Frederick A. Pottle
Interim. Hikes at Midnight; Exploration
on Leave in the Auvergne; Trip to Germany.
IT was five-thirty on the morning of November 12 before the last of the main wave of wounded reached Evacuation Eight, and noon or after before the operating room was cleared. Many of these men had been wounded in the very last moments of the fighting. Although the order for the cessation of hostilities reached the majority of the units early on the morning of the eleventh, the order carried with it an injunction that there should be no slacking in the attack up to the very last minute. Indeed, the intensity of the artillery fire was increased, and on many parts of the line our troops continued to drive ahead against the stiff resistance of the Germans. The Wildcat Division (Eighty-first), a unit in the recently organized Second Army east of Verdun, must have suffered heavy casualties in attacks launched between six and eleven o'clock, for through the whole of the eleventh and part of the twelfth our operating room was jammed with seriously wounded boys from this division; boys, who, as far as we could see, need never have been wounded at all. We were at the time disposed to be rather bitter about it. Our experience was partial. We were not in a position to judge the military necessity or expediency of the order which called for the brisk operating of the military machine in the last few hours allowed it, but we were in a position to see only too well the effect of the order on the human beings who constituted the machine. Men whose duty it was to stand in the operating room of an army hospital through the last twelve hours or so of its activity, and to look attentively at each wounded man as he was brought in, could hardly fail to have some doubts whether the price we paid for our Armistice Day gains was not excessive. It is in no spirit of rancor that I wish our high officers might have had that experience. So, too, I wish that all those amiable civilians who speak of the terrible mistake the Allies made in not "smashing Germany up a little to give the Huns a taste of their own medicine," might, by the sight of those wounded men, have learned at what cost only could the desolation of Germany have been accomplished. As the guns ceased on Armistice Day, a severely wounded man lay on the table, awaiting the anesthetic. I, or someone else, thinking that he did not seem sufficiently joyful, rushed over to him and shouted, "Don't you realize what has happened? The war is over." "No," he said bitterly, "not for me. Look at my arm."(37)
The total of our admissions at Petit Maujouy was close to five thousand, our deaths in hospital, 338. After the twelfth we received few operative cases. A group of American engineers near Verdun had the misfortune to build a fire over an unexploded shell, which burst, killing several and horribly wounding the others. This gave us one considerable lot of wounded to work on, some days after the armistice. There were also occasionally cases of reoperation. But in general there was little more work for the operating room. A tent fly was stretched across one end of it to save heating the entire space, and here the scribes gathered about the stove, to digest and compile statistics from their record books, "where for two months and a half," a letter says, "we have been writing those innocent-looking technical words that mean the maiming of men and the breaking of hearts." On one or two occasions the officers held dances here, the great SILENCE signs hanging unheeded over their festivities.
On the thirteenth we evacuated all our patients who could be moved. We still continued to have plenty of patients, both seriously wounded who could not be evacuated, and an increasing number of medical cases, colds, influenza, and pneumonia. But for a large part of the force the cutting off of the supply of wounded meant another period of rather tedious holiday such as that which occupied our latter days at Juilly. Our numbers by now had been greatly augmented. Because up to the time of the armistice not more than 25 per cent of the authorized quota of evacuation hospitals had arrived in France, those that were there had to handle four times as many patients as they were supposed to, and consequently had to be expanded both in size and in number of personnel. As officially prescribed, the personnel should have consisted of 34 officers, 237 enlisted men, and no female nurses. An assignment sheet (undated) for the company during the period that we were at Petit Maujouy shows that we then had 311 enlisted men; the number of officers must have been increased in proportion---say, to about 50---and the corps of nurses could not have numbered less than 40. Our last lot of recruits consisted of a detachment of infantrymen, some of whom had been in the old army before the War, who had been wounded, gassed, or otherwise incapacitated at the front, and were sent to us for "light duty." What they got was litter bearing, about as heavy duty as it is possible to imagine. When they came, we were afraid, I think, that they would treat us mere medical troops with superciliousness and scorn. As a matter of fact, they were among the most modest and humble men we had, worked faithfully and uncomplainingly at tasks for which one would have expected them to have had only disgust, and developed a considerable affection for the outfit and a pride in its accomplishments.
Most of us now went back to fatigue.
(Diary A.) "Nov. 13. Up at 6 A.M. quite cold and seemed as if I were on some long holiday. Off night duty, so helped evacuate, then sat myself by fire until noon. Woodpile in P.M. got quite cold. Mail call brought 5 letters. . . . Sang at Redcross tent at night. Then around my tent stove talking and eating toast and jam.
"Nov. 14. Up at 6 A.M. Mack truck took us to break stones in quarry, and a funny sight we made, 20 in all. Woodpile in P.M. until released for night duty, again in tent 35 . Mumps. - - -
"Nov. 15. Got pass to Belleray and went to Verdun. Cold but pleasant. Saw a complete city underground, surrounded by water. . . . Saw returning prisoners from Germany in many allied uniforms, looking haggered and hungry. . . .
"Nov. 18. Rumor we are to go to Germany.
"Nov. 19. Officers had another dance which we could not attend.
"Nov. 22. Up at 6 A.M., served mess to mumpses, then walked to Senoncourt for airing."
The most vivid memories that remain of these weeks at Petit Maujouy after the armistice are unquestionably those of the occasional excursions we were now allowed to make with something like official sanction. I have chosen the following account as typical of many.
"Until the armistice was signed, we never got any passes. But as soon as the work let up a little, we were allowed passes of 36 hours to travel around a little. I, Red Johnstone, E. E. Martin, a barber from Iowa, Shorty Weiss, a little German pharmacist from New York, Russell Smith, a traveling salesman from Philadelphia, and Copeland, a tailor from Ohio, all got passes for St. Mihiel. We planned to take the train from Ancemont in the morning. Someone suggested that we walk up to the gas hospital at La Morlette, on the way to Ancemont, and sleep there, so as to be nearer in the morning. So off we started. There was a beautiful moon, and the road was frozen as hard and smooth as glass. We had hardly started when a black cat ran across the road ahead of us. Shorty, who is somewhat given to faith in omens, wanted to turn back, but we persuaded him to keep on. Will you believe that that cat followed us, and ran in front of us no less than six times? I got worried myself. It was almost like a ghost. We never saw it until it ran across the road, and then it was as silent as a spirit. If we had seen it seven times, I think we should all have agreed to go back.
"We found the gas hospital dark, no one stirring. Martin urged us to keep on to Ancemont; said we could find some place to sleep there. On we hiked to Ancemont. When we got there, we found that an unscheduled train for St. Mihiel had pulled out just before our arrival. 'That damned black cat!' said Shorty. 'Well,' said Martin, 'let's hike to St. Mihiel!' and off we started on a twenty mile hike. The night was clear and frosty with a splendid moon. The houses looked white and ghostly as they stood deserted in the moonlight. Everything was quiet; our feet on the frozen road made echoes against the walls.
"We went by a freight yard where negro stevedores were hustling freight in the glare of acetylene lights. We passed a little kitchen where a K.P. was cooking coffee, and were refused a drink. We went along the Meuse canal, and found it frozen over enough to hold up a fair-sized rock. The ice looked beautiful in the still moonlight.
"By one o'clock we struck Génicourt, a little deserted village well on the way to St. Mihiel. At that rate, we figured, we should arrive at St. Mihiel before daylight. A large house stood before us, with the door open. I went in, flashed my pocket torch, found a back room which turned out to contain two dilapidated bunks with straw ticks, and a pile of straw on the floor; a place where either French or American soldiers had been quartered. Martin and Smith and I lay down on the straw and pulled the ticks over us, for it was pretty cold. Red lighted a little stump of candle and humped up in the corner, professing to be entirely disgusted with the whole show. A little cat came in to keep us company. There was a sort of stone oven in one corner of the room. Shorty was possessed with a desire for fire. He ripped off a cupboard door and attempted to ignite it. But he had no kindling, and nobody had brought a large knife. My clearest memory of the night is that of seeing Shorty trying to set fire to a two-by-four over the candle. Somehow he succeeded in starting a fire, which promptly smoked us out, for the oven didn't draw at all well. My feet began to freeze. So about three o'clock we hit the road again. We came to Lacroix where the ruined church was that I described in another letter.(38) just as we got to the town in. the early dusk, we heard the bugles blow first call and reveille, and off on a side street we could hear the men falling in, the non-coms grumbling and cursing: 'Fall in, you! Atten-shun!' And in a moment, the rattle of the mess kits as the men rushed off to breakfast.
"We went into the church. I was impressed even more than the first time. For all its ruins, the church looks stately, noble. The machine gun fortifications still run up either side of the nave. The dugout is still under the altar. We went out through a great gap in the wall. I had never been farther on the road than this. just outside the town we struck some large dugouts. 'Let's go in,' said Martin. So we went down the stairs. There were two tiers of bunks here, with bottoms of chicken wire. Shorty hopped up into a top one, tucked his head under his wing like a canary, and went to sleep. None of us intended to stay more than a minute, but before we knew it, we were all napping. We must have stayed there half an hour. When we did climb out, we were terribly stiff.
"The sun was up now; the trees sparkling with frost, and mist hanging over the shell-torn fields. Shorty stumped along, his cap pulled down over his ears, his nose as red as a cherry. He found a French rifle in a trench, and a clip of cartridges, and we had literally to take the gun away from him to keep him from firing it. I have no doubt that the rusty old lock would have blown his head off. A little way out from St. Mihiel we hopped a French cart and rode into town. On the left of the road tower great cliffs, with fortifications on top. Here the German lines cross the road.
"We found St. Mihiel pretty well battered, but with a large part of the inhabitants still there. It was eight o'clock and we were hungry. Red and I had got it into our heads that we were going to Paris, and we wanted to find out about the trains. The rest of the bunch agreed to wait for us while we went across the bridge to the railroad station. So we went over, found that a train left for Lérouville at 8 P.M., and that at Lérouville one could get a train for Paris. We came back---no bunch. Red and I ran up one street and down another without catching sight of them. Finally, I agreed to stay on the corner where they were supposed to wait for us, while he scouted around. He had hardly left when a soldier came along. 'Say, what does that black A on your shoulder stand for?" First American Army, army troops (i.e., not attached to any particular division),' I replied. Ours seem to have been the first he had ever seen. 'Well, I saw four fellers with A's like that goin' into the kitchen over there,' he volunteered. Kitchen! visions of hot cakes danced before my eyes. I waited impatiently for Red. When he came, I cussed him for being gone so long, and he cussed me for not shouting when I learned where the others were. We were as hungry as bears.
"We rushed over to the kitchen, and found our faithless friends munching corned-wully sandwiches and drinking black coffee which the mess sergeant had grudgingly set out. The cooks did not only not offer Red and me anything to eat, but they ignored our rather pointed hints that we should be grateful for a bite. For courtesy, kindness and generosity, the American mess sergeant rates the lowest in the world. For that matter, don't ever apply to an American comrade when you want a favor. Go to a Frenchman. He'll walk ten miles to show you the way to a place. He'll stop his truck to give you a ride. Anything he has is yours if you need it. Well, Red and I were out of luck for breakfast. We saw a little shop at the end of the street which appeared to be selling something, so we went across. All they had was hot chocolate and ginger cake. We filled up at an expense of about five francs apiece.
"The place was badly shell shocked; the big front window smashed and boarded up, and most of the plaster gone from the ceiling, but one great mirror remained intact on the wall. There was a little red-hot stove, which we gathered around. The people who ran the place were wonderfully kind. There was the madame, two daughters, 17 and 12, a boy about 14, and another about 6. The older boy had just been returned from Belgium where the Germans had sent him. The older girl---a strange thing---preferred to talk German with us instead of French. The joy of that family at being reunited and safe again was pathetic. You could see in their faces what four years of German occupation must have been like.
"Copeland went to church---it was Sunday---and the rest of us sat around the stove. Shorty had heard that there was a kitchen nearby that would feed casuals. He went over to see. The cook---a rare specimen---was only too glad to feed us, but he said that he would have to have an order from the major, a regular old hard-boiled veteran.
"'Sir,' says Shorty, 'I want to know if I can get a feed.'
"Major. 'What the hell do you think this is, a casual camp? Anyway, breakfast is all over.'
"Shorty. 'Don't want breakfast. I want dinner, sir.'
"Major. 'And if I feed you, how many more will come trailing in?'
"Shorty. 'No more, sir. Only me and my five friends.'
"Major. 'Five friends!' (a dreadful storm gathering).
"Shorty. (quickly) 'Yes, sir. We're here on pass, and there's no place to buy eats.'
"Major. 'On pass? Why in hell didn't you say so in the first place? Let me see your pass.'
"Shorty hands it over. The major writes an order: 'Please see that Pvt. 1st Class Fred F. Weiss and five are given dinner.' Shorty returns to the five.
"At noon we waltzed over to the kitchen and presented the order. The cook was ready, even anxious, to feed us, but we had no mess kits. We stood by the pail of dish water and asked several of the boys who had finished eating for the loan of theirs, but they were all in a dreadful hurry. Back I go to Madame. 'Madame, est-ce que je puis emprunter trois assiettes et trois fourchettes? " Mais oui, monsieur, certainement!' So in short order I got three china plates and three forks. Madame refused pay. 'Vous allez les rendre, n' est-ce pas?'
"We ate well and mightily. After dinner we made a tour of the town and then went up the slopes to the German fortifications. Those trenches and dugouts ought to be preserved as a permanent exhibit. First we investigated a great natural cave that had been used as a first-aid station. I went down and down until I found myself in a great room or grotto as large as a small concert hall, and as high, for all I know, for my light made only a blur in the shadows. Passageways led off everywhere. The whole place had been wired and lighted with electricity. The big grotto must have been forty feet under ground.
"We followed up a trench. The dugouts were no sandbag-and-log affairs, but were cast of solid concrete. The bombers' pits and machine gun emplacements were made in the same way. The sides of the trench were supported by wattles, and the bottom floored to keep the men's feet dry. We saw bushels of potato-masher grenades, minenwerfer shells, and a machine gun belt of cartridges all of twenty feet long.
"We climbed out of the trenches, and came upon a little German cemetery. A large monument had stood in the center, with urns of flowers on the pedestal. The crosses over the graves were metal replicas of the Iron Cross. I suppose the men buried here were all recipients of that decoration. We dropped over the brow of the cliff into a little crater, perfectly sheltered from the allied fire. Here were the German officers' quarters, not dugouts at all, but pretty little wooden houses. We approached the finest, which stood in the center of the row. It had a veranda, windows with lace curtains, and a door with a frosted glass panel. We went in. Hardwood floor, wainscot, wall paper, a sheathed ceiling, a piano, a black walnut sideboard, a carved table, plush-covered chairs---Oh, that officer had a cruel place to live in. There was a stove, on a square of tiles, with tiles let into the wall behind it. In the next room was a great double carved bedstead and mirrors. Shorty immediately started a fire. The place got warm. I was sleepy, and in a minute, as it seemed, I fell asleep. It began to get dark, with a cold, drizzling, misty rain.
"We left the house before it got too dark, and retraced our way to the village. By good luck we found a store that had a few canned goods to sell, and bought some canned chicken, green peas, and sardines and we held up the friendly cook for a loaf of bread. Then we went back to Madame's and she fixed up a supper for us that was a supper.
"There were nearly three hours left to kill until train time. A beer palace nearby was supposed to sell good beer, so we waited outside until it got ready to open. When we got in, we found that it was a fairly large entertainment hall, with a stage and a balcony. The beer was German, left behind in the retreat. Russell Smith went over to order for the party. The beer was 30 centimes (six cents) a glass. He gave the woman a 5 franc note, and she informed him that, as she had no change, he would have to take it all in beer. Back he comes with sixteen beers. Shorty: 'She cheated you 20 centimes, Russell.' Russell goes back and demands another glass and gets it after a ten minute argument.
"Madame. 'Mais non, monsieur! Seize verres pour cinq francs!'
"'Russell. 'I don't know what you're talkin' about, but gimme another glass, or gimme my four centsl Vank sonteem! Vank sonteem!'
"Madame. 'La bierre vaut trente centimes le verre!'
"Russell. 'But what becomes of my other four cents? I
Russell was a traveling salesman, and gets what he wants.
"The place was very chilly and cheerless, and unlighted except for a candle over the bar. Red found about half an inch of candle in his pocket, and we stayed until it went out. Then we went over to the station to wait for our train. We found more Americans waiting; convalescent wounded going back to join their outfits at Toul. The train finally arrived, and we commandeered a second class compartment. They never make us pay fares on the railroad.(39) We settled down on the cushions, and had just got comfortable when we reached Lérouville. I got off, supposing Red was to follow. He came to the door and looked out. It was raining, there was a wait of an hour and a half for the Paris train, the compartment was warm and cosy, all the others said we were crazy to try to see Paris without a pass, and, to make a long story short, he renigged on me. I wouldn't go alone, and so I had to stay.
"We cuddled down and went to sleep. None of us knew where the train was going, and we didn't care. We were out of the rain. I dimly remember reaching Toul. Some one shouted, 'This train goes back to Verdun!' So we stayed aboard. I went to sleep again, to be awakened by Shorty shouting, 'This is Bar-le-Duc! Let's get off.'
"That was about 3.30 A.M. We got something to eat, and went out to find a bed. Every hotel in the city was full. We went to the Y.M.C.A. and found a crowd in the same plight as ourselves sleeping in chairs around the fireplace. About six they chased us upstairs while they swept and cleaned up. I washed my face, and felt pretty good again. We got something to eat at the Y and I stayed there all the forenoon writing Christmas cards. We went to a regular hotel for dinner, the first hotel dinner I have eaten since I left Chattanooga. We got an excellent meal for seven francs. After dinner, we toured the town. Bar-le-Duc is a nice city, but there's nothing very remarkable to see there unless you have a guide, which we didn't. There's a little chapel in the middle of one of the bridges. Shorty says he suppose the contractor did a bum job, and wanted to blame the Virgin if the bridge got washed out.
"At four o'clock we took the narrow-gauge for Souilly. It was all of 7.30 when we got there. Now Souilly is about nine kilometres from camp, and Lemmes, the next station beyond, only three. So we all agreed to go on to Lemmes. But Lemmes is off the highway, none of us had ever been in the station, and we got lost in the dark. We asked a Frenchman the way, and he directed us, but when we came to the turn he had told us to take, as I understood it, the rest of the crowd all said I was wrong. I may say, with all modesty, that I was the only member of the party who made much of a pretense of speaking French, but that didn't matter: I was wrong.
"A Frenchman walking guard happened along. We inquired of him. Oh, yes, he knew the way. He took us about half a mile up the road, pointed to a little muddy track, and said 'Voilà!' triumphantly. We set out, not without misgivings. It was dark as pitch, the mud was all of a foot deep, and I felt sure we were on the wrong road. We had podged along for about half an hour, all badly disgruntled, when Shorty let out a howl and fell over a bank for a drop of about ten feet. Our road ran to the cut of the railroad track, and stopped. Well, there was the track itself. I said Souilly lay in one direction, they said the other. Red had a pocket compass; it backed me up, but they said you never could depend on those things anyway. So we started hiking up the track, straight for Verdun. We had gone perhaps three-fourths of a mile when we struck a railroader's shanty, an American's, for the Verdun division is entirely run by our army. We went in. His light was burning, but he was nowhere to be seen. We sat down to wait for him, and had waited a few minutes, when I saw on his desk a letter addressed 'Lempire.' Now I knew where Lempire was, and announced that I was going home. They followed. We started back over the track, and had nearly covered the three-fourths mile, when Copeland remembered that he had left a box of Bar-le-Duc gooseberry jam in the railroad man's hut. Back he went, while we waited. When he got back with his jam, we hit it up again. It seemed miles before we got anywhere. They were all sure I was wrong, and I was beginning to think I was, when we came to the underpass where the Lemmes road goes under the track. We took the road, hiked to Senoncourt, and from there home, getting to bed about eleven. That is the end of our Odyssey."
Thanksgiving Day, November 28, "and a rainy muddy day," found us still at Petit Maujouy. But in spite of the gloom of the weather, the day was one of festivity. "Thanksgiving Day in France! " says a letter. "If anybody had told me a year ago that I should eat my next Thanksgiving dinner in France, under such circumstances as today, I should have called him crazy. But the thought that before long I shall be home is enough to make the day happy. And we had a wonderful feed. Capt. Tupper and Col. Shipley went to Neufchâteau and got stuff that I didn't suppose could be found in France. We had roast duck with onion dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, butter for our bread, apples, grapes, nuts, candy, cookies, and cigarettes. The candy was made by the Smith College Unit, and they were responsible also for the cigarettes and cookies. Our officers must think we'll be out of France by Christmas, for they spent the whole mess fund on this feed! I have a seven-days leave beginning Saturday. Forty of us are being sent to La Bourboule, near Clermont."
Although only forty members of the company went on this memorable leave, that seems to me a sufficient percentage to warrant inclusion of an account of the trip, for which I have unusually full records. The following is compiled from Diary B and letters.
(Letter.) "We left Petit Maujouy on trucks the morning of November 30, and went directly to Verdun. We were supposed to take a train immediately for La Bourboule, but on arriving we found about 1,200 men waiting for the same train, and no train in sight. We have had no snow yet, but the day was chilly. The station is completely in ruins. We gathered such scraps of wood as were lying around, and proceeded to build fires inside the station and on the tracks to warm ourselves by. Word came that the train could not possibly come before 3 P.M. Six of us started off together for a tour of the city. I had been through Verdun before, but this time I saw a great many things that I hadn't seen previously. The gate we went in at was furnished with a draw bridge---a quite practicable one---over a moat at least thirty feet deep. Verdun is entirely enclosed by walls, the only entrances being through massive gateways. I also noticed a large portcullis on the bridge over the Meuse canal which runs through the center of the town.
"We entered from the northern side. The destruction in this quarter was complete; the houses mere heaps of rubble, with occasionally chimneys or angles of walls standing up like ragged obelisks. We found a large Jewish synagogue, the first I was ever in, and we made a tour of the Bank of France. The money, of course, was all gone, but inside the drawers of the counters were personal papers belonging to the clerks, quite undisturbed, and in dark musty rooms beyond were thousands of bundles of papers, filed away in pigeon holes. We climbed a ladder to the roof, and got a wonderful view across the roofs of the city toward the cathedral. From the bank we crossed the canal, and turned down toward the cathedral, which we reached up a flight of narrow stone steps. As we climbed, we came suddenly upon a little house that commanded the whole city from its front windows. In front was a blind courtyard all of seventy feet deep; then the tilted shattered roofs stretched away toward the hills. Not a tree on those hills, not even a bush. They are like the dreadful country in Browning's Childe Roland.
"We came out in front of the Cathedral. A shell had exploded in the street, laying open a huge vaulted passageway beneath it. Where it leads, I have no idea. The whole city is undermined by such tunnels. In the bottom of the cavity lay a baby carriage, tipped over, with the wheels in the air. We didn't go into the Cathedral, for we had all been there before. It is not a very favorable specimen of architecture; very heavy and ornate, with a great baldachino over the altar. Beside the Cathedral is a large Ecclesiastical Seminary, which had some fine museums of art and natural history. The window where I had crawled in before was boarded up, and the doors were strongly barricaded. The buildings were arranged in a huge semi-circle around an open court. We found the door open at the further end of the court, and wandered about hoping to find a passageway into the museum rooms. It was like a dream. We went up rickety, half tumbling stairways, through windows, into forgotten rooms in an interminable series, and had about given it up, when I ran down a lone corridor, turned into a blank room, and was about to go out, when I saw a half-hidden opening in the corner. It proved to be a secret stairway in the wall itself. We ran down, squeezed our way out from behind a huge barricade, and emerged at the doorway of the main room of the museum. Here were original Roman sculptures and casts from originals, a medieval tomb on which a crusader and his lady slept with folded hands, and ancient burial slabs galore. The next room contained huge paintings: the miraculous draft of fishes, and Paul superintending the burning of the conjurers' books. Several of the paintings had been removed since my first visit. The next room had been the library. It was in indescribable confusion: books, pamphlets, and manuscripts literally knee-deep. In the débris I noticed several Smithsonian Institute Reports. The room beyond was more library. A large painting, totally undamaged by four years of war, had met its fate at the hands of a souvenir fiend, who had neatly cut a square out of the exact center of the canvas. Names---American names---were scrawled everywhere.
"The natural history museum was on the second floor. I found it in much worse condition than formerly. At least one more shell had come through the roof, and where part of the things I had previously seen had been there was now only a gaping hole in the floor. Stuffed animals, reptiles, birds, fish, insects, on the floor everywhere, mingled with débris, torn and mangled in the most ludicrous fashion, shattered glass cases, overturned tables, no roof, only part of a floor: utter, absolute ruin.
"We left the Seminary and started back for the railroad station. On the way I found several chapels (of monasteries, I think), and a school, one room of which contained jars of chemicals and chemical apparatus. We passed along a street of houses, the fronts of which looked comparatively uninjured. As we passed the open entrances, however, we saw that the roofs were entirely gone, and that the débris had run in rivers down the wide stairways. In one such house I found a splendid library rotting in the rain, surrounded by the magnificence of great gilt framed mirrors (unbroken) and a great carved mantel.
"At 3 o'clock, no train. It began to get dark: no train. As long as I live I shall never forget the sight of our fires burning in the ruined station at Verdun. The red glow threw queer lights and shadows on the circles of men around, each blaze marking off in sharp relief their slim puttee-wrapped legs and the short skirts of their overcoats, flickering on the battered walls and roof. Everyone joked and laughed and sang.
"About nine o'clock a train pulled in, and we were lined up to go aboard. Our bunch came last, forty of us. Twelve hundred men make quite a line in a column of twos. The train was made up of first, second, and third class compartments. I, Bill Smith, Mitchell, and three other fellows got a second class, with a cushion on only one side. A French compartment is about five feet wide, its length being the width of the car. Two long seats face each other, and there is a door on either side. They have cars with a vestibule running the whole length of the coach, but they don't use them for transporting soldiers. This compartment was supposed to seat ten persons. Above each seat, on the wall, was a rack for baggage, of string netting supported by iron brackets, perhaps a foot and a half wide. Bill, who is small, crawled up in one, spread his blanket, and soon was asleep. I sat in one corner and stretched my legs across to the other side. That compartment was constructed in such a manner that, no matter how I lay, it was always just six inches short. If I managed to get partly to sleep, my legs would cramp and I would have to shift my position.
"We managed to pass the night. Of course we all expected to wake up well on our way to La Bourboule. But the train never stirred from the yards. About six o'clock, some one yelled, 'Fifteen minutes to unload!' It was all a mistake, it seems. The train wasn't for us but for returning prisoners. So out we piled---to wait.
"All this time we had been living on the rations we had brought with us: bread, canned beans, corned beef, tomatoes, and jam. We had supposed that two days rations was all that we needed. So the first day we ate jam and bread, and the second day bread and beans, and after that corned beef---and nothing to go with it. For we stayed another day at Verdun. About nine o'clock in the evening, another train came in. As before, we were last in the line. This train was mainly American box cars. Fifty-one men went into ours. There was a flat car of baled hay on the track near us, and somehow or other the bottom of our car got covered with a good thick bedding. We went to bed at once. There were so many of us that we had to lie dovetailed, somebody's feet under your chin, and yours under his. We were wedged in so tight that we stuck together. Some one would yell, 'Turn over!' and the whole row would turn at once. I had the misfortune to be opposite a door. We shut the door when we lay down, but unfortunately few of the men seemed able to stay down. We were terribly thirsty from eating corned beef, and we hadn't brought our canteens. So at every stop, a line would come crawling the length of the car to hop out for a drink. The fellows on whom they stepped with their hobnails cursed and howled and threatened murder. They all stepped on me.
"We were two days and three nights on that train. Aside from the food and the nights, it was really pretty comfortable. But the hay chaff got inside my underwear, and I slept beside an artilleryman who certainly 'had em going wild over him.' In my fitful slumbers I scratched my bosom and stomach all raw. . . . I managed to lock my door during the day, and announced that it was stuck and wouldn't open. One or two tried it and decided it was. So the fellow on the other side got trampled on the next two nights, much to my delight.
"We struck Mont Dore about two o'clock on the morning of December 4. La Bourboule was full, so we were sent here, one station above. We were all asleep when the train stopped, and hated to get out, but out we got. The night was misty, the stars all haloed with rings, but there was light enough in the sky to enable us to see a great rim of mountains reaching all the way around the valley where we were, with a mighty peak towering high toward the north.
"After about a couple of hours of getting lined up, getting our passes stamped, etc., we were sent to the hotels. Eighteen of us were assigned to Villa Guillaume. An old boy with a tam o' shanter, shepherd's cape, and staff took us up. It was up, too, straight up the side of the mountain. Our villa overlooks the whole village. A beautiful old lady met us and took us to our rooms. When I saw that bed, a great high affair with white sheets and a feather bed two feet thick, I almost cried.
"Breakfast was served for us immediately. Oh, the pleasure of a table with a cloth, china, knives and forks! It's a delight only to touch such things. After a fine hot breakfast, I went outside. The sun was just rising. At the end of the valley rose a splendid snow-capped peak (Pic de Sancy), 6,000 feet elevation. The sun shot great streamers out behind it, and the snow gleamed like silver. On the left of the great rim of mountains a fairy cascade shot over the mountain brim, sprayed down for a hundred feet, and then, as a little mountain stream, wound down the valley. On the right a massive bare rock soared up, a spur in the rear formed exactly like a kneeling monk, and from the resemblance called the 'Capuchin.' Behind me Puy Gros, a great flat-topped monster, closed the panorama.
"This town is one of the most select watering places in Europe. It has a wonderful history. It was only a few miles from here that Vercingetorix arose. He defeated Caesar just down the valley. Up the valley about four miles are the remains of Caesar's camp. The whole region is of volcanic origin. There are thousands of extinct craters in the neighborhood. Here at Mont Dore are innumerable hot springs. The Romans built a splendid bath here, and a great Roman road wound up the valley. Feudal castles crowned all the summits; robber barons extorted and pillaged. The English entered the valley under Henry V.
"The Y.M.C.A. has taken over the entire town, under the supervision of the Army. The great Casino, or gambling palace, is the headquarters. I am now in the Salle de Baccara, engaged in nothing more adventurous than writing a letter. The baths are thrown open to us. For fifty centimes we can get clean towels and floods of naturally hot water. The bath stands on the site of the old Roman structure, and many remains of the Roman building are preserved. There are at least eleven different varieties of hot water in the great courtyard, each guaranteed to cure some specific infirmity. . . .
"Every forenoon and afternoon the Y.M.C.A. conducts excursions to places of interest. Yesterday we climbed up to the Grand Cascade, passed behind it, and down by another route. In the afternoon, we visited three smaller cascades, the Rossignolet, the Queureilh, and the Saut du Loup. The Queureilh (a Celtic name) is splendid. It dashes over a cliff of five-sided basaltic columns tipped at an angle. The whole trip was through forests of beech and massive evergreens, firs and spruces. It was so much like Maine that it startled me. This afternoon we scale Pic de Sancy. Tomorrow we have a seventeen mile hike to Murols Castle, one of the most impressive medieval castles in existence. On the way we pass Caesar's camp, and a splendid little lake. . . . "
(Diary B.) "Dec. 4. The spirit of the 'Y' people here is great and makes a man feel right at home. There are several 'Y' ladies around, and such women I haven't seen for a long time, since May 8, to be exact. They have a 'good morning' and a smile that makes you want to shout for joy. Here a private is the same or better than an officer, and a man is a man until proven otherwise. . . . In the afternoon saw some movies early, played cards and heard a band concert in the Casino. Three of us had canes and were like wild men at being so free again. We were playing 500 and a 'Y' woman came over and put her hand right on my shoulder and asked us all if we could play bridge. Well, I was the only one who could, so she said, 'Let's play some night this week.' She will furnish one player, and I am to find another. Boy, that was a great treat, to seem like a human again, and I am not over it yet by any means.
"In the A.M. I purchased much handmade lace, three chemise tops I think they were called. Also a wrist tag and a cane. Went to bed about ten P.M. and surely did sleep some, right up to 8 A.M.
"Dec. 5. After eating, Small, Sanders, and I went hiking up to the cascade. We were all in except Jack when we arrived, but it was beautiful up there some 4,000 feet above the town. We arrived back just in time for dinner. We had steak and scalloped potatoes for dinner. This is surely a very tough life to say the least. . . . We went to the show at night up to 10 and then came out to watch the dancing. There was a need of women so the 'Y' man asked for volunteers on the piano and fiddle. Some one said I would with Berlfein, so he played fiddle and me piano until 11 and had a great time. . . .
"Dec. 6. Hung around Y all morning; the only work I did was to play two hymns at a little service at 9.30. After dinner Quinto said he would make some apple pie so we hung around to assist. There were two French girls next door who were sociable and we talked almost all the afternoon to them and they sure were nice girls. . . . After supper I went down to see the famous 'Bucket of Blood' of this town, which is a fearful joint. All sorts of awful looking women and men and full of soldiers looking for odd sights as you never see anywhere else. It was a dive for fair. . . .
" Dec. 7. This morning a gang went on an 18 mile hike [to Murols Castle] which sounds too good to me so instead Small and I went 'swimming' in the sulphur baths. They were fine. After finishing we came here to the Y to rehearse for the big show of Monday night given by Evac. 8. In the afternoon Small and I went to La Bourboule for a walk and on the way saw the Petrified Spring. We strolled about the town and into the casino there which isn't as beautiful by far as this one here. . . .
"Dec. 8. Went to church and heard a very fine sermon on Le Vision. The speaker was very good and I much enjoyed the talk. In the afternoon Jim Adams, Small, and myself went down to the 'Bucket of Blood' to watch the goings on. The worst joint I believe I ever was in. . . .
"Dec. 9. The boys of No. 8 are putting on a show tonight as stunt night. Berlfein playing a violin solo first. Fred Pottle as a female impersonator and then a little sketch with Berlfein, Pettit, Velie, Oldhauser, Weiss, Small, and Bill Smith. The sketch is called the 'Black Cat.' [Letter: It was supposed to represent the back room of a notorious saloon in New York. The characters were the little waiter, the Jewish bell hop, an ex-gambler, a negro, an old professor, Rip Van Winkle, and The Man from Nowhere (Bill Smith). There were all kinds of gags and stunts, and Bill spoke 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew.']
"All the 'Eight' boys not in the show gathered early to get good seats way down front, and waited from 6.30 to 8.15 to hold the seats. The show was very good and Bill Smith as a Dutch comedian was fine.
"Dec. 10. For those who hadn't been able to get into the show on the previous night the performance was repeated. In the morning I climbed Capuchin all alone and was very tired at noon. About eleven A.M. Idler, Parlin, and I decided to play for the show down in the pit. We played before the show and I played for three solos, so had quite a busy time, besides presenting Pottle with a head of cabbage. After the show Idler and I went over to the Base Hospital and played in three different wards for the wounded. One poor fellow broke down and cried like a child, as the music made him homesick, he said. . . . "
(Letter.) "The show pleased the Y.M.C.A. manager, Andy Smith, so much that we had to repeat it, and the next day we went to La Bourboule at the Y's expense and put it on there. Andy is a young Princeton man, a wonderful chap. We called ourselves 'Andy's Army.' He wrote to Paris recommending that we be transferred to the Entertainment Section of the A.E.F. and that he go along as manager."
(Diary B.) "Andy Smith took us to the Splendid Hotel for dinner. It is the best hotel in the town and we had a great dejourner from soup to nuts. After dinner we hung around the parlor of the hotel, playing and singing until almost 3 P.M. The show went well, and after it was finished we all gathered in the Manager's office and he talked to us for some time. We were taken to the hotel again for dinner at 7 P.M. and given a private dining-room at which 19 of us sat down. Evac. Hosp. 8 was very ably represented by ten men. During the meal there was much singing and speaking of the impromptu sort. After the meal the boys opened up in great style and sang all sorts of great songs. One bass sung the Turnkey's Song, the Bell in the Watch-tower, etc. The spirit was great, and the meeting ended at eight by all singing the Marseillaise and the Star Spangled Banner in such a way that I never heard before. The National Hymn surely never sounded better and the tears came to everybody's eyes. The singing continued all the way back in the train.
"Dec. 13, Friday. Wilson should reach Brest at 1.30 P.M. today. . . . No particular excitement until night, when we learned that we were to leave next morning at 6.45 A.M. so most of the evening was spent saying good night and getting ready.
"Dec. 14. Up at 5.45 and ready for breakfast at 6. The landlady presents us with a bill of 12 f. for baking a pie, the entirety and then some furnished by us. We had a good breakfast, and by 8.30 had been registered and were on third class coaches ready to leave the town where we had had such a great time."
It is time that we leave the carefree tourists at Mont Dore, and return to their less fortunate comrades at Petit Maujouy, then working in an incessant pouring rain tearing down tents and packing equipment for the trip into Germany. Soon after the detachment had left for the South, the drab monotony of the camp was disturbed by another death in our personnel. The following entry is from a too scanty selection furnished me by the Rev. C. J. McCarthy, our Roman Catholic chaplain who joined us shortly after the armistice:
"Dec. 10. Buried Bodden a company cook. He died of pneumonia the previous day. He was. a native of some island off Honduras. Whole outfit turned out from Col. Hall down. At ten we left camp for the French burial ground, where in grave goo we laid poor Bodden to rest. I improvised on the ritual I am accustomed to, as Bodden was not a Catholic. Preached touching the matter of conscience making cowards of us all. In the cemetery Mohammedans are buried in the shadow of a miniature mosque. . . . Requiescant in pace! "
The following from the same source gives a vivid picture of life in the officers' barracks:
"Dec. 12. Writing this in our present barracks, the late X-ray room. We were put here over a week ago, expecting at that time to be on our way at any hour for Germany. But here we are, and the Lord only knows when we shall get gone---if ever. The barracks at this minute would make a great picture. . . . Army cots and what goes with them are ranged up and down both sides of the hut the French used before we took it over, I suppose as the ward of a hospital. Now in several stages of disarray. Walls are variously adorned with impedimenta. . . . I'm trying to write this behind the stove in the shadow of my own hand as I race the pen. Immediately behind me at the table Lt. Cronan of New Orleans and Adam Reier are evidently at writing letters home. Opposite the stove Capt. Summers of Memphis and Lt. Chambers of Wanston, Ill. are playing Rummy on Summers' cot. Summers is discoursing the while on how fine it would be to be out in French box cars going to Germany on a night like this. It has been raining for several days, and we have just heard that the going may be in box cars, and leaky ones at that. Just in front of the stove, Capt. Foote of Nebraska watches from another cot the interesting poker game participated in by Capt. Tupper, Lt. McCall, 'Lars' Hanson, Tolson of the Red Cross, and Lt. Davis. Lt. Bryant of Washington State takes the game in from another cot opposite where Foote has been sitting, but as I look up I notice Foote has changed places and is beside Bryant. Someone thrums a banjo giving us La Paloma from another part of the building where the enlisted men have their sleeping quarters. Often from the same region we get a bit of a quartette. But tonight they are in Senoncourt, having supper with a young widow and smoking some Camels I gave them this afternoon."
(Diary A.) "Dec. 16. Up at 5 A.M., no breakfast. Packed our rolls and took a truck with detail to railhead. Bunks in train, 'litter with mattress,' 3 bunks high. Nurses fed us bread, coffee, and jam at train. Bed on train 7 P.M.
"Dec. 17. Slept on train fairly well. Ate beans, jam, bread, and coffee. Started 5 A.M. Saw Verdun, stopped at Etain, 5 P.M., Buzy 6.15, Conflans a large city 7.15 P.M. Then to bed and slept though we rocked and jolted all night.
"Dec. 18. In Germany. Perl 7.30 A.M., Besch, Nennig, Palzem, 8 A.M. Wehr, Wincheringen, Wellen, Temmels, Oberbillig, Wasserliesch, Karthaus, 9 A.M. Stayed here a few hours. Still rain. (From another itinerary: Trier-sud, Pfalzel, Ehrang, Quint, Schweich, Föhren, Hetzerath, Sehlem, Salmrohr, Wengerohr, Bullay, Coblenz, Andernach, Mayen.) Arrived in Coblenz a large city 8.30 P.M. Awoke in morning at Mayen."
(Chaplain McCarthy.) "Left Petit Maujouy December 18 , 1918 for the Rhine. The nurses used litters in a third class French coach; the men of No. 8 had the usual French box car, the officers an American box car. De Luxe going it promises to be.
"Meals were taken at odd intervals along the line whenever we stopped. I suppose there was some head and tail to the arrangement, some guiding mind and brain, but it did not seem so. Ours, of course, 'not to reason why,' for though the dying is over, the doing is yet on, and will be, no doubt, for months to come. 'Quid sit futurum,' however.
"At one of the stops made along the line we had sauer kraut, got from some of the natives for cans of corned beef. More than a fair exchange. Most of the officers seemed to enjoy it around the stove which we had rigged up in our de luxe American box car. To keep this stove going after our original supply of fuel ran out, some kind fellows of the enlisted personnel 'swiped' briquettes of coal wherever they were found doing nothing along the line. Officers also participated in this 'policing.' Any port in a storm. War and its concomitants do wear the moral fibres. Yet because of the cold when asked banteringly about it, I was instant in justification. Moreover, I am suffering from loss of voice induced by the damp and the lack of creature comforts.
"The nurses had the worse time coming. The pipes in the car froze and burst en route, so they froze all the way up to Germany, save when we stopped and they had a chance to hop into our car for a little warmth."
Miss Biddlecome, of the Smith College Relief Unit, rode with the nurses, and has given a more extended account of their hardships:
"There arose a great discussion among the hospital personnel as to how the nurses were to travel---in box cars or in a disreputable third-class coach. The latter won the day and, after our departure had been twice put off because of accidents beyond Verdun, we left the meed of Maujouy, sans lights (disconnected), sans heat (stoves packed), and stowed ourselves in a heatless, wet, and airy third-class car to wait for an engine. We waited a day and a night and sometime in the early hours of the morning rattled into Verdun.
"We survived the trip, but, as I look back, it seems impossible. We were three days and three nights on the way, it rained continuously, there was no way of heating the car, so that it was impossible to keep warm. As to toilet arrangements the less said the better. Except when rained on, one had nothing to do with water.
"We were visited three times a day with much the usual assortment of black coffee, wet tomatoes, and corned willie, and of course that made life a bit messier. One slept on the mats and on litters slung about promiscuously. . . . Mabel and I cultivated an amiable detachment to our surroundings. We went to the officers' cars, where they had stoves, from time to time, to get warmed up, and in Verdun, Lemmes, Kochem, and Coblenz, where we made long stops, sprinted about the freight yards."
We will now pick up the tourists at Mont Dore.
(Letter.) "We left the morning of Dec. 14 in 3rd class compartments, ten in a compartment. Now ten is all that can squeeze in, so you can imagine what the nights were like. The trip to Clermont Ferrand was beautiful-over the mountains, with many trestles and tunnels. The first sight I had of the city took my breath away. We came out on a shelf on the side of the mountain and the whole scene seemed to burst on your sight at once. It was just like William Morris's Hollow Land. Far, far below us stretched an immense broad smooth valley, with sides gently sloping away to range after range of mountains, blue and dim on the horizon. In front the land was cut up, as all French landscapes are, into tiny variegated patches, dotted with trees; then the city, low and wide-spread, with the twin spires of the Cathedral soaring up black and slender over the red-tiled roofs. We wound down into the city, and stopped in the freight yards. We were there all afternoon. I took a chance on getting left, and went into the city. Clermont is a beautiful place, the finest French city I have yet been in. It has a trolley system, excellent shops-- -and few Americans. I went directly to the cathedral. It is Gothic in style, with three large rose windows, built of the native basalt, so that the interior is dim. Most of the windows had been removed, either for protection or to be cleaned, but even with that handicap the interior was most beautiful with its soaring Gothic columns lofty arches, clerestory windows, and carved black oak. Down near the altar I saw several tapers burning, making a pool of light in the shadows. I walked down the nave, and saw that they burned before a shrine to the left of the altar. Hundreds of photographs of French soldiers were fastened up wherever a place could be found, or piled in heaps in the niches. Several women knelt there praying, the warm light of the tapers on their rapt faces. I wanted to see the Vercingetorix statue in the Main Square, but was afraid of being left behind. So I hurried back, only to have to wait two hours more."
Four members at least of the party actually did miss the train. The account of the enforced adventures of two of them is so amusing and told with such zest, that I make no apology for inserting it:
(Diary B.) "A detail went for rations and the trainman said it would be 6 before the train left. Johnstone and I went over town for dinner and a big town it was. After looking around a while we found the Cafe Riche and had a fine steak with French fries. From here we went all over the place watching the crowds. It being the day Wilson arrived in Paris, it was a holiday.
"We arrived back at the station about 5.10 where an M.P. said the train had pulled out, which we believed, as we went way down the yard and could find no train. He advised us to grab the train then ready to pull out. It was the beginning of some experience which has not finished yet. Here we are now at Bar-le-Duc: and don't have any idea where our company is.
"Well, we went into a first-class apartment for the trip, and had it all to ourselves almost all the way to Nevers, where we changed for Paris. Here there was a wait of about 3 hours normally, but the train was late one hour and packed when it did arrive. We stood all the way to Paris, where we arrived at 9 A.M. and had no trouble getting registered up, where we were informed we had to wait until 8 P.M. for a train. That was good news as we could have all day in Paris. The sad part was that we had 13 francs between us. We met two other fellows from No. 8 who had been left at Clermont as we had, so all went to a Y.M.C.A. to wash up and shave. After eating, which cost 7 francs, we went out to find friends. Red had a cousin in the Red Cross service but soon found that he had not been in Paris since October, so No. 1 hope was gone. He had another friend in the Y so we went for him and found his hotel or office but no one seemed to know where he roomed or was at the time. It was 2 P.M. and not much hope left of seeing anything as we had no money. We went around the Place de la Concorde while I hunted for the Am. R.C. headquarters formerly at No. 4 Place de la Concorde but now at the Regina Hotel. It was an awful walk and I sure was tired but I finally arrived and asked for B.G. but she had left no address at the desk. However at the Nurses' Bureau upstairs I found that on Dec. 2 she left for Cannes for a vacation. Red came down and tried to cash a check, but being Sunday the man said he didn't have the money. Well our last hope was gone but we started for the University Union where Red was registered. I had 56 francs in the Guaranty Trust so we figured there was a chance. Going down thru the mob on the Bullevarde Montmartre we were discussing our hard luck and being tired with no eats and a nurse overheard the talk. She turned around and asked us our troubles and said she would give us money. We felt cheap taking the money but needed it so did and she refused at first to give her name, saying she would gladly give us the money. She did give her name however and refused to take ours. She said she didn't want it back but she sure is going to get it.
"Right away we went to a café to eat and couldn't find a reasonable looking one at all so piled into a swell one. Well we ordered veal cutlets with F.F. potatoes, had lemonade and Red had 2 beers. For desert had fancy chestnuts, four of them. We had just 23-40 francs and asked for a bill figuring that our stuff came to about 10 francs. The Frog said first the potatoes were included with the meat but discovered his mistake and after putting every thing on including a tax said 23-90 or half a franc more than we had. I sure felt bum but there was nothing to do but tell him which I did and he said give him 20 and pay the other four some other time which we agreed to do. No time was set however. Well that sure was a knockout as we figured on saving enough for staying here at Bar-le-Duc: over night and a good breakfast but we had only 3.40.
"There was an awful mob out in Paris celebrating Wilson Day or something comme ca. We almost lost our hats as that was the game, grabbing American soldiers' hats. Confetti was flying and some night it was with 3-40 in our pocket. We had a good time and went for the train at 7.15 where we found a good seat and slept until the first French conductor I had ever seen since leaving Clermont came around for tickets. He said our passes were no good and we must pay 5.50 apiece. Some chance with only 3.40 between us. We presented the conditions in mongrel French to him and he couldn't throw us off so left us and said meet him in Bar-le-Duc to fix it up with the Am. R.T.O. 'Somehow or other we missed' him there and were held up trying to get out of the station. As long as you stay on a train or in a station you are O.K. in France but getting out is impossible. Well he said we couldn't pass and called an M.P. We told him our passes said R.T.O. to furnish transportation but he said pay so we said we had not even a centime and finally the Lily Pad Jumper let us pass.
"There were no beds at the 'Y' so we found two unoccupied benches and fell asleep toute de suite. Soon however the only part of me asleep was my arm and I was almost frozen so after waking up the arm I went up to a fire and sat up awhile until I heard of a couple of beds across the street so went over and sure enough beds, blankets, and all comforts. I fell asleep and awoke hours later when a darkie said it was about 7 and our train I knew left at 8 so I hustled and found Red tearing his hair over in the 'Y.' I said 'Let's hurry for the train,' and he said that it had been gone 2 and 1/2 hours. Sure enough it was 10.15 and the next train for Souilly at 4 P.M. The eight one this morning would have reached Souilly so we could have arrived in Petit Maujouy for dinner. Here we are now in Bar-le-Duc and will not get home until 8.30 and then are not sure that the company is still at Petit Maujouy. I will tell you this has been some experience but still we have 2 francs. 1/2 a franc apiece will buy a dinner here at the 'Y' and still one franc left.
"Dinner over and now we are going to try our luck at getting a truck out instead of waiting for a train at 4 P.M. Arrived at the American distributing mail office just as a truck of mail was leaving for Souilly so the driver agreed to take us if we got a pass. The Lieut. gave us a pass and out of Bar-le-Duc we flew. Arrived at the Senoncourt road about 1.45 and caught a truck there for camp. There were four of our nurses on the seat and a fellow in the back said Eight had moved so when the truck branched off on another road we stayed on and down it went to a waiting train. Sure enough the train had No. 8 all packed up on it and ready to leave. I fell in, found a bed and in five minutes was all set to go."
The delegation which had remained on the train at Clermont had considerably more of a trip before it overtook the company. The following extracts from letters are included because they give a fuller account of the trip to Germany than any records to which I have had access made by members of the main body.
"On the way to Germany! Our U.S. Pullman is lying in the yards at Conflans for a few hours. We never traveled in such luxury before. It's a new U.S. box car with only thirty of us inside. There's about a foot of clean straw on the floor. We've closed one door, and against it is placed a big open cupboard full of our rations. By the other door is a stove, going full blast, the pipe running out through the crack in the door. We have a charcoal brazier and make hot coffee for every meal. You see we passed a salvage dump at Verdun, and if there's anything left there that would have added to our comfort, it's because we didn't see it. One man is shaving, two card games and one checker game are in progress, a bunch is reminiscing around the stove, several are reading, and I am writing to Hebron, Maine. I will try to catch up with my last letter which left us at Clermont.
"I wish you could have seen us trying to sleep that night. All you could do was to lean your head on the shoulder of the man next to you, and he did the same with the next man. We sat five in a row facing each other. Two men in each row were out of luck, because they had to bear the weight of the entire line. Every few minutes one of them would wriggle out, and the line would collapse like a row of dominoes. A dim light burned all night. I remember having my head fall with a jerk sometime in the night, and seeing all the others nodding their heavy heads like big solemn birds. The second night an empty box car was discovered on the train, and five of our ten went back to sleep in it. A pair of seat cushions found their way mysteriously into the compartment, so that we passed the nights in considerably greater comfort.
"Our progress was slow. We traveled mostly by night, lying over nearly every day in freight yards. We came back by way of Dijon, Neufchâteau, St. Mihiel, to Ancemont. At Coussey I saw the Basilique du Bois Chenu again, perhaps for the last time. We reached Ancemont on the night of the fourth day, about 10 P.M. We detrained, and the sergeant phoned the French Hospital, to learn that our company had left the day before from Lemmes station for parts unknown. We had been so long separated from our organization that we had pretty thoroughly acquired a hobo frame of mind. We weren't much cast down by the news. The R.T.O. gave us a truck to Verdun, and washed his hands of us. We landed in Verdun at midnight, a ruined station in a ruined town, no place to go, miles from our company, casuals in a cruel world. In the old civilian days I should no more have known how to meet the situation than I should know now how to wear civilian clothes. As it was, five of us found an old salvaged motor truck with the canvas cover still intact, rustled some bundles of dry straw, crawled inside and slept serenely the sleep of the almost cootie-less. (I am writing by candlelight on an old tin box, and the candle just tipped over.)
"The next day was cold and rainy. We spent a miserable day around the station, which is so badly ruined as to afford little protection. I had three big pennies in my pocket, and one of the other boys had four. We started matching them. I have seen crap games going on openly with perhaps a thousand dollars in bills being tossed around. And there, in that ruined station, with only a possible seven pennies in the game, an M.P. came up and threatened to arrest us if we didn't stop. Take it all together, I have seen enough of Verdun. About supper time we came aboard this car, and during the night we came to Conflans. We have lain here all day. You see, we are one car in a freight train, and we move no faster than the freight moves. We don't care. It's warm and cosy here in the car, and outside is a driving blizzard---the first snow I have seen fall this year.
"Here beginneth the third chapter: America, France, Germany. What adventures the future has in store for me, I don't know, but I expect them to be joyous."
(Written from Mayen, Christmas Day.) "We went all through Conflans. It was pretty well ruined, but nothing like Verdun. The only signs of the German occupation were the signs and road maps they left painted on the walls. There was a fair sized civilian population, who had done their best to decorate for Wilson Day. Across the main street a flimsy arch had been built, wound with greens and smothered with tricolors. In the center of the arch, between banks of French flags, was a home-made American flag, manufactured to all appearances from a piece of skirting striped in red and white, and boasting six lone stars, each as large as the palm of your hand. The French seem quite unaware of the fact that any particular number of stripes or stars is essential. But how fine of them to make the flag at all! You will never be able to realize what a friend America has in France. I can't believe we deserve the excess of affection she displays for us. Did I ever tell you about the old man at Sionne who told me that 'the Americans were the Joan of Arc of the Allies?'
"Our train pulled out about noon and landed us in Trèves, Germany. It was dark when we reached the border. At Audun the Germans took over the train, to my inexpressible relief. Our American engineer had been accustomed to running with air brakes, and our train had none. The American box cars are all equipped with air brakes, but there were a few French cars mixed in, and that spoiled everything. The train was long and had an engine at each end. It was something in the predicament of an angleworm between two chickens. But that German! He could sneak away so easy you didn't know when you started. We had a few hours in Trèves, or Trier, as the Germans call it. We were not allowed into the main town, but a part of it lies south of the Moselle, and that we were allowed to see. As I got there my first impression of Germany, I think it worthy a note or two. I was hardly prepared for what we met. The German cities are almost exactly like American cities, with all modern conveniences, years ahead of the French in such things as public sanitation. The shops look American. They dress their windows as we do in America. The attitude of the civilians was surprising. Everywhere we met smiles, salutes, cheery 'good-mornings.' The very little children seemed afraid of us, those a little older, frankly delighted. I thought the young ladies of sixteen or so seemed a little snappish and disdainful, perhaps because they cannot dissimulate their feelings like their elders. Among the returned soldiers I have seen no signs of sullenness or animosity. The towns appear prosperous and the people well fed. There is a great shortage of meat, fats, soap, white bread, and chocolate. A cake of soap or a bar of chocolate will eagerly be taken in exchange for perhaps a dollar's worth of merchandise. There was every evidence of a desire to trade with us.
Signs of 'English spoken' and 'Money Exchange' were frequent. The windows were filled with war souvenirs to tempt the American; lavishly decorated with the motif of the Iron Cross, pictures of the Kaiser, Hindenburg, and the Crown Prince being much in evidence. Genuine Iron Crosses are 15 marks, but may be had for a cake of soap. The rate of exchange given us in the shops at Trier was six marks for five franks. I think it should have been somewhat better than that. [On Christmas Day in Mayen the official rate was 1.42 marks for one franc. ]
"From Trier to Coblenz Sam Hitchings and I rode outside the car in the brake box, a little cupola built on the end of the car, where the brakeman sits to apply the brakes. This part of the trip was supremely beautiful. The track followed the Moselle all the way. On each side of the river were steep cliffs of jagged stone. The left-hand side was planted with vines, all the way up, terrace after terrace mounting to the dizzy top. The soil looked like shale, and I was surprised that vines should grow in such a place. The ingenuity displayed in reclaiming each little spur and pocket of soil was amazing. The terraces were banked with walls of stone and concrete, with little paths zig-zagging back and forth up to the top. There was just room enough between the cliffs for the road and the coffee-colored river. Part of the way the line ran on the trestles, and tunnels were frequent. Every summit seemed to be crowned with a medieval castle, and here and there on crags one saw lonely crosses outlined against the sky. All the way I thought of the Lorelei.
"We reached Coblenz at dark. People along the line hailed us as though we were an army of deliverance rather than an army of occupation. There was no long stop at Coblenz, and sometime in the night we reached Mayen, our destination. And here we are, helping to keep the watch on the Rhine."
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