THE Section which is here designated as the "Section in Flanders" has at least two distinguishing characteristics. This was the first Section of substantial proportions to be geographically separated from the "American Ambulance" at Neuilly and turned over to the French army. Until it left "for the front" our automobiles had worked either to and from the Neuilly hospital, as an evacuating base, or, if temporarily detached for service elsewhere, they had gone out in very small units.
Secondarily, it has the distinction of having been moved about more frequently and of having been attached to more diverse army units than any other of our Sections. During the first year of its history, it was located successively in almost every part of Flanders still subject to the Allies: first at Dunkirk and Malo, then at Poperinghe and Elverdinghe, then at Coxyde and Nieuport, then at Crombeke and Woesten. Then after a full year in Flanders it was moved to Beauvais for revision, and since then it has worked in the region between Soissons and Compiègne and subsequently in the neighborhood of Méricourt-sur-Somme.
During most of the time the men have been quartered in barns and stables, sleeping in lofts in the hay or straw, or on stretchers on the floor, or inside their ambulances, or, during the summer, on the ground, in improvised tents in the open fields.
The opportunities for comfortable writing have been few, and no complete story of the Section's experiences has ever been written. The following pages give only glimpses of a history which has been crammed with incidents and impressions worth recording.
Americans in their gas-masks in front of the bomb-proof shelter outside of the headquarters
The Section's story began in the cold wet days of early January, 1915, when twenty men with twelve cars left Paris for the north. We spent our first night en route in the shadow of the Beauvais Cathedral, passing the following day through many towns filled with French troops, and then, as we crossed into the British Sector, through towns and villages abounding with the khaki-clad soldiers of England and her colonies and the turbaned troops of British India. The second night we stayed at Saint-Omer, the men sleeping in their cars in the centre of the town square, and the third morning, passing out of the British Sector once more into the French lines, we arrived in Dunkirk where our work began.
We were at once assigned to duty in connection with a hospital established in the freight shed of a railway station, and from then on for many a long day our duty was to carry wounded and sick in a never-ending stream from the station, where they arrived from the front by four or five daily trains, to the thirty or more hospitals in and about the city.
Every school, barrack, and other large building in the town (even the public theatre) or in the neighboring towns within ten miles of Dunkirk, seemed to have been turned into a hospital. Our work was extremely useful, the Section carrying scores and scores of sick and wounded, day after day, week in and out. The first incident of an exciting nature came on the second day.
We were nearly all at the station, quietly waiting for the next train, when high up in the air there appeared first one, then three, and finally seven graceful aeroplanes. We watched, fascinated, and were the more so when a moment later we learned that they were Taubes. It seemed hard to realize that we were to witness one of the famous raids that have made Dunkirk even more famous than the raider Jean Bart himself had ever done. Explosions were heard on all sides and the sky was soon spotted with puffs of white smoke from the shells fired at the intruders. The rattle of the mitrailleuses and the bang of the 75's became a background of sound for the more solemn boom of the shells. A few moments later there was a bang not thirty yards away and we were showered with bits of stone. We stood spellbound until the danger was over and then foolishly jumped behind our cars for protection.
This incident of our early days was soon thrown into unimportance by other raids, each more interesting than the last. One of them stands out in memory above all the rest. It was a perfect moonlit night, quite cloudless. Four of my companions and I were on night duty in the railway yard. About eleven the excitement started, and to say it commenced with a bang is not slang but true. Rather it commenced with many bangs. The sight was superb and the excitement intense. One could hear the whirr of the motors, and when they presented a certain angle to the moon the machines showed up like enormous silver flies. One had a delicious feeling of danger, and to stand there and hear the crash of the artillery, the buzzing of the aeroplanes, the swish of the bombs as they fell and the crash as they exploded, made an unforgettable experience. One could plainly hear the bombs during their flight, for each has a propeller attached which prevents its too rapid descent, thus insuring its not entering so far into the ground as to explode harmlessly. To hear them coming and to wonder if it would be your turn next was an experience new to us all. The bombardment continued for perhaps an hour and then our work began. I was sent down to the quay and brought back two wounded men and one who had been killed, and all my companions had about the same experience. One took a man from a half-demolished house; another, an old woman who had been killed in her bed; another, three men badly mutilated who had been peacefully walking on the street. An hour later all was quiet---except perhaps the nerves of some of the men.
About this time our work was enlivened by the appearance of the one and only real ambulance war dog and the official mascot of the squad. And my personal dog at that! I was very jealous on that point and rarely let him ride on another machine. I got him at Zuydcoote. He was playing about, and as he appeared to be astray and was very friendly, I allowed him to get on the seat and stay there. But I had to answer so many questions about him that it became a bore, and finally I prepared a speech to suit all occasions, and when any one approached me used to say, "Non, madame, il n'est pas Américain, il est Français; je l'ai trouvé ici dans le Nord." One day a rosy-cheeked young lady approached us, called the dog "Dickie" and I started my speech. "Il ne s'appelle pas Dickie, madame, mais Khaki, et vous savez il est Français." "Je sais bien, monsieur, puisqu'il est à moi." I felt sorry and chagrined, but not for long, as a moment later the lady presented him to me.
We will skip over the humdrum life of the next few weeks to a night in April when we were suddenly ordered to the station at about 1 A.M. It was, I think, April 22. "The Germans have crossed the Yser" was the news that sent a thrill through all of us. Would they this time reach Calais or would they be pushed back? We had no time to linger and wonder. All night long we worked unloading the trains that followed each other without pause. The Germans had used a new and infernal method of warfare; they had released a cloud of poisonous gas which, with a favorable wind, had drifted down and completely enveloped the Allies' trenches. The tales of this first gas attack were varied and fantastic, but all agreed on the surprise and the horror of it. Trains rolled in filled with huddled figures, some dying, some more lightly touched, but even these coughed so that they were unable to speak coherently. All told the same story, of having become suddenly aware of a strange odor, and then of smothering and choking and falling like flies. In the midst of all this had come a hail of shrapnel. The men were broken as I have never seen men broken. In the months of our work we had become so accustomed to dreadful sights and to suffering as to be little affected by them. The sides and floor of our cars had often been bathed in blood; our ears had not infrequently been stirred by the groans of men in agony. But these sufferers from the new form of attack inspired in us all feelings of pity beyond any that we had ever felt before. To see these big men bent double, convulsed and choking, was heartbreaking and hate-inspiring.
At ten o'clock we were ordered to Poperinghe, about twenty miles from Dunkirk and three miles from Ypres, where one of the biggest battles of the war was just getting under way. The town was filled with refugees from Ypres, which was in flames and uninhabitable. Through Poperinghe and beyond it we slowly wound our way in the midst of a solid stream of motor trucks, filled with dust-covered soldiers coming up to take their heroic part in stemming the German tide. We were to make our headquarters for the time at Elverdinghe, but as we approached our destination the road was being shelled and we put on our best speed to get through the danger zone. This destination turned out to be a small château in Elverdinghe, where a first-aid hospital had been established. All round us batteries of French and English guns were thundering their aid to the men in the trenches some two miles away. In front of us and beside us were the famous 75's, the 90's, and 120's, and farther back the great English marine guns, and every few seconds we could hear their big shells passing over us. An automobile had just been put out of commission by a shell, before we reached the château, so we had to change our route and go up another road. The château presented a terrible scene. In every room straw and beds and stretchers, and mangled men everywhere. We started to work and for twenty-six hours there was scarcely time for pause. Our work consisted in going down to the postes de secours, or first-aid stations, situated in the Flemish farmhouses, perhaps four hundred or five hundred yards from the trenches, where the wounded get their first primitive dressings, and then in carrying the men back to the dressing-stations where they were dressed again, and then in taking them farther to the rear to the hospitals outside of shell range. The roads were bad and we had to pass a constant line of convoys. At night no lights were allowed and one had to be especially careful not to jolt his passengers. Even the best of drivers cannot help bumping on the pavements of Belgium, but when for an hour each cobble brings forth a groan from the men inside, it is hard to bear. Often they are out of their heads. They call then for their mothers----they order the charge---to cease firing---they see visions of beautiful fields---of cool water---and sometimes they die before the trip is over.
At Elverdinghe the bombardment was tremendous; the church was crumbling bit by bit. The guns were making too great a noise for sleep. About 4 P.M. we started out to find something to eat. A problem this, for the only shop still open was run by an old couple too scared to cook. No food for hours at a time gives desperate courage, so on we went until we found in a farmhouse some ham and eggs which we cooked ourselves. It was not altogether pleasant, for the whole place was filled with dust, the house next door having just been demolished by a shell. However, the machines were untouched, although a shell burst near them, and we hurried back for another night's work.
A winter day in Flanders
The following morning we decided to stay in Elverdinghe and try to get a little sleep, but no sooner had we turned in than we were awakened by the order to get out of the château at once, as we were under fire. While I was putting on my shoes the window fell in and part of the ceiling came along. Then an order came to evacuate the place of all its wounded, and we were busy for hours getting them to a place of safety. Shells were falling all about. One great tree in front of me was cut completely off and an auto near it was riddled with the fragments. For two weeks this battle lasted. We watched our little village gradually disintegrating under the German shells. The cars were many times under more or less heavy artillery and rifle fire and few there were without shrapnel holes.
The advantage of our little cars over the bigger and heavier ambulances was demonstrated many times. On narrow roads, with a ditch on each side, choked with troops, ammunition wagons, and vehicles of all sorts moving in both directions, horses sometimes rearing in terror at exploding shells, at night in the pitch dark, except for the weird light from the illuminating rockets, the little cars could squeeze through somehow. If sometimes a wheel or two would fall into a shell hole, four or five willing soldiers were enough to lift it out and on its way undamaged. If a serious collision occurred, two hours' work sufficed to repair it. Always "on the job," always efficient, the little car, the subject of a thousand jokers, gained the admiration of every one.
To most of the posts we could go only after dark, as they were in sight of the German lines. Once we did go during the day to a post along the banks of the Yser Canal, but it was too dangerous and the General ordered such trips stopped. These few trips were splendid, however. To see the men in the trenches and hear the screech of the shells at the very front was thrilling, indeed. At times a rifle bullet would find its way over the bank and flatten itself against a near-by farmhouse. One was safer at night, of course, but the roads were so full of marmite holes and fallen trees that they were hard to drive along. We could only find our way by carefully avoiding the dark spots on the road. Not a man, however, who did not feel a hundred times repaid for any danger and anxiety of these trips in realizing the time and suffering he had saved the wounded. Had we not been there with our little cars, the wounded would have been brought back on hand-stretchers or in wagons far less comfortable and much more slow.
Finally the second battle of the Yser was over. The front settled down again to the comparative quiet of trench warfare. Meanwhile some of us were beginning to feel the strain and were ordered back to Dunkirk for a rest. We reached there in time to witness one of the most exciting episodes of the war. It was just at this time that the Germans sprang another surprise---the bombardment of Dunkirk from guns more than twenty miles away. Shells that would obliterate a whole house or make a hole in the ground thirty feet across would fall and explode without even a warning whistle such as ordinary shells make when approaching. We were in the station working on our cars at about 9.30 in the morning, when, out of a clear, beautiful sky, the first shell fell. We thought it was only from an aeroplane, as Dunkirk seemed far from the range of other guns. The dog seemed to know better, for he jumped off the seat of my car and came whining under me. A few minutes later came a second and then a third shell. Still not knowing from where they came, we got out our machines and went to where the clouds of smoke gave evidence that they had fallen. I had supposed myself by this time something of a veteran, but when I went into the first dismantled house and saw what it looked like inside, the street seemed by far a safer place. The house was only a mass of torn timbers, dirt, and débris. Even people in the cellar had been wounded. We worked all that day, moving from place to place, sometimes almost smothered by dust and plaster from the explosion of shells in our vicinity. We cruised slowly around the streets waiting for the shells to come and then went to- see if any one had been hit. Sometimes, when houses were demolished, we found every one safe in the cellars, but there were many hurt, of course, and quite a number killed. The first day I had three dead and ten terribly wounded to carry, soldiers, civilians, and women too. In one of the earlier bombardments a shell fell in the midst of a funeral, destroying almost every vestige of the hearse and body and all of the mourners. Another day one of them hit a group of children at play in front of the billet where at one time we lodged, and it was said never to have been known how many children had been killed, so complete was their annihilation.
For a time every one believed the shells had been fired from marine guns at sea, but sooner or later it was proved that they came from land guns, twenty or more miles away, and as these bombardments were repeated in succeeding weeks, measures were taken to safeguard the public from them. Although the shells weighed nearly a ton, their passage through the air took almost a minute and a half, and their arrival in later days was announced by telephone from the French trenches as soon as the explosion on their departure had been heard. At Dunkirk a siren was blown on the summit of a central tower, giving people at least a minute in which to seek shelter in their cellars before the shell arrived. Whenever we heard the sirens our duty was to run into the city and search for the injured, and during the succeeding weeks many severely wounded were carried in our ambulances, including women and children---so frequently the victims of German methods of warfare. The American ambulance cars were the only cars on duty during these different bombardments and the leader of the Section was awarded the Croix de Guerre for the services which they performed.
In the summer a quieter period set in. Sunny weather made life agreeable and in their greater leisure the men were able to enjoy sea-bathing and walks among the sand dunes. A regular ambulance service was kept up in Dunkirk and the surrounding towns, but part of the Section was moved to Coxyde, a small village in the midst of the dunes near the sea between the ruined city of Nieuport and La Panne, the residence of the Belgian King and Queen. Here we worked for seven weeks, among the Zouaves and the Fusiliers Marins, so famous the world over as the "heroes of the Yser."
Then once more we were moved to the district farther South known as Old Flanders, where our headquarters were in a Flemish farm, adjacent to the town of Crombeke. The landscape hereabout is flat as a billiard-table, only a slight rise now and again breaking the view. Our work consisted in bringing back wounded from the vicinity of the Yser Canal which then marked the line of the enemy's trenches, but owing to the flatness of the country we had to work chiefly at night. Canals dotted with slow-moving barges are everywhere, and as our work was often across-country affair, looking for bridges added to the length of our runs. Here we stayed from August to the middle of December, during which we did the ambulance work for the entire French front between the English and the Belgian Sectors.
Just as another winter was setting in and we were once more beginning to get hordes of cases of frozen feet, we were ordered to move again, this time to another army. The day before we left, Colonel Morier visited the Section and, in the name of the Army, thanked the men in glowing terms, not only for the work which they had done, but for the way in which they had done it. He recalled the great days of the Second Battle of the Yser and the Dunkirk bombardments and what the Americans had done; how he had always felt sure that he could depend upon them, and how they had always been ready for any service however arduous or dull or dangerous it might be. He expressed officially and personally his regret at our departure.
We left on a day that was typical and reminiscent of hundreds of other days we had spent in Flanders. It was raining when our convoy began to stretch itself out along the road and it drizzled all that day.'
JOSHUA G. B. CAMPBELL
This Section has since added several important chapters to its history, having served successively on the Aisne, on the Somme, at Verdun, and in the Argonne. (November, 1916.)
THE night before we were to leave we gave a dinner to the officers of the Ambulance. There were not many speeches, but we were reminded that we were in charge of one of the best-equipped Sections which had as yet taken the field, and that we were going to the front in an auxiliary capacity to take the place of Frenchmen needed for the sterner work of the trenches. We might be sent immediately to the front or kept for a while in the rear; but in any event there were sick and wounded to be carried and our job was to help by obeying orders.
Early the next morning we ran through the Bois-de-Boulogne and over an historic route to Versailles, where, at the headquarters of the Army Automobile Service, our cars were numbered with a military serial and the driver of each was given a Livret Matricule, which is an open sesame to every motor park in France. Those details were completed about ten o'clock, and we felt at last as if we were French soldiers driving French automobiles on the way to our place at the front.
About thirty kilometres outside of Paris the staff car and the camionnette with the cook on board dashed by us, and upon our arrival at a quaint little village we found a café requisitioned for our use and its stock of meat, bread, and red wine in profusion at our disposal. In the evening we reached the town of Esternay and there again found all prepared for our reception. Rooms were requisitioned and the good people took us in with open arms and the warmest of hospitality, but one or two of us spread our blankets over the stretchers in the back of our cars, because there were not enough rooms and beds for all.
The next morning was much colder; there was some snow and later a heavy fog. Our convoi got under way shortly after breakfast and ran in record-breaking time, for we wanted to finish our trip that evening. We stopped for lunch and for an inspection which consumed two hours, and starting about ten o'clock on the last stretch of our journey, drove all afternoon through sleet, cold, and snow. At seven o'clock that night we reached Vaucouleurs, had our supper, secured sleeping accommodations, and retired. Our running orders had been completed; we had reached our ordered destination in perfect form.
Some of the members of Section IV
Several days passed. We were inspected by generals and other officers, all of whom seemed pleased with the completeness of our Section. Yet improvements they said were still possible and should be made while we were at the park. We were to take care of a service of evacuation of sick in that district and at the same time try out a "heating system." The Medical Inspector issued orders to equip two ambulances and report the results. Our Section Director designed a system which uses the exhaust of the motor through two metal boxes, which arrangement warmed the air within the car and also forced the circulation of fresh air. This was installed in two cars and found to be very satisfactory, for in all kinds of weather and temperatures the temperature of the ambulances could be kept between 65° and 70° Fahrenheit.
We were at this place in all six weeks, including, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. Our work consisted of evacuating malades, and at first it offered a fine opportunity of teaching the "green ones" how to care for their cars. But we were all soon put on our mettle.
The outlying country was full of lowlands and streams which in many places during the hard rains covered the roads to such a depth that the usual type of French cars could not operate. Our car suspension was high, and we were able to perform a service the other cars had not been able to do. We established, too, a standard for prompt service, and during the weeks we were there it never became necessary that we delay a call for service on account of "high water." We left this district for other work with a record of never having missed a call, and the promptness of service, day or night, was often a matter of comment by the French officials connected with this work. During the high water, certain posts accustomed to telephone for an ambulance would ask for an American Ambulance Boat, and the story was soon about that we had water lines painted on the cars as gauges for depths through which we could pass. I was once in the middle of a swirling rapid with the nearest "land" one hundred yards away. But I had to get through, because I knew I had a pneumonia patient with a high fever. I opened the throttle and charged. When I got to the other side I was only hitting on two cylinders, but as mine was the only car that day to get through at all I boasted long afterwards of my ambulance's fording ability.
We were always looking forward to being moved and attached to some Division within the First Army, and, as promised, the order came. Our service in this district was completed, and on the morning of January 5 our convoi passed on its way to a new location. Our work here included postes de secours that were intermittently under fire, and several of the places could only be reached at night, being in daylight within plain view of the German gunners.
Here again we remained only a short time. Without any warning we received an order one evening to proceed the next day to Toul. This we knew meant 7 A.M., for the French military day begins early, and so all night we were busy filling our gasoline tanks, cleaning spark-plugs, and getting a dismantled car in shape to "roll."
The trip to Toul was without incident, and when we drew up at the caserne, which proved to be our future home, we reported as ready for immediate work. The next day five cars were sent to a secondary poste de secours about ten kilometres from the lines and two cars farther forward to a first-line poste de secours. The rest of the ambulances formed a reserve at our base to relieve daily those cars and take care of such emergency calls as might come in day or night. Then as soon as we proved our worth, we were given other similar points on the lines, and gradually took over the work of the French Section working with the next Army Division.
To-day we have our full measure of shell adventures, night driving, and long hours at the wheel. But these are, of course, only the usual incidents of life at the front. We, too, the whole Section feels, will have our Second Battle of the Yser, or our attack on Hartmannsweilerkopf, and we are as eager as any soldier to prove what our men and cars can do in the face of such emergencies.'
Shortly after this was written, the Section was sent to the Verdun sector, where for five months it has worked in the vicinity of Mort Homme and Hill 304. During this period one of its members, Edward J. Kelley, was killed, and another member, Rooswell Sanders, was gravely wounded. (November, 1916.)
Un blessé à Montauville --- urgent ! "
Calls the sallow-faced téléphoniste.
The night is as black as hell's black pit,
There's snow on the wind in the East.
There's snow on the wind, there's rain on the wind,
The cold's like a rat at your bones;
You crank your car till your soul eaves in,
But the engine only moans.
The night is as black as hell's black pit;
You feel your crawling way
Along the shell-gutted, gun-gashed road --
How --- only God can say.
The 120's and 75's
Are bellowing on the hill;
They're playing at bowls with big trench-mines
Down at the Devil's mill.
Christ! Do you hear that shrapnel tune
Twang through the frightened air?
The Boches are shelling on Montauville --
They're. waiting for you up there
Un blessé --- urgent? Hold your lantern up
While I turn the damned machine!
Easy, just lift him easy now!
Why, the fellow's face is green!
'´ Oui, ça ne dure pas longtemps, tu sais."
"Here, cover him up --- he's cold!
Shove the stretcher --- it's stuck! That's it --- he's in!'
Poor chap, not twenty years old.
"' Bon-soir, messieurs --- à tout à 1'heure! "
And you feel for the hell-struck road.
It's ten miles off to the surgery,
With Death and a boy for your load.
Praise God for that rocket in the trench,
Green on the ghastly sky --
That camion was dead ahead!
Let the ravitaillement by!
"Courage, mon brave! We're almost there!"
God, how the fellow groans --
And you'd give your heart to ease the jolt
Of the ambulance over the stones.
Go on, go on, through the dreadful night --
How --- only God He knows!
But now he's still! Aye, it's terribly still
On the way a dead man goes.
"Wake up, you swine asleep! Come out!
Un blessé --- urgent --- damned bad!"
A lamp streams in on the blood-stained white
And the mud-stained blue of the lad.
"Il est mort, m'sieu!" "So the poor chap's dead?"
Just there, then, on the road
You were driving a hearse in the hell-black night,
With Death and a boy for your load.
O dump him down in that yawning shed,
A man at his head and feet;
Take off his ticket, his clothes, his kit,
And give him his winding-sheet.
It's just another poilu that's dead;
You've hauled them every day
Till your soul has ceased to wonder and weep
At war's wild, wanton play.
He died in the winter dark, alone,
In a stinking ambulance,
With God knows what upon his lips --
But on his heart was France!
IN one of the most beautiful countries in the world, the Alsatian Valley of the Thur runs to where the Vosges abruptly end in the great flat plain of the Rhine. In turn a small valley descends into that of the Thur. At the head of this valley lies the small village of Mollau where is billeted the Section Sanitaire Américaine No 3. It has been through months of laborious, patient, never-ceasing trips from the valley to the mountain-tops and back, up the broadened mule-paths, rutted and worn by a thousand wheels and the hoofs of mules, horses, and oxen, by hobnailed boots and by the cars of the American Ambulance (for no other Section is equipped with cars and men for such service), up from the small Alsatian towns, leaving the main valley road to grind through a few fields of ever-increasing grade on into the forest, sometimes pushed, sometimes pulled, always blocked on the steepest slopes by huge army wagons deserted where they stuck, rasping cart loads of trench torpedoes on one side, crumbling the edge of the ravine on the other, --- day and night -- night and day --- in snow and rain --- and, far worse, fog --- months of foul and days of fair, --- up with the interminable caravans of ravitaillement, supplies with which to sustain or blast the human body (we go down with the human body once blasted), up past small armies of Alsatian peasants of three generations (rather two --- octogenarians and children), forever repairing, forever fighting the wear and tear of all that passes, --- up at last to the little log huts and rudely made postes de secours at the mouth of the trench "bowels," --- a silent little world of tethered mules, shrouded carts and hooded figures, lightless by night, under the great pines where is a crude garage usually filled with grenades into which one may back at one's own discretion.
Day after day, night after night, wounded or no wounded, the little ambulances plied with their solitary drivers. Few men in ordinary autos or in ordinary senses travel such roads by choice, but all that is impossible is explained by a simple C'est la guerre. Why else blindly force and scrape one's way past a creaking truck of shells testing twenty horses, two abreast, steaming in their own cloud of sweaty vapor, thick as a Fundy fog? Taking perforce the outside, the ravine side, the ambulance passes. More horses and wagons ahead in the dark, another blinding moment or two, harnesses clash and rattle, side bolts and lanterns are wiped from the car. It passes again; C'est la guerre. Why else descend endless slopes with every brake afire, with three or four human bodies as they should not be, for cargo, where a broken driveshaft leaves but one instantaneous twist of the wheel for salvation, a thrust straight into the bank, smashing the car, but saving its precious load? C'est la guerre.
The men in time grow tired as do the machines. A week before Christmas they rested quietly in their villages --- a week of sun and splendid moon, spent tuning up their motors and gears and jogging about afoot after all their "rolling." A lull in the fighting, and after three weeks of solid rain, nature smiles. The Section had been ordered to leave shortly, and it was only held for a long-expected attack which would bring them all together for once on the mountains in a last great effort with the Chasseurs Alpins and the mountains they both loved.
On December 21st the mountain spoke and all the cars rolled upwards to the poste of Hartmannsweilerkopf, --- taken and retaken a score of times, --- a bare, brown, blunt, shell-ploughed top where before the forest stood, up elbowing, buffeting, and tacking their way through battalions of men and beasts, up by one pass and down by another unmountable (for there is no going back against the tide of what was battlebound). From one mountain slope to another roared all the lungs of war. For five days and five nights --- scraps of days, the shortest of the year, nights interminable --the air was shredded with shrieking shells --- intermittent lulls for slaughter in attack after the bombardment, then again the roar of the counterattack.
All this time, as in all the past months, Richard Nelville Hall calmly drove his car up the winding, shell-swept artery of the mountain of war, --- past crazed mules, broken-down artillery carts, swearing drivers, stricken horses, wounded stragglers still able to hobble, --- past long convoys of Boche prisoners, silent, descending in twos, guarded by a handful of men, --- past all the personnel of war, great and small (for there is but one road, one road on which to travel, one road for the enemy to shell), ---past abris, bombproofs, subterranean huts, to arrive at the postes de secours, where silent men moved mysteriously in the mist under the great trees, where the cars were loaded with an ever-ready supply of still more quiet figures (though some made sounds), mere bundles in blankets. Hall saw to it that those quiet bundles were carefully and rapidly installed, --- right side up, for instance, --- for it is dark and the brancardiers are dull folks, deadened by the dead they carry; then rolled down into the valley below, where little towns bear stolidly their daily burden of shells wantonly thrown from somewhere in Bocheland over the mountain to somewhere in France --- the bleeding bodies in the car a mere corpuscle in the full crimson stream, the ever-rolling tide from the trenches to the hospital, of the blood of life and the blood of death. Once there, his wounded unloaded, Dick Hall filled his gasoline tank and calmly rolled again on his way. Two of his comrades had been wounded the day before, but Dick Hall never faltered. He slept where and when he could, in his car, at the poste, on the floor of our temporary kitchen at Moosch --- dry blankets --- wet blankets --- blankets of mud --- blankets of blood; contagion was pedantry --- microbes a myth.
At midnight Christmas Eve, he left the valley to get his load of wounded for the last time. Alone, ahead of him, two hours of lonely driving up the mountain. Perhaps he was thinking of other Christmas Eves, perhaps of his distant home, and of those who were thinking of him.
Matter, the next American to pass, found him by the roadside halfway up the mountain. His face was calm and his hands still in position to grasp the wheel. Matter, and Jennings, who came a little later, bore him tenderly back in Matter's car to Moosch, where his brother, Louis Hall, learned what had happened.
A shell had struck his car and killed him instantly, painlessly. A chance shell in a thousand had struck him at his post, in the morning of his youth.
Up on the mountain fog was hanging over Hartmann's Christmas morning, as if Heaven wished certain things obscured. The trees were sodden with dripping rain. Weather, sight, sound, and smell did their all to sicken mankind, when news was brought to us that Dick Hall had fallen on the Field of Honor. No man said, "Merry Christmas," that day. No man could have mouthed it. With the fog forever closing in, with the mountain shaken by a double bombardment as never before, we sat all day in the little log hut by the stove, thinking first of Dick Hall, then of Louis Hall, his brother, down in the valley. . . . Gentlemen at home, you who tremble with concern at overrun putts, who bristle at your partner's play at auction, who grow hoarse at football games, know that among you was one who played for greater goals --- the lives of other men. There in the small hours of Christmas morning, where mountain fought mountain, on that hard-bitten pass under the pines of the Vosgian steeps, there fell a very modest and valiant gentleman.
Dick Hall, we who knew you, worked with you, played with you, ate with you, slept with you, we who took pleasure in your company, in your modesty, in ---your gentle manners, in your devotion and in your youth --- we still pass that spot, and we salute. Our breath comes quicker, our eyes grow dimmer, we grip the wheel a little tighter --- we pass --- better and stronger men.
Richard Hall was buried with honors of war in the Valley of Saint-Amarin, in the part of Alsace which once more belongs to France. His grave, in a crowded military cemetery, is next that of a French officer who fell the same morning. It bears the brief inscription, "Richard Hall, an American who died for France." Simple mountain people in the only part of Germany where foreign soldiers are to-day brought to the grave many wreaths of native flowers and Christmas greens. The funeral service was held in a little Protestant chapel, five miles down the valley. At the conclusion of the service Hall's citation was read and the Cross of War pinned on the coffin. On the way to the cemetery sixteen soldiers, belonging to a battalion on leave from the trenches, marched in file on each side with arms reversed. The médecin chef spoke as follows: --
Messieurs --- Camarades --
C'est un suprême hommage de reconnaissance et d'affection que nous rendons, devant cette fosse fraîchement creusée, à ce jeune homme ---je dirais volontiers --- cet enfant --- tombé hier pour la France sur les pentes de l'Hartmannsweilerkopf.... Ai-je besoin de vous rappeler la douloureuse émotion que nous avons tous ressentis en apprenant hier matin que le conducteur Richard Hall, de la Section Sanitaire Américaine N° 3, venait d'être mortellement frappé par un éclat d'obus, près du poste de secours de Thomannsplats où il montait chercher des blessés?
A l'Ambulance 3/58, où nous éprouvons pour nos camarades américains une sincère amitié basée sur des mois de vie commune pendant laquelle il nous fût permis d'apprécier leur endurance, leur courage, et leur dévouement, le conducteur Richard Hall était estimé entre tous pour sa modestie, sa douceur, sa complaisance.
A peine sorti de l'université de Dartmouth, dans la générosité de son coeur d'adolescent, il apporta à la France le précieux concours de sa charité en venant relever, sur les champs de bataille d'Alsace, ceux de nos vaillants soldats blessés en combattant pour la patrie bien-aimée.
Il est mort en "Chevalier de la Bienfaisance" --- en "Américain" --- pour l'accomplissement d'une oeuvre de bonté et de charité chrétienne!
Aux êtres chers qu'il a laissés dans sa patrie, au Michigan, à ses parents désolés, à son frère ainé, qui, au milieu de nous, montre une si stoïque douleur, nos hommages et l'expression de notre tristesse sont bien sincères et bien vifs!
Conducteur Richard Hall, vous allez reposer ici à l'ombre du drapeau tricolore, auprès de tous ces vaillants dont vous êtes l'émule.... Vous faites à juste titre partie de leur bataillon sacré! ... Seul, votre corps, glorieusement mutilé, disparaît --- votre âme est remonté trouver Dieu --- votre souvenir, lui, reste dans nos coeurs, impérissable! Les Français n'oublient pas!
Conducteur Richard Hall --- ADIEU!
"Messieurs --- Comrades: --
" We are here to offer our last, supreme homage of gratitude and affection, beside this freshly dug grave, to this young man ---I might well say, this boy --- who fell yesterday, for France, on the slopes of Hartmannsweilerkopf. Do I need to recall the painful emotion that we all felt when we learned yesterday morning that Driver Richard Hall of the American Sanitary Section No. 3, had been mortally wounded by the bursting of a shell, near the dressing-station at Thomannsplats, where he had gone to take up the wounded?
In Ambulance 3/58, where we cherish for our American comrades a sincere affection based upon months of life in common, during which we have had full opportunity to estimate truly their endurance, their courage, and their devotion, Driver Richard Hall was regarded with peculiar esteem for his modesty, his sweet disposition, his obligingness.
"Barely graduated from Dartmouth College, in the noble enthusiams of his youth he brought to France the invaluable cooperation of his charitable heart ---coming hither to gather up on the battlefields of Alsace those of our gallant troops who were wounded fighting for their beloved country.
"He died like a 'Chevalier de la Bienfaisance,' like an American, while engaged in a work of kindness and Christian charity!
"To the dear ones whom he has left in his own land, in Michigan, to his grief-stricken parents, to his older brother who displays here among us such stoicism in his grief, our respect and our expressions of sorrow are most sincere and heartfelt.
"Driver Richard Hall, you are to be laid to rest here, in the shadow of the tri-colored flag, beside all these brave fellows, whose gallantry you have emulated. You are justly entitled to make one of their consecrated battalion! Your body alone, gloriously mutilated, disappears; your soul has ascended to God; your memory remains in our hearts --- imperishable! ---Frenchmen do not forget!
" Driver Richard Hall --- farewell!
THIS chapter is made up of excerpts from letters and diaries written by men in the Field Service, which, in one way or another, have found their way into Mr. Andrew's office. They are presented as a series of snapshot views taken by men in the course of daily work and no attempt has been made to weave them into a connected narrative.
A word about the structure of the small motor ambulances as perfected by our experience during the war. Upon the chassis as received from the States is built a strong, light ambulance body of tough wood and canvas. The design provides for the utmost economy of space, and although the cubical contents are perhaps not more than half of that of the body of an ordinary ambulance of the kind constructed to carry four stretchers, the typical cars of the American Ambulance can carry three. Two stretchers stand on the floor of the car and the third is supported under the roof by a simple and ingenious contrivance designed by one of the Section leaders to meet the special needs of the service. When not in use this mechanism folds up and rests flat against the sides of the ambulance, and with a couple of seats added, which can be fixed in position immediately, the car is transformed in a moment into an ambulance for four sitting cases. In addition to these room has been found, by means of specially constructed seats placed by the driver, for three more sitters, making a total of three lying and three sitting cases for each trip. In emergency as many as ten wounded men have been carried at one time, the inside of the car being crowded to its capacity, and the foot-plates and mud-guards serving as extra seats.
An ambulance loaded like this is an interesting sight. The driver seems almost buried under his freight; he has not an inch of room more than is necessary for the control of his car. Covered with mud, blood-stained, with startlingly white bandages against their tanned skin; with puttees loose and torn, heavy boots, shapeless uniforms gray from exposure, and with patient, suffering faces still bearing the shock and horror of bombardment, the wounded roll slowly from the postes de secours to shelter and care, shivering, maybe, in the cold and grayness of dawn, but always with a hand to help each other and a word of thanks to the driver.
A. P. A.
Towards the end of February three of us went down to Havre to unpack eight cars which had just arrived. In three days the work was done, and as I was one of the first drivers to get to work, I was able to choose the car I liked best for the trip down to Paris. Unfortunately it rained steadily during our passage through Normandy, so that we could not appreciate to the full one of the most beautiful countries in the world. After spending the night in Rouen, we set out for Paris, which was reached in good time, my only mishap being a puncture.
In Paris I drove the little car, with its soap-box body, as a light delivery wagon to do odd jobs in town, to give driving lessons, to carry fellows going to the front as far as the station, and other similar tasks, for some two weeks, when it went to the carriage-builders. As it happened, this particular carrossier, who had not been employed by the American Ambulance before, turned out the best and strongest bodies for the five cars I was interested in, among which was the one presented by St. Paul's School.
HENRY M. SUCKLEY
It appeals to the French people that so many Americans are standing by them in their tragic hours. The little that we in America have actually done seems small, indeed, compared with the size of the situation, but its main object and its main effect are to show to the people of France that we believe in them and in the justice of their cause; that we still remember what they did for us in the darkest hour of our own history; and that, as members of a great sister Republic, our hearts and hopes are with them in this most unnecessary war. All day long, wherever we have stopped, people have come out and offered us flowers and fruit and food and friendly greetings, very much as our ancestors of a hundred and forty years ago must have offered them to the compatriots of Lafayette.
An inspection trip in Alsace
Our trip has been full of touching and appealing impressions crowding one upon the other. As our picturesque convoy ran through the little villages, and we stopped here and there for some one to clean a spark-plug or mend a tire, children crowded around us, and asked questions about America, and we often got them to sing the "Marseillaise" or some of the topical songs of the moment about "Guillaume" and the "Boches" (people in France seldom speak of the Germans as such, they call them simply "Boches" which seems to mean "brutal, stupid people"). After a long, hard drive we reached Saint-Omer about eleven. The hotels were full, the restaurants were closed, and no provision had been made either for our food or our lodging. So we wheeled into the public square and slept on the stretchers in our ambulances --- without other food than the chocolate and crackers we had in our pockets. All day yesterday, as we ran past the quaint towns and villages, we could hear the great cannon on the front booming like distant thunder. It is hard to realize that for five hundred and more miles these cannon are booming day after day all day long, and often throughout the night.
A. P. A.
After a few more short delays (inseparable from times and states of war), the Section at last found itself within a mile of one of the most stubbornly contested points of the line. In a little town not far from the front they came in swift progression into hard work, bombardment, and appreciation by the army.
Within sight of the German trenches (on the hills in the background)
Pont-à-Mousson is in a district in which low hills, many of them covered with thick woods, lie along the valley of the Moselle. Down towards the river, on both banks and at right angles to it, stretch the interminable lines of trenches, east and west; batteries of guns crown the adjacent hills for two or three miles back from the trenches, alike in the enemy's country and that of the French; and intermittently, day and night, these batteries defy and seek to destroy each other, the valleys echoing with the roar of their guns and the sharp scream of shells high overhead. Back of the trenches for several miles every village is full of soldiers resting or in reserve; the roads are filled with marching troops, horses, mule trains, baggage wagons, guns and ammunition carts. At every crossroad stand sentries with bayonets. After sunset the whole country is dark, no lights being permitted, but the roads are more crowded than by day, as it is under cover of night that troops and guns are generally moved. The whole country near to the active lines is one great theatre of war. Everywhere are sights and sounds forbidding a moment's forgetfulness of the fact. Yet --and it is one of the most curious and touching things one sees --- the peasant life goes on but little changed. Old men dig in their gardens, women gather and sell their vegetables, girls stand in the evenings at their cottage doors, children run about and play in the streets. Often, not more than two miles away, a desperate attack may be in progress. Between the concussions of the cannon throwing their missiles from the hills over the village can be heard the rattle of rifle-fire and the dull pop-pop-pop of the mitrailleuses. In an hour or two, scores, maybe hundreds, of wounded men, or lines of prisoners, will file through the village, and at any moment shells may burst over the street, killing soldiers or women indifferently, but the old man still digs in his garden, the girl still gossips at the door.
J. HALCOTT GLOVER
About 6 o'clock those sleeping at the caserne get up and dress, rolling up their blanket-rolls, and coming into the dining-room for coffee at about 6.30. Towards 7, the men who have slept at the different postes arrive. After coffee, ambulances which are to be stationed elsewhere for service as required, leave the caserne. Men on day duty see to their cars and await calls by telephone which are received by our French assistant. Particulars are entered by him upon a printed slip and given to the driver next in turn to go out. On the driver's return, this slip is handed in with the number of wounded carried and the figures are entered in our record book. At 11 o'clock everybody comes in for déjeuner. The dining-room --- a large apartment capable of holding three times our number --- has been pleasantly decorated with festoons and flags by our orderly, Mignot. The afternoon is taken up in evacuating wounded to Belleville, bringing in fresh wounded as required, or, in slack moments, in reading, writing, or sleeping. We have a little garden and easy-chairs, and, considering the state of war and the very close proximity of the enemy, it is remarkable that we should have so many luxuries. At 6 we have dinner, after which men who are to sleep at Dieulouard go off for the night. By 9 the rest of us have generally turned in. One car every night waits at Montauville, and, should there be too many wounded for one car to convey, as many more are as required are summoned by telephone. During severe attacks, all cars may be called for: in which case one man is appointed to take charge of arrivals and despatches at Montauville, leaving drivers free to come and go with as little delay as possible.
J. H. G.
Stretchers slung between two wheels on their way from the trenches
The wounded are brought by the army brancardiers direct from the trenches to one or other of the postes de secours established in the villages behind the trenches and are carried on stretchers slung between two wheels. Two men convey them. They usually come two or three kilometres over rough tracks or open fields from the lines where they fell. The work of the brancardiers is exhausting and dangerous, and enough cannot be said in their praise. This war being one of barbarous weapons, the condition of the wounded is often terrible. Shells, shrapnel, handgrenades, and mines account for most of the injuries, and these are seldom clean wounds and often very serious. The wounded arrive, after rough dressing on the field, sometimes so covered with blood and dirt as to be unrecognizable. Often they are unconscious, and not unfrequently they die before adequate help can be got. One hears few utterances of pain, and no complaints. Stretchers are carried into the poste de secours where a doctor examines the wound and re-dresses it if necessary; the blessé is then brought out and given to us. Our cars can carry three stretcher cases or five or six sitting; only the most seriously injured can be allowed the luxury of lying down. Our business then is to convey them gently, and as fast as is consistent with gentleness, to hospitals. Here the wounded receive further treatment; or, if their case is hopeless, are allowed peacefully to die. The following day, or perhaps several days afterwards, if the wounded man is not fit to travel, he comes into our hands again, to be carried to the trains sanitaires for evacuation to one of the many hospitals throughout France.
J. H. G.
One would like to say a little about the wounded men, of whom we have, by this time, seen some thousands. But it is difficult to separate one's impressions: the wounded come so fast and in such numbers, and one is so closely concerned with the mechanical part of their transportation, that very soon one ceases to have many human emotions concerning them. And there is a pitiful sameness in their appearance. They are divided, of course, into the two main classes of "Sitting" and "lying." Many of the former have come down on foot from the trenches; one sees them arrive in the street at Montauville looking round --- perhaps a little lost --- for the poste de secours appointed for this particular regiment or company. Sometimes they help one another; often they walk with an arm thrown round some friendly shoulder. I have seen men come in, where I have stood waiting in the poste de secours, and throw themselves down exhausted, with blood trickling from their loose bandages into the straw. They have all the mud and sunburn of their trench life upon them --- a bundle of heavy, shapeless clothes --- always the faded blue of their current uniform --- and a pair of hobnailed boots, very expressive of fatigue. They smell of sweat, camp-fire smoke, leather, and tobacco --- all the same, whether the man be a peasant or a professor of mathematics. Sometimes, perhaps from loss of blood, or nervous shock, their teeth chatter. They are all very subdued in manner. One is struck by their apparent freedom from pain. With the severely wounded, brought in on stretchers, it is occasionally otherwise. If it is difficult to differentiate between man and man among the "sitting" cases, it is still more so with the "lying." Here there is a blood-stained shape under a coat or a blanket, a glimpse of waxy skin, a mass of bandage. When the uniform is gray, men say "Boche" and draw round to look. Then one sees the closely cropped bullet head of the German. One might describe the ghastliness of wounds, but enough has been said. At first, they cause a shudder, and I have had gusts of anger at the monstrous folly in man that results in such senseless suffering, but very soon the fatalism which is a prevailing tone of men's thoughts in this war dulls one's perceptions. It is just another blessé --- the word "gravement," spoken by the infirmier, as they bring him out to the ambulance, carries only the idea of a little extra care in driving. The last we see of them is at the hospital. At night we have to wake up the men on duty there. The stretcher is brought into the dimly lighted, close smelling room where the wounded are received, and laid down on the floor. In the hopeless cases there follows the last phase. The man is carried out and lies, with others like himself, apart from human interest till death claims him. Then a plain, unpainted coffin, the priest, a little procession, a few curious eyes, the salute, and the end. His grave, marked by a small wooden cross on which his name and grade are written, lies unnoticed, the type of thousands, by the roadside or away among the fields. Everywhere in the war zone one passes these graves. A great belt Of them runs from Switzerland to the sea across France and Belgium. There are few people living in Europe who have not known one or more of the men who lie within it.
J. H. G.
A few days after our arrival at the front I had my first experience of a night call. It was very dark and we had to feel our way forward. Nothing gives one a stronger sense of the nearness of war than such a trip. The dark houses, deserted streets, the dim shape of the sentry at the end of the town, the night scents of the fields as one passes slowly along them, are things not to be forgotten. We strained our eyes in the darkness to avoid other vehicles, all, like our own, going without lights. In those days, not being so well known as we are now, the sentries challenged us: their "Halte-là " in the darkness brought us frequently to an abrupt stop. As we drew near the trenches we heard the guns very clearly, and saw over the crest of a hill the illuminating rockets with which both armies throw a glare over their attacks. They throw a greenish and ghastly light over the country, hanging in the air a few seconds before falling. At our destination everything was dark. We left the cars in the road and went up under the trees to the poste de secours. Here we found some men sleeping on straw, but had to wait close upon two hours before our wounded were ready. From time to time a battery of 75's startled us in the woods near by. At last in a drizzling rain we came back to quarters, passing several small bodies of soldiers marching silently up to the trenches. Another night, remaining near the trenches till half past four in the morning, I saw the wounded brought in, in the gray of dawn, from a series of attacks and counter-attacks. I had been waiting in one of the postes de secours, where, by candlelight, particulars were being written down of the various wounded. The surgeon, in a long white linen coat, in many places stained with blood, was busy with his scissors. Many wounded lay on straw round the room, and at rare intervals one heard a groan. The air was warm and heavy, full of the smell of wounds and iodine. A window was opened, the light of morning making the candles dim and smoky, and it was pleasant to go out into the cool air. The wounded being brought in looked cold and wretched. There were many who had been hit in the face or head --- more than one was blind.
I overheard a few words spoken between a brancardier and a wounded man who --- rare sign of suffering---was weeping. "You will be safe now--- you are going to your wife," spoken in tones of sympathy for comfort, and the reply: "No, no, I am dying. " . . . Later, as the sun was rising and lifting the blue mist in the hollows of the hill, I watched some shells bursting in a field; a brown splash of earth, a ball of smoke which drifted slowly away.
J. H. G.
During the months of May, June, and July the Section, increased in number to twenty cars, broke all records of the American Ambulance. The work was so organized and men brought such devotion to their duties that it may be said that, of all the wounded brought down from daily and nightly fighting, not one was kept waiting so much as ten minutes for an ambulance to take him to the hospital.
Where, before the coming of the American cars, ambulances came up to the postes de secours only when called, and at night came after a delay occasioned by waking a driver sleeping some miles away, who thereupon drove his car to the place where he was needed, the American Section established a service on the spot, so that the waiting was done by the driver of the ambulance and not by the wounded. The effect of this service was immediate in winning confidence and liking, of which the members of the Section were justly proud. Their swift, light, easy-running cars were a great improvement on the old and clumsy ambulances which had served before them. In the early days, when these old ambulances were working side by side with ours, wounded men being brought from the trenches would ask to be carried by the Americans. That the latter should have come so far to help them, should be so willing to lose sleep and food that they should be saved from pain, and should take the daily risks of the soldiers without necessity or recompense seemed to touch them greatly. It was not long before the words "Ambulance Américaine" would pass a man by any sentry post. The mot, or password, was never demanded. And in their times of leisure, when others were on duty, men could eat with the soldiers in their popotes and become their friends. Many of them have become known and welcomed in places miles apart and have formed friendships which will last long after the war.
J. H. G.
The Inspector's Letter Box, continued
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