History of the
American Field Service in France
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917, TOLD BY ITS MEMBERS
||ERNEST R. SCHOEN|
||ROBERT A. DONALDSON|
SECTION EIGHTEEN left Paris on May 8, 1917, going to Glorieux, near Verdun, working the postes of Bras and Montgrignon, and thence to Thonnance-les-Moulins en repos. It worked in the French attack at Verdun in August, where the Section received a divisional citation. From Verdun it went to Dolancourt, en repos, and thence to the hospital at La Veuve, in the Champagne, near Châlons-sur-Marne, in October, where the break-up took place and its U.S. Army régime began as Section Six-Thirty-Six.
Come, come, O Bard, from out some unknown
place, Come and record, in words and songs of fire,
ROBERT A. DONALDSON
ON May 8, 1917, Section Eighteen left Paris for an unknown destination. All of the cars, in the park at 21 rue Raynouard, looked very gay in their new paint with the crossed French and American emblems emblazoned on their sides. Each man glanced over the group and chose the car that appealed to him most, the choice usually being governed by the facility with which the engine could be started. During the next few days there was a mighty tuning of motors, inspection of equipment, filling of bidons, and making of trial spins. Finally the name plates were attached and everything put in readiness. About 9.30 A.M. Paul Kurtz(1), our Chef, gave the signal, we left the park, lined up on the quai in numerical order, made one last adieu, and passed out through the streets and boulevards of Paris in convoy formation. It was a proud moment for us all.
Our final stop for the day was at Sézanne, where we parked our cars in the court-house square, and found that the day's run had been rather remarkable, every car having got through in good order. A can of "monkey meat," a hunk of bread, and a bar of chocolate served for supper, after which the cots were set up in the cars. Some of the men, however, preferred the grand stand. Needless to say, it was not necessary to rock the Section to sleep that night.
Early the next morning we took the road again and soon entered the valley of the Marne, a country of plains and rolling fields which smiled in the early sunshine, for nature had well repaired the ravages of man. It required a being without a soul to devastate such a spot as this. Now the roadside graves grew more numerous, and we felt that we were passing through a region where world history had been made. From Vitry-le-François, we hurried to Bar-le-Duc, where we were directed to Fains, a treeless, uninteresting little place of one street, which was our temporary headquarters. Two days later the coveted order came authorizing us to proceed to Verdun.
An early start was made from Fains, and the convoy passed through the edge of Bar-le-Duc and then out into a fine rolling country over a good road that led us slowly on among never-ending vistas of hills and valleys, woods and fields. We were now on the main artery of communication with Verdun and there was much to catch and hold our interest. About noon we arrived at Vadelaincourt, which was to become our regular "port of call," and we then passed into a section where trenches and barbed-wire entanglements formed a goodly portion of the landscape, and where, in the distance, could be heard the occasional boom of a gun, while about us were ammunition dumps, parked camions, cavalry en repos, and other military essentials that led us to believe that at last we were going to have a first-hand view of "the real thing." As we turned into the edge of Verdun, and the ruined houses began to rear their fragmentary walls, we realized that the description of this locality had not been overdrawn. Skirting the edge of the town we swung into the cantonment at Glorieux and brought our cars to a halt.
At Glorieux we relieved Section Eight, which had done arduous service in this sector in the various attacks of the preceding months. Our cantonment was about one mile from the citadel of Verdun on the southwest side, and was located on the slope of a hill from the crest of which a large portion of the defences to the north of Verdun could be seen. It was made up of several stone hospital buildings and numerous long frame barracks. The bâtiment which Section Eight evacuated the morning after our arrival, and which we took over, was a commodious one and we were able to fix ourselves up very comfortably, indeed, these quarters being considered among the most comfortable at the front. In an adjoining bâtiment was an English section, also numbered eighteen, and attached to the French Army. They did evacuation work alternately with us, and the two groups were thrown close together and became very firm friends.
AT the outset only two postes de secours were assigned to Section Eighteen, one being located in the ruins of the village of Bras and the other across the Meuse from the village of Thierville, and known as Montgrignon. The village of Bras was near the Fort de Côte du Poivre and about four miles north of the citadel of Verdun, the poste de secours being installed in a well-constructed abri which, however, abounded in rats and was pervaded with the odor of acetylene gas used for its illumination. This town formerly housed about fifteen hundred inhabitants, but at this time there was hardly a wall standing, and the ruins were intersected in every direction by communication trenches. When the poste was taken over, it was about twelve hundred yards from the German first-line trenches.
As the road to Bras could not be used in the daytime, the wounded were brought down the canal in a péniche and unloaded at the poste at Montgrignon, from which point the ambulances carried them to Maison Nathan, a residence originally built for and occupied by General Bouvet, who planned the fortifications of Verdun. It was a sort of villa constructed on three sides of a square, the fourth side opening on a very pretty garden, which also was cut up by communication trenches. The fruit trees were sadly shattered, and among the flowers lay unused hand grenades, unexploded obus, and various other specimens of the flotsam of war; but still the apple blossoms, the lilacs and the columbine --- the bleeding heart of a flower which typifies France --- made a brave show. The Maison, which, I may add, was just inside the Saint Paul gate at Verdun, was badly shell-torn, and as it was still bombarded, the wounded were handled in specially prepared rooms in the cellar. In a word, Maison Nathan was a kind of clearing-house, where the doctors classified the wounded or sick, according to their hurt or ailment., and then tagged them for evacuation to the various hospitals in the vicinity. So here in the courtyard we kept our cars ready to go to Bras or Montgrignon or to the surrounding hospitals.
In the beginning we were assigned, as quarters at the Maison Nathan, a room in the cellar adjacent to the kitchen, a hole with only artificial light, partly electric and partly from oil lamps. We slept fully clothed in the beds and dared not investigate the blankets. A cat and her kittens ate and slept on these same beds. Later, a room was secured on the first floor which was made fairly comfortable, and where at least fresh air and sunshine could be had, though at night the windows had to be carefully covered in order that no light might show outside. In case of bombardment, the abri was quite handy, and we knew, in the dark, every foot of the way thereto.
As a general thing there was sufficient variety in our work to keep us entertained while on duty, for there were the blessés, the brancardiers, and the poilus to talk to, the ruins of the town to explore if time permitted, reading and writing and many arguments on various topics, all of which caused the time to pass away very pleasantly. But the men were not allowed to visit Verdun, nor to stray far from the cantonment, particularly in the directions where batteries were stationed. Yet, just before dusk, the top of the hill behind the camp was quite a gathering-place, as from there could be caught glimpses of Douaumont, Côte de Talon, Côte du Poivre, and other points of interest, while the flash of the guns, the bursting of obus, the illumination of the star-shells, and the display of the signal rockets were a never-ending fascination.
On the road to Bras it was duck and dodge and twist and turn, and when the eye-strain became too great, we sometimes parried things that did not exist. Along the Faubourg Pavé we went, and up the Belleville Hill, striving to make it in "high." A turn to the right at the top and it was a straight run to Bras, with the camouflage on the left and the open fields on the right, and plenty of traffic rattling by with the flash of a searchlight here and there to indicate positions, or a dazzling glare from a star-shell that soon expired and left the darkness blacker than ever. So a wave of relief swept over us as we passed under the waving arches of camouflage that graced the streets of the ruined town, and this feeling was accentuated when we slipped the car into the shelter and we ourselves descended the steps to the abri where the brancardiers, the rats, and various odors welcomed us. We shan't forget in a hurry that road to Bras.
ON June 28, we were notified that we should leave the next morning to go en repos. In view of the expected offensive in the near future in which our Division was to take an important part, the soldiers were to be given a good rest behind the lines and the Section was to accompany them. So the cars were loaded that day, and the next morning early we took the road to the rear after seven busy weeks in the immediate sector of Verdun. The convoy had a pleasant run through some very charming French country. The day was ideal, and the wealth of color in the landscape suggested the hand of a master painter. We followed the broad highway to Bar-le-Duc, and were interested in seeing civilians again while the sight of the feminine filled us with wonder. At Suzannecourt our cars were parked near an ancient and run-down château where quarters were secured for most of the boys. The stores were unloaded and set up, and after a good meal we were all glad to "turn in." The next day, however, we received a jolt. The French authorities had sent us to the wrong town, so we had to pack up again, bid good-bye to our new-made friends, and seek quarters ten kilometres farther east. A short run brought us to our destination --- Thonnance-les-Moulins --- a small village with only two cafés, nestling in a valley among some well-defined and wooded hills and with a delightfully clear and cold little stream near by where the drivers could scrub themselves and their cars. These cars were parked in a field behind the mairie and adjacent to the stream, while the kitchen and the atelier were set up in the stable-yard of our main billet.
The men who had the good fortune to be quartered among the townspeople now experienced the exquisite pleasure of sheets, pillows, and feather mattresses, something it was mighty difficult to pull us away from in the morning. The old peasant women who rented the rooms did not understand our habits any better than most of us understand their mitrailleuse speech, this being their first experience with the Americans at close range. Everything considered, however, we lived together in peace and harmony, and at the same time had an opportunity to gain an intimate knowledge of the French peasant class.
SOON after our arrival at Thonnance, the "Glorious Fourth" came to pass. So large United States and French flags were hung at the entrance to our stable-yard, and that evening we had a sumptuous repast, including champagne and several speeches wherein we spoke very nicely of ourselves. It was, indeed, a "large" day, and though the natives did not know what the Fourth of July was, they suspected that it was quite an important occasion. The French Government, in view of the Fourth and the landing of American troops in France, allowed us a two days' leave in Paris, which by travelling at night were stretched into four days. This was, indeed, a welcome break in our daily life, and the "bright lights" were thoroughly enjoyed by those who could scrape together sufficient funds.
In the meantime the regiments of the Division were busy practising for the offensive at Verdun. The G.B.D. unit had to listen to lectures on their duties, and as there was little for Section Eighteen to do but sit and wait --- we had almost eight weeks of that --- the inaction began to tell on the men before the end came. With a world war in progress within cannon sound of us, we felt that we were spending our time as though we were at some summer resort. So when finally we were told, on August 6, that we should return to Verdun the next day, there was universal rejoicing. We packed our things, hitched on our kitchen trailer, and about noon, on a bright summer day, took the road back to what we knew would be a wonderful experience if we lived to see it through.
To most of us, the return to Glorieux was somewhat like a home-coming; but this time we did not have the commodious quarters that we formerly occupied. Indeed, we were restricted to three rooms, and the remainder of the building was given over to a French G.B.D. transport squad, and our English friends of S.S.A. Eighteen, who arrived soon after we did, and who had to be partly quartered in tents. What were barracks before had now to be converted into hospital wards. But otherwise things had not changed much since our departure. The cemeteries had grown a bit, some temporary structures had been erected, and there was an observation balloon station near by that interested us mightily. The hill from which we had been accustomed to make so many thrilling observations was also there, but alas, we were forbidden to ascend to the top. But as many plum trees grew near the crest of the hill, and as we were all very fond of that fruit, this proved some compensation.
During the first week of our stay there, we had very little to do, as our Division, which, in view of the attack, had been augmented by another regiment, had not yet moved up to the trenches. Most of our activity consisted in keeping a car at the Caserne Griboval for the purpose of hauling the Médecin Divisionnaire around on his various inspection trips and to his numerous conferences. Occasionally, too, a car went on a special run, and on such occasions the driver was envied. Interest was increased by the fact that the roads were now being strictly policed, illuminated signs placed along the routes at all crossings and various traffic rules enforced ad literatim.
Along about August 15th, our Division began to enter the trenches and the Médecin Divisionnaire moved his headquarters to Bras, which poste we then commenced to work regularly. In the beginning, most of the men handled were gas cases, for the Germans were using a shell containing a new kind of gas. It had no odor and the effects were not felt to any degree until a good many hours after the victim had been subjected to it, when the eyes, nose, throat, lungs, and stomach were attacked, and, penetrating the clothing, it would raise large blisters where it came in contact with the sweaty parts of the body.
SUCCESSFUL night driving now became largely a matter of good judgment and luck. As the rain had ceased, dust became an important factor in the art, and when the gas-mask had to be put on, progress on the highway was pure guesswork. The Bras road was barely wide enough in places for three vehicles abreast, and then it was necessary for one of them to run on the dummy track alongside. When an ambulance dashed out from behind some convoy and took a chance in the darkness and dust, it never knew what it was going to meet; and when some vague shape loomed up almost upon one, one had to find a hole somewhere and find it quickly. If there were horses on the right-hand side of the road, you could push them into the ditch and make this hole, and, incidentally, be glad you could not understand the language of the driver. All the other vehicles were larger than a Ford ambulance, and generally you had to rely on a hole being made for you. In the midst of all this, perhaps you might lose a mudguard, dent a fender, or smash a lamp, but that was just a part of the game.
THE approach to Bras on the night of the attack was a scene of bewildering confusion. The road was choked with horses and vehicles of every description seemingly mixed in inextricable chaos, brancardiers were going forth empty-handed or returning with silent burdens, batteries roared and flashed in every direction, while shells whistled overhead continuously. The route was lit up by the glare of two burning camions which had been struck by German shells, and the ruined town, with its waving arches of camouflage, presented a weird and grotesque appearance as the lights and shadows played about its distorted walls and crumbling piles of masonry.
A short while after midnight, gas-shells began to come over, and then the confusion became worse and the difficulties for us increased ---for as the breath soon condenses on the lenses of the gas-mask, to see through it at night is well-nigh an impossibility. Horses affected by the gas pranced all over the road, and their drivers, looking like so many ghouls, cursed inaudibly beneath their masks, doubly irritated by their inability to see clearly. In the meanwhile, the traffic assumed more and more a condition of turmoil, and finally everything had to be halted until the worst had passed, while those of us at the poste were compelled to enter the abri, where every crack and crevice was tightly closed, and what with every inch of space occupied by sleeping, eating, or smoking poilus, it was a question of whether the air without was not preferable to that within. But as soon as there was a lull in the gas attack, the ambulances were loaded and started on their way. Most of them, however, did little more than start, for soon the gas was as thick as ever, and again the traffic became badly congested and everything had to halt. With our gas-masks on, we waited, wedged in the mass, while on one side fell the gas-shells, on the other the high-explosives, and overhead occasionally burst shrapnel. Sometimes a shell would find its billet, and the screams of horses and shouts of men would add to the hideousness of the scene. After what seemed an interminable time, the gas let up, the road was partially cleared, and, though still hampered with gas-masks, we crawled and felt our way toward Verdun, where we deposited our burdens at the triage with a feeling of relief that no words can describe.
It was during the night just mentioned that Long, hearing an aeroplane bomb burst behind him, got out of his car, investigated and, finding a man with his leg nearly torn off, immediately applied a tourniquet, using a piece of trace rope, a hammer, and one of his tire tools. He then loaded him with two other wounded into the ambulance, and hurried to the hospital, and thus saved a life by his prompt action, for which he later received the Croix de Guerre. This is one of the many fine examples of the work done by our men during this stormy crisis.
DURING the night of August 20 and the early morning of the 21st, the bombardment was intense, and soon after dawn the troops went over, when the road to Bras became a very unpleasant sight, for it was lined its whole length with dead and dying horses and the wrecks of vehicles. Near the junction of the Petit Bras with the Bras road was a particularly gruesome scene, a bursting shell having involved a camion and a horse-drawn ammunition wagon, left the bodies of four of the horses, two partially burned, lying in the ditch, the wreckage of the conveyances, and numerous loaded shells strewn all about, while in the midst of the repulsive mess was a poilu whose body was completely severed at the waist and the skin burned from the nether limbs.
For the whole of the day the little Fords went up and down the Bras road like so many mechanical toys. The shelling was still pretty warm in the localities roundabout, and the highway was so full of shell-holes that it was a wonder the springs ever stood the strain. In the meanwhile, the wounded were being brought into the triage so rapidly that its facilities were overwhelmed, and the drivers had to act as their own brancardiers, depositing the wounded in the open courtyard until room could be made inside the building. Finally we even had all to turn in and evacuate them to the railroad station at Souilly, where they were transported to hospitals in cars of other sections.
August 31st was the red-letter day in the annals of Section Eighteen, when between seven hundred and eight hundred blessés were handled and the cars kept in motion almost constantly. The men performed their work efficiently and thoroughly, and the wounded were removed from the poste de secours just as rapidly as they could receive the necessary attention and be placed in the cars. Section Four furnished ten cars which worked in conjunction with Section Eighteen during the major portion of the attack, and they are entitled to the greatest praise for the aid they gave us.
Our English friends of S.S.A. Eighteen, who, I may say in passing, had given a very fine account of themselves during the attack, now packed up their "old kitbags" and left us. We felt rather lonesome at their departure. Finally it was settled that we, too, were to leave on September 2. So we immediately began to set our house in order. The cars were in a rather sorry plight, for there was hardly one that did not bear scars from the work of the attack --- rear mudguards gone, fenders pushed in, radiators bent, lamps smashed, holes punched in the bodies, and side boxes knocked off. As far as possible these defects were remedied, the mud was cleaned off as well as could be, and everything put in shape for a long cross-country run, while Section Four moved into our quarters, prepared to take over our postes on the day of our departure. And then, at 3 A.M., September 2, we awakened to a wet, drizzly morning, caught a quick breakfast of coffee, jam, and bread, and by the time it was fairly light took our last look at Glorieux and the environs of Verdun, swung into the Bar-le-Duc road, and were quickly on our way to peace and rest.
Dolancourt, which had been selected as our place of repos, proved to be a very quaint and pretty little village with fine trees and attractive surroundings. The work we were called upon to do there was similar to that of our first repos. The Médecin Divisionnaire had his headquarters at Vendoeuvre, a pleasant, small town about eight miles from Dolancourt, where we kept a car on duty at all times, each driver serving twenty-four hours.
The latter part of September was marked by several occurrences of interest, including the arrival of the United States officers to enlist the men in the Regular Army. Several of the fellows departed for home or aviation work, and new men came out to the Section to replace them. But the principal event and the climax of the Section's career was the conferring upon it of the Croix de Guerre, in recognition of the work done at the Verdun attack described above.
ON the morning of the 29th, the citation ceremony took place in a superb spot, a small plateau just outside of Dolancourt, which was itself nestled beneath in a verdant cup. In every direction stretched the rolling fields and hills covered with vineyards and wood plots, the stately poplar rearing its head wherever the eyes turned, until the succession of green heights seemed to dissolve in the distance, while here and there bright bits of color flashed out where the mustard and the poppy held sway.
Such was the scene when there swung into the field, passing the ambulances, spick and span, drivers at attention, the various detachments of the G.B.D. --- companies; of brancardiers, trim and polished for the occasion, and horse-drawn vehicles of the Service Sanitaire equipped for various purposes of aid and relief. The Red Cross was everywhere. Indeed, all the units of a G.B.D. were present, and each proceeded with military precision and despatch to allotted positions, forming three sides of a hollow square, the fourth side being left open for the Médecin Divisionnaire and the reviewing party, who soon arrived, and, with his staff and his decorations glistening in the sun, the former marched around the field and made a brief inspection of the assembled units. Then the individuals who were to be decorated formed a line in the centre of the square, with the Médecin Chef carrying the official emblem of the G.B.D. and the Lieutenant carrying that of Section Eighteen. Unfortunately, out of our six men who were to receive decorations, only the Chef, William Slidell, and young Olmstead, were present. Then the citations of the G.B.D. and Section Eighteen were read out and the Médecin Divisionnaire pinned a Croix de Guerre upon the flag of each, this being followed by the reading of the individual citations. As each of the latter was concluded, he attached a Croix de Guerre to the breast of the man cited, and accompanied the act by a few congratulatory words and a shake of the hand. When this was finished, the Médecin Divisionnaire, his staff, and the honor men retired to the open side of the square, where they watched the entire organization pass in review.
As the procession swung by in the midst of this wonderful setting, the sight was an inspiring one. And finally the little American ambulances, chugging slowly along in the rear of the procession, slipped over the hill and back to their park, and thus Section Eighteen of the American Field Service passed out of existence as a volunteer organization.
ERNEST R. SCHOEN*
*Of Richmond, Virginia; Virginia University, '04; served with Section Eighteen for six months; subsequently a Captain, U.S.A. Air Service.
On our way from Paris to the Front
Sézanne, May 9, 1917
AROSE early. My head and blankets were pretty wet from having slept in a heavy dew. We finally got away about 9.30 A.M. Passed a small monument commemorating the Battle of the Marne, and about the same time the burial plots began to grow rather numerous. Yet there were few signs of devastation, and the bright green of the meadows, with the brighter yellow of the dandelions, made a picture that brought a sparkle to the most tired eyes. Soon we passed some small villages, with here and there a house levelled. It is not possible to imagine that a country such as this could be destroyed by any one who had the least particle of appreciation for the beautiful and picturesque.
Bras, May 12
ON the road to Verdun! I sat out in front of the poste for a while, watching the flares, the flash of the adjacent batteries, and the soldiers shooting at rats that attempted to cross the road. Eventually I went below and was writing when my first call came. I loaded an assis and a couché into my machine and started for the Maison Nathan. The strain of my first night's driving was terrific --- the continual peering through the gloom, the unexpected appearance of men and wagons, the impossibility of avoiding bumps and holes, and at the same time knowing that every jar and bump meant a pang to the man or men inside --- all kept one in a state of suspense that tried the nerves severely.
THE invisibility of this warfare is amazing. One sees the flashes of the guns, but no battery; there are forts, but no men in sight; trenches, but no soldiers. Everything is under cover, and the ingenuity displayed to bring this about is wonderful. Were it not for the eyes of the armies --- the aeroplanes and observation balloons --- the wastage of ammunition would be worse than it actually is; and, as things are, it is appalling.
THE other day I brought in a bunch of lilacs, and it makes a beautiful sight on the table before me. Its vase, a French "75" shell-casing, is rather incongruous, but so is war.
Rather amused at the comments of some English the other night when the bombardment was on. "Silly asses," they said, "throwing things at one another; probably never saw each other in their lives and don't know what they are fighting about." Peculiar chaps, these English, smugly satisfied, but in their way always polite and considerate.
FROM Montgrignon I brought back one couché and three assis, the former in a pitiable state --- leg broken, arm injured, part of his chest torn away, and his head battered in! My! how he moaned; his cries of "Oh! là ! là! Oh! là ! là!" will haunt my memory for weeks to come. He would raise himself from the brancard and endeavor to get water, but they would give him none. His eyes would roll back till one saw nothing but their whites, and then he would burst into tears. God! how these men suffer. Can such occurrences be part of the order of things? Are men born, raised, and educated to be slaughtered like so many animals, and to suffer the tortures of hell and the damned, through the course of it? Perhaps so; but the reason of it all is beyond my narrow intelligence. There must be some great reward to the world to repay the enormous sacrifice that mankind is now enduring.
ANOTHER beautiful day. The country is wonderful. The scarred and riven hills with their wire entanglements are green and luxurious with grasses and wild flowers; and the portions where are the buttercups are cloth-of-gold. Nature will hold her own; but over toward Douaumont way the rage of man has been too much for her healing efforts, and there the hill which marks the fort is as bare as the palm of one's hand. By the way, one can always tell when he is approaching a hospital by the field of crosses which appears just before. The wooden crosses, or croix de bois, have been awarded much oftener than the Croix de Guerre.
ANOTHER trip to Bras at 1.30 A.M. I had no sooner arrived than they gave me two couchés with directions to beat it back "vite." I did, and one poor devil with his side shot away suffered frightfully. How he kicked the sides of the car and called out into the night --- ye gods! It was monstrous; but the race with death had to be run. Death won.
THE tails of the French shirts have been giving me some trouble due to their astounding length. I hear that the wealth of material is put there as a result of the tendency of the French to omit one of their nether garments. Be that as it may, its disposal is quite a problem and causes me to labor earnestly to avoid knots of cloth that make sitting at times exceedingly uncomfortable. The French may economize in other ways, but in this respect they certainly are prodigal.
THE English have given a little entertainment which consisted principally of songs and shadowgraphs. The most wonderful thing of the whole show was that the English burlesqued themselves and enjoyed it. After this war I do not think that the line of demarcation between the nationalities will be so closely drawn as before; there has been too much association, and the influence of one upon the other is already apparent. Now that we Americans, too, are influencing the situation sufficiently to cause notice, the resulting reaction of the nationalities upon one another is going to make a still more interesting study.
AFTER supper I took a long cross-country walk; got some wonderful views and had some excellent cherries. My! How the larks sang. They hover in the air and pour out their notes till it seems that they must drop from exhaustion. Then Frantz and I took a look over the church and graveyard. The artificial wreaths and ornaments with which the French decorate the graves are most hideous, making the cemeteries look like factories.
IN the afternoon an independent Boche plane slipped over and fired, in their usual nervy way, two French saucisses. Some of the English section who were looking on applauded the nerve of the act, and a Frenchman near by went to their C.O. and made complaint. He was informed, for his trouble, that he failed to understand the sporting instinct of the English. The C.O. was perfectly correct.
WELL, it was a bit of hell last night. Perhaps not so much of a trench hell, but a small-sized ambulance hell. I had barely gone to bed and not yet to sleep when the call came for four cars for Bras, of which mine was one. I got away smoothly in the darkness, and to avoid the traffic as much as possible took a roundabout way past the citadel and through the erstwhile city of Verdun. When I reached the ruins of Belleville I began to run into considerable traffic, but managed to slip by the ravitaillement and in and out of the camion convoys until I had passed over the Belleville Hill. Here my troubles began. There was an endless procession of traffic moving in both directions over a road that was about wide enough for one. After making several attempts to get control of the middle of the road, I ducked in behind a Buick of one of our English friends, and there I stayed for about an hour, now and then crawling a few hundred yards. Even the little donkey carts passed me, nipping off pieces of my car as they passed. The sky was lit up from artillery fire on all sides. In front of us at Bras a camion, set on fire by a wandering shell, was burning fiercely and making a great reflection. Shells burst constantly in the neighborhood, and every now and then a piece of shrapnel would sing by. Besides the roar of the guns there were the steady rattle and creak of the stream of passing vehicles. Of these latter there was a most remarkable variety: the little two-wheeled, low-bodied ammunition wagons with donkeys pulling them, one- or two-horse carts with canvas covers, gun carriages, lumber trucks, horses single, tandem, three, four, and five abreast, motor-cycles, staff cars, ambulances, camionnettes, huge camions, every imaginable vehicle, and every conceivable kind of military equipment, all mixed, apparently inextricably, in the darkness. Darting in among them were the omnipresent gendarmes and road marshals, shouting orders in a mad attempt to keep the traffic moving and the needs of a great attack promptly served.
EARLY in the morning I passed a body of Boche prisoners --- a pretty hard-looking bunch and some of them quite young. I was rather struck by the consideration shown them by the French brancardiers. It is true that many of them were deprived of their insignia, masks, casques, etc., but permission was usually first asked and they were generally given substitutes in exchange. The French are like that. They fight ferociously, but cruelty to wounded or prisoner enemies is an impossibility. A mistake when dealing with the Boche!
Saturday, August 25
I WANDERED up to the morgue yesterday and watched the soldiers appointed for that purpose go through the pockets of the dead and prepare them for burial. It was a gruesome sight. The one near-by cemetery has had about three hundred additions in the last few days.
Wednesday, August 29
THE funerals keep up. The grave-diggers are kept busy. Every little while the coffins go by in front of our bâtiment and more mounds appear in the lot near by.
ERNEST R. SCHOEN*
*Notes from an unpublished diary.
SECTION EIGHTEEN remained stationed at the evacuation hospital at La Veuve, near Châlons-sur-Marne in the Champagne, from the last of October until January 20, 1918. Meanwhile it underwent great transformation. The personnel for the most part changed, the places of the retiring members being taken by men of old Section Seventy, which had hitherto driven Fiat cars. With its militarization the Section became officially Section Six-Thirty-Six of the U.S.A.. Ambulance Service. It was then attached to the 87e D.I. and went in January, 1918, to Mourmelon-le-Grand, in the Champagne tin the "region of the Mounts," where the Division went into line. The postes worked were a halfway station to Ham and Bois Sacré, with M4 as a reserve Poste. The hospitals served were Farman and Mourmelon-le-Petit, with calls to Châlons, La Veuve, and Mont Frenet. The work was light, on the whole, except for a few rather severe but short attacks by the Germans during March, the purpose of which was to camouflage the intended attack on Amiens. The Section remained here until April 2, when it gave over its postes to Section Fifteen, and started en convoi for the Somme front.
Short stops were made at Avenay, Fismes, Pont-Sainte-Maxence, on the Oise, Beauvais, and Amiens, our final cantonment being the little town of Taisnil. Immense preparations were being made by both French and British on this front to stop the supposed second German drive on Amiens. We spent three weeks of waiting here.
The Germans, however, did not attack on Amiens, but on the 27th commenced their Aisne-Marne drive. During the night of May 31, the entire Division was moved in camions toward the Aisne front. We followed in convoy the next morning, making Gournay-sur-Arronde that day, and Saint-Sauveur, in the edge of the Compiègne Forest the next. Finally, on June 3, after a terrible convoy over jammed and dusty roads, we reached Largny, a few kilometres outside of Villers-Cotterets. We later took up permanent quarters in an old mill at Vez. The work was very heavy, as the Germans were still attacking, and we were in line here for thirty-eight days.
From the 11th to the 14th of June, coincident with their attack in the Noyon-Montdidier sector, the Germans attacked this front heavily, but only gained a foothold of about a kilometre in depth. It was at this time that the French Renault light tanks were first put into action. During the latter part of our stay we took over postes at the Carrefour de Cabaret and at Montgobert, as well as continuing to serve the postes at the Carrefour de Saut du Cerf, the 136th near Vertes-Feuilles, Puiseux, and the G.B.D. at Villers-Cotterets, later moved to Largny.
On July 12, we came out of line and went with the Division to Pont-Sainte-Maxence again, for repos. On the morning of July 15 we moved to La Fayel near by, and, on July 18, as we began to get news of the Foch counter-offensive above Soissons, moved again on a long dusty convoy to Villers-Cotterets, and thence to Retheuil. We went to work immediately, aiding Section Two, which was serving the Colonial Division, working at Saint-Pierre-Aigle, the reserve poste, and Vertes-Feuilles and Vierzy, front postes. We carried many Americans during this time. The next day we moved to Vivières, and our Division went in and relieved half the 1st Division, and half the French Colonial Division. Our postes were Léchelle, Vierzy, Charentigny, Chaudun, with Dommiers as a reserve poste, and later, Chazelle as a front poste. The work was extremely heavy all the time on account of the persistent attacks for Buzancy and Villemontoire. We carried many wounded from the famous Scotch Division, which contained, among other units, the Black Watch and the Argyll Highlanders. Conditions were terrible. Evacuation was some thirty-five kilometres over crowded roads to Pierrefonds, a distance later shortened somewhat by the taking of assis to Villers-Cotterets. The Section was much shocked by the manner in which the American 1st Division left their dead lying unburied. Several hundred were left in this fashion when the 1st Division went out of line. The French buried them as soon as they were able.
On August 2, the Germans retreated back to the Aisne and Vesle, and the Division and Section came out of line on August 6, and back to Villers-Cotterets. A few days later we moved to Dammartin, near Meaux. Then followed a speedy convoy, through Chaumont, Neufchateau, and Épinal to the Vosges, where the Division, now badly cut up, took a position some twenty-five kilometres in extent in the line between Saint-Dié and Raon-l'Étape. Our French Division here broke into the trenches the American 92d Division of negroes.
We moved again on September 1, this time going to Lunéville, on the Lorraine front. This sector was very quiet. We were cantoned in the city itself, and worked postes at small villages at the front. The Division occupied a front of ten kilometres. We remained here until October 18, when we went near by to the famous manure-pile town of Xermaménil, and three days later started a memorable convoy to the Champagne, by way of Nancy, Toul, Ligny-en-Barrois, and Bar-le-Duc, finally arriving at the little town of Dampierre-le-Château, noted for the absence of the château. We spent a week here, finally moving up, under secret orders, to a place on the old line where a town called Ripont had been, where we lived in old German dugouts. Then on to Séchault on the Sainte-Ménehould-Vouziers road, where we camped in the mud during the Franco-American Argonne-Meuse attack of November 1, expecting to go into action during the secondary stage of the battle around Vouziers. But so quickly was the Grandpré-Vouziers salient reduced that the Division was not needed, and we were sent back to Ripont, then to Suippes, and finally to Bouy, near Mourmelon-le-Grand, in the Champagne, where we were stationed when the Armistice was signed. Contrary to our former visions of the great day, life went on about as usual. We could not believe it was all over. Even the starshells the poilus sent up at dusk failed to make us realize it. We had driven over these same roads by their light during nights of war.
A few days later, we started a long convoy to the Vosges, by way of Vitry-le-François, Saint-Dizier, and Neufchateau, to Darney, where we remained a week. We then proceeded to Le Thillot and by way of the Col de Bussang into "l'Alsace Reconquise" --- through Wesserling, Thann, and Cernay, finally arriving at Soultz, which the Germans had but recently evacuated. Thanksgiving Day was duly celebrated at the Alsatian town of Rouffach, in the inn of an old veteran of the Franco-Prussian war. We then moved down to the fortress town of Neuf-Brisach, on the Rhine, where we had a car stationed at the pontoon bridge, opposite Alt-Brisach on the bluff across the river in the province of Baden, for the handling of the sick among the returning prisoners. We had good quarters in an old German officers' barracks.
In the middle of January, the Division was broken up, and we were attached to the D.S.A. in Mulhouse. We remained here until March 9, when we were ordered in to Paris, en route for home.
ROBERT A. DONALDSON*
*See Section Seventy.
||PAUL A. RIE|
||CHARLES C. JATHO|
||FRANK G. ROYCE|
||JOHN D. LOUGHLIN|
||EDWARD P. SHAW, 3D|
SECTION NINETEEN left Paris on May 16,1917, going by way of Saint-Dizier and Bar-le-Duc to La Grange-aux-Bois, arriving on May 19. It served the postes of La Chalade and Chardon in the wooded Argonne. The Section remained in this sector for some time, going at last, on September 25, to Montereux, and thence to Semoigne when it was taken into the U.S. Army as Section Six-Thirty-Seven.
Give us a name to move the heart
HENRY VAN DYKE
La Grange-aux-Bois, May 22, 1917
WE pulled out of Paris May 16, after a gay farewell dinner at "21" the night before, and wound along up the Marne Valley in a pouring rain to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, where we camped the first night. The next two nights we spent in Saint-Dizier and Bar-le-Duc, and on the 19th the convoy circled back through the more or less devastated district southwest of Verdun to this village, where we are to relieve Section Two and make our permanent quarters.
We have unloaded our beds and bags in a large barn, with holes in the roof and walls, and a really dirty dirt floor, over which the rats and fleas frolic nightly. In the middle of the place are a wooden table and benches, and here we take our meals.
The sanitary arrangements are the following: In the morning when we are up and partly dressed, we take our towels and other implements of toilet and wade through a yard full of manure and mud to another manure-pile and mud-heap, in another yard, where is a well, from which can be extracted dark-brown water, with which we "ablute" our hands and faces, and, once in a while, our teeth.
We have two front postes, La Chalade and Chardon, two men being assigned to each poste, and relieved every twenty-four hours. To-day I am on poste duty at La Chalade, which is an old abbey partly destroyed by shellfire, and located in a little open valley between wooded hills, with the ruins of a tiny village in the rear of it toward the lines. The ground rises gradually from the abbey, and the crest of the slope must mark the frontline trenches, as the ground in the distance near the summit assumes that white, barren look one associates with the idea of No Man's Land, and the only trees which break the skyline are the torn and leafless trunks of what was certainly at one time a flourishing forest. The building itself, except for the chapel, which is partially destroyed, is used as a dressing-station. Of the chapel, one side-altar alone remains, and there mass is said every morning by one of the brancardiers who is a priest. The main part of the abbey, which must have served originally as quarters for the monks and was later remodelled to serve as a private home, is a large, barnlike construction. The interior is bare except for the cots and rough tables of the brancardiers. It is impossible to describe the charm and picturesqueness this old abbey has for us, but I'm wondering if perhaps it is n't partly because it marks the scene of our first work at the front. For when the realization comes that it is the dreamed-of moment, that one is actually serving France, actually in the war at last, the surroundings of that moment, however ordinary, are for. ever after colored with romance.
WE are never very much exposed to direct fire, but we have to pass over a road that is occasionally shelled. For instance, after the bombardment of the roads and neigh boring fields this afternoon, there was only one blessé. I flipped a coin with the other fellow on duty to see who would take him back to town. I won, and as there had been no shell for about ten minutes, I went out in front of the abbey to crank my car, when, just as I was in the very act of cranking, another shell fell too close to me for comfort. I almost had a fit at the explosion; however, outside of earth fragments, nothing hit me. But no sooner had I got out on the road, driving like mad to get out of the danger zone, than another shell came down just alongside the highway, and I was again given something of a fright. When we hear them whistle, we just duck into the abri and await developments, after which we go out and walk around until we hear the next one coming. It is all untranslatable in letters.
To-morrow I go on duty at Chardon, and we drove up there this morning to learn the roads. Although the poste there is only a little distance from La Chalade, it is an entirely different sort of place. The road to it leads up a steep hill through the thick Argonne woods, and the poste itself is a little underground dugout with dirt and logs piled on top, the entrance alone being visible. We left our car before the door, descended a few steps, and passed through a little passageway into a small, roughly furnished room which looked for all the world like the cabin of a ship. The room was lighted by a small window, dug out from the outside, and was furnished with a table littered with books and papers, one or two rough chairs, a field telephone in the corner, and on the inside wall a curtained berth where the doctor in charge of the poste slept. In the rear of this room was the kitchen, with sleeping-quarters for some of the brancardiers and a rear exit leading out into the communication trenches.
At Chardon we are provided with rough cots and straw mattresses and we take with us only our blankets, of which I am glad I have four, because I sleep with one folded below me. We are also much better fed at the postes than at the cantonment, because we eat with the officers. In fact, our coffee is usually brought to us in bed. The entire neighboring trench system is worked out like a miniature city, with sidewalks, sewers, and steps leading in and out, with everything about as comfortable as it can be made.
SUNDAY morning I went out to the poste and had a very quiet day, sitting in the woods writing letters. After lunch, served in a sheltered summer-house, with the two doctors, there was a little bombarding about a quarter of a mile away, but nothing serious. At supper we had a half-dozen young and jovial aide-majors and the Bishop of La Réunion, near Madagascar, who is a good sport. After supper we telephoned to an old Artillery Captain, at his battery near by, and invited ourselves for the evening. We walked through boyaux and barbed wire until we came to the old boy's dugout, where we were received in style and entertained right jovially until about ten o'clock. Unfortunately and unavoidably, I am forced to drink pinard, or whatever else is offered, and, although I dislike it intensely, it has absolutely no effect upon me. If I had refused the sherry of the old captain, he would have been mortally offended; so I was compelled to imbibe it in small gulps.
LAST night, Willcox, Putnam, Johnson, and I walked through the back streets of our village, which is quite pretty once you get off the main road, and reached the church just in time to hear mass, which we sat through to the end. The service was rather gruesome. The acolyte was in regular soldier's uniform, with his gas-mask hanging from his belt, and all the prayers had a military bearing --- for peace, for the wounded and dead, for camarades in peril, and for the widows and orphans. Of course there were only soldiers present, all busy interceding for Divine grace.
Sainte-Ménehould, June 10
THIS afternoon I had to drive three blessés to this place, and afterwards Jimmy and I stopped to visit the military cemetery, where are over four thousand little crosses, squeezed side by side with small tricolored cocardes on them. It was one of the most depressing sights I have seen, because the majority of the graves were quite bare, without any wreath or sign of remembrance on them. Once in a while we saw a dirty little bead crown or wreath, inscribed "A mon mari" or "A notre fils," which made the grave even more tragic because it helped us to imagine still more fully the misery thrust upon that particular family. Then I thought of the man who held the contract for the coffins, those who manufactured the flowers and cockades, and who were coining money out of everybody's misery --- all of which caused still more unpleasant thoughts. After the visit to the cemetery, we drove to the hospital and took some fruit to Dougherty, who is in bed there with some kind of malarial fever.
Wednesday, June 13
YESTERDAY afternoon, after writing some letters and cards at the poste, I went out in the rain and changed a flat tire on my car. As I have only a very hazy notion of the technique of tire-changing, I made a considerable mess of the job, but finally got the old thing fixed somehow. Then I went in and played an excellent game of chess with Belcher, a fellow twenty-four years old, a chemist from Boston, and a shark at chess. Result ---a draw. Next we had supper, and after supper Belcher and I sat in our cars talking religion and socialism. About 9. 15, just as it was growing dark, we heard a tremendous crash near by, followed by various minor explosions. Immediately afterwards the mitrailleuses began a terrific rattle that sounded like a boy grating a stick along an iron railing. We began to prick up our ears and make all sorts of conjectures; but pretty soon we knew all about it, because we heard a cheery hissing all around us and the branches breaking in the trees too close to us to be agreeable and safe. So deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, we slid out in a hurry and rushed for the boyau, from which we had a splendid worm's-eye view of the bombardment that followed. There was nothing to see, but altogether too much to hear, and for a full half-hour the place shook and the air was full of a tremendous noise.
There was a battery of "75's" very close to us, and their sharp, whiplike crack drowned almost everything else. Once in a while, though, we could make out the trolley-car sound of the "150's" as they trundled through the air, and, when there was a second's interruption in the French fire, we heard the German shells exploding in our trenches, and the unceasing rattle of the mitrailleuses. Once there was a hiss, a sizzle, and a thud quite close to us, and we knew a German shell had hit and missed fire. This performance continued unabated for a full half-hour, and then everything relapsed into dead silence and pitch darkness.
We knew then that we must get some business from all that firing, and so we did not go to bed at all, but played solitaire until 11 P.M., when we received our first 'phone call informing us that a German coup de main had been brilliantly repulsed and that the wounded Frenchmen were beginning to be sent to the postes de secours. About midnight the advanced poste 'phoned us for one car, and I went up there in the pitch blackness and ran a trifle beyond the place before I noticed my error. However, a friendly star-shell loomed gracefully up over the top of the woods and I righted myself very soon, then I was given a couché shot in the thigh, but not suffering much. I ran slowly back with him to the main poste where I took on a brancardier for company as a lookout, because the night was dark and a lone couché is mighty poor comfort. We made the trip to La Grange in good time and returned de même. As I was going along a part of the road where I could use lights, a hare sprang up in front of us and ran several hundred yards in the stupid zigzag peculiar to its kind, finally disappearing into the ditch. I only wish I could have got him, as he would have been a fine addition to our next meal.
On the return trip, after I had éteint tous les feux, I was going along fairly well when all of a sudden my brancardier yelled, "Attention! Attention! Il y a quelque chose"; and sure enough, coming the other way was Belcher and his car. We had neither of us seen the other approach and we escaped a collision by about an inch. The result was that we both stopped dead still; Belcher, his brancardier and three couchés in the middle of the road; I and my brancardier, who was on the front seat, with the Ford crouching on the top of a pile of paving-stones poised for a spring, with its motor still going and no tires punctured. After congratulating ourselves on the lucky escape, we all climbed out and, grasping my car by the four corners, placed her gently back on the road again, following which I went on back to the poste, where I was told to keep right on going to the advanced poste in order to collect three couchés. This I did, and ran them back most of the way without trouble. Unfortunately, however, we struck a dense fog, in the midst of which I narrowly escaped running down another one of our cars that had been summoned to the rescue. Finally, au beau milieu, the same tire that I had changed in the afternoon gave an agonized gasp and passed peacefully away. Fortunately. this happened in a place where lights could be used, and after looking for a nice spot, I stopped, unloaded the blessés on the road, and went to work in the mud. The blessés all complained of the damp, so I immediately pulled out my little whiskey flask, and the brancardier and the three blessés soon drained it very gratefully. As I was in the midst of the tire-changing, Belcher came back; so I stopped him and gave him the three fellows to hustle through to La Grange. Then I returned to the poste in the very early dawn, about 4 A.M., only to find two more couchés at the advanced poste. I got those into La Grange about 4.45, and that early damp dawn was the coldest part of the night. Then I took my heavy overcoat at the cantonment and a cup of tea at the hospital and drove back like a lunatic. It was 5.45 and broad daylight when I lay me down to sleep, just removing my coat and shoes. But I was awakened about 9 by the old Bishop poking his head into our dungeon and condoling cheerfully with us for our hard work. Finally, about 10 A.M., we got up, and Belcher went down with a couple of malades, while I was invited to a special luncheon with the Bishop, an artillery captain, and several doctors. It was a great and wonderful meal --- three meat courses, besides the other trifles, and a pie of wild strawberries picked in the woods. We were at table from 12 to 2.30, and after lunch I drove down to La Grange with the Bishop.
By the way, this morning when I was putting my bundle in my car, I found a German mitrailleuse bullet on the ground just alongside; so I am glad I went indoors when I did. Furthermore, the unexploded "77" was also found a few yards away, where I saw it lying innocently on the ground before the artillery authorities removed it.
TO-DAY I was on hospital duty and was called upon to take a Boche prisoner to Souilly. The poor devil was paralyzed and in plaster from the hips down and was as thin as a rail, having been two and a half months in bed and having had three operations performed on him. He was a decent youngster, and Bert Willcox, who came along for the ride, clubbed together with me to get him a couple of oranges to suck on the way. When we had got rid of him, we drove to Fleury-sur-Aire, where there is an immense hospital and evacuation centre, splendidly organized, and seemingly well managed.
We were there to fetch some ice for our hospital, but we also succeeded in begging a goodly lump for ourselves, so that when we returned in the evening we had cold drinks for supper and a wonderful macédoine glacée of peaches, oranges, and cherries. By the way, we are in the heart of the cherry country, where we can buy them for seventy centimes per kilogramme, and they are delicious. We have also managed to get beer for the boys, instead of pinard, and we are living very economically, saving quite a lot of money. Out of our 4 francs 45 allowance, we probably spend at the very most 3 francs 50 per day. For that, we have everything that is going, including salmon and lobster and fine Bordeaux wines, ordered specially from the central coöperative store in Paris.
DAY before yesterday, after a Boche coup de main at four o'clock in the morning, I had to go to one of the advanced postes for two couchés. One of them was literally squashed flat, and almost dead when they put him aboard. The other had his leg crushed very badly, and was suffering terribly from the tourniquet that bound his thigh. We lost no time in reaching the hospital, but one of the men had died in the car, and was already cold when we took him out. The old white-bearded priest had come down with me through the ice-cold morning mist, and when we reached the hospital and found our man dead, he pulled a little vial of holy oil from some hidden recess about his person, and proceeded to anoint the poor fellow's forehead with it. The soldier with the crushed leg had it amputated at once, but died during the afternoon from loss of blood.
After a cup of comforting hot coffee, I went back to the abbey and watched the priest in full robes say his early morning mass at 6.30 in the sunny chapel. I was the whole congregation --- I and some sparrows and two dead poilus on stretchers, the most horribly mutilated objects I ever expect to see, both hit in the head and blown to pieces. The old priest --- Father Cléret is his name --- wiggled his long white beard, mumbled his prayers, drank his sacred pinard, bowed the knee the regulation number of times, and finally turned, blessed the congregation, and then walked out after shedding his decorations.
This old priest, by the way, is far less urbane and pleasant than the Bishop, but rather better fitted for the job. For instance, this morning, after a coup de main he went out between the lines, picked up a wounded soldier and carried him a considerable distance on his back --- which for an old boy of sixty-odd years is a lot of work. For his trouble, he will be able to add a palm leaf to his Croix de Guerre.
THIS evening, after a big supper, we went to the Division Headquarters to a concert, sang some songs, and then gave a burlesque boxing match --- "Shorty " Loughlin against one of the tallest men in the Section, with myself as umpire, in my best line of comic French. Of course, "Shorty" knocked out the big fellow, and we rushed on a team of comedy brancardiers and hauled off the victim on a stretcher, to the great amusement of the onlookers.
LAST night, after a bombardment of one of the batteries, about twenty-five wounded were brought in. From 10.30 until 1 A.M. they kept rolling in, and Mac and I stayed at the hospital and watched the operations. The first one I saw was performed under X-rays, and what with the smell and the horror of it all, I was as near fainting as I ever expect to be. After that I felt better and watched three or four other operations in all parts of the body, with considerable interest. We have a couple of excellent surgeons, and they worked like beavers all through the night, operating at two tables in the main operating-room and at another table in the radio chamber. They just ran from one operation to another with the alertness and skill of specialized mechanics turning out their work in batches. At one time there were fifteen men around one table, all working at once on the same wretched patient. Once in a while one of us would have to hold a leg or an arm, or raise the head, or help in any way we could. It was altogether unpleasant, and I am glad I never took seriously to surgery, although I admire surgeons' work intensely.
PAUL A. RIE*
*Of Neuilly-sur-Seine, France; Rugby (England), '14; served in Section Nineteen from its formation, and later as Sergeant, first class, U.S.A. Ambulance Service. The above are extracts from home letters.
Decoration Day, 1917
IN the afternoon some of the Section went up in the cemetery above La Grange-aux-Bois and decorated the grave of Howard Lines, who died of pneumonia in Section One last winter. A delegation of six were also sent to Blercourt, near Verdun, for the purpose of decorating the grave of Edward Kelley, of Section Two, who was killed by a shell during the Verdun attack of last year. Car 630 of this Section was given as a memorial to him.
LOUGHLIN and Alexander paid a visit to one of the French observation postes. While there, a bombardment on the part of the Germans commenced. Not long after a report became current that some French officers were threatening to arrest them as spies. So one of the officers of the Section hurried to the poste to prevent the two from being sent to Paris as spies, when it was learned that the French officers were looking for them in order to invite them to dinner!
Sunday, July 22
LA CHALADE, our outpost, has been bombarded. A number of "150's " have been firing with ruinous effect upon the old monastery, as well as playing havoc with the roads. There are no Sabbaths in war-time. Here the booming of the guns answers for a church bell, the trenches are the pews and the preacher is --- hope.
A DELIGHTFUL addition to the evening's repast in the form of a good cake, the handiwork of Pecqueux, and some champagne, in honor of Lieutenant Lory's birthday. Chef MacPherson, in a few brief words, toasted him, and the Lieutenant thanked the men in a well-chosen reply.
Just now the night calls are by far the most exciting. Four men are always ready to respond. Up and down hill, dark with the overhanging trees and sable night-brightened, sometimes, for a moment by the flash of lightning, or star-shells --- they go forth to the needy with some such feeling as Ichabod Crane must have had on his midnight ride.
LAST night the Germans attempted a coup de main near our poste at Lac and eight of our ambulances were needed to carry the wounded. To-day a Section library was started in a room near the office and Chef MacPherson has promised two lamps. All the books, newspapers, and magazines possessed by individuals are to be handed over to the library for the use of all.
PASTOR KUNTZEL, Protestant chaplain to one of the neighboring regiments, held, in the tent adjoining the mess-tent, a service for the men of the Section. The novelty of the service to us was the singing of the hymns in French.
TO-NIGHT the men made use of the new library. The weather was damp and cold, so a roaring fire was started in the fireplace, and we gathered round while Taliaferro led in the singing. Mac played the mandolin, while Lieutenant Lory entered into the spirit of the evening and furnished the treats. A French soldier with a not unpleasant voice sang several opera selections. Hot roasted potatoes, war bread, and pinard were served during the intermissions.
THIS afternoon Captain Tucker and Lieutenant Webster arrived to enrol the men in the United States Army service. Seventeen men enlisted.
ORDERED to move this morning, we rose at 6.30. The day was sunny, but not too warm. By 10 most of the cars were ready and men restless. We started at 12.10, and passed through Sainte-Ménehould, leaving behind us both pleasant and unpleasant memories, traversing three miles of level, cultivated fields now brown with autumn color, then up a few not too tedious hills, by patches of green still peeking from amid the brown, interrupted now and then by a small wooden cross, the grave of some comrade of the Marne. The long white roads stretched as far as the eye could reach. The kitchen trailer had the saddest misfortune of the journey, for it never showed up till the day following, being left forsaken, "somewhere in France," while we arrived at the little lazy village where we are now camped.
LIFE at the new encampment started with a trip to the rescue of the kitchen trailer, which was discovered about three kilometres down the road, supported on one wheel, the opposite end of the axle, and, more or less, by three of its four legs. The rescue party, after energetic efforts with a couple of jacks and some hammers and wrenches, finally had the wreck ready to roll, and drawn by the White camion it arrived at the village in time to give us lunch only a half-hour late.
Montereux, September 28
WORD came from the Médecin Chef to move to this village where we are now en repos in a large château with a fireplace in every room and lots of pine boughs to keep the fires replenished. Good Old Montereux!
WITH everything in readiness to move, the men were awakened at 5.30. In groups of three we set forth to our respective positions. Each group had been assigned to a certain contingent on the march to pick up all who fell out, and our cars were kept busy all the time. Every road is burdened with soldiers, pack-trains, gun carriages, baggage-animals, wagons, smoking kitchens, trailers, and ambulances. The day was cold and gray. A mist hugged the ground, which was so thick that the marching soldiers looked like a phantom army appearing for a minute only to be lost to view again. In and out of the mist one could see the busy little ambulances, darting, dodging, and snarling up and down hills, through dirty, ruined towns carrying the sick and footsore. We put up for the night in an old, deserted house, cold and uninviting, where it was dark when the cars began to arrive.
Up at 5.30. Like ants on a loaf of bread the cars climbed the neighboring hills for another day's hard work. Another town to sleep in, with thirty-five in the garret of an inn.
Reims, November 21
THE guns are roaring. Hardly a house but has a scar. In one park of the city is an arch --- erected by Caesar to Mars, the God of War. What a grim joke to the shell-torn city! This evening there was a coup de main. Many shells were sent in. It is raining. Think of the soldiers in the trenches!
Reims, November 30
WISH I could adequately describe my first impressions on beholding this city. Imagine yourself suddenly thrust into a deserted town, where all the marks of former beauty and prosperity remain even in the midst of ruins. The church bells are silent. The car tracks no longer rattle to the moving tram. The shops which had formerly echoed to the merry laughter, the gossip and confusion of bargain days, are silent, deserted, and many are crumbled heaps of plaster and bricks. Piles of débris fill all the streets. Broken glass lies everywhere. Whole blocks have been burned or shell-torn to mere skeletons of chimneys and walls. Over all, the spires of the cathedral still cast their holy shadow, like a mother determined to defend her home and her children from all wrong. Silently we steered our cars along the paved way --- no traffic or busy shoppers to be dodged, no traffic policemen to stop us; only a wounded city and a few shells to tell us our mission.
ONE week half the men under Sergeant Shaw take up their work at Reims, while the rest of the men, under Sergeant Bigelow, do evacuation work at Soissons. The two groups change places every other week. At Reims the quarters are comfortable, some of the men being lodged in a house formerly occupied by a prosperous wine merchant. A garage close by furnishes a protection for the cars. Some men live at the hospital, a large affair where the great rooms for the sick and wounded are twenty-five feet underground. At Soissons we have a barn and a dark, dirty house to live in. The barn is much the worse of the two. At Reims there is some activity, but not so much as advertised. Every fair day sees many aeroplane battles. The shells come in frequently. We have been occupied lately in carrying gassed men.
CHARLES CONRAD JATHO*
*Of Albany, New York; Cambridge Episcopal Theological School; joined Section Nineteen in June of 1917, served in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service during the remainder of the war. These quotations are from an unpublished record of events.
Fleury, 11 a.m., June 18,1917
AT 6.30, just as we were going to eat, I had to go out again, on to this village about twenty miles away, this time with a fellow who had been hurt in an accident. We got over here around 7.30. The fellow who waited on us --- " Redpants" we nicknamed him --- tended to the telephone. He asked the French non-commissioned officer who had come with me, and who was formerly the Liverpool agent of the French steamer line, if he had ever used a telephone. "Redpants" had to leave his poste to attend to us and thought maybe the brigadier could ask people to wait till "Redpants" returned if they called him at central. The brigadier said he had seen a telephone used once or twice; but "Redpants" would not trust him. By this time we were getting a little hungry, and asked "Redpants" if it were possible to get something to eat from one of the kitchens. "Redpants," who evidently stands in awe of all authority, said he would ask the Médecin Chef, and see. We politely told him to go to the Dickens, as we thought, under the circumstances, the cook was the person to be seen, not the doctor. Then we tackled the men's and officers' kitchens; but both were closed. However, in the meantime, we had seen some nurses in white eating, and I told the brigadier I thought we could count on them to get us what we wanted. So I finally got up my nerve and, in my beautiful French, tried to ask for a little bread, whereupon I was immediately invited to come in and have a regular meal. The lady in charge, who had the Croix de Guerre with the palm leaf, went to a lot of trouble for us and we had quite a feast --- beef, ham, bread and butter (a luxury), jelly, nuts, cheese, and figs. We were informed later that what was done for us was quite irregular, "though done for us with pleasure." The lady, who spoke English, said her mother was an American. When "Redpants" came up for us, he was overawed and must have thought us very, very big guns, for afterwards we learned that the lady with the Croix de Guerre, who had so kindly entertained us, was no other than the daughter of M. Clemenceau, the former Prime Minister of France!
11 a.m., June 25
LAST night a few of us went with the French Lieutenant and MacPherson, the American Sous-Chef, to a very interesting concert where songs of all kinds were given. There was one which the poilus and we ourselves liked especially about the "embusqués," who "proudly and patriotically" proclaim that "we must fight to the end" and then take a back seat. Another was to the effect that the poilus had had their fill of "pinard et canon," the former being the rank wine of which we all have allowances, and the latter guns---of which we also have a fair allowance! The former is terrible stuff, and I do not drink it except at postes where the water is bad. There was also a song in English. The really impressive ones, however, were two of a far different sort --- one a flag song with chorus and band, very moving, and a tenor solo about "those sweet and happiest moments when we rest while on the march, close our eyes and see a white house and the family there, and the birds swinging in the trees --- every one happy." That was the gist of the French words. It was sung wonderfully well and was not too sentimental, even for an American.
It is fine to be with such a splendid bunch of men. For instance, at this concert we could look around and see fellows who had been wounded two or three times and have returned to the trenches. Then there was a very snappy and likable lieutenant who knew a little English, and was generous with his cigarettes, and whose men hung around him as though they rather worshipped him.
WE pick cherries, now, and live a life of ease. There are lots of huckleberries, too, and we eat not a few, but it is too bad to have so many of them without any pie or cake.
WE have just had a very good dinner to celebrate the return of Father Cléret, a fine old Catholic priest, with the Croix de Guerre, who must be between sixty and seventy, but in good physical condition. He has worked as stretcher-bearer --- no child's play --- although that is not part of his prescribed task at all. A couple of months ago he carried in, all by himself, a wounded soldier from the front-line trenches. All in all he is a very fine old man. He was telling us to-night of a friend of his, a major, who had had two sons killed in the war, who had four other sons in dangerous work, and who, because too old to go to the front without special permission, had asked the priest to help him get transferred. The doctor asked if it would not trouble the priest's conscience to help send a friend to the firing-line. The old priest was a little aroused, and replied somewhat to this effect: "No, it would not make my conscience prick. If it be the best for France, it ought to be done, and my conscience would prick if I did n't do it." This may sound rather flat and melodramatic as I tell it, but if you had been there to see and hear the aged ecclesiastic, the whole scene would have impressed you as it did me.
The other day, when one of the attacking divisions went through our village, one of our fellows spoke with a soldier, not a commissioned officer either, about how he felt concerning the war. "Well," said the private, "I have seen three years of this fight and, if necessary, I am ready for three years more." And in that division this fellow had seen more than the average man of the hellish side of this struggle. It is the spirit of the major, of the old priest, and of this soldier, which cheers one up when one hears so much of France being ready to stop.
Clermont-en-Argonne, July 10
THIS village, up to which we have climbed, is on the top of a very high, partially wooded hill. We went up onto the roof of the church, which has been shot to pieces very badly and is not very solid, much of the roof being missing, though some parts are fairly safe. We got a beautiful view from there. Some wild strawberries were growing in the earth and débris on the roof. No novelist would ever have had the courage to suggest that his hero was picking wild strawberries on an old church roof in sight of enemy observation postes, five or six miles away; for we were in sight and were told to go down. The reason for this order was not that the people who are in sight will get hurt, because in spite of the "modernity " of instruments of war, hitting two people at five or six miles' range cannot be done very easily, to say the least. The reason is that the Germans, seeing somebody "observing" from a certain point, conclude that there must be something happening or going to happen soon at that village. So the batteries are ordered to bombard the place, and then there is apt to be "hell to pay " in said village. However, nothing of the kind occurred to-day. Perhaps the enemy did not see us, or more likely they felt that no one who knew his business would be observing them from where we were.
3 P.M., July 23
LAST night the Bishop, the dentist, and I indulged in a sort of game of dominoes with cards, where we had to pay the large sum of a penny when we could not play a card. Gambling with a Bishop in an abri on a Sunday evening with shells sailing overhead --- it's a great life!
3.30 p.m., August 2
THE poor fellow whom I last brought down was in terrible agony and plainly dying. On account of the nature of the wound, or rather one of his wounds, he was unable to talk even if he was conscious, which perhaps he was not; but he could not help groaning. If you want something nice to do some day, take a Ford, attach to it a heavy ambulance body, put inside the ambulance a young fellow twenty-three years of age who has been grievously hurt and is passing away in great pain, then drive him eight miles to a hospital, over a road with bumps which jolt the car despite all that you can do, mix in a hill more than a half-mile long to climb, and finally arrive at your destination with the man still alive, though groaning. And, at the end, you feel so good at having that eight-mile ride over that you want to throw a stone through a window, or dance, or punch somebody or something. What soothes you a little is to have the brancardier, who has accompanied the dying man, say, "You have driven well." It is not the many words the French usually employ when they are being pleasant, but the manner of saying them and the circumstances under which they are said which make them eloquent.
4.45 P.M., August 7
A PECULIAR coincidence has just occurred. When the soldiers are going back and forth, they frequently say a few joking words to us about saving a place in the ambulance for them, and our favorite reply is that they are going to get a slight wound and that we will take them down in the morning. To-day, about an hour ago, a rather jolly bunch came along and I joked with one to this effect. Well, just this minute Bigelow had a call and brought back a couché with a bullet in his hip, the bullet having evidently broken the bone. It was my friend for whom I said I would save a place. He was conscious, joked a good deal about his wound, and when I said he was early and that the place had been saved for to-morrow morning, he thought it was a great joke. His hip pained him, of course; but these poilus never make much of a fuss about pain, and he evidently thought it was fine to see me again and remind me of his reservation.
8.15 p.m., August 22
WELL, we have said our real good-byes to the Bishop. To-night he was here, shook hands all around, and kissed the Frenchman on both cheeks, and he is gone. He is a man whom we all have liked. "Gentil, spirituel, et aimable, il avait aussi un savoir-faire très agréable." That is what they say, anyhow, and my English will not express it any better.
Montereux, September 29
YESTERDAY we moved again on short notice, and we are now located in an old château at this place, and still en repos. At 10 we received orders to get out by 12, which was, of course, impossible; but by 2 o'clock all our personal belongings were in the cars, our office was packed, two tents were down and ready to go, the machine shop on wheels, we had eaten our noon meal, and the last cars were on the road. At quarter to 7 that night our new bureau was established, our stretchers and beds were placed, kitchen set going, and a tent pitched, in which we ate. Quite a day's work.
FRANK G. ROYCE*
*Of Fulton, New York; Cornell, '19; entered the Field Service and Section Nineteen in April, 1917; U.S.A. Ambulance Service in France during the remainder of the war. The above are excerpts from a private diary.
Christmas Day, 1917
THE morning of the day before Christmas we spent in getting a Christmas tree and decorating the dining-room with evergreens and holly. Shaw and Smith were responsible for the artistic manipulation of the evergreens, and if you had seen the room you would have said it was cleverly done. That afternoon some of the boys were sitting around our "salamandre" trying to melt some of the snow off their shoes, when some one spoke up: " Say, fellows, what do you say if we chip in and buy the kids of the school some toys and candy? I think we would all be happy to do them a good turn." Everybody seconded the motion and collections were in order. Within a half-hour two hundred francs were brought together and Sergeant Shaw and myself were on the way to the nearest big city to get the gifts.
Our cantonment is in a typical French town of about three hundred inhabitants, where the fangs of the war demon have sunk deep and hurt. Yet the villagers have the characteristic peasant optimism, and if you could have seen those people you would have contributed yourself.
When the "committee" arrived in the big city, we went to a little store, in the front window of which were displayed some Christmas toys, and bought nearly all of them. The fact is we bought seventy-three toys and some cakes and candy, as there were thirty-six boys and thirty-seven girls in the school.
This morning Smith again exercised his artistic talent and arranged the toys on and around the bottom of the tree, so that when three o'clock rolled around the tree was all ready for the children, whom the teachers marched down to the dining-room, in double file, regardless of a heavy snow then falling. When the procession arrived, we pulled down the curtains and lit the candles on the tree. Then the children were invited in and they surely were a surprised bunch of kids.
We did n't keep them waiting long, but relieved their anxiety by giving out the presents at once. Jatho, who in the States had had much experience in this useful service, lent valuable assistance, while Shaw, Hope, and Smith distributed the toys, cake, and candy, As soon as this was done, the children passed out, and soon, from the street, through the open door, came the sound of the beating of drums, the blowing of trumpets, the shouts of admiration for their toys, and requests for more candy. Then back to their homes, through the falling snow, the children plodded, each bearing, beside a little gift, a gladdened heart.
In the evening we had our own good time, a Christmas supper --- and it was "some" supper, too. We started off with soup, beefsteak and mushrooms, turkey and mashed potatoes, green peas, salad, plum pudding and rum, candied fruit, marshmallows and nuts, winding up with black coffee. During the courses white and red wine and champagne were served. And thus ended a memorable day in the life of Section Nineteen.
JOHN D. LOUGHLIN*
*Of Brooklyn, New York; Cornell, '17; served with Section Nineteen of the Field Service and later in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service. The above is from a home letter.
SECTION NINETEEN was visited by recruiting officers September 24, 1917, while working in the sector of the Argonne between the Four-de-Paris and the Avocourt Woods. Men were enlisted on that day, although the Section did not become part of the American army until later.
On September 26, 1917, the Section went en repos at Semoigne, south of Châlons-sur-Marne, the following day moving to Montereux close by. At the commencement of the Austrian rush into Italy, our Division, the 65th, was at Camp Mailly, and it at once started for Dormans on foot, the Section following. This march took three days. Then the Division entrained for Italy and we were detached, going to Troissy en repos.
We stayed there until the middle of November, when we became attached to the 58th Division of Infantry, with whom we stayed the rest of the war. The liaison took place at Reims, where we served Clos Saint-Remy, the Fromargerie, etc., until the Division was relieved on January 17, 1918. The 58th passed through Épernay toward Châlons-sur-Marne again, the Section having one-night stands until it finally reached Noirlieu. Later it moved to Sainte-Ménehould.
On March 19, 1918, the Division and Section moved into the Butte de Mesnil sector of Champagne, where several cars were hit and the men had enough work for once.
Later the Division was relieved and sent through Châlons, through Épernay, Pierrefonds, Compiègne, to Moyenneville, where it was holding the line on both sides of Cuvilly on June 9, 1918.
The Boche attacked here on June 9, and captured among other things eight of our cars and three of our men. The Section, under orders with the whole Division, retired to Estrées-Saint-Denis, that night moving to Eraine, Saint-Remy-en-l'Eau, and finally to Valescourt on June 14
The Infantry of the 58th had been all shot to pieces, so we were given three new regiments and made an attacking division --- something we had always wanted.
On the 17th of July, we moved over to Vivières, and on the 18th the Aisne-Marne battle started. On the 19th, our G.B.D. was moved to Vertes Feuilles with postes de secours in Vierzy. Here we worked between the United States 1st and 2d Divisions.
After our Division had taken all its objectives, we were relieved on the 25th of July, returning to Saint-Remy again.
The Division went into line opposite Chevincourt, cleaned the famous Thiescourt Plateau, and took part of Noyon. We came out on September 1, going again to Estrées-Saint-Denis.
On September 24 the Section moved to La Croix Ricard, Genvry, and on to Chauny on the 27th. The Division went into line in front of Tergnier, and when our men came out en repos, several days after the Armistice, the front postes were in Belgium. The Section moved up behind the troops as follows: To Le Mont de Faux December 7; Montcornet, December 14; Aubenton, January 25, 1919; and later to Rimogne, where on March 15, 1919, we were relieved by S.S.U. 547, and proceeded to Base Camp, en route for the United States.
Our three prisoners were all returned alive, one returning to the Section December 25, 1918. The Section received a divisional citation for its work on June 9.
E. P. SHAW*
*Of Brookline, Massachusetts; Dartmouth, with Section Nineteen from June, 1917; and in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service for the rest of the war.
1. Paul Borda Kurtz of Germantown, Pennsylvania; Harvard, '16; served with Section One and as Chef of Section Eighteen; in the Field Service from August, 1915, to July, 1917; entered French Aviation and subsequently became a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Aviation; killed on May 22, 1918, upon returning from a patrol, when his machine took fire.
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