History of the
American Field Service in France
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917, TOLD BY ITS MEMBERS
Rampont (near Verdun), October 6, 1916
WE are located here in the woods, overlooking Rampont, between Sainte-Ménehould and Verdun, near Nixeville, and about twelve miles from Le Mort Homme, Hill 304 and Hill 272. Already I have had some wonderful experiences during these three weeks at Verdun. During the attack a fortnight ago, we certainly had a time of it. In addition, the loss of Kelley and the injuries to Sanders, of Section Four, over at their poste at Marre, was a terrible tragedy to us. Both boys I knew and talked with only a few days before the affair happened.
The attack lasted three nights, and we had many interesting adventures. The main stunt is to keep on the road. Out of eighteen cars, four were "in bad"; either their drivers tried to climb trees or walls, or else supply wagons with excited drivers kept to the middle of the road, and, of course, side-swiped the little Ford into a ditch. Seccombe and Struby managed to ditch their cars nicely. Iselin had a most wonderful "stunt" with his. After climbing an embankment, it fell over on its side, all four wheels in the air; but to our amazement, it "chugged" off nicely when righted by a dozen husky poilus, always ready to help Americans. Well, I had a little difficulty myself finding the road, as I had made previously only one trip up to 272, which is about twelve miles; and without lights on the dark highways, with much traffic going up and returning, it is sometimes by pure luck that a fellow gets by.
Many drivers as well as their horses get excited, and when passing "Dead-Man's Turn" and "Shell-Hole-Hollow" everybody has steam up. In addition, when half the route has been gone over, the batteries are at our rear, so that, with the racket from the trucks, the roar of the guns, and the whistling of the shells through the heavens, it certainly does seem as though hell were let loose. Then, too, the landscape all about us is so desolate! Montzéville and Esnes are terribly shot up --- trees cut down, not a house standing complete, and debris filling the streets; so that in a general state of depression our thoughts continually rest on our tires, expecting at any moment a blow-out, which means a half-hour's job in the "God-forsaken burg," as we call it.
I have had an interesting "twenty-four hours"' service, which proved to be thirty-six hours, during these few days that our division has been en repos. We were kept on the go, each making 300 kilometres. Our two cars made several trips to the many surrounding towns between here and Vaubécourt, Révigny, and Bar-le-Duc. Back here far behind the lines, it is quite a pleasure to be able to drive at night with lights. Révigny, by the way, is approached via the Argonne --- a picturesque country it is still, though there are the many destroyed villages and towns, and farms dotted with graves of the fallen heroes of the Marne.
The other night it was raining in torrents when I struck Bar at 1 A.M., with one malade, a victim of a mad dog's bite. Much to my surprise the entrée pour malades was apparently closed, so there was nothing for me to do but climb up over the parapet, Jean Valjean style, and rouse the sleepy brancardier, who hastily opened the porte, and then I made my get-away in the long trip back to Rampont, some fifty-five kilometres.
It is a great life, full of interesting happenings here with the soldiers; long trips, including many irregular and unexpected daily episodes; sometimes eating at camp, often at a field hospital kitchen; always finding a way out of a tight fix, even though for a moment all looks black; while things are made all the better by the fact that we have some bully good fellows here, the spirit and the work of the squad being such that it is a great satisfaction to be a member thereof.
Neuilly, December 13, 1916
ON October 23 last, during a bombardment in a French village, Fromeréville, I was hit in the leg by a fragment of a shell which exploded a few feet in front of my car. Fortunately the car was empty, as I had just returned from a trip to the field hospital, and was turning about to load up again at the poste de secours. Fortunately, too, the éclat did not fracture the bone. Quickly stopping the car, which was but a few minutes, away from an abri whither I managed to crawl, the doctors applied a bandage, and a few minutes later I was on a stretcher. Afterwards I was informed that two brancardiers were killed and eight of us in the town wounded. Mine was the only car on duty at the moment of the bombardment as my comrade had left sometime before on a call to a village ten kilometres back. After three weeks at the small field hospital, during which time the piece of shell was extracted, I was brought to our hospital, the American Ambulance here at Neuilly, where I am making such progress that I am trusting to resume active service with my Section at Verdun very soon, if by the will of God I am able.
WILLIAM H. C. WALKER*
* Of Hingham, Massachusetts; enlisted in the Field Service, December, 1915; became a member of Section Two, at Pont-à-Mousson; wounded at Verdun, October, 1916; left the Field Service, August, 1917, and enlisted in the Canadian Field Artillery; honorably discharged from the Canadian Forces, December, 1917, in consequence of physical disability.
UNTIL November 8, the Section continued to wallow in the mud of Rampont, and it was "some mud." It clung in great clots to our shoes, thence to our puttees, our overcoats and to everything we possessed, including ourselves. It was on this date that we packed up and moved to Ville-sur-Cousances, where, for living quarters, we had barracks, large and airy; so airy in fact that we soon found that our beds were the only warm places. The "General" clung to his tent which he pitched off to the cast in the windiest place he could find, and yet managed to keep himself warmer than any one else in the outfit; and five o'clock always brought a hungry crowd to his tent-flap clamoring to be admitted for tea. These barracks would have been passable enough had we been the only creatures present, but we were far from being alone in our glory. Rats were our rivals; rats of all sizes, small, large, fat and thin. They were present in ever-increasing numbers, making our days doleful with discoveries of half-eaten cakes of chocolate, biscuits, and cheeses, and our nights hideous with an uproar that sounded like Charlie Chaplin in a tin-can factory. Olympic games were their specialty, followed by social dinners at the Ritz, as MacIntyre's store of supplies might have been aptly termed.
Our postes remained the same, Marre and Hill 272. The weather also remained the same, --- rain, sleet, snow and high winds. Roads were about the only thing that changed and they grew worse and worse. Because of the bad weather we had plenty of work to do, --- ten cars on duty regularly with extra cars on call and frequently the White truck. Under the circumstances, Diemer, the American mechanic, and Saintot, the French mechanic, were kept busy changing broken rear axles, broken rear springs, broken front springs, broken radiators, bent mud-guards, and all other parts that came in contact with foreign bodies on dark, rainy nights. The crowning achievement of these mechanics was the changing of an entire rear axle at Marre, in the pitch darkness of a rainy night, without a single light to help them, as Marre was exactly six hundred yards from the Boche lines and of course no lights could be used.
ON December 28, the Boches "pulled off" an attack on the Mort Homme which kept us fairly busy for one night; but outside of that there was little to note other than the routine work, during which we were looked after with infinite kindness by the non-commissioned officers of the G.B.D., who, every morning at 3 A.M., at Marre, shared with us drivers a five-course dinner, --- and a very welcome meal it was, after a long night's work. At Fromeréville, whatever they had was ours and we were as members of a large family. These are things which none of us will ever forget.
On January 10 the Section moved for a short repos to barracks at Glorieux, and had perhaps two or three calls a day to camps where the different regiments of the division were located; but the greater part of our time was spent in Verdun walking about the city.
On January 19, 1917, we again packed up our ever-increasing and never-decreasing baggage and fled over icy roads to La Grange-aux-Bois in the Argonne, where we were allotted two large rooms, one good, the other bad.
The Section being divided at this time into two squads, it was quite obvious that one squad would inevitably draw the poor room, and as violent argument seemed imminent, the "General" and Harry Iselin decided to flip a coin for it. Much to our disgust, the "General," with true British nonchalance, lost the toss, and those of us who were in his squad started out immediately to locate other and better quarters. Most of us were successful --- Conquest, Struby, Heilbuth, and I getting palatial chambers with electric lights and a southern exposure. Without boasting I should say that we had discovered the Fifth Avenue of La Grange-aux-Bois. Maclntyre and Wheeler contented themselves with what might possibly be called Madison Avenue, while the "General," Bigelow and MacLaughlan --- and I make this statement with no reservations of any kind whatsoever --- lived in a snug little rat-infested attic on the Bowery.
FROM this time on our life was an easy one. We had only two main postes, one up in the woods, Sept Fontaines --- later changed to Chardon, the other in a beautiful valley ,at the Abbaye de Chalade. For the first few days we worked another poste, Le Chalet, nearer the lines, but the Germans as usual became most unpleasant and nearly "finished off " several of our cars as well as several of our drivers.
As there was practically no work here, it was decided to send cars there only on call from La Chalade, with the immediate result that there were no more close "squeaks,"---at least not for some time. The Boches picked a quarrel with La Chalade and shelled the district intermittently, but beyond planting a few shells in the buildings and peppering one car with éclats, succeeded in doing no damage. During our five months' rest cure in the Argonne, the only casualty suffered by the Section occurred in the afternoon of April 25, when Raymond Whitney was bitten in an unmentionable part of his anatomy by a large black dog. This severe wound was cauterized at the hospital amidst the cheers of the assembled drivers.
As the spring advanced, rumor as to our leaving the Argonne followed rumor. First we were to go to Saint-Mihiel, then to the Champagne, and finally- we were relieved by Section Nineteen, which arrived on May 25th when we were put en repos to await further orders.
JOHN E. BOIT*
*Of Brookline, Massachusetts; Harvard, '12; joined Section Two in May, 1916; became Sous-Chef; subsequently was a First Lieutenant, U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
FROM La Grange-aux-Bois we were ordered to Dombasle-en-Argonne; and great was the rejoicing; for after five months of inactivity and monotony, the prospect of active service was a pleasant one. We reached Dombasle on June 25 without incident, and after turning out Section Fifteen, took up their quarters in a large building at the edge of the town. They had fixed up the place to the nth degree of comfort, with a shower-bath, garden, pavilion, and in fact all the modern conveniences. Hence it was with a well-satisfied air and an anticipatory smile that we settled down in what seemed the best quarters we had ever had. Before Section Fifteen left, the members assured us of "easy work" and a "quiet time enjoyed by all," and left us to the working out of our own damnation.
THERE is no use describing the ex-village of Esnes to those members of the Field Service who have seen it; and as a corollary, there is no use in describing it to those members of the Service who have not seen it, for they have had it described to them ad infinitum and ad nauseam. Suffice it to say that Esnes was our poste and it lay under the Côte 304 and in full view of the Mort Homme --- and the seeing was fairly good in those days. We have never yet found out whether our friends of Section Fifteen were amusing themselves at our expense or not, about the prophesied "quiet time" which we were to have there. Anyway, shortly after our arrival we found ourselves in the midst of one of the nicest little parties ever given on the Verdun front, and there are those who claim that they have seen "some parties" on said front. It seems that the Boches had been meditating the prospective taking-back of various portions of Côte 304 which they had lost previously and elected June 29 as the most propitious time to try to do so. Whatever faults the Boche may or may not have, and we do not claim that he is without them, one of them was not to let things stagnate on the Verdun front. So for the next three days we had ten cars continuously on duty, and what is more, they were running continuously.
This at the front. Meanwhile, events at the rear were not entirely devoid of interest. The Section, or rather the part of it which was not up at the poste was at supper when something suspiciously like an arrivée was heard in the immediate vicinity. The "older" men looked at one another, the rookies looked at the "General,"(#1) who went on with his soup. A second came in, still closer; then a third which knocked the plaster from the ceiling, a generous piece of which fell in the "General's" soup. He rose, calmly looked round and muttered, "Well, I'll be damned," --- and left those parts. He did n't run, for that would have been undignified, but he simply left --- and he was n't the last to reach the shelter of a neighboring and friendly haystack some hundred yards off out in the open. --
We moved camp that night with never a sigh for our late palatial and very unhealthy quarters. What with Boche attacks and French counter-attacks, we found little time to do anything but eat, sleep, and work, and for the entire period from June 29 until July 18, when our Division, the 73d, finally ended that particular chapter of Verdun history by making one big and very successful attack, retaking all the ground which had been lost and taking many prisoners, the Section did all the evacuations for these several attacks and won for itself a Divisional Citation --- the second from this Division.
FOR US, the most tragic part of the whole summer came on July 15, when Harmon Craig was killed at Dombasle. After having gone over some of the worst stretches of road in the whole sector for three weeks with a smile on his face and a jest on his lips, he was wounded at his poste, by the side of his car while it was being loaded, and died six hours later as bravely as he had lived. He was buried in the cemetery back of Ville-sur-Cousances, and as he was laid to rest, the guns behind Montzéville, roaring out a last farewell, sped the 73d over the top to avenge him.
ON July 23 we received our orders to leave, and with as much joy as we had arrived a month before, we packed ,up, and after a last visit to Craig's grave, set out for Nançois-le-Grand, a village of several hundred inhabitants seven kilometres from Ligny-en-Barrois, where we arrived, after a dusty run of several hours.
The quiet of the little town was as grateful to our nerves as the beauty of the surrounding country to our eyes, accustomed to desolation. After a month of hard work, it was good to lie in our cars, for we lived in our cars, which were drawn up in a field, happy in the assurance that five or ten of us would n't have to hurry up to the front and after thinking great calm thoughts, serve the best interests of the country by drifting off to sleep, not to awaken until 10.30 the next morning. It was good to lie under the trees and meditate, or simply to lie under the trees. It was good to stroll in the dusk and finally wind up a perfect day with a perfect omelette. In short, it was Paradise!
Then after a week of this pastoral life, as the charms of the succulent omelette gave way to those of the fragrant grape, wine and wassail became the order of the day. Who can adequately describe the farewell parties of Walker, or do justice to the entertaining which Whitney furnished on that occasion? Who can describe the farewell parties of Whitney and Whytlaw and the eloquent farewell speeches, made on these occasions, or the still more eloquent responses by MacIntyre, that "prince of bon vivants"? What pen could picture the joys of whympus hunts, commenced precisely at 12.01 P.M.; Of crap games commencing at reveille (10.30 A.M.) and lasting until taps (12.30 A.M.); of swimming parties in the canal, which invariably ended at the Café de la Meuse at Tronville? Who can declare our elation at the decoration of Whitney, Ames, and the "Mec," a condition of affairs which naturally called for another party? And finally, how can we relate how deeply our hearts were touched when we found that our cars had been decorated by the girls of the village as the short weeks of repos came to a close on August 16?
We left for Sommaisne that day, and I think we may say with truth that our departure was regretted by the entire village; certainly we regretted departing, and look back on those five short weeks as on a pleasant dream of golden sunshine, green hills, and France in summertime. We remained at Sommaisne three days, after which we followed our new Division, the 48th, to Souhesme.
HENRY D. M. SHERRERD*
*Of Haddonfield, New Jersey; Princeton, '17; enlisted in the Field Service in May, 1917; served in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service until the end of the war.
Ville-sur-Cousances, Thursday, June 28, 1917
WE were now brought face to face with the reality of the coming offensive, and began to appreciate on what an enormous and terrifying scale a modern attack is carried out. As soon as we reached the main road we came upon an endless line of camions all rumbling along in the darkness, each filled with infantry to its uttermost capacity, the men being jammed in like cattle. There were also guns, huge guns such as I have never seen in the Argonne. For three hours we kept passing this solemn parade of men and cannon. At each cross-road were stationed officers and sentinels with shrouded lanterns who directed and urged on the procession. Most of the men were riding in silence, many even managing to sleep in their awkward positions; but occasionally we passed a camion whose crew was chanting some weird song of war or love. I am told that this concentration of men has been going on for many days. Here at Cousances the whole atmosphere is impregnated with the vague imminence of an approaching offensive.
This region is totally different from the Argonne where we were before. The country is barren and deserted and the fields of stubble stretch for miles along the white and dusty roads. The sun is burning everything and the thick white alkali dust gives all objects a gray and withered appearance. We no longer see the beautiful rich green of the Argonne vegetation. Everything seems baked and dead. Every three or four miles one comes upon a small ruined village, now deserted. The whole region has been blasted by shells; nowhere does the country fail to remind one of the terrible struggle that has been going on for so long in this sector. Cousances, itself nothing but a group of wrecked houses, is quite close to the front, and there is certainly much more activity here than in our former sector.
Putting it literally, this Section was baptized in fire as soon as it reached here, for to-night about eight-thirty a despatch-rider came tearing up to the bureau on his motor-cycle and said that the Boches were attacking at Hill 304. So instantly we began to hustle around and prepare for heavy work.
Harper and I were the first to leave, he being the driver and myself orderly. As we passed out of Cousances we saw several artillery field pieces hurrying up the road toward the first lines, and later passed two battalions of the 346th drawn up by the roadside and ready to be sent ahead. A heavy rain was falling and frequent flashes of lightning lit up the country; but the night was not very dark and we had little difficulty in keeping on the road, which is well screened all the way. But of course we could not use any lights. French batteries on both sides of us were firing steadily, and the whistle of the departing shells was incessant; but we heard no Boche shells coming in. At the poste we found the Lieutenant hurriedly giving directions to the fellows, and heard that the French were to counter-attack at daybreak.
No blessés had come in as yet but many were expected. Before long Whytlaw came down with a load and Harper and I started up to relieve him. I had heard a lot about the danger of this poste, and in no detail was it exaggerated. The road is covered with stones which have been hurriedly thrown into shell-holes, and there were also many new holes which had not been filled in. For over a mile after making "Hell's Corner" we are in plain sight of the Boche trenches. We can see their star shells start from the ground, and it seems as if they exploded directly over our heads. The road is being shelled all the time but one can never go fast on account of the danger of these shell-holes. We passed trucks, and some squads of infantry which were difficult to see in the darkness. By this time the din of the cannonading was terrific and the bursting of the Boche shells occurred at no very comfortable distance.
PANEL FROM AN AMBULANCE SHOWING THE FAMOUS CRESCENT OF THE MOROCCAN DIVISION WHICH SECTION TWO SERVED
The road grew worse and worse, and finally it became almost impassable. I doubt if any car but a Ford could ever make that trip at night. I did n't go sightseeing at all, but having reached our destination, made a fairly straight line toward the abri, where we learned that Bixby's car had just been smashed by a shell while standing in the yard and would be useless for the rest of the night. We were also told that the Boches had just dropped in some gas bombs, and we were ordered to be sure that our masks were in readiness. Ray and I, the first to go back after having a brief smoke in the shelter of the abri, carried an assis and two couchés. We breathed a lot more easily after once gaining "Hell's Corner," and accomplished the rest of the trip without mishap. It was after two when we got back here. But as a counter-attack was expected we had to await word and be ready to start out again any minute. So both of us simply crawled into our car and managed to fall asleep very easily. We slept soundly until the Lieutenant woke us and told us to go to bed as we probably shouldn't be needed.
Sunday, July 1
IT is now three days since the attack commenced and it appears to be still going on. There are Boche attacks and then French counter-attacks, then artillery duels, and then more attacks. As close as we are to the lines, we know very little of what happens, or who is winning. The losses have been terrible on both sides, but this does not mean that the attacks have failed. Our Section has been working at a terrific pace. I am so tired that the events of the past few days seem all confused and even unreal. It is such a wonderful relief to be sitting way back here in perfect safety and with no responsibilities that I feel as if I had just recovered from a long sickness. I slept quite late Friday after the hard work of the night before, and after rising had little to do for the rest of the day; both sides had ceased activities for the time, and we heard but little firing until evening. But we were warned to be prepared for a large dose at night, as the French were scheduled to attempt a rush on their lost positions.
About 6.30, just after the dinner gong had rung and as I was leaving my room, there was suddenly a "swish-bang" and a big shell exploded on the opposite side of the road, about fifty yards from our headquarters. Of course I flopped on the ground as soon as I heard the warning whistle, and then rising, proceeded with more or less undignified hustle for the abri under our main building. Everybody else thought of the very same place and joined in the general stampede. In about three minutes another came in and we could hear the éclats flying about outside and clipping pieces of stone off the houses. After a few more shells the Boches let up on us for awhile and we went upstairs and began dinner. But we had n't finished our soup before they started dropping again, the first one so startling us that we spilled more or less soup around the room. We continued eating, however, until suddenly there was a terrific explosion followed by a horrible crunching sound of falling bricks and plaster. A shell larger than the others had struck the house, or what remained of the house, directly opposite our building. It would have been foolish for us to remain where we were, because our building, already tottering from the effects of many shellings, might bury us alive if one of those big marmites ever landed squarely on it. The abri was also a dangerous place, being very poorly made and liable to cave in upon us. The safest place, therefore, was out doors; so we all streaked for a field which was well removed from all the crumbling foundations which made up this village and which are ready to fall almost from the mere concussion of a large shell. We gathered behind a large haystack where already several others had collected, and waited. The shells came in regularly, every once in a while striking some building and reducing it to still further ruin. One landed about thirty yards from the big tent where twenty of us sleep and we later found over a dozen rips in the canvas, some big enough to admit one's body. No shells came near enough, however, to do any damage; but at every explosion one had to lie flat in order to avoid the flying éclats.
At seven-fifteen, the time set for those on duty to start for the poste, the shells were coming in about every minute. So there was nothing to do but to streak for our cars which were in front of the main building, near which the majority of the shells were landing, and to make as quick a get-away as possible. The "General", and Reed left first and the last we saw of them they were hurrying very ungracefully over the rough field to where the cars were, about 250 yards away. The Lieutenant then told Newcomb and myself to get ready and to leave as soon as the next shell landed. So we lined up as if we were runners waiting for the sound of the starting pistol, and, as soon as the "R-R-ang" came, in we legged it. One shell came in while we were running and we both went down on our bellies. We gained the house before the next one landed and then waited for it. It came in too close for comfort and then I went out and cranked my car while Newcomb ran back to his shack for his coat.
Just as I got the motor started I received one of the biggest scares of my life. A shell came in and burst so close that I thought surely it had me. I was just getting into the car and so could not flop. I was hit by the flying earth and falling stones thrown up by the shell, which struck the car in several places, one piece even striking and glancing off my helmet. Newcomb, who then appeared, looked surprised to see me still alive; and before the next shell landed, we were well down the road and both joined in a long-drawn-out sigh of genuine relief.
The French attack had now fairly commenced and on all sides of us the batteries were pounding away. Not for a moment did the screeching of shells and the roaring of guns cease. At one point John Ames and I clambered up on a ruined house and took a look over the country. It was a view I shall never forget. Our task is comparatively small, and we are prepared to do it faithfully. Nine cars are lined up ready to cover the attack, and the drivers and their orderlies stand waiting orders. The Lieutenant is here directing us and planning the shifts and reliefs.
The road which we have to go over is the most damnable stretch I have ever known. As fast as the old shell-holes are filled in with stones, new ones are made. As we drive along in the darkness, straining our eyes to keep the car out of holes and ditches, the noise of the French batteries and German shells is deafening. Far down the road we see a flash followed by a roar. It is German shrapnel and we crouch instinctively in our seats as we realize that in another minute we shall be passing over that spot. In back of us is an explosion and flying rocks and earth are scattered about the slowly moving car. We can't go faster because of the condition of the road, although instinct cries out to us to open the throttle and streak for our destination. We plod slowly along, trying to talk unconcernedly and longing for the termination of the ride.
We pass through the town and enter the driveway of a fallen château, the cellar of which is now used for a poste de secours. This driveway is about fifty yards long. To look at it one would say it was impassable, but over those rocks and stones and through the shell-holes we go. This is the most dangerous place of all, and so often do the shells fall that no one ever ventures out to repair the road. We have to slow down practically to a standstill, and crawl and bump our way along. How I hate the sight of this place. It is all so cruel and relentless --- the wrecked houses, the torn-up roads, and the huge shell-holes, some of the older ones half filled with stagnant water. Here and there a wagon which has been struck sprawled by the roadside. It is a scene of sickening desolation.
I made the first trip to Esnes with Newcomb as orderly. It had not yet grown dark, so we easily passed by the shell-holes. When we reached Esnes we had to take our gas-masks from their cases and wear them about our necks, ready to put them on when passing through the gassed area. They served us well, and in less than two minutes we could remove them and breathe fresh air again, but our eyes burned from the poisonous fumes. The odor of the stuff left us horribly depressed. It has a sickeningly sweet smell like that of over-ripe fruit and makes one's lungs feel as if some heavy weight had been imposed on them.
IT is the day after an attack that our hardest work takes place. The wounded men are brought in continuously and we have more than we can handle. In this instance, I had to stay on all day. I grew dizzy with the monotony of the work. Several of my wounded were Boches and I found a little comfort in managing to get from them a steel helmet and a couple of buttons as souvenirs. The attack was something of a failure and every one was horribly low-spirited. Some of our blessés were frightfully mangled. The dead at the poste were so numerous that many were lying around the yard uncovered and. uncared-for. It is sights such as this that have a terribly depressing effect upon one's morale.
I thought I could go back and rest at seven o'clock after having worked twenty-four hours without any sleep, with only a little cold canned meat to eat. I was tired, and, moreover, felt very low-spirited. But word came that another big attack was to be made that evening, so I had to stay on and work. Some of the other fellows who had been on duty much longer than myself simply had to leave and return for rest. At nine the artillery duel commenced and it was worse even than the firing of the previous evening. Some large naval guns opened up on the German positions and it seemed as if the earth must split open so great was the shock of the explosion. At eleven the Boches started shelling and we all retired to the abris. The shells were big ones and the éclats from them flew for almost a quarter of a mile. Going up to the lines under that bombardment was no simple task. I managed to get an hour's sleep about four in the morning, dozing off as I sat in the abri waiting for my turn.
About five I went up and upon returning saw a terrible sight. A caisson or artillery truck had been hit by a shell about four o'clock and three men had been killed and one wounded. Of the six horses, four were killed, and the other two untouched. This happened right on our road over which we had been going back and forth all night. The dead men were terribly disfigured and presented a horrible sight. When I reached my destination with my load I found Whitney there asleep. He had brought down a load and was so fatigued that he had to have a short nap before returning to work. We both decided that we could not go on and so asked for men to relieve us. There were several fresh men just starting, so we drove to the camp and both rolled in for a long sleep. I had driven thirty-five hours with three very scanty meals of cold canned meat and bread and less than two hours' sleep. When I got back, my brother Jack reminded me that it was my birthday.
Monday, July 2
SLEPT most of yesterday and feel greatly rested. Am scheduled to work to-night. At noon to-day Whytlaw came in. He says that the Boches are shelling every car that goes by "Hell's Comer." Dresser's car was pierced, just over his head, several times by éclats, but he was not touched. This morning when about eight shells dropped in at once the aumônier was badly wounded, and my .brother took him to the hospital in a critical condition. All the cars have had narrow escapes and have been hit by flying earth and stone.
Ville-sur-Cousances, Wednesday, July 4
IT certainly is a relief to be back here again after twenty-four hours in that hole. It is great to feel perfectly safe all day long and never to hear an obus or smell any gas. I was orderly this time and it was a terrible job. It is no joke spending twenty-four hours in sight of Mort Homme. Monday night the Boches shelled us, dropping in "210's" every minute. A poilu was wounded in front of our abri. I was in the room when his wound was dressed. The air outside was so thick with dust that had been kicked up that we couldn't see the cars. I don't mind admitting that my knees were shaking when we got a call to go up. I rode up with Reed and though only one shell came in on the trip, it was a big one and not too far away. I managed to get three hours' sleep although they were shelling all around us. Four of us were cooped, two in a bed, in a little black, stuffy room in the cellar of the château.
As you come around "Hell's Bend," you get an excellent view of Mort Homme. It is a fearful place and one can always see there the smoke from shells rising and floating slowly away. There are no trees, no houses, no sign of any living thing on that bare shell-racked stretch of land. Several new holes were put in our road to-day, but we had no really narrow escapes. The château where the poste is located has been hammered again and again by shells. Most of its western wall is still standing, and it is behind this meagre protection that we pull up and leave our cars. Only the cellar of the house can be used and very few ever venture out of the court, where our cars are, for more than a minute. Not fifty yards from where we sleep is the morgue, a room where the dead are placed when brought in from the trenches. Sometimes when the losses have been great, the corpses are piled one upon the other until the room is so full that many dead are left on stretchers in the court. We certainly are being continually impressed with the most horrible side of war.
WE are expecting a French attack within a few days; so huge guns go rumbling toward the front. The attack when it comes will be enormous.
Resting again, and getting my car in good condition. My last period of work was very easy. I had only one trip, which came about 3.30 A.M. On my last drive up, with Ames as orderly, we played tag with a half-dozen shells, one digging a big hole in the road five seconds after we passed over the place. There is a great deal of activity on Mort Homme and we could see shells landing continually, the black smoke rising slowly from the scarred hillside. Arrived at our destination, we ate beside the morgue, and the odor was sickening. Moreover, the room is very unprotected and often we are forced to interrupt our eating long enough to drop when a shell lands somewhere near. But the bedroom is worse. In a little dark hole where the sun and fresh air never penetrate, we are two in a bed, one above the other, with loose straw for mattresses. The straw is damp and "earthy" and is alive with fleas. Everybody is beginning to be troubled by fleas, even those who have been insisting that they were never bothered by these pests now scratching and scratching with the best of us. This is where we sleep when a lull gives us a short repos; but one can't sleep there, one merely drops, if fortunate, into a spasmodic and feverish sub-consciousness. The inconvenience of resting two in a bed combined with the noise of the shells outside, make complete rest an impossible luxury. I shall never forget those moments as we lay there waiting for our next call. Nor shall I forget some of the conversations we had, embracing all possible topics, but usually falling somewhere between the horrors of war and the pleasures that we promised ourselves when it should be over.
On the road last night three more men were killed and eight wounded. Between ten o'clock and one the road was shelled heavily because of the ravitaillement which goes up to the lines at that time. Naturally this is the moment when we least enjoy trips. Two more cars, my brother's and Freer's, were hit by éclats last night when a shell burst in the courtyard.
Tuesday, July 10
JUST as I got into bed last night I was called out to go for two blessés at a distant town. It was pouring and there was no moon; so the trip was not too pleasant, especially since the road was new to me. Boit had a narrow escape at the cross-road to-day. Everything is in a fever of excitement here, for the attack is due to start to-night or to-morrow morning. Over 4000 big guns are clustered on this bank of the Meuse ready to drench the German lines when the word comes. The bombardment will probably start to-morrow and as I am going up to the poste to-night I will be present at a wonderful and mighty spectacle. The roads will be riddled by German shells. They have been shelling all around here to-day and shells landed in the road this side of the place. Section Sixty-Seven with the big Fiat trucks will carry the wounded on portions of the way, thereby helping a great deal.
Thursday, July 12
THE attack has not yet begun, although the Lieutenant said to-day that everything was in readiness. The recent rain has caused so much mud that assaulting the hill would be a difficult job. I have been at the poste for twenty-four hours, but there was very little work. I had two trips during the night which kept me from sleeping, but then I had a good long rest, not stirring from eight in the morning until eight at night. There were many French aeroplanes up directing the fire. A German spy was caught in the lines this morning. He had a uniform of the 346th Regiment which had been replaced by the present regiment; so that he was quickly spotted. He will be shot to-morrow. Did not get chummy with any shells except once during lunch, when five landed just outside our eating-room. One was very close, exploding right in the courtyard. But the earth was soft after all the rain and the éclats did not spread. However, we all did the "Kelleys" and finished our meal in the cellar. Last night the Boches shelled our front line trenches. With "210's" they pulverized the place. Fifty men and an officer were buried when a shell closed up an abri, and as yet they have not been rescued. No one can find where the abri was located, the place is so changed. The French positions on Mort Homme and on 304 are now absolutely untenable. From their higher positions the Boches can sweep our trenches at will with their big guns, those on Mort Homme having a side range on the French trenches in front of the Hill. The sun has been out all day and the country is getting a good drying; so the artillery may open up at any time. Fifteen new batteries were set up just outside of here last night. Freeborn, our Chef, who has been away for a month, returned to us yesterday. He is very popular and we were all glad to see him again.
WE are the third section to have covered this poste since Christmas and as yet not a man has been hurt, so that, considering our country is at war, we get off pretty easily. It is fascinating work especially during an attack when all the batteries are blasting away in one prolonged roar. When I stand at our poste and hear that terrible din, I take my hat off to the line of men at the very front who are charging bravely across "No Man's Land" in disregard of those murderous shells. The men in the infantry are the bravest in the war and I think that this war calls for more real bravery and endurance than any that has ever been fought.
HARMON B. CRAIG*
*Of Boston; Class of 1919 at Harvard; was killed on July 15, 1917, the day following the last entry from his diary given above. Engaged in loading an ambulance with wounded, at Dombasle, an eight-inch German shell fell close to the spot where his car was standing, killing three men outright and wounding two others. Craig, who received a very severe wound in the right thigh and three or four smaller ones in other parts of the body, was discovered lying in an abri --- how he reached it is not known --- and was directing the attendance of the other wounded whom he considered more vitally hurt. When finally taken to the hospital, it was found necessary to amputate his right leg. But he was too weak to recover from the shock. General Corvisart, who commanded the Sixteenth French Army Corps where Craig was serving, thus refers to him in an official citation: "This American volunteer was a very conscientious and cool driver, who, on every occasion when under the fire of the enemy's artillery, showed devotion to the wounded and disdain of danger, while displaying the greatest energy in accomplishing his duty on June 28 and 29, on a highway which was being bombarded." Craig's brother, John, also served with distinction in the Field Service and later became an artillery officer in the French Army.
DURING the third week in August the long-expected French effort to regain Hill 304 and Mort Homme took place, and our Section was moved up for the attack. It was a dusty ride we had from Sommaisne to Souhesme where our proposed cantonment was---a field behind some barracks housing a few troops of our new Division. It was an interesting sight to see the different soldiers prepare to leave for the trenches. They did not seem at all dispirited; indeed one swarthy Arab with ribbons denoting the several decorations on his breast grinned broadly and caressed his gun-butt with a lean brown hand. Then tents were dug out from the recesses of the Rénault and we set them up. Supper came next and after that the first ten cars were called out to take their stand at Sivry-la-Perche, the camp of a French sanitary section with whom we were to work. Boit, Sous-Chef, was in charge of the party. I managed to squeeze in through the kindness of the Lieutenant and rode with him in his staff car. The night passed without any untoward event obtaining. In the morning all guns seemed to cease and we were ordered to the postes, and glad we were to go. The ground being familiar to many of us, we helter-skeltered to the postes, but found to our surprise that what we had known as front line postes were no longer such. The French storming troops had been so successful that we evacuated the wounded from what is known as Chattancourt Ravine, a devilishly difficult bit of manoeuvring even for Fords; but we managed as usual to go through with whatever was asked of us. Boit and I stayed up at this place and assisted the stretcher-bearers. So engrossed were we in the task of loading and getting off the various cars that we noticed with surprise, when a lull in the coming in of wounded gave us time to look round, that there was no one there but we two and some two hundred Boches, --- prisoners who had been doing brancardier work. I remember Boit glancing at me in a funny way and I'm sure I appeared scared when I whispered, "Good Lord, Winnie, what'll we do if they start for us?" " Run," he replied, and at that we both laughed and spent the rest of the morning ordering the Boches hither and thither to our vast satisfaction. It was an amusing situation.
For two days we worked this ravine and then, the French positions having been consolidated, we had regular postes. One was at Ferme-la-Claire, and the other at Chattancourt Station, or what was left of it. In the near distance could be seen Cumières, which the French had taken, and which looked like anything but a town, hardly a stone left standing upright, and near the entrance of the village several great holes made by the French "400's." Shelling was intermittent here and, at first, gas attacks not infrequent. The La Claire poste was given up after a few days and all the wounded were handled from the Chattancourt poste.
We kept four cars on duty, three at Marre and one at the station, the others relieving successively as trips became more frequent. During the first few weeks of September, the Boches showed an extreme antipathy to Marre. At all hours of the day or night they bombarded the town. During the first real bombardment, our fellows had to roam the streets, having no abri to take shelter in. Many cars received éclats and two were quite demolished. it was an exciting period. The Boches seemed to delight in shelling the place just as reliefs arrived and many a wild dash was made through the "Place de I'Opéra," as we called the main square of the town.
About this time rumors became current of the "taking over" by the U.S. Army of the Field Service and many of the arguments, pro and con, anent the proposition awoke echoes. It seemed to be the consensus of opinion that we had earned the right to be a free body and not to lose our identity in the vastness of enlistment. However, came to pass the inevitable, and on September 26, 1917, at Sivry-la-Perche, old S.S.U. Two became a U.S.A. Ambulance Service Section and thirteen members signed up as enlisted men in the U.S. Army. It was a sad affair and we did n't relish it a bit; but we knew that our Section whatever they might make it, would do business as S.S.U. Two and try to continue in the confidence of our kindest Allies, the French.
EWEN MACINTYRE, JR.'
Of Boston, Massachusetts; joined Section Two of the Service September 30, 1916; later First Lieutenant, U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
SECTION Two, now Six-Twenty-Six, was attached to the 48th Division, made up of zouaves and Algerians on August 17, 1917, and stayed with the same Division right up to the time of going home. From the above date we worked for three months on the left bank of the Meuse above Verdun, and then changed over to the right bank, with postes at Vacherauville, Bras, and two postes nearer the lines which were only abris. While we worked on the left bank, our cantonment was a barn near Sivry-la-Perche. On December 1, it was changed to a school building at Glorieux. We stayed on the right bank for a month, and then the Division went en repos near Wassy, which town was the cantonment for the Section. After three weeks the Division was ordered south, and eventually reached a point south of the Toul sector and was placed in reserve. We were cantoned in the village of Bettoncourt from January 26 to February 8. Then we moved to Nancy, where we were cantoned in the hospital barracks at Essey from February 8 until March 15
After making a number of moves in a general northerly direction, we finally reached the front at Soissons, and took over the lines in front of Coucy-le-Château on April 11, 1918. We were cantoned in abris on the hillside above the village of Fontenoy. Postes were established in Pont Saint-Mard, Mont Givry, Trosly, and the Ferme Bonne Maison. The Division was drawn from the lines on May 8, as Algerian fever was spreading so rapidly that there were scarcely enough officers to carry on the work. The Section was cantoned at Pernant, near Soissons, from May 8 to 15, and then moved north, as the Division was ordered into reserve back of Arras. We were cantoned at Saint-Pol, where the nights were made unpleasant by the many air raids. After the one which took place on the night of May 29, in which the Section was in the centre of the bombarded zone, we moved into a near-by wood.
On June 3 the Division was ordered en réserve north of Meaux, at Acy-en-Multien, where the Section was cantoned until the 11th. The Division then took part in the counteroffensive which started on the morning of June 11 in the Montdidier sector. The cantonment for the Section during the attack was Grandvillers, and postes, as the line advanced, were established at Wacquemoulin, Neufvy, and the evacuations were to Saint-Remy and the château at Ravenel. During the attack the top was blown off one car, and two men, Newcomb and MacKenzie, were wounded. MacKenzie died two days later at the hospital in Beauvais. The Section went en repos on June 13, spending its time in the woods near Crépy-en-Valois.
On July 10, the Division took over the line in the woods, relieving old Section Four's Division. We worked the line just in front of Longpont. We took part in the Foch counter-attack of July 18. The Division stayed in until the morning of July 20, but the Section worked several days after that, helping old Section Four, and doing some evacuation work to Crépy-en-Valois. The Division was en repos until August 18, the Section being cantoned during that time in Chavres, Vivières, Chavres again, Grand Champ, Eméville, Chelles, and Pont Chevalier. The Division attacked again on the morning of August 20 in the Aisne and Oise offensive, being in line at Moulin-sous-Touvent. It stayed in line until September 1, when the lines were established in front of Coucy-le-Château. As the lines advanced, we had postes in Nampcel, Blérancourdelle, Blérancourt, Saint-Paul-aux-Bois, Trosly, and numerous abris in the hillsides between these two places. Shaw, Kendall, and McCreedy were wounded during this attack, and Iselin, Bender, and Russell.
On September 2, the Division went en repos near Coulommiers, the Section being cantoned at Chauffry. We left September 21 for a sector in the Champagne. We followed the attack of the 26th, and went into line on the 29th, where we stayed until October 16. As the line advanced, postes were established at Perthes, Tahure, Aure, Mars-sous-Bourcq, Semide, Contreuve, Grivy, and Loisy. The Section was cantoned along the road until October 12, when it took a cantonment near Semide, where it stayed until October 18. All evacuations were made to Bussy-le-Château. The division was en repos from October 16 until November 1, near Châlons-sur-Marne. We were cantoned at Saint-Germain la Ville. In November the Division went en réserve back of the lines near Vouziers. We were cantoned at Semide until the 7th, and then moved up. staying at Le Chesne, Grandes Armoises, and Chémery. It was while we were in Le Chesne that the Armistice was signed. The Division was just about to take over the line north of Chémery.
After the Armistice we followed the Germans through Belgium and Luxembourg, stopping at Pouru-Saint-Remy, Florenville, Étalle, Belgium; Hermiskiel, Boppard, and Nassau, Germany. We crossed the Rhine during the afternoon of December 14 and were cantoned in Bad Nassau, where the Section appropriated a hotel. We stayed here until ordered in to Base Camp on March 5, 1919. We took our cars to a town near Mainz and turned them over to a new Section. Our Division was disbanded on the day we left for Base Camp, March 5.
EDWARD N. SECCOMBE*
*Of Derby, Connecticut; served with the Field Service in Section Two, 1916, and in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service during the remainder of the war.
1. Francis D. Ogilvie, a Britisher, of Lindfield, Sussex, who was Sous-Chef and later Chef of the Section, and who, when the United States entered the war, transferred to the British Ambulance Service.
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