section received its quota of shell-holes, one car driven by Ryan being utterly demolished while standing in front of the poste of Carrière Sud. A short time before the sides of two cars --- driven by Flynn and Tapley --- had been blown out by shells at Haudromont. On several occasions shells exploded near ambulances on the road, when the couchés inside the car became so frightened that they jumped off their stretchers and took refuge in near-by abris. At times it was impossible to go through and we had first of all to repair the road ourselves by filling the holes with loose rocks and earth. Holt was badly gassed near Haudromont, a shell exploding near him while he was standing beside his car waiting for a congestion of artillery caissons and guns to let him through. He was knocked down, his mask fell off, and he was rendered practically unconscious. After being dragged to a poste de secours and given the anti-gas treatment, he insisted upon resuming work, for which he received a fine citation.
DURING the last week of the Section's stay at Verdun, there were many entries under the heading "collisions and derailments," for every man was pretty well tired out and most of the men were running on their nerves, with the result that accidents were of frequent occurrence. At times the rush was so great that in order to relieve the congestion, Chief Stevenson drove ambulances himself. There was rejoicing in camp, therefore, when at last the news came that the Section was to be relieved; and when, on September 14, we departed for a period of repos, the drivers no less than the soldiers of the division felt it was richly deserved. So we proceeded south to a peaceful little village in Jeanne d'Arc's country.
For their work at Verdun the following men received the Croix de Guerre: Robert J. Flynn, J. Clifford Hanna, Edward P. Townsend (second citation), R. H. Plow, Roy Stockwell, William A. Pearl, James M. White, Arthur M. Dallin, Richard H. Stout, William S. Holt, Harold E. Purdy, H. B. Day, Frank A. Farnham, R. W. Tapley, John Kreutzberg, and Philip S. Rice. A few days later the Section was cited by order of the Second Army for the work before Verdun during August and September, receiving the Croix de Guerre with the palm, this being the Section's fourth citation.
The American recruiting officers arrived at the Section September 13, 1917, on which date it ceased to be a volunteer organization and became a part of the United States Army.
ROY H. STOCKWELL*
*Of New Bedford, Massachusetts; University of Kansas, '11 , and the Harvard Law School; with Section One from November, 1916, to November, 1917; subsequently First Lieutenant in the U.S. Field Artillery in France.
Section One, con't
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