|Nous apportons ivres du monde et de nous mêmes,
Des coeurs d'hommes nouveaux dans le vieil univers.
-----E. VERHAEREN (La Multiple Splendeur)
I SUPPOSE that I shall remain until the war is ended; but in what capacity I frankly admit I am at a loss to ascertain. The American Army is arriving, and we are, all of us, wondering whether we are to be given officers' jobs with it, or be merely taken over as ambulance men; or whether we will remain in the French service. Meantime, many of us have put in an application for the Officers' Training School for Americans. As for the present work, things are relatively quiet. The nightly air raids by the Germans do very little damage as compared with their expenditure of expensive ammunition. You see, a bomb can't do much unless it lands exactly on top of the object aimed at, which is more or less a matter of luck!
The first American contingent has arrived, but as yet I have seen none near the Front. I assume that they are being trained "somewhere."
As for an officer's commission, I am very doubtful if I can pass the examination, as the course is quite technical and difficult.(25) You go to a regular training school for six weeks and the work is exceedingly strenuous. After that, you pass into the Transport Service which, of course, is not nearly so interesting as the ambulance work; merely drudgery without the excitement. However, I shall follow the general lead of the volunteers, as no one yet seems to be very clear as to just what to expect.
It looks at present as if the American Ambulance Field Service proper might remain almost in its present form, the new truck end of it going over to the American Army.
Excepting for the nightly aerial bombing raids and for considerable air fighting during the day, the sector here is relatively quiet just now, and our work is light. The difficulty is to get sleep, as every night the Boches come over and drop bombs on our town, and naturally it keeps us jumpy.
June 2. Back from my twenty-four hours at the "poste." Nothing much doing where we were; but there seemed to be more or less dislike a little farther over toward Craonne. Around Berry-au-Bac, they were pasting hell out of each other, and when I went up to Route 44 "poste" at the customary hour --- 3 A.M. --- I stopped and watched the argument.
It surely was Fourth-of-July stuff! "77's" and "75s," flares, hand grenades, mitrailleuses, shrapnel, and, now and then, a big fellow, besides the "torpilles"! Coming back I nearly got a "crack" on the head from a camouflage which had been dropped by a shell a couple of hours previously. Incidentally the staff car's windshield was broken by the same camouflage earlier in the evening. The thing had sagged down just low enough to catch the driver's head.
Our "abri," by the way, is "some sleeping-joint." The rats crawl around, over, and under you all night, and the air is evidently meant to train you for asphyxiating gases.
As to food: sugar, tea, coffee, sardines we can obtain comparatively easily; but bacon, catsup, chocolate, salt crackers, good ham, are a great luxury. Orange marmalade, too, is hard to obtain, as the British Army practically gets the whole output. The war will continue several years if there is to be an end by crushing the German military force. They are quite as strong as they ever were on the Western Front, so long as the Russians are out of it. Their new "77's" are as good as the "75's" now, too, and the Austrian "130" is "a bird"! I can speak with authority, as they are fired at us continually.
June 4. Rice returned to the Section yesterday. Brewer, an old Section 1 man, though extremely young, came with him, making two extra men for the moment. But as Flynn and Hibbard are just now being disciplined for having stayed over in Épernay twenty-four hours, they are not allowed to run their cars or to go off the château grounds, and the new men will take their places for the next ten days.
A Boche plane was brought down by Guynemer here to-day. One man fell out before the plane came to the ground and there was not much left of him after the Arabs and niggers got through kicking the corpse around. The other was burnt up by the tank or by the carburetor exploding.
June 5. Last night was quite a night. The "Germs" began raiding us about eleven o'clock and dropped bombs all over the place, several falling so close that the flashes lit up the tent and the ground shook! Then, when we thought it was over and were beginning to doze off, another squadron came over and the same thing occurred all over again. Four times did this happen until we were all so jumpy that every time one heard the noise of a plane it seemed to be a Boche. Needless to add that no one got much sleep, and even this morning another raid was attempted! But this time the Huns were driven off easily. Some of the fellows ran over from the tents to the archways of the château, but Woody, Sponagle, and I figured that it was rather silly, as the bombs were so large that the archways were really more dangerous than where we were lying on our tent beds in the open on the lawn, as here at least there would be no flying bricks and stones to speak of.
I received to-day bully letters from mother and C----. Certainly it is a relief' to hear at last. The blessed Chicago is so slow that it takes a full month between letters, when the old raft's turn comes.
If the bowl be of gold and the liquor of flame,
CHARLES LAW WATKINS
June 6. Went over with Kenyon, Plow, Woodworth, and Sponagle to Fismes, to call on the aviators located there. We had a great time with Guynemer's "Spad" Section and a bombing and scouting Section of Caudrons and Farmans. They have a regular little club-room in one of the hangars, with a piano and bar decorated by real artists.
Kenyon played the violin and one of the aviators accompanied him on the piano. At about eleven o'clock a German plane came over and dropped four bombs within less than fifty feet of the hangars. Needless to say that every one was flat on the ground. Guynemer being there, the Boches are constantly after him and they say that his health is failing. All the same, he brought down two Germans yesterday, bringing his record up to forty-three --which tops them all.(26)
June 7. Our old "Loot," de Kersauson de Pennendreff, turned up yesterday and spent the night with us. Allen Muhr and Reed were along. Both of them are pupils at the Meaux School. It appears that the course is much more difficult than any of us imagined and quite technical in regard to motors. Also, when you graduate, you do not take charge of an ambulance section, but of a truck section, which is by no means as interesting work. Altogether, their news was disappointing.
It does not look as though Piatt Andrew could have as much control, now that the regular American Army is arriving. Ten thousand men already have landed in Bordeaux, and as many more are on the way. The plan is to have one hundred and twenty-five thousand men here by autumn. it is said that General Pershing already is in France. Those of us who were thinking of trying for grades are not so keen now that we are obtaining a more definite line on what we would get to do if we did graduate. The next School starts on July 20 with twenty-five instead of fifteen men. The present School ends next week.
June 8. The Boches dropped a lot of bombs on Frigny, killing eight and wounding several other men. At Épernay a division commander was killed at the headquarters, which was the house of Chandon ---of Moët et Chandon fame. The entire mansion was destroyed.
I knocked my little finger out of joint playing ball. A nuisance!
June 10. Farlow leaves to-morrow, his six months being up. He is going to try for the artillery. Everybody is sorry to see him go. We gave him a party last night. Stockwell sang "The Big Black Bull"; Hibbert played the mandolin; champagne flowed, and every one had a pleasant time.
I put my thumb out of joint playing ball! Both wretched hands are crippled now!
The morale of the troops around here is very poor. A regiment from the"midi" of a cavalry division revolted on the day before yesterday, killing their officers, because they were not allowed to go "en repos." The Annamites had to be called out, and two hundred men were shot before order could be restored. The entire division is to be sent to Salonica as a punishment.
June 12. Three of our fellows pulled a kindergarten stunt yesterday. The first two had been trying for several days to get transferred to the Artillery School, but had received no reply from Andrew. So they announced that they were going to get themselves sent down to Paris, and proceeded to make a lot of noise, threatening to "get Woody," who, incidentally, had done all he could to get them transferred. Contrary to their hopes, the rest of the Squad sided with Woody and their plan fell flat. They only succeeded in making asses of themselves. The poor little babies ought to be sent to a kindergarten, rather than to an artillery school.
June 13. It was decided to jail for four days the leaders and to let the third go, as he was younger and a sort of "goat" for the other two. Unfortunately, however, orders came from Headquarters for the first to report in Paris. So they escaped after all. But thank goodness, we've got rid of the leader. The Section certainly is lucky to lose him.
June 15. I got up to the "poste" by luck, being third "remplaçant" --- two men "en permission," and Holt sick with "la gale." I had a rather amusing day. We spotted a Boche camouflage and the artillery gave them hell! With customary Teutonic thoroughness, they'd built a regular forest in front of the road from the north to Rheims. That's where, with customary lack of perception, they failed to "get by." The French, naturally, know their own country, and they also knew well enough that a forest wouldn't grow up overnight. If they'd faked a "picture" of the road, it would have been a different thing. Well, very few Boches will get by those five kilometers these days.
June 16. Woody was killed last evening. I have not got quite used to the idea yet. It does n't seem real. He was the best friend I had in the Ambulance. Chatkoff, of the observing and directing escadrille, driving a Caudron, invited him and Sponagle to go up with him. Spone went first, stayed up about twenty minutes, and came back so that Woodworth could have his turn. They decided to go beyond Soissons to see the American Escadrille. They got over all right.
Jones to-day told me the rest. On starting to come back about six o'clock, it is thought that Chatkoff, who had failed to be asked to join the American Escadrille (Lafayette), was anxious to show them what he could do. Before he and Woodworth were sixty feet off the ground, he tried to make a fancy bank, side-slipped, and it was all over.
Lufbery (27) says that it was as much plain murder as any one could see. He had no right to risk another fellow's life just to show off. Woody, never knew what happened. The motor fell on him. Skull crushed; no face left; both legs broken at the hips and all the flesh scraped off the bones.
Chatkoff had three skull fractures, both legs broken at the hips, and a splinter through the lower part of his body. He is still alive, but in a state of coma and is not expected to live.
I drove over to get Woody's body --- fifty miles there and fifty back. All the officials were most kind. Spone and I lunched with the American aviators and came back in the afternoon, dead tired. Hibbard and Plow went to Épernay and got a fine zinc-lined coffin, lots of flowers, and so forth; I wired Kurtz, Balbiani, and de Kersauson; also Andrew and Dr. Gros. Jones, Johnson, and Shaw will try to get over to-morrow, although it is out of their army. I wired Miss Brown of Philadelphia. Woodworth's father is dead and he has no near relatives. It's sickening. He and Sponagle and I had been living lately together in a little tent.
June 17. We buried Woody at Châlons-sur-Vesle, our evacuating "poste." The weather was fine; shells coming in occasionally. All the officers of the Division whom we knew were there together with some of the other Divisions, and a platoon of Zouaves as guard of honor. Andrew could not get up, but Galatti was on hand with a beautiful bronze wreath. The boys picked wild flowers all morning and had a bully display. Ned Townsend, Hibbard, Stockwell, and I carried the coffin. Everything went without a hitch and the Episcopalian minister delivered a fine sermon. A mistake was made in having on the cross at the grave the word "aviator" instead of "ambulancier"; but the cross already has been changed, and later a stone monument will replace it. He was buried with his own American silk flag on which was pinned the Croix de Guerre.
June 18. Sponagle, being Sous-Chef, takes the lieutenancy pro tem, and I was made Sous-Chef. Pearl was made Chief Mechanician, replacing Sponagle, who had been temporarily holding the two jobs. Of course, the fact that Chatkoff had no right to take up a passenger and to fly into another army zone, and that "Woody" had no right to go out of his army either, has created a big row, and the Section is likely to be punished by withdrawal to the rear. At all events, we are bound to be watched and inspected very carefully, so all the men are on the jump, every car washed, all the motors overhauled. No leaves of absence are granted beyond the "cantonnement," etc. Even "permissionnaires" are no longer taken to Épernay in an ambulance, but must find their way walking or begging a lift from a passing "camion."
June 19. The cavalry horses broke loose last night, frightened by bombs, and scattered all over the place. The men were out all night catching them. Such a riot!
June 21. Word came to move and we were busy all day. Holt returned cured of "la gale" and Gamble is over his fever. Both were up at the Châlons Hospital for a week or so and had a very good time with the pretty nurses.
Louvois is our new "cantonnement." It is about fifteen kilometers southeast of Rheims. Apparently we are in luck not to get sent to the rear and are to take over really more front-line work than we have had.
June 22. This is a very interesting sector. We have pleasant "cantonnements" in the quaint little town to the east of Rheims. Sponagle and I being the officers have a small bedroom; the boys are all together in a big, airy room --- a much better arrangement than to let them separate into cliques. We all eat at one long table also. The arrangement as to work is rather odd. Six cars stay away three days. Four at Ludes, the village where the hospital is, and one at each of the advanced "postes" which are "whales"! They axe shelled all the time. Two men axe relieved each day, so that everybody gets a hack at the work. I hear that Section 13 near here had eight men wounded the other day, and their Lieutenant had both legs shot away. They got an Army citation. I received to-day a nice letter from Kurtz anent Woodworth's death. Kurtz is still in charge of Section 18, now at Glorieux near Verdun.
But to return: The work is interesting with four "postes" on the front line and evacuations to Épernay, so that we have a good variety of driving, and it keeps the men busy and interested. For a time we had considerable trouble with the boys who were "fed-up," grouchy, and nervous. The lack of sleep was the worst trouble, as even back in the "cantonnements" the nightly aero raids kept every one, who was at all nervous, on the jump. Some of the men have since confessed to me that they had virtually not slept throughout the last period when the moon was shining --- that's when the planes come over ---a matter of two weeks at a stretch. Now, our camp is sufficiently far back to be out of the raiding area, especially as it is not near a railway --- the usual Boche objective. Personally I am such a sound sleeper that I never heard the bombs unless they actually fell in our immediate neighborhood. But some of the boys say that it was the sound of the approaching plane that "got their goats"! They could hear it gradually getting nearer and nearer and dropping bombs as it came, and it was a sort of fifty-fifty with them as to whether those night birds would lay one of their iron eggs on the tent or not.
Well, I'm glad to say we've gone away. I hated the place since poor Woody's death. The cars now go up the line, and stay there for a period of three days each --- six of them --- and are relieved by two's. The officers and the doctor also are a fine lot of men --- quite different from the last bunch we were with. So all is for the best in the best of worlds!
June 23. Holt's "gale" has returned and he is to be sent again to the hospital. The men as a whole respond very well to the stricter regulations and "Eddy" and I have had little trouble so far.
We met the local officers last night, and they were most polite and pleasant. They drank to our health, and that of all Americans, etc.
June 24. We dined with the Médecin Chef and his staff at the hospital. They gave us a bully dinner and all were most kind. Such a difference from Muizon!
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