History of the
American Field Service in France
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917, TOLD BY ITS MEMBERS
Tout vient vers elle et tout en part;
October 25, 1916
TO-DAY will be our fifth day at sea. We left Marseilles on Saturday in a strong mistral, and packed our bags and blanket-rolls in our bunks down in the hold along with a great number of Indo-Chinamen. We were on the lowest deck. The bunks were in tiers of two and squares of eight, merely steel or tin braces like those of a strawberry crate. We stayed there till five o'clock when Lovering Hill made arrangements to move us up a deck nearer the open air. We moved. The Chinamen moved down at the same time. Such confusion! These Chinese are so small and yellow that you cannot tell them from their khaki packs. They bumped us and jabbered like monkeys. We bumped them and cursed. They continued jabbering. Their talk is a funny, monkeyish twang. At about 6.30 that night we were fed on the deck, although we looked longingly at the officers' mess-room. It got dark early, and we retired early. Luckily Hill gave me a chance to sleep on the floor of his cabin, so I did n't have to go below. Some of the fellows slept on the floor of what was once the smoking room on this ship. I saw George Hollister(1) that night tuck himself away in an upper bunk way back in the dark against the side of the boat. Hill made arrangements to have us eat in the officers' mess twice a day, which is enough. Then he arranged to have us all sleep in the smoking-room. Since then we have been comfortable.
If you never have travelled on a real transport, I may tell you in passing that you are better off where you are. First of all, every one is packed in as we were the first night; the deck space is filled with cargo, and men occupy the upper deck in great numbers. Rancid smells come up from below, for the sewerage system is not working. The sanitary arrangements aft, where most of the Indo-Chinks are, were put out of commission the first night; so nobody with a keen sense of smell can go near there. Food is being cooked all the time; and a stuffy breeze comes up from the kitchen, which is on the main deck amidships. The calf and the pig aboard are dirty, and their companions, some horses and cows, are not things of beauty either.
YESTERDAY we were developed into mariners. The commander of the ship got us all to stand watch, as we were in dangerous waters all day and night. We had posts during the day at the bow, on deck below the bridge, amidships on the same deck, on the bridge, and at the stern. From 1.40 until 5.40 Fenton and I were on duty up at the bow, when I looked so hard for periscopes or mines that I saw all sorts of things. Finally at four o'clock we saw land way off in the distance. Due to our zigzagging, it was on the port side one minute, straight ahead the next, and on the starboard side the next. Then we saw islands across our bow --- low-lying objects hardly distinguishable from clouds. We were finally relieved by some Frenchmen.
At eight o'clock I went on watch at the stern till 11 P.M., when George Hollister replaced me, and he stayed on till 2 A.M., when he was relieved. All this time, up to eight this morning, our Section was on watch along with the regular crew. It was strange, to say the least, to see an ambulancier pacing the bridge along with the captain.
At night we passed many lights, on shore no doubt. There was a boat, however, which passed, that flashed "phoney" signals, which we did n't answer. The captain was excited and did not breathe easy for a long time. During my watch from eight to eleven a dead "Chink" was heaved overboard in a box. That makes two.
I WENT on watch at two last night on the bridge with George Hollister. We were relieved at five o'clock. We followed along a mountainous shore all night. Warships signalled us at times, and a torpedo boat came up behind us. It looked for all the world like a submarine, but no one on the bridge got excited about it. The morning star came up about 3.30. It looked like a fusée éclairante at the front. I never saw a bigger or more beautiful star. It was still dark when we were relieved. George went to bed, but I stayed up on the bridge to watch the dawn come. Off to the right the sky brightened and turned a very brilliant red. Low land was silhouetted against it. On our left two snow-tipped mountain-peaks glistened in the light. The lower sides of the mountains were purplish and brown. A few white houses showed themselves.
CHARLES BAIRD, JR.*
*Of New York City; Harvard, '11 ; entered the Service in July, 1916, and served in Sections Two and Three; subsequently became a First Lieutenant and later a Captain in the United States Field Artillery. The above are extracts from Mr. Baird's home letters.
En route to the Balkans, we arrived in the harbor of Salonica on the morning of October 28, 1916, and disembarked on the evening of the following day. The port and town were the scene of great activity, and were very picturesque with the presence of natives from almost every country under the sun, and the streets packed with strange costumes. The town, I noted, has its walls still standing, with a sort of fortress above it; a Turkish quarter, which looks very pretty from the sea, with its heaps of little wooden houses painted blue, rising one above the other; and plenty of minarets, very white in the early sunshine, and very lovely to our ocean-weary eyes.
There were a few cases of spinal meningitis among the native troops on board our ship, and at first it was a question of being quarantined with said fellow travellers. So the Lieutenant in command of the troops and I immediately began trying to arrange our cantonment in the Camp des Orientaux, where the proposed internment was to take place. Fortunately, however, at lunch-time the decree was revoked, and we were ordered to join our service at the Parc de Réserve, where we would be quartered.
Arrived there, we found that no one had ever heard of us, that there was no place to lodge us, and that it was impossible to feed us. So I let every one shift for himself for dinner, and those of us who could n't find room, slept out in an open lot. Fortunately the weather continued fine, and the next morning we got three Marabout tents which we pitched at once; just in time, in fact, for it started to pour as the last one went up. In this matter of weather, by the way, we had the most astounding good luck. Even the sea was as smooth as a pond during the whole voyage. I don't know what we should have done on board if it had been otherwise, for living between decks was out of the question on account of the native troops.
*Of New York City; Harvard, '10; entered the Field Service in November, 1914, where he became Section Commander, and in 1917 a Captain in the United States Field Artillery.
THE first flicker of dawn was showing as we wound our way down through the outlying parts of Salonica, a sinuous line of ambulances and auxiliary cars. On the water front the convoy halted for final adjustment. The foreglow, coming across the harbor, filtered through the spars of the shipping and gave promise of a clear day. A few early porters and rugged stevedores paused to gaze wonderingly upon us. The C.O. passed down the line to see if all were ready; the whistle sounded and we were off.
Passing through the already livening streets we paralleled the quay, turned toward the northwest and then, as the muezzins in the minarets were calling upon the faithful to greet the rising sun, entered upon the great caravan trail which runs back into the mountains, and Allah knows where. Past trains of little mountain ponies, laden with hides; past lumbering, solid-wheeled wagons, drawn by water buffaloes and piled high with roughly baled tobacco, tobacco from which are made some of the choicest Turkish cigarettes in the world; past other wagons with towering piles of coarse native matting; past the herdsman and his flock, his ballet skirt blowing in the morning breeze; past the solemn Turk, mounted athwart his drooping burro, his veiled woman trudging behind. The city lay behind us now; the passers-by became fewer, until only an occasional wayfarer and his burro were sighted. The road, pitted and gutted, stretched away through a barren, dreary country. The sun's early promise had not been fulfilled and a gray, slaty day emphasized the dreariness of the landscape. To our right bleak mountains rose to meet a slaty sky --- nowhere appeared tree or shrub, not even a fence broke the monotony of the landscape, never a house, not even a road, though occasionally a muddy track wandered aimlessly through the waste. We rounded the mountains and crossed a sluggish stream, the Galiko. Once we saw a village far away, its white minarets rising above the dull gray of the ensemble. Then the desolation closed down. Farther on, over a shaky wooden bridge, we crossed the Vardar, the Axius of Virgil. Hereabouts the country was flat and swampy, but suddenly it changed; scattered trees began to appear, here and there rocks jutted out. The trail began to mount and presently as we twisted our way through the first settlement, the village of Yenidze, mountains came into view to the northeast and then moved toward the south and west. About eleven we sighted some whitewashed houses clinging to the side of a cliff, the overflow of the town of Vodena through which we presently passed over a winding road of mountainous steepness; up we went, three hundred, four hundred metres, finally stopping where a fountain gushed from the roadside, a kilometre or so beyond the town.
We were in the heart of the hills now. On three sides of us the mountains rose to a height of six thousand feet or more. Their tops were covered with snow, and from this time on we were never to lose sight of it.
Some biscuits, ham, and chocolate found a good home and there was time for a couple of pipes before the whistle blew and we again cast off. And now our troubles began. Up to this time our way could at least lay claim to the name "road," but now even an attorney, working on a percentage basis, could establish no such identity for the straggling gully through which we struggled --- sometimes a heap of boulders, sometimes a mire, but always it climbed. The cars coughed and grunted and often we were forced to halt while the motors cooled. In mid-afternoon the rain, which had been threatening for some hours, set in and the ground quickly assumed the consistency of sticky paste, through which we sloughed our way. About four we spoke the Lake of Ostrovo and shortly afterwards passed through the straggling village of the same name.
Deep sand here made the going hard, but we soon left the shores of the lake and again headed straight into the mountains. So far as possible the trail held to the passes, but even so, the ascent was very great. As night fell we came to an especially steep stretch slanting up between snow-covered mountains. From a little distance it looked as though some one, tiring of road-building, had leaned the unfinished product up against a mountain-side. Time and again we charged, but without avail; no engine built could take that grade. Physics books tell us, "that which causes or tends to cause a body to pass from a state of rest to one of motion is known as Force." With twenty men to a car, pulling, pushing and dragging, we assumed the function of "force" and " caused a "body" --- the cars ---to "pass from a state of rest to one of motion," hoisting them by main strength over the crest.
Night had shut down for some hours when the last car had topped the rise. A bone-chilling wind had swept down from the snow, the rain still fell. The lights were switched on, and over a trail, flanked on one side by a towering cliff and on the other by a black chasm of nothingness, we kept on. Once we rounded a sharp curve, there was a sudden dip in the trail and in the darkness we almost shot off into the space below.
It still lacked some two hours of midnight when ahead we discerned a few flickering lights. The Lieutenant gave the signal and we came to a stop at the fringe of a miserable village. We had been sixteen hours at the wheel but had covered no more than one hundred and fifty kilometres. We were all cold and hungry, but the soup battery was mired somewhere miles in the rear. Our lanterns showed us but a few stone hovels. Had we known more of the Balkans, we should not even have thought of finding a shop. We gave up thoughts of dinner, crawled within our cars, and, wrapping our great coats about us, sought to dream of "a cleaner, greener land."
The tramping of many feet and the sobbing of a man woke me next morning. I looked out to see a column of Russian infantry passing. One big fellow was crying as though his heart would break. Banica or Banitza, the village at which we had halted, proved to be a miserable collection of huts, constructed of rounded stones, with which the surrounding hills were covered. Like most Turkish villages, it clung to the side of a hill, sprawling there with no attempt at system or a view to streets. The buildings were of one story; a few had glass, but in by far the most part straw was employed to block the windows. The twisting paths which wandered about between the houses were knee-deep in black mud. There were no shops, not even a café.
Other and higher hills rose above the one on which the village was situated. These hills were barren and covered with loose stones, their tops were crested with rough breastworks behind which were empty cartridge cases, torn clothing, ponchos, and scattered bodies in faded uniforms, for here the Bulgar and Serb had opposed each other. To the north of the village stood a few trees, and here within a barbed-wire corral a few armed Serbs guarded several hundred Bulgar prisoners. The villagers were as unattractive as their surroundings, the men dull, dirty-looking specimens, the women cleaner, but far from comely. The latter were dressed in skirts and blouses of many colors. Their heads were covered with shawls, the ends of which were wound about their necks. From beneath these straggled their hair, invariably woven into two plaits into which was interwoven hair from cow's tails dyed a bright orange. Upon their feet they wore wooden, heelless sandals which, when they walked, flapped about like shutters in a gale of wind. The little girls were miniature replicas of their mothers, save their faces were brighter --- some almost pretty. They wore their many petticoats like their mothers, at mid-leg length, tiny head-shawls and striped wool stockings. The endless occupation, both of the women and children, was the carrying of water in clay jars. They must have been building a river somewhere and judging from the amount of water they were transporting, it was to be no small-sized stream either.
Not all of the cars had come through to Banitza and so we awaited their arrival. Several had broken axles and the big atelier car and the soup battery had mired in crossing the Ostrovo flats. Meanwhile, perched on the side of a hill with the snow above us and a falling temperature, we, of the advance squad, were reminded that winter was almost upon us. The days were gray, and as there was nothing to do while awaiting the stragglers, save gaze across the valley which stretched southward below us, the time dragged. The boom of heavy guns came to us from the northwest and occasionally, when the wind was right, we could hear the crackle of infantry fire. Some couriers riding back from the front brought word that Monastir had fallen after fierce fighting and the French were advancing northward.
By evening of the third day all the cars had come up, and, with the kitchen wagons once more in our midst, we were again able to have a hot meal. Our spirits rose, and that night, clustered round a small fire, we sang some mighty choruses. At nine on the morning of the 24th of November --- a cold, drizzly morning --- we wormed our way down through the village and out upon the transport road northeast toward the Serbian frontier. Though hundreds of German, Bulgar, and Turkish prisoners were at work upon the road, it was scarcely passable. Everywhere we passed mired couriers and camions; dead horses and abandoned wagons were scattered about. The way led across a level valley floor. On the flat, muddy plains bordering the road were camps of French, English, Italians, and Russians. Several aviator groups were squatted in the miry desolation.
As we advanced, the road accomplished something we had deemed impossible --- it grew worse. The transport of five armies struggled along, or rather through it, and contributed everything from huge tractors to little spool-wheeled, cow-drawn Serbian carts. We passed through one squalid, war-festered village where the road reached the sublimity of awfulness and then about midday spoke the village of Sakulevo. Several demolished buildings, pocked walls, and shelled houses showed the place had been recently under fire. Passing through, we crossed a sluggish stream, from which the village takes its name, and on a shell-scarred flat on the north bank halted and pitched our tents.
THE road at this point bends to the east before again turning northward, and enters the long valley at the farther end of which lies the city of Monastir. About a mile northward from our camp was a stone which marked the border between Macedonia and Serbia. High ranges of mountains stretched along the side of the lonesome valley. No words of mine can describe the landscape as do the words of Service:
"The lonely sunsets flare forlorn
Down valleys dreadly desolate,
The lordly mountains soar in scorn
As still as death, as stern as fate.
"The lonely sunsets flame and die,
The giant valleys gulp the night,
The monster mountains scrape the sky
Where eager stars are diamond bright."
WE had reached Sakulevo on the afternoon of the 24th of November. On the morning of the 25th we started to work. On the other side of the river was a cluster of tents. It was a field dressing-station and, appropriate to its name, was located in a muddy field. Since Sakulevo was at this time some thirty kilometres from the fighting, our work consisted of evacuations; that is, back of the line work, the most uninteresting an ambulancier is called upon to do, since it wholly lacks excitement. Here it was made more trying because of the fearful roads over which our route lay. At this time the village of Eksisu, some forty kilometres southeast of Sakulevo was railhead, and to this point we evacuated our wounded. It was a matter of three and a half hours of the most trying sort of driving. Perhaps a better idea of our work at Sakulevo may be had if we go together on a "run." It's seven-thirty in the morning, a cold raw morning with ice on the pools and a skim of ice on the inside of the tent. The sun has not long appeared over the snow-clad mountains and there is little warmth in its rays. We have just had breakfast ---Heaven save the name! some black coffee and army bread --- so it's time to be off. We crank-up ---a none too easy performance, since the motors are as stiff with cold as we are --- and then toss and bump our way across the little bridge disregarding a sign which, in five languages, bids us "go slowly." A couple of hundred metres farther on in a field at the left of the road is a group of tents, before which whips a sheet of canvas displaying a red cross. It is the field dressing-station. We turn the car, put on all power and plough through a mire, and then out upon more solid ground, stopping in front of the tents.
The tent flap opens and two brancardiers appear, bearing between them a stretcher upon which lies a limp figure covered with a dirty blanket. A gray-green sleeve dangles from the stretcher and shows your first passenger is a German. He is slid into place and by this time your second passenger is ready. He is a giant Senegalese with a punctured lung. Your third man is a sous-officier whose right leg has just been amputated. He has been given a shot of morphine and his eyes are glazed in stupor. The third stretcher is shot home, the tail-board put up, and the rear curtain clamped down. Over these roads we can take no more, so we are ready for the start.
Through the slough and then out upon the road, which is little more, we go. Through war's traffic we pick our way, beside shell-laden camions, pack-trains, carts, past stolid lines of Russians, dodging huge English lorries whose crews of Tommies sing out a friendly "Are we down-hearted?" Between rows of Bulgar and Boche prisoners your way is made, the hooter sounding out its demand for the rights of a loaded ambulance. Along the roadside, out there in the fields, sprinkled everywhere, we see the little wooden crosses, war's aftermath. Everywhere war's material wastage is apparent. Wrecked wagons and motors, dead mules, hopelessly mired carts, military equipment, smashed helmets, dented douilles. Your way is lined with these. The road from there on becomes freer, but is still too rough to permit much quickening of speed. As we turn a bend, a frenzied Italian comes charging across the fields. He seems greatly excited about something and unwinds reels of vowels, not one word of which we understand. We try him in English and French, not one word of which he understands, so finally we give it up and go on, leaving him to his "que dises."
Through two passes, in which the white, low-hanging clouds close down, through several deserted villages over a road which, save in the Balkans, would be considered impassable, we carry our load. It is impossible to prevent lurching, and the black within groans and cries aloud in his pain. The Boche, too, when there is an exceptionally bad bit, moans a little, but the sous-officier makes not a sound throughout the voyage. At one point the road passes near the railroad, and, dangling over a ravine, we can see the remains of a fine iron bridge dynamited during the great retreat. At last, rounding the jutting point of a hill, we see far below us the blue waters and barren shores of Lake Petersko. Squatted beside the lake is a little village, Sorovicevo. Railhead and our destination, the station of Eksisu, lies a mile or so to the west. Down the hill we brake our way, then over a kilometre of wavelike road into a slough, where for a time it seems we are destined to stick, and at last the tossed and moaning load is brought to a stop at the hôpital d'évacuation, a large cluster of tents. We assist in removing the wounded --- the Senegalese is gray now, with the shadow of death upon him, and his breath gushes with great sobs through his torn lung. The Frenchman and Boche seem to have come through all right.
It is now eleven-thirty o'clock, and we are probably becoming conscious that we could use a little food, but it will be at least two hours before we can reach camp, so we get out a spark-plug wrench and break up several army biscuits to munch on the way home. En route we are hailed by three Tommies who have been left behind and are seeking to join their detachment. They desire a lift, so we take them aboard and are repaid by hearing their whimsical comments on the "filthy country." It is nearly two o'clock --- a blowout has delayed us --- when we reach camp and the motor has barely stopped churning before we are in the mess-tent clamoring for our "dum-dums" --- beans --- and singe, tinned beef. You will find your appetite has not suffered because of the "run."
THE days were rapidly growing colder. Our tents were sheathed with ice and the snow foot crept far down the mountains each night. We got our sheepskin coats and inserted an extra blanket in our sleeping-bags. Each night we drained our radiators to prevent damage from freezing. The few sweets we had brought with us had now given out. In the French army, save for a little sugar --- very little --and occasionally --- very occasionally --- and a small amount of apple preserve, no sweets are issued. It was impossible to purchase any, so presently there set in that craving for sugar which was to stay with us through the long winter. The arrival of Thanksgiving, with its memories of the laden tables at home, did not help matters. Dinner consisted of lentils --- my own particular aversion --- boiled beef, bread, red wine, and black coffee. However, the day was made happy by the arrival of our first mail and we feasted on letters.
It's wonderful what a cheering effect the arrival of the post had on us. Throughout the winter it was about our only comfort. In France it had been welcome, but down in the Orient we seemed so cut off from the world that letters were a luxury, the link with the outside. When they came, it did n't so much matter that a man was cold or hungry and caked with mud, that the quarters leaked and the snow drifted in on his blankets. The probability of its arrival was an unfailing source of pleasurable conjecture; its arrival the signal for whoops and yowls; its failure, the occasion for gloom and pessimism.
Some fifteen kilometres to the north and west of Sakulevo was the large town of Florina, the northernmost town of Macedonia. Here was located a large field hospital. At the hospital, for a time, we maintained a poste of two cars on five-day shifts.
'WE found Florina one of the most interesting towns in the Balkans. Long under the rule of the Turk, it possessed a distinctly Oriental aspect which gave it charm. It nestled at the foot of some high hills which had been the scene of heavy fighting in the dispute for its possession. The town itself had suffered little, if any, in the fighting. Its long main street followed a valley, turning and twisting. Booths and bazaars lined the thoroughfare and in places vines had been trained to cover it. There were innumerable tiny Turkish cafés, yogart shops, little shops where beaten copperware was hammered out, other booths where old men worked on wooden pack-saddles for burros. There were artisans in silver and vendors of goat's-wool rugs. The streets were always alive with "the passing show," for the normal population of fifteen thousand souls had been greatly augmented by the influx of refugees from Monastir. There was an air of unreality about the place, an indefinable theatricalism which gave one the sense of being part of a play, a character, and of expecting, on rounding a corner, to see an audience and then to hear the playing of the orchestra.
It was while on duty at the hospital at Florina that I made the first run into Monastir. My journal for December 2 reads:
"At one o'clock this afternoon received orders to proceed to Monastir en raison de service. My passengers were two corporals. It has been a cold, overcast day, the clouds hanging low over the snow-capped mountains. A cold, penetrating wind hit us in the face as we drew away from the hospital.
"Where the Florina road joins the main caravan road to Monastir, we passed from Macedonia into Serbia. Here we turned sharply toward the north. The flat fields on either side were cut up with trenches, well made, deep ones, from which the enemy was driven less than a fortnight before, and shallow rifle pits which the French and Serbs had used in the advance. Even now, so soon after their evacuation, they were half filled with water. Everywhere there was evidence of big gun-fire and in one place where we crossed a bridge the ground for yards about was an uninterrupted series of craters. For the first time in the war I saw piles of enemy shells and shell cases showing that his retreat had been unpremeditated and hasty. In one place stood a dismantled field piece.
"ABOUT a quarter of an hour after leaving Florina, we reached the village of Negocani. There had been heavy fighting here and many of the houses had been reduced to piles of 'dobe bricks. Two miles away on the road, we could discern the remains of another village, Kenali, where the enemy made his last stand before falling back upon Monastir the other day. The sound of the guns had all the while been growing louder, and not far beyond Negocani I caught my first glimpse of the minarets of Monastir. It had been two months since I was under fire and I had some curiosity as to how it would affect me. Before reaching the environs of the city, it became apparent that this curiosity would not long remain unsatisfied, for ahead we could see the smoke and dust from bursting shells. Approaching the city, the way becomes a regular road, quite the best I have yet seen in the Balkans. I was speculating on this marvel when, perhaps five hundred yards ahead, a columnar mass of earth spouted into the air. The whirring of speeding éclat had scarcely ceased when another came in slightly nearer. The road was under fire and that same old prickly feeling shot up my spine, the same 'gone' sensation moved in and took possession of my insides. Suddenly the familiar sound pervaded the air. There was the crash as though of colliding trains and not forty metres away the earth by the roadside vomited into the air. In another second the débris and éclat rained all about us, showering the car. The shell was a good-sized one --- at least a '150,' and we owed our lives to the fact that, striking in soft ground, the éclat did not radiate. Meanwhile, I had not waited for the freedom of the city to be presented. The machine was doing all that was in her, and in a few seconds more we shot by the outlying buildings. The fire zone seemed to be restricted to the entering road and the extreme fringe of the city, and when we reached the main street, though we could hear the shells passing over, none struck near. Within the city our batteries, planted all about, were in action and the whirring of our own shells was continuously sounding overhead.
"We parked in a filth-strewn little square lined with queer exotic buildings. While I waited for the corporals to perform their mission, I talked with an Algerian zouave who lounged in the doorway. He pointed out where a shell had struck this morning, killing three men, two civilians and a soldier. He further informed me that the streets of the city were in full view of the enemy, who occupied the hills just beyond its outskirts. This revelation was most disconcerting to me, for I had no desire to work up a 'firing acquaintance.' A number of officers of high rank passed --- among them a three-star general. A colonel of infantry stopped, shook hands with me, and spoke appreciatively of the work of the Corps in France, saying he was glad to welcome a car in the Orient.
"By three o'clock we were ready. My passenger list was augmented by a lieutenant, médecin, who wished to reach Florina. He cautioned me with much earnestness to allez vite when we should reach this shelled zone, a caution wholly unnecessary, as I had every intention of going as fast as Providence and gasoline would let me. The firing now --- praise to Allah --- had slackened and only an occasional shell was coming in. So, making sure the engine was functioning properly, I tuned up, and a second later we were going down the road as though 'all hell and a policeman' were after us.
"We reached Florina without mishaps. To-night there is a full moon. Don and I strolled down into the town. It was singularly beautiful, the white minarets standing out against the sombre mountains, the silvery light flooding the deserted streets. We strayed into one of the tiny little cafés. It was a cosy place. Divans covered with rugs and sheepskins lined the walls. A few befezzed old men sat cross-legged on these --- sat there silently smoking giant hookahs and sipping their syrupy coffee. We, too, ordered coffee, and then sat in the silence helping in the thinking. After a while the door opened and a short, hairy man entered. He was clad in long white wool drawers, around which below the knee were wound black thongs. On his feet were queer-shaped shoes which turned sharply up at the end and were adorned with black pompoms. He wore a short jacket embroidered with tape, and thrown back from his shoulders was a rough wool cape. Around his waist was wound a broad sash, into which was thrust a revolver and a long-bladed dirk. About his neck and across his breast were hung many silver chains, which jingled when he moved. His head was surmounted by a white brimless hat. He talked in an unknown tongue to the patron, and then, bowing low to us, was gone amid a clinking of metal. This strange-looking individual was --- so we learned from the café's proprietor --- an Albanian, a man learned in the ways of the mountains, a scout in the employ of the French.
"We sipped another coffee, smoked a cigarette, and then, bowing to the old men, went out into the moonlit street, leaving them to their meditations. As I write this from the tent, the sky is darkening, a chill wind sweeps down from the snow and gutters the candle. I am glad that our blankets are many."
As the days went by, our camp-site, where we were the first comers, began to assume the aspect of a boom mining town. Several camion sections appeared. Numerous ravitaillement groups moved in. Tents and nondescript structures of earth and ammunition boxes sprang up. Across the river ten thousand Russians were encamped, and all night their singing came to us beautifully across the water. All day and all night, war's traffic ground and creaked by us. The lines had shaken down; the two forces were now entrenched, facing each other just beyond Monastir, and the transport was accumulating munitions for an offensive. In the first camp opposite struggled long lines of Serbian carts --- carts such as Adam used to bring the hay in. The sad-faced burros plodded by, loaded with everything from bread to bodies. Soldiers --- French, Italian, Serb, and Russian---slogged by. But this activity was confined to the narrow zone of the roads. Beyond, the grim, desolate country preserved its lonesomeness and impressed upon the soul of man the bleakness and harshness of a land forlorn. For the most part the days were gray and sombre, with low-hanging clouds which frequently gave out rain and sleet and caused the river to rise so that more than once we were in danger of being flooded out. But occasionally there would be a clear morning, when the clouds were driven back and the rising sun would light the mountains, turning the snow to rose and orange. We were growing very tired of the evacuation work, of the long, weary runs. There was no excitement to tinge the monotony. We were becoming "fed up." The Squad, therefore, hailed with joy the news that the Section was to move up to Monastir and there take up the front-line work.
Though the exact date of our departure was not announced, we knew it would be soon and we commenced at once to make ready. Helmets once more became items of interest and motors were tested with an interest born of empirical knowledge that the fire zone was no place to make repairs. Everybody brightened up; interest and optimism pervaded the camp. And then the word came that we should leave on the 17th of December.
MEN stumbled about in the darkness falling over tent pegs or pulling at icy ropes. Now and then a motor in response to frantic cranking, coughed, sputtered and then "died." Down near the cook-tent some one was swearing earnestly and fervently at the mud. It was three o'clock in the morning, and the only light was that given off by the stars. The Squad was breaking camp, and we were to be in Monastir, twenty-five kilometres distant, before daybreak. Somehow, in spite of the darkness, the tents were struck and packed, and the cars rolled out on the bumpy roads.
With the assistance of our lights we were able to hold a good pace until we reached the dip in the road which had been designated as the point where the convoy should halt. Here we extinguished all our lights and made sure that everything was right. Ahead we could see flashes, but whether from our own guns or bursting shells we could not determine. The sound of firing came plainly to our ears. The cars now got away at fifteen seconds' intervals. A faint, gray light was showing in the east, just permitting a dim vision of the car ahead. At the entrance to the city, in a particularly exposed spot, there was some confusion while the leading machine circled about in an endeavor to pick the right street; then we were off again, heading for the northeast quarter of the city. Crossing a small, wall-confined stream by a fragile wooden bridge, we wound and twisted through a maze of crooked streets, and finally, just as the first glow lightened the minarets, came to a halt in a narrow street. Where my car stopped was a shattered house and the street was carpeted with débris, the freshness of which testified to the fact that the shells causing the damage must have come in not long before. Even as I clambered out of the machine, two shells crashed in somewhere over in another street.
Our cantonment consisted of two five-roomed, two-storied Turkish houses which stood within a small walled compound. The top floors, or attics, of these houses were free from partitions and gave just sufficient space for our beds, ranged around the walls. The place was clean and dry, and though, of course, there was no heat and no glass in the windows, it was infinitely better than the tents. The rooms below were used for the mess, the galley, and for the French staff, and one room which had windows and a stove was set aside for a lounge. The C.O. occupied a small stone building which formed part of the compound wall, a sort of porter's lodge. Beneath the houses were semi-cellars, and in one of these were stored the spare gas and oil. The cars were at first parked along a narrow, blind street which extended a short distance directly in front of quarters. As it was ascertained, however, that here they were in plain view of the enemy, they were moved back on another street and sheltered from sight by intervening buildings. The atelier was established in a half-demolished shed about two hundred yards up the street from the compound.
OUR quarters were situated about midway between two mosques. In front of one of these mosques which faced on a tiny square hung a tattered Red Cross flag, betokening a field dressing-station. Here we got our wounded. The lines at this time were just beyond the outskirts of the city, and the wounded were brought directly from the trenches to this mosque, from whence it was our work to carry them back to the field hospitals out of range of the guns. I doubt if there ever was a more bizarre poste than this of the mosque. The trappings and gear of Mohammedanism remained intact. The muezzin's pulpit draped with its chain of wooden beads looked down on the wounded men lying on the straw-carpeted floor. On the walls, strange Turkish characters proclaimed the truths of the Koran. The little railed enclosure, wherein the faithful were wont to remove their sandals before treading the sacred ground, now served as a bureau. All was the same, save that now the walls echoed, not the muezzin's nasal chant, but the groans of wounded men who called not on Allah, but on God.
At first we found the twisted streets very confusing. They rarely held their direction for more than a hundred yards and their narrowness prevented any "observation for position." There seemed no names or identifications either for streets or quarters, and did one inquire the way of some befezzed old Turk, the reply would be "Kim bilir Allah" --- Who knows? God. But gradually we grew to know these ways until on the darkest of nights we could make our way through the mazy blackness.
|A FEW MOMENTS AFTER A SHELL HAD KILLED THE LITTLE GIRL IN MONASTIR||
ROAD-BUILDING BY MEMBERS OF SECTION THREE IN NEGOCANI
The city sprawled about on a more or less level plain at one end of the long valley which extended southward to the Macedonian frontier. Some of its houses straggled up the hills which rose immediately back of the city proper. Beyond these hills rose the mountains from which at a distance of two kilometres the enemy hurled down his hate. The normal population of Monastir was perhaps fifty thousand souls, a population of that bastard complexity found only in the Balkans. When we reached the city, a month after its capture and occupation by the French, something like forty thousand of this civilian population yet remained, the others having fled to Florina or gone even farther south. Conditions were still unsettled. Daily, spies were led out to be shot, and we were warned not to wander unarmed in the remote sections. Snipers, from the protection of covered houses, shot at passing soldiers and at night it was unsalubrious to go about. Lines were drawn about the town and none but military transport permitted to pass. Famine prices prevailed. In the bazaars, captured dogs were butchered and offered for sale. A few stores remained open. Above their doors were signs in the queer, jumpy characters of the Serbian alphabet, signs which it would take a piccolo artist to decipher. Within, matches were sold for half a drachmi (10 cents) a box, eggs, 7 drachmi a dozen, and sugar at 6 drachmi a kilo. All moneys, save Bulgar, were accepted; the drachmi, the piastre, the franc, the lepta, the para, but the exchange was as complicated as a machine gun, and no man not of the Tribe of Shylock could hope to solve its mysteries.
THOUGH most of the houses were closed and shuttered as protection against shell splinters, life seemed to go on much as usual. There was no traffic in the streets, save at night when the army transports came through, or when our machines went by with their loads, but the populace passed and repassed, bartered and ordered its life with the phlegmatic fatalism of the Easterner. The enemy from his point of vantage saw every move in the city. His guns commanded its every corner. His surveys gave him the range to an inch. Daily he raked it with shrapnel and pounded it with high-explosive. No man in Monastir, seeing the morning's sun, but knew that, ere it set, his own might sink. At any time of the day or night the screeching death might come, did come. Old men, old women, little children, were blown to bits, houses were demolished, and yet, because it was decreed by Allah, it was inexorable. The civil population went its way. Of course, when shells came in there was terror, panic, a wailing and gnashing of teeth, for not even the fatalism of Mohammed could be proof against such sights. And horrible sights these were. It was nothing to go through the streets after a bombardment and see mangled and torn bodies; a man with his head blown off; a little girl dead, her face staring upward, her body pierced by a dozen wounds; a group in grotesque attitudes, with, perhaps, an arm or a leg torn off and thrown fifty feet away. These in Monastir were daily sights.
One afternoon I remember as typical. It was within a few days of Christmas, though there was little of Yuletide in the atmosphere. At home, the cars were bearing the signs, "Do Your Christmas Shopping Early," but here in Monastir, where, as "Doc" says, "a chap was liable to start out full of peace and good will and come back full of shrapnel and shell splinters," there was little inducement to do Christmas shopping. Nevertheless, we started on one of those prowling strolls in which we both delighted. We rambled through the tangled streets, poked into various odd little shops in quest of the curious, dropped into a hot milk booth where we talked with some English-speaking Montenegrins, and then finally crossed one of the rickety wooden bridges which span the city's bisecting stream. By easy stages, stopping often to probe for curios, we reached the main street of the city. Here at a queer little bakery, where the proprietor shoved his products into a yawning stove-oven with a twelve-foot wooden shovel, we got, for an outrageous price, some sad little cakes. As we munched these, we stood on a corner and watched the scene about us. It was a fine day, the first sunny one we had experienced in a long time. Many people were in the streets, a crowd such as only war and the Orient could produce: a sprinkling of soldiers, mostly French, although occasionally a Russian or an Italian was noticed; a meditative old Turk, stolid Serbian women, little children --- a lively, varied picture. Our cakes consumed, "Doc" and I crossed the street and, a short way along a transverse street, stopped to watch the bread line. There were possibly three hundred people, mostly women, gathered here waiting for the distribution of the farina issued by the military to the civil population. For a while we watched them, and then, as the street ahead looked as if it might yield something interesting in booths, we continued along it. In another fifty yards, however, its character changed; it became residential, and so we turned to retrace our steps. Fortunate for us it was that we made the decision. We had gone back perhaps a dekametre, when we heard the screech. We sprang to the left-hand wall and flattened ourselves against it as the crash came. It was a "155" H.E.. Just beyond, at the point toward which we had been making our way, the whole street rose into the air. We sped around the corner to the main street. It was a mass of screaming, terror-stricken people. In quick succession three more shells came in, one knocking "Doc" off his feet with its concussion. The wall by which we had stood and an iron shutter close by were rent and torn with éclats. One of these shells had struck near the bread line. How many were killed I never knew. "Doc" for the moment had disappeared, and I was greatly worried until I saw him emerge from an archway. There was now a lull in the shelling. All our desire for wandering about the city had ceased. We started back toward quarters. Before we were halfway there, more shells came in, scattered about the city, though the region about the main street seemed to be suffering most. Crossing the stream, we saw the body of a man hanging half over the wall and near by, the shattered paving where the shell had struck.
In such an atmosphere we lived. Each day brought its messages of death. On December 19, I saw a spy taken out to be shot. On the 20th, a house next our quarters was hit. Two days later, when evacuating under shrapnel fire, I saw two men killed. Constantly we had to' change our route through the city because of buildings blown into the street.
ROBERT WHITNEY IMBRIE*
*From Behind the Wheel of a War Ambulance. Courtesy of Robert M. McBride & Company of New York.
SOON after our arrival at Monastir, the Albanian work was also got under way and two cars were sent over there --- one to Koritza, the other to Sulim, on the west shore of Lake Presba. They went over on December 30, crossing the pass with great difficulty. In the middle of January I got back from there with Fenton from a two-day rescue trip, one of the cars having a broken wheel. The col is so bad that we got over it in the supply car stripped of its body for the trip. If dry, the road is just possible; otherwise you are cut off. Hence the cars stayed over there. Supplies for the men had to be sent by ox or mule, a two days' journey; oil and gas going also by mule. It was very interesting over there, where nothing moved out of the villages without a military escort, and the fellows were all armed to the teeth.
Officers at Koritza did n't dare ride out of town except on the road toward Florina and then only for the first four or five kilometres, which were patrolled. No soldier went out in the street without a gun. They all said they were living, too, on a political volcano, and in fact, in the midst of it all, along in December, a Republic of Albania was founded! But to us it seemed all very quiet, with excellent cake-shops open. We slept in a hotel with an English-speaking proprietor where there were no fleas, and were shaved in the latest "scream" in American barber chairs, the barber having been ten years in New Haven. He installed this splendor on the main corner and, getting only three clients a day, declared the Albanians to be "a lot of cheap guys."
THIS is an account of the trip of the first auto into Albania.
At Florina, we loaded up with food, gas, and oil, enough for two days' continual travelling and started out with an infirmier to help take care of the blessés on the way back. We got over the Pisoderi grade this time without pushing, for I knew the grade better. From there on it was the most interesting trip I ever have made. For twenty kilometres we went along a valley and had to ford the river ten or eleven times. The people may have seen autos before, but they had n't seen them enough to satisfy their curiosity; so they would drop everything as they worked in near-by fields and rush to the road to watch us pass. When we got about twenty kilometres from the second poste, both man and beast were afraid of the machines. They would see us coming, and by the time we got to them they were well across a ditch, where I suppose they imagined they were safe. Even the old, sleepy oxen showed a lot of "pep" when we came along, and backed and twisted around so in their yokes that the drivers had a hard time untangling them.
At one village we were stopped by a doctor who said that a blessé was en route in a wagon that had been sent for him the night before. So we went on to meet him, but found that the wagon did not have the wounded man after all. We decided, therefore, to go on as long as the Ford would run, and soon crossed the line into Albania, passing through several towns that had been pretty well shot up by both the Bulgars and the Allies as the former retreated two months before.
The roads were almost impassable, as the old brancardier had told us would be the case, and nothing but a Ford could have got over them. At length we arrived at Koritza, our destination, and waited for the doctor to make inquiries. The surprise was on us when several Albanians speaking English crowded around the machines. They had been in Worcester, Massachusetts, and had accumulated a roll of bills large enough to retire on over here. You find a lot like that.. Finally we found the poste de secours. Imagine our further surprise when the blessé greeted us in perfect English, saying, "I am glad you have come." When he heard we were Americans, he added: "So am I ---an American volunteer, born and raised in New York City."
Eleven days before our arrival this poor devil had been shot four times, and after lying out in front of the trenches all day, he was picked up by brancardiers and brought down from the mountains on a mule. The lines were only fifteen kilometres away, but it took eleven hours to accomplish this. We carried him twenty-five kilometres that afternoon, and stopped all night in a little town.
We left Albania the following morning and crept back at a snail's pace --- about ninety out of the hundred kilometres in low. On the way we picked up other blessés, less grave cases, and would take turns going ahead, with the grave case in the second machine. If the front car got an awful jolt, the second one would stop, while we took our American blessé out and ran the machine over the ditch or bump. Then we would put him back again, and go on.
We got to the second poste about noon, and had our Thanksgiving dinner of the supplies we had brought along. Probably it was the lightest turkey dinner either of us ever had, for it consisted of singe, or canned beef, biscuits, cooking-chocolate, and some wine. But it went down with much satisfaction.
We arrived at the Florina Hospital about five o'clock, and there received many congratulations from the Médecin Chef and several doctors, who thought we had done something wonderful, for it took a wagon train four days to make one way of this trip.
DONALD C. ARMOUR*
*Of Evanston, Illinois; Yale, '17; entered the Field Service in April, 1916, and served in Sections Three and Eight; subsequently a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Field Artillery.
January 1, 1917
IT is now New Year's Day and I am more than a hundred kilometres from where I was when I first started this letter --- away over two mountain ranges. I don't know when I shall get back to the Section, as I am now attached to a regiment of infantry. I have arranged to have oil, gas, and carbide sent to me by pack-mules, and I shall stay here probably until my car gives out. Then I shall have to go back on horseback --- a four or five days' trip.
Talk about Richard Harding Davis or Anthony Hope adventure stories! If I were a writer I would beat any of theirs. For instance, I am now armed with a carbine, a revolver, and one hundred and twenty rounds of ammunition, to protect myself from brigands along the road. Can you imagine anything more dime-novelly? The Colonel of the regiment was quite upset when he found that I was not armed and immediately gave orders to arm me to the teeth.
Imbrie and Winant have gone off to find their Colonel and I stay here for another day or two before we all go to hunt up the regiment --- over another mountain range. I understand it is an almost impossible route, over which no autos have ever gone before. In the meanwhile I am comfortably billeted here at the house of a man who lived for years in St. Louis and speaks English.
I AM over another mountain range and "busted down." I am living in a little mountain village with the Colonel, who has just become a general, and his staff. Until I get some spare parts, which will probably be a week at least, I shall have to stay here, for I am about a hundred miles from anywhere.
For the first day the General did n't have any food with him, so I found a chicken and some beans and cooked them, thus managing to provide a pretty good dinner.
The next day I walked over to my car and extricated the canned goods which I had in it, and we ate with relish. At last a limited amount of food arrived and we are fixed. The whole situation is really most amusing.
I am at the farthermost part of the lines, way up in the mountains between two lakes. The inhabitants of the country are wilder than the ancient American Indians and live in about the same way, although they have mud houses instead of tents. They speak a mixture of Greek, Albanian, and Serbian, which even the interpreter can't understand. The country is full of wolves which come down to the edge of town at night looking for stray dogs or donkeys. I saw two yesterday, but was too far away to get a shot.
J. MARQUAND WALKER*
*Of New York City; Harvard, '11; entered the Service in September, 1915, and later became a Section leader; received a commission in U.S. Artillery and was promoted to Captain. The above are extracts from home letters and letters addressed to the Paris Headquarters of the Field Service.
Negocani, January 3, 1917
FOR over two weeks we have been up at the very front, but have now been ordered back a few kilometres to a village right on the frontier. We're very loath to go, but now that we are settled here, I think every one realizes that staying up there was an unnecessary risk to incur, for the daily, even hourly, bombardments from the enemy positions on the hills looking straight down into town had been getting more and more frequent and the inhabitants were either leaving or lying low in their cellars. Finally, a shell landed in a little courtyard, perhaps seventy yards away from us, and more or less damaged six of our cars. I had thirteen pieces in mine, damage done to two tires, a spoke and a radius rod, while a large hole was made in the crank case which necessitated taking down the entire motor. Roddy Montgomery, who was standing between two machines, perhaps five yards off, was knocked over and his car battered up; but he escaped unhurt. The worst feature was that a little girl of seven, who used to play around and talk to us while we were oiling and greasing, was literally blown to pieces and fragments of her burned flesh were spattered all over. Half of her head landed on the top of my car and had to be scraped off with essence. It was pretty sickening. After this, the Divisionnaire decided it was no use having the Section "shot up" little by little; so we moved our quarters. The work is still the same, however, as the cars go up from here at 6 A.M., and evacuate back to Florina, seventy kilometres in all, while some of us are even busier than before.
We are installed in a large mud farmhouse with a huge yard, a well, and half-dozen outbuildings, used as kitchen, dining-room, and bureau. This yard, when we came here, was two feet deep in straw, rubbish, and filth of all sorts, and it took two days of shovelling, burning, disinfecting, and whitewashing, to make it habitable; but we are now well installed. The village is deserted save for troops, so any one wanting firewood calmly attacks a house with a pick-axe, smashes the mud walls, and walks off with the beams, rafters, or anything else he fancies. It is very convenient, and avoids paperasses. All around us are the trenches and boyaux of the famous Kenali lines, from which the Bulgars were driven just before the capture of Monastir last month. Some of them are marvellously constructed, and collectors of ironware are revelling in souvenirs of all sorts --- shells, fuses, grenades, bayonets, etc., most of which, however, I think will be found too heavy to lug around and will be discarded long before our return.
JUST before going up from our first camp, I had a most interesting three days' trip into Albania, driving the Médecin Chef of the Q.G. and the Médecin Chef of Florina Hospital over to Koritza to see the Colonel in command of the troops in that region. Two cars started with us; but after all hands had pushed at them valiantly for hours, they were obliged to turn back on the col of Pisoderi, thirteen kilometres straight uphill from Florina to the summit, 1650 metres high, whence you get a magnificent view over the entire valley of the Cerna. I had no particular trouble in Hill's little touring car, and we reached our destination late that night, after sixteen hours' steady driving over some of the worst roads possible to imagine. At one time we followed the bed of a river, going through it eleven times, and once just escaping trouble as the water drowned the carburetor twice. At Koritza we were royally welcomed, and, as my passengers treated me as a friend instead of a chauffeur, I was the Colonel's guest, dined and lunched with him and his État-Major, and was entertained by the younger officers.
The political situation is extremely interesting here. At the beginning of the war the Greeks overran this part of Albania, but made themselves most unpopular through unjust taxation. Last summer the Venizelos crowd expelled the royalist officials, but proved no better. As the Powers in 1912 pronounced Albania independent, but as the country has had no government since the Prince of Wied was "fired," some prominent citizens of Koritza, mostly retired comitajés, asked Colonel Ducoing's permission to proclaim a republic. He assented, the Greeks were driven out, and a new council was elected, or self-appointed, just before we arrived. The flag of the new republic, dark red with a strange-looking, black-winged creature on it, and having a tricolor ribbon around the staff, had just been hoisted on the town hall. The whole thing is more or less comic-opera stuff, but the inhabitants take themselves very seriously. Since then several other towns have joined the movement. Every one is armed and no one dares go more than a few kilometres from town, as the country swarms with comitajés and the Austrian posts are only a short distance away, ten or twelve kilometres, on a mountain range. Our arrival caused immense excitement, as ours was the second motor car ever seen in those parts, the first being Colonel Ducoing's, in which he arrived, but has not used since. Just lately two of our cars have climbed the pass and are now working over in Albania, one at Koritza, the other farther north near Lake Presba. Hill, with a mechanic, has just returned from a flying trip over there in order to repair an axle, and says the Lord only knows how they can ever get back, as the roads are getting worse every day. In a word, it is all very interesting here and I think we are being extremely useful.
*Of New York City; Harvard, '13; joined the Field Service on May 6, 1916, serving with Section Three; was Sous-Chef in Macedonia until May, 1917; entered the School at Fontainebleau and became a Second Lieutenant of Artillery in the French Army.
THE work at Monastir, where we were finally stationed, went on all right. In this country you very rarely get up to postes de secours. We evacuated from a town two or three kilometres back, along a flat and on the whole a very good road, twenty-eight kilometres to a village where there was a relay, and where another section took the wounded farther to the rear. The work was very interesting, for it was done mostly over the territory conquered the previous November.
At Monastir we were quartered very comfortably in two good houses. But the resources of the town were somewhat limited and food prices very high; two chickens, for instance, costing 25 francs, and two eggs, 2 francs 20. Then, too, rifle bullets flew about certain of the outlying quarters, "210's" wandered in occasionally, and a good deal of other Boche attention of less distressing variety was often our lot. We had to sneak in at night, in convoy, for the exit of the town was often pounded, and it was, perhaps, the best gauntlet-running ever seen --- on a perfectly straight, open road with an excellent surface, and in the daytime absolutely free of traffic. So, on the whole, we were pretty well off at Monastir. But finally, in January, 1917, we were ordered to fall back, as the place got too lively for the cantonment of the Section, and we established ourselves fourteen kilometres in the rear, at Negocani, a mud village, the houses being of bricks, made of that material strengthened with manure and straw --- the origin of reinforced concrete, probably.
The customs at Negocani were very curious. Take this one, for instance! If you were in need of firewood, you would look about until you found a house unoccupied by soldiers, which you then proceeded to demolish --- a very easy task, as it is made of mud --- in order to get the beams; the floors and doors, in most cases, having all disappeared long before our coming. The absence from the village of all civilians rendered the proceeding all the easier. The day before we entered upon our first wood hunt, we found two houses which were still in fairly good condition, set our seal on them, and arranged matters with the commandant d'armes. But the next morning, when we arrived on the spot at eight o'clock, we found that all the doors and floors of one of them had been carried off by a flock of Italians who had reached town during the previous evening.
We were well off in our house, which was big enough for the men to sleep in. It had, on the first floor upstairs, two rooms which were separated by a hallway. I had a room on the ground floor, which was literally right on the ground. The French contingent of our party occupied the other ground-floor room, while the downstairs hall, which was provided with a fireplace, served at night as a sitting-room. An outhouse, with smoky rafters, to which, in a few minutes, with the aid of a pick, we added windows, completed our quarters.
This place was not as interesting as Monastir, but much safer, for at the latter town we were very much cooped up, having to stay within the city limits all the time, as everything outside of the walls was in plain sight of the enemy and some of the outlets were within rifle range. Moreover, there were quite frequent shellings of Monastir so that staying indoors was much to be encouraged. For instance, one shell landed in a little court where some of our cars were parked, got four of them and a poor child who was blown to atoms and parts of whose body were found in and on half a dozen cars. On this occasion my car, unfortunately, was about the heaviest sufferer --- one front wheel, radiator, and water-inlet connection being shot through and through, while the headlight and quite a lot of wiring were cut up. But worst of all, the windshield and top were ruined and a horrible piece of the little child wound round and round the steering-wheel.
This affair was nothing but a coup court; but still the Germans were shelling objectives that were close enough for pieces of shell to fall about us very freely, and, though we knew we were backing out, it was not till we got to Negocani that we felt how glad we were to be out of Monastir, especially as later the entrance to this last town got shelled daily and on this account we had to change the hours of evacuation.
Monastir, January 5
WE have just had a gas attack here.
We sat there in my car after our lucky and narrow squeak with exploding shells, conversing with each other and with passing poilus. Everything was quiet, and we started to fix ourselves for the night. The straw inside the old Turkish mosque, as we learned from previous experience, was entirely too full of life for comfortable slumber; so we fixed a couple of stretchers out in the front worshipping hall, where air was better, too.
The shelling had recommenced by the time we tried to sleep. Suddenly the obus began to come in faster and faster, their whistles blending one into another until it was all one solid roar and whiz. The explosions sounded like shrapnel, and it was not until a shell broke our window that we learned it was gas. Our masks were out in the cars, and as we ran out to get them we almost suffocated, although we tried to hold our breath. Back in the mosque it was better, as the air was nearly untainted, the windows being air-tight. Fortunately the dozen malades and stretcher-bearers in the mosque were all provided with masks, so in less uncomfortable state of mind, we sat down to wait. There was nothing else to do, of course. All this time the shells were coming in at a fearful rate, all of them landing right in our quarter. Now and then a man would stumble in from the street, choking from the gas and calling for a mask. Pretty soon the doctor appeared in his stocking feet, and he took care as best he could of the asphyxiated.
In the meanwhile things were steadily becoming worse and worse. The streets were a cloud of gas, and inside the mosque it was getting more and more difficult to breathe, when suddenly, as I was standing by the door talking with Petitjean, there came a deafening explosion, which blew down the door and a solid wave of gas caught us in the face. For a moment there was complete confusion, men running every which way and some lying down gasping, coughing, and calling for masks. How they lost them is incomprehensible, for almost every one had a mask on when the shell came. The doctor, who was standing beside me, had his mask off for the moment and got it tangled up in trying to put it on again; but fortunately he was saved by the sergeant-major, who clapped it on the doctor's face. But he was sick for several hours afterwards. At the same time we picked up some masks and put them on the choking men who were lying about. Then the room was plunged in darkness. At this moment, I heard Petitjean calling for another infirmier to bandage him up. The doctor was out of commission, the infirmier unfindable, and I came to the rescue, finding Petitjean in the little room in back. His hand was bleeding badly; but I did my best to fix him up; rather a difficult job, however, because, with the gas-mask on, I could hardly see what I was doing. But I did the best I could under the circumstances. First I poured some alcohol over the hand, and found that the wound was not so serious as I at first thought. But it was painful and bleeding enough. Then, to make sure, I used peroxide which I sponged off with cotton and put on some iodine, bandaging the hand up as tightly as I could in order to stop the flow of blood --- an effective dressing, even if it was not very scientific.
But before I had finished with Petitjean, I was told that another man had been completely knocked out by the gas, and that the only way to save him was to rush him over to the hospital in hope of finding some oxygen.
This I immediately decided to do. There was still a lot of gas on the street; but I had to take my mask off to drive. I finally got the asphyxié over to the hospital; but no doctor was to be found, there was no oxygen, and everything seemed hopeless. So, as a last resort, I tried artificial breathing; but the poor fellow died while I was working on him, and I had to take his body back to the mosque, where, in the meanwhile, a gas shell had come in through the outer door and exploded in the anteroom, not ten feet from where John and I made our beds earlier in the evening; and when we collected our bedclothes next morning, they were covered with débris and saturated with gas. At this point a slight breeze sprang up, which made breathing possible again; the doctor came to, and though awfully sick, stuck to his job, thereby saving the lives of several men, while I spent most of the time making coffee over an alcohol lamp, coffee being a great relief to men who have been gassed. All this happened with bewildering rapidity in less time than one takes to write about it.
John was great. While I was fixing up Petitjean, he got his lantern and quieted the men, who were mostly intoxicated by the gas, and did not know what they were doing. His chief work was to make them keep their gas-masks on, which saved more than one of them. Altogether the shelling lasted about three hours, during which time thousands of these gas obus came in, with the result that two hundred civilians were killed and many left dying. Few soldiers lost their lives, thanks to the gas-masks.
John and I did not begin to feel the effects of the gas until the next day, and then were uncomfortably sick. It takes a long while to get the gas out of one's system, and the continual smell and taste of the stuff is sickening for days. My clothes and blankets still smell of it, though they have been out in the breeze for forty-eight hours. After this I will take high-explosive shells with all their éclats in preference to gas.
J. MARQUAND WALKER
TOWARD the end of January we took over another segment of the line, a section southeast of Monastir, collecting our blessés from a village called Skocivir, situated on the banks of the Cerna, some twenty-five kilometres from Negocani. Skocivir was the highest point reached by wheeled transport, though some fifteen kilometres back from the line. From here munitions and ravitaillement were carried into the mountains on muleback, the wounded coming out by the same torturing transport. A few kilometres before reaching Skocivir we passed through the town of Brod, the first Serbian town retaken by the Allies after the great retreat of 1915, the point at which the Serbs first reëntered their country. Here the Cerna was crossed by two bridges. Through the pass beyond poured French, Serbs, and Italians to reach their allotted segment of line. The congestion and babble at this point was terrific.
We saw much of the Italians. Long lines of their troops were constantly marching forward, little men with ill-formed packs. As soldiers they did not impress us, but they had a splendid motor transport --- big, powerful cars well adapted to the Balkan mud and handled by the most reckless and skilful drivers in the Allied armies. The men were a vivacious lot and often sang as they marched.
IN marked contrast were the Serbs, "the poor relations of the Allies." For the most part they were middle-aged men, clad in nondescript uniforms and with varied equipment. They slogged by silently --- almost mournfully. I never saw one laugh, and they smiled but rarely. They were unobtrusive, almost unnoticed; yet when a car was mired, they were always the first to help, and withal they were invested with a quiet dignity which seemed to set them apart. I never talked with a soldier of any army who had seen them in action but who praised their prowess.
The going, or rather ploughing, beyond Brod was particularly atrocious, and it frequently took from two and a half to three hours to cover the fifteen kilometres. At one point the way was divided by two lonely graves which lay squarely in the middle of the road, the traffic of war passing and repassing on either side. Brod service was particularly uninteresting, as the point at which we collected our blessés was too far back of the line to offer the excitement afforded by being under fire, save when there was an air raid. Then, too, the roads were so congested and in such terrible condition that the driving was of the most trying sort, and it frequently meant all day evacuation without one hot meal. Our work at this time was particularly heavy; we were serving three divisions, the one back of Monastir, the Brod division, and the division in Albania. In short, we were covering the work of three motor Sections.
During all these days the enemy continued to rain his fire upon Monastir. Gradually, but none the less surely, the city was withering away. Here a house, there a shop or bazaar, became a mass of débris. Huge holes gaped in the streets; tangled wire swung mournfully in the wind; once I saw a minaret fairly struck, totter a second, and then pitch into the street, transferred in a twinkling from a graceful spire into a heap of brick and mortar, overhung by a shroud of dust. Though perhaps half of the city's forty thousand inhabitants had fled as best they might, as many more remained. Generally they stayed indoors, though the flimsy walls offered little protection and there were no cellars. When they emerged, it was to slink along in the shadows of the walls. Scuttling, rather than walking, they made their way, every sense tensed in anticipation of the coming of "the death that screams." If Verdun had seemed the City of the Dead, Monastir was the Place of Souls Condemned to Wander in the Twilight of Purgatory. The fate of the population civile was a pitiable one.
In a world of war, they had no status. Food, save the farina issued by the military, was unobtainable, and fuel equally wanting. Scores were killed. As for the wounded, their situation was terrible. Drugs were too precious, bandages too valuable, and surgeons' time too well occupied for their treatment. Their case would have been without hope had it not been for a neutral, non-military organization of the Dutch which maintained in Monastir a small hospital for the treatment of civilians. This hospital, established in a school, did splendid work, and its staff are entitled to high praise and credit.
For this hospital, one morning, I got the strangest load my ambulance ever carried --- four little girls. As I lifted their stretchers into the car, their weights seemed as nothing. Three were couchés; the fourth, a bright little thing, wounded in the head by H.E. éclat, sat by my side on the driving seat and chatted with me in quaint French all the way to the hospital.
Meanwhile the days grew perceptibly longer and the sun, when it appeared, had a feeble warmth. A new Section coming out from France relieved our cars in Albania, and Giles and the others coming back from Koritza reported that the city was under frequent plane bombardment and the population demoralized.
For some time the talk of an attack on Hill 248 and the line back of Monastir had been growing. There seemed little doubt now that such an attack would shortly be launched with the object of driving the enemy back and freeing the city from artillery fire. Daily our fire grew more intense. The roads were congested with upcoming troops and new batteries going into position. Word came in that the Section was to hold itself in readiness to shift quarters to Monastir. Then, at last, one night came the order to report for action in the city.
ROBERT WHITNEY IMBRIE*
*From Behind the Wheel of a War Ambulance. Courtesy of Robert M. McBride & Company of New York.
SECTION THREE was relieved from the Monastir sector May 26, 1917, and moved to Florina about twenty kilometres back. Here orders were received attaching the Section to the French Provisional Division which was moving into Greece to settle once and for all the ever-present Greek threat at the Allied lines of communication in Macedonia.
We started to join the Division on May 31, going that day as far as the English hospital for Serbs at Vertekop, via the main road from Monastir to Salonica. The first village passed through 'was the hillside town of Banica; thence up over a pass by the battle-field of Gornitchevo, where the Serbians and Bulgars fought in October, 1916; on to Ostrovo (at the northern end of the lake of the same name) and Vodena. From there on to Vertekop it was easy rolling, mostly downhill.
On June 1 we rolled to Topsin, passing through the ancient town of Yenidze Vardar. At Topsin we went into a cantonment near the training-camp of the recruits for the new army of Venizelos. Our camp was the most inhospitable-appearing affair, situated as it was in the midst of a broad, barren, sandy stretch of homeless land which offered neither shelter from the June sun nor anything else. Here the rumor got out through the usual medium that we would remain several weeks and then be attached to the new Greek Army. But the rumor proved baseless when Lieutenant Dérode returned from Salonica (which was only about seventeen miles away) with orders to move "on to Athens" early the next morning.
The next day we rolled by noon to a town called Gida, and after a long halt on the hot, dusty road outside the town, we headed for Katerini. Arriving there in the early evening, after having skirted the seacoast for many kilometres, we drew up in the yard of an old monastery. Here we were billeted for over a week, during which period and much to the regret of all, Charley Fiske(2), and R. B. Montgomery, their time having long since expired, returned to France. Their places were taken by John d'Este (who later became Chief of Section after the Section returned to Monastir) and James Keogh.
There were French troops in reserve at Katerini, the temporary front line being out in the direction of Elasson, which was southeasterly beyond the wooded hills back of Mount Olympus.
Our stay here was well taken up with washing voitures, changing wooden bodies for lighter canvas ones, and making other preparations for a campaign around the interior of Greece. Frequent trips were made to the sea at Scala Katerini, distant about seven kilometres. Here the swimming was excellent, and the sea-food dinners were "elegant."
The country between Katerini and Larissa, which is the chief city of Thessaly, was reputed to be filled with roving royalist comitajés who were the heroes of many a rumored skirmish with French outposts. So the ambulanciers were armed --- hardly to the teeth --- with automatic .32 calibre pistols. To be sure that every one got acquainted with this weapon of emergency, we had target practice out in the field back of the monastery. After twenty-five of us had fired one round per person, one hole (maybe two) appeared on the target. Whatever the number of hits, it was assured that every one knew his weapon and an attack on an ambulance section convoy (complete, with one White truck and a trailer-kitchen which served as a kennel for "Salonique," the cook's dog) was not to be feared (by the comitajés).
As a further assurance against a surprise attack, each person was given seven rounds of ammunition, which was to be strictly accounted for and returned to Hill on making the next étape.
On or about June 12, 1917, we moved on to Larissa, passing up the heavily wooded slopes back of Mount Olympus, following the valley of the Mavroneri River. Near the crest of the divide, the village of Petra was passed, and from there on it was nice rolling down to the town of Elasson.
After making Elasson, we caught up with the main body of the Division which was strung all along the road, winding up the Maluna Pass --- the entrance to Thessaly. We passed the little Indo-Chinamen who were struggling up the steep mountain with their huge packs and little peaked sun hats; Senegalese, spahis, Chasseurs d'afrique, French Artillery, and lots of French infantry. The English troops involved in the affair went by sea, so we did not come in contact with them. Russia also contributed troops, but they came after things were settled.
Passing down the Thessalian slope from the Maluna Pass, the holiday-bedecked town of Tirnavos was reached during a heavy rain. Allied flags were flying, though drenched; and bunting of all colors showed signs of not being weather-proof. Hastily prepared pictures of General Sarrail, President Wilson, General Joffre, and others of note were hung from wires stretched across the streets and in the windows. The pictures looked as though several days before they had been likenesses of other persons and had been touched up in a hurry to show how loyal Thessalians were to the Allied cause. These same unique bits of portraiture appeared later at Larissa and Volo.
From Tirnavos it was a short run across the wheatfields which stretched for many kilometres each side of the road to Larissa. We reached this town around five or six O'clock in the evening. There were crowds of citizens in the streets and all were looking in wonderment at the composite make-up of the incoming troops. The spahis had not long since rounded up the treacherous evzones (Greek infantry) who, after a formal surrender, offered resistance to the advancing French troops and then fled out across the wheatfields. The Spahis charged across the country and after a brief skirmish brought in a goodly number of prisoners, not, however, without losing twelve killed, officers and men.
We occupied the recently evacuated Greek barracks, and they were all too recently vacated, which we found much to our discomfort. Our barrack was near the one in which the captured Greeks were imprisoned.
Every now and then the Chinese guards, would walk out a group of prisoners, who, upon being addressed by the French commander through an interpreter, would give three cheers for Venizelos and the Allies, and at the same time sign up in Venizelos's Army. Thereupon they would be marched to the station by the ever-vigilant Chinamen and shipped to Salonica. and I hope to Topsin. Thus we saw loyal royal Greek troops transformed by a few well-chosen remarks into loyal Allied soldiers.
After the Greek King had acceded to the Allies' demands, on or about June 13, it became a certainty that there would be no active campaign in Greece, so it was a question of time, as to how long it was necessary to keep troops on the ground after the abdication. Several cars rolled each day, carrying only a few sick soldiers, and it is doubtful if we carried more than fifty during the expedition. Before we quitted Larissa, leaves were granted to Volo, which had been a base of supply for German submarines, where the most remarkable feature was the abundance of outdoor moving-picture shows. These shows were given on the quai from dark till dawn. Some of the Section made excursions to the Vale of Tempe which is not far from Larissa.
By the end of June most of the troops had evacuated Thessaly and we started back to Macedonia July 1. On this return hike we went over the Sarantoporen Pass to Kozano; thence, after a night on a barren hillside where the tinkle of goat-bells assumed the sonority of fire alarms, we proceeded through Eksisu and Sakulevo to our new sector beyond Brod (which is east across the valley from Monastir). The Section now became attached to the Serbian Army and had for cantonment a clump of tents on the hill above Skocivir looking down the valley across the Cerna.
CHARLES BAIRD, JR.*
*Reminiscences based on an unpublished diary.
Monastir, August 17, 1917
ALONG in the afternoon the intermittent bombardment of Monastir, which had been going on all the morning, suddenly increased in volume, until at four o'clock the noise of the bursting shells became a continual rumble, and tongues of flame mingled with the smoke and dust clouds which continuously shot up over the house-tops of the city.
The greater part of the Section was grouped on a hillside near camp, whence we could watch the bombardment. Two of our cars were on duty in the city, but we had no news of them. Immediately after dinner, Tracy and I, having been assigned to twenty-four hours' duty in Monastir, left camp. The bombardment seemed to increase in violence as we approached the unfortunate city, and fire was sweeping the eastern quarter. As we drove up the Grande Rue, which practically cuts the city in half, we could see that the eastern part of the town had suffered most.
In the Grande Rue the confusion was indescribable. Women with babies in their arms and with little children clinging to their skirts, and men carrying grotesque burdens of household possessions hastily salvaged, ran hither and thither in an agony of terror. Others cowered in their doorways, fearful of the open, while several knelt directly in our path, beseeching us to take them to a place of safety. Men even jumped upon the steps of the ambulances from which we forcibly dislodged them.
Arriving at the hospital we found it undamaged, being well to the north of the city, and nearer the Bulgar and Boche positions. There we relieved Sinclair and Russell, who then left for Florina with wounded, and being the last to leave, were forced to quit the town by a circuitous route through the western section, as shells were again falling in the Grande Rue.
Tracy and I were at once despatched to the offices of the hospital, which were located a little to the east of the Grande Rue. We found the building intact, though surrounded by flames. Tracy took the books and records in his car, while I went to the other end of the city to the English hospital for civilian Serbs, accompanied by an old Serbian woman, who had had her leg blown off. I found the Grande Rue still passable, though some of the buildings lining it were in flames. Shells were now falling to the west of the street.
Having delivered my wounded, I returned to the G.B.D. Hospital, where Tracy was preparing to make another trip to the offices. He left a little later, brought back the last of the salvage from that building, and reported that the fire was gaining headway in the Grande Rue, which he thought was impassable because of fallen débris. This was not the case, however, as Grenville Keogh, who had been sent for to help handle the emergency calls, came through it soon afterward, though his celluloid goggles were ignited by a burning fragment of wood, and one of his eyebrows went with them as they fizzled up in smoke.
As no more calls came, we remained at the hospital, and at eight o'clock the firing dropped to an intermittent cannonade. This continued until midnight, when we found that east of the Grande Rue, the city was practically destroyed. Incendiary bombs as well as high-explosive had been used, and fire and shell had done their work thoroughly. The French military authorities estimated that two thousand shells had fallen between four and eight o'clock that evening.
*Of Farmington, New Mexico; Harvard, '19; served with Section Three from April to October, 1917; subsequently a Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Service.
ON September 2 it was reported that the Italians, operating just across the valley on our right, had taken Hill 1050 and that the Senegalese were attacking on the plain at the foot of Rostanni. About noon we were warned of a coming counter-attack and told to be ready to evacuate from two new postes. Accordingly, that evening, the two staff cars, each with four ambulance drivers, made a tour of the postes, so that at least some of the boys might be familiar with all the roads.
At seven the following evening the repair car and ten ambulances started for the G.B.D. in Monastir, Lieutenant Dérode and I immediately following with the staff car. On arriving, we designated four men for the Ravine d'Italienne, a poste of the 76th Division; four for the Roumanian poste of the 30th Division, and leaving two at the G.B.D. to see to the unloading of the cars there, and the evacuation back to Holeven and Florina if necessary.
At eight o'clock it was sufficiently dark to start, and the cars left for the postes. At the Ravine d'Italienne, we parked the cars in the lee of a stone bridge and were joined by three brancardiers.
Brush fires, started by exploding shells, blazed on the mountains on either side, and farther up the valley the fields were afire just behind the Bulgar front lines. All the French artillery, from the little mountain batteries up in the hills to the big "210's" in the outskirts of Monastir were pounding away, and the Bulgars were replying, though to a less extent, and apparently directing their fire down into the town. The heavens seemed a writhing, shrieking waste of sound, but all of a sudden, about nine o'clock, the firing ceased, emphasizing the deep stillness of the night, broken only by occasional rifle-fire and the sharp rat-ta-tat-tat of the mitrailleuses out ahead. Then the moon came up over the mountains, bathing everything in a soft white light, and for the moment making us and our cars seem frightfully conspicuous.
In a few moments Lieutenant Dérode appeared for a final inspection and to warn the boys under no circumstances to bring in cadavres. About quarter of ten the cars began to roll steadily, and as they returned, after evacuating their loads at the G.B.D., were directed, according to the last reports of the number of blessés, to one poste or another. Along toward 2.30 A.M. things commenced to slacken, and all cars but three, one at each poste, and one at the road junction, ready to move up, were sent in. All three came in before daybreak. At the G.B.D. the Médecin Divisionnaire instructed us that the hospital must be evacuated before evening, so we telephoned to the cantonnement at Bistrica and got all remaining cars rolling. By noon our work was pretty well cleaned up.
This was the last real activity of Section Three. From then on we kept our usual programme; two cars at the G.B.D. in Monastir to answer calls from the postes, and each morning the required number of cars to evacuate back to Holeven, Velusini, or Florina and occasional calls from a radius of thirty kilometres. On September 6 and 28 we received two new batches of men as replacements, a number of the old members returning to France. We kept busy building mud and stone houses for winter quarters, improving our road out as far as the main road, and giving all the ambulances a thorough overhauling. On October 8 we got news from the Parc d'Autos at Salonica that we were to be recalled, and on the 9th came fifteen French drivers, whom we were to break in on our Fords and work. As soon as they took over the service we prepared to leave.
At noon on the 16th, Lieutenant Dérode called the whole Section together, and in a few words of heartfelt thanks, and regret at parting, bade us good-bye; and read the following order from the General Commanding the 76th Division, to which the Section had been attached:
Au moment où les conducteurs américains de la Section Sanitaire A.U. 3 vont quitter l'Orient pour aller continuer leurs services sur le sol français, le Général Commandant l'Armée Française d'Orient adresse ses félicitations au Chef et aux hommes composant le personnel de cette Section, pour l'intrépidité, l'entrain et le dévouement dont chacun d'eux a donné le plus beau témoignage au cours des opérations de guerre qui se sont succédé depuis Décembre 1916 dans le secteur de Monastir.
Grâce aux qualités d'endurance, de bravoure et de sang-froid dont ce personnel a fait preuve dans maintes circonstances, de nombreux soldats français, souvent grièvement blessés, ont pu recevoir rapidement les soins nécessaires qui leur ont sauvé la vie.
En s'éloignant de la Macédoine, où les volontaires américains ont fait apprécier leur concours si précieux, ces vaillant auxiliaires emportent avec eux les regrets unanimes, la gratitude de tous nos blessés et la reconnaissance de l'Armée Française de l'Orient.
JOHN N. D'ESTE*
*Of Salem, Massachusetts; Harvard, '10; joined the Field Service in September, 1916; served in Section Eight and as Chef of Section Three until November, 1917; subsequently a Second Lieutenant in U.S. Artillery.
1. George Merrick Hollister, of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Harvard, '18; served with Section Three from February, 1916, to May, 1917; he later became a Second Lieutenant in the United States Infantry; killed in action October, 1918.
2. Charles Henry Fiske, 3d, of Boston, Massachusetts; Harvard, '19; served in Section Three of the Field service from August, 1916, to June, 1917; became a Second Lieutenant in the United States infantry and died of wounds received in action August 24, 1918.
Table of Contents