History of the
American Field Service in France
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917, TOLD BY ITS MEMBERS
ON December 30, 1916, I was told that the Commander wanted to see me in his quarters. He greeted me with his usual winning courtesy, and without wasting time on preliminaries, informed me that there was a call for two cars to serve the division now occupying Southern Albania; that I had been selected to take one of these cars through --- the one going to the most advanced poste ---and would have a reserve driver "in case anything happened." My orders were to leave the same afternoon, taking sufficient oil and gas for three hundred kilometres, and to report to the commanding officer at Florina for further instructions.
I at once set about preparing for the trip. It was uncomfortable working on the car, as the afternoon shelling was at its height, but by four o'clock all was ready, and, after taking on some wounded at the mosque, I scuttled out of town, headed for Florina.
It was nearly nine o'clock the next morning, the last day of the old year, before we finally got away and drove down the long, winding main street of Florina headed toward the mountains. Just beyond the town, the road turns toward the west and begins to rise.
The main road from Southern Serbia into Albania runs from Monastir almost due west, skirting Lake Presba. Across this road, however, stretched the enemy's line. To hold Southern Albania and flank the Austro-Bulgarian army, the French had thrown a division of troops across the mountains, advancing from Florina by the little-used trail over which we were now making our way. A number of attempts had been made to get motors across the divide --- our own cars had twice essayed the task, but without avail. The grade was terrific. The trail clung to the mountain-sides and wound its way almost perpendicularly upward. Rains, snows, and the supply trains of an army had kneaded the soil into a quagmire. Motors bucked this, stalled, bucked again, mired, and finally had to be dug out, to abandon the attempt.
But those other cars had neglected to bring with them the one thing that could get them across; they had neglected to provide themselves with a real live General. With commendable foresight we had stocked up with "one General" --- the Commander of the Albanian Division seeking to join his command. With such a tool in our locker there could be no doubt of the success of our attempt. The first time we mired, he displayed his usefulness. Hastily commandeering the services of all the soldiers in sight, he ordered them to leave their various tasks of road-building, mule-driving, etc., and to get their shoulders against the cars. Then with a tremendous "allez-heup," a grinding, and a heaving, we pulled out and struggled on and upward for several metres. It was slow work. Time and again we were mired and had to be dug out. Sometimes we even dropped back to get a start and then charged the mud with every bit of gas the throttle gave. But always at the end of an hour we were a little farther on. By two o'clock, when we stopped to eat some sardines and bread, we had ascended to a height of fifty-four hundred feet above sea level, and were on top of the divide. The surface here was more solid, for the snow froze as it fell, and with chains the wheels gripped.
During the afternoon we worked our way down on a trail from which a sheer wall rose on one side, and on the other dropped away into nothingness. Often, passing traffic forced us to hang literally with two wheels clinging to the edge, where, had the brakes slipped, we should have been classed among "the missing." The sun had long made its westing, and a half gloom filled the valleys when we came to a pocket in the mountains. On the opposite side of a gorge, through which rushed a stream, were clustered a number of stone houses, clinging to the mountain-side. it was the forlorn village of Zelova. We parked the cars in a small open space by the roadside, and crossing the stream, clambered up among the houses. There were one or two pitiful little stores, but they were without stocks. There was even a one-roomed café, but although this was New Year's Eve, there seemed no demand for tables, perhaps because there were no drinks of any sort to put on those tables. The few villagers we saw were a depressed-looking lot, as indeed they well might be. The murky huts offered very little cheer, so I spread my blankets in the ambulance. Outside the snow was coming down and drifting against the side of the car. Nineteen-Sixteen was dying, but I was too weary to await the obsequies, and was soon asleep.
Shortly after daybreak we were routed out. The snow was still swishing through the paths, blotting out all but the nearest objects. By eight o'clock we were en route, and, following the course of the stream, we reached a narrow valley. The brook had now assumed the proportions of a small river, and, because of the configuration of the ground, we were forced to cross it time and time again. There were no bridges, and each time as we charged through the water we expected to be checked by the flooding of the carburetors.
About ten o'clock the snow ceased to fall, and occasionally the sun looked out on a scene grandly beautiful. For the first time we entered a region partly forested. Stunted oaks grew on the mountain-side, and along the river were poplars. We were entering a more populous country. We saw numbers of queerly costumed people. Mostly, they were clad in white homespun wool, embroidered with vivid reds and greens. Farther on, we passed into a region more barren and desolate than any we had yet encountered, a region of towering cliffs and stone-strewn ground, devoid of all verdure. Shortly afterward we passed another stone village, Smesdis. Five or six kilometres beyond, the road, which all this time had been terrible, suddenly became better. Though no boulevard, it seemed so by contrast, and, since we no longer had to push the car, we regarded our troubles as over.
We had now emerged from the mountains and were in a considerable valley. At noon we entered a good-sized village, Biklista. We were now in Albania, having crossed the frontier somewhere between Biklista and Smesdis. To our surprise, there was a sort of restaurant near where we had stopped our cars, and here we were able to obtain a stew of mysterious and obscure composition, together with some very good corn bread.
At Biklista the other car remained. My orders were to continue on to Koritza, and accordingly, at one o'clock, I again set out, "Viv" accompanying me as a reserve driver. The snow had once more begun to fall, but the way had so much improved that we were able to proceed at a fair speed. The road led through a broad valley, which in summer must be very beautiful. On either side, mountains stretched away in serried ranks. Here the Comitajés had their lairs, from which they issued to raid and terrorize the country roundabout. The whole of Albania is infested with these mountain bandits. They were constantly making sallies against isolated detachments of the transport, swooping on the men before they could defend themselves, plundering the supplies, and then making off into the mountains where no man could follow. In Albania, every man went armed, and a soldier found without his gun was subject to arrest. On leaving the general at Biklista, he had directed that I be armed with a carbine, besides the army revolver which I already carried, and the gun thereafter always hung beside the driving-seat.
As we drove along, we left consternation in our wake. Mountain ponies, forsaking habits of years, climbed imaginary trees and kicked their loads loose with a carefree abandon born of a great desire to be elsewhere. Terror-stricken peasants gave us one look and took to the fields. Bullock wagons went into "high" and attained a speed hitherto deemed impossible. We created a Sensation with a capital S. And well we might, for we were the first motor to pass this way.
Toward four in the afternoon we were challenged by the outpost and, presenting our papers, were permitted to pass. A half-mile beyond, we again answered the "Qui vive?" and then entered Koritza. An elephant pulling a baby-carriage up Fifth Avenue would excite no greater wonder in New York than did our car rolling through the streets of Koritza. When we drew up in front of the État Major, it became necessary to throw a cordon of troops about the machine to hold back the wondering, clamoring populace. Reporting to the officer in command, we were assigned quarters and the car was placed within the courtyard.
Koritza in many ways is a unique city. It is situated about midway between the Adriatic and the Macedonian border, about one hundred and eighty kilornetres from deep water and one hundred and fifty from a railroad. Normally it is reached by three caravan routes: the one from Florina over which we had just come, the trail from Monastir, and the road up from the Adriatic. These two latter were now closed, the Monastir trail by the Bulgar line, the other by the Comitajés. The houses, for the most part, are solid structures of gray stone, and some sections remind one strongly of a Scotch town. The streets are well surfaced, and there are sidewalks made of stone slabs. The most prominent edifice in the city is a two-buttressed Greek church. The Turk, though long nominally exercising suzerainty over Albania, never succeeded in really conquering the country or in impressing his religion upon the people. There are but two mosques in the place, and the atmosphere and aspect are much more Occidental than Oriental. From a place, formed by the junction of two broad avenues, radiate smaller streets, and on these are found the bazaars. Here are workers in silver and leather and copper; also iron-workers, who seem constantly engaged in producing hand-wrougbt nails, and several artisans whose sole product is the long-bladed Albanian dirk. Besides the bazaars, there are a number of modern stores --- hardware, grocery, and two pharmacies, all well stocked. Everywhere is exposed for sale maize bread in cakes, slabs, squares, and hunks.
Through the streets wandered an extraordinary, diverse crowd, displaying a strange admixture of costumes. There were a few veiled women, a few robed Turks, a few men clad in the European fashion of a decade ago; but the great majority of the people were in the native Albanian dress, the women in long, blue homespun coats, with red braid trimming, and multi-colored aprons, their heads bound in blue cloths which were tied under the chin. Upon their legs they wore homespun stockings, dyed red or blue. The men, frequently bearded, wore red or white fezes without tassels, and white short-waisted skirt coats, from the shoulders of which hung two embroidered winglike appendages. Their baggy pantaloons were thrust into high white stockings. Upon their feet they wore, as did the women, curious red shoes which turned sharply up at the toes and were adorned with large black pompons. About their middles were broad leather girdles into which were thrust poniards. Some of these knives are really finely made with elaborate silver handles. Their owners set great store by them, and it is with difficulty that they can be induced to part with them. For an outer garment the Albanian wears a rough woollen cape with hood attachment which hangs from his shoulders to mid-leg. For ornaments, the more wealthy wear silver chains draped across the chest. The girls wear long loose bloomers, drawn in at the ankle. Both sexes of all ages smoke cigarettes. Big, lean, wolf-like dogs follow their masters around and fight each other with great fervency. Also there are burros ---millions of them.
We were much surprised that many of the people --- more especially the storekeepers --- had been to America and spoke English. When they learned we were Americans, they were delighted. The news quickly spread, and as we walked through the streets, the people crowded around us, shaking hands and inviting us to take tea. One storekeeper had been the proprietor of a dairy lunch in Washington at which I remembered I had eaten. Another had a brother who was a waiter in Washington's largest hotel. The barber had for five years worked in New Haven, and had, perhaps, cut my hair when I was at Yale. It seemed queer enough to find these people in this remote mountain town.
After a few days "Viv" and I decided to move our quarters from the hospital to the inn which stood at a point formed by the junction of the two principal streets. Here we secured a commodious room, furnished with a charcoal brazier, a couple of chairs, and two almost-beds. Upon the latter we spread our flea-bags, a case of otium cum dignitate. The inn was kept ---or perhaps in the interest of accuracy I should say had existence --- under the proprietorship of "Spiro." Spiro was his first name, his family name partaking of a complexity too intricate to dwell in the memory of one not imbued from birth with Albanian tribal genealogy. He was a man of sorrows, a victim of what economists call "the ratio of exchange." In the café which occupied the ground floor of the inn, Spiro dispensed weird drinks to those whom war had rendered fearless of death. And the price of these drinks was such that five sous bought one. Now the exchange on French paper in Albania at this time was twelve sous on a five-franc bill. But those that did patronize the tavern paid for the refreshment in notes of the denomination of five francs, demanding in return therefrom sous to the amount of ninety-five in change. Howbeit, it came to pass that Spiro did lose seven sous on every drink he did sell, besides the value of the drink. This situation, he confided to me, "makes me craz."
Though we had changed our quarters, we still messed with the sous-officiers at the ambulance. With characteristic French courtesy, they insisted on giving us the best of everything, welcomed us each as one of themselves. We shortly grew to know their individual characteristics and to feel entirely at home with them. We ate in a stone room which had evidently been the kitchen of a considerable establishment. The table was waited on by the cook, who, in the democratic way of the French army, took part in whatever discussion happened to be going forward. He was as comical a chap as ever I have seen; short in stature, with sparkling black eyes and a voice like the rumble of an artillery wheel. His nose was so large the burden of carrying it around seemed to have bowed his legs, which were quaintly curved. His béret he wore at an astonishing angle, curved down from a hump in the middle so that the headgear more nearly resembled a poultice. From somewhere he had secured a bright red waistcoat, and the better to display it, he always appeared sans tunic.
Petit déjeuner we ate down in the town. Our breakfast consisted of boiled eggs, corn bread, and Turkish coffee, and the amount of labor necessary to assemble this repast was about the same as required in getting up a thousand-plate banquet in New York. The mere buying of the eggs was in itself no small task, since the vendors refused to accept paper money, having, I suppose, seen too many paper governments rise and fall; and silver was very scarce, since it was hoarded and retired from circulation. The eggs once obtained, there remained the matter of their cooking. The science of boiling eggs seems never to have been understood, or else is one of the lost arts in Albania, and we were forced to expound anew each morning this mystery to the pirate who presided over what the Koritzians ingenuously regard as a restaurant. Each morning we appeared with our hard-won eggs, Exhibit A, and made known that it would be pleasing to us could we have said eggs boiled and chaperoned by two cups of Turkish coffee, into which we proposed to stir some condensed milk, Exhibit B. The board of governors having considered this proposition, after some minutes usually reached the conclusion that this thing might be done. A la carte orders, banquets, and such extraordinary culinary rites as egg-boiling were conducted in the cellar of the place, and thither our eggs would be conducted, it being necessary, owing to the absence of inside communication, for the proprietor to go outdoors, trudge around the corner, and descend by an outside stairway. Through a crack in the floor, we could presently see our eggs in the process of cooking. At three minutes, having called time, they would be taken off, carried out into the street, around the corner, through a wondering throng at the door, and presently, if our luck held, we were actually confronted with a half-dozen boiled eggs, a rare sight in Albania, judging from the interest their eating invoked. Such is breakfast in the Balkans.
Powers has described Albania as "a burlesque product of embarrassed diplomacy." The country was in the process of one of its burlesques. But a fortnight before, under the benevolent toleration of the French, it had proclaimed itself a republic, and we found it in the travail of birth. Already a flag had been adopted, a paper currency established, self-appointed officials had assumed office, and an army which would have gladdened the eye of General Coxey was in formation. The whole affair was extraordinarily reminiscent of an opéra bouffe; and, looking at these people --- in many respects the most splendid in the Balkans --- one could not but hope that the comedy might continue a comedy and not degenerate into bloody tragedy.
In the centre of the town rose an ancient, square-walled tower, erected by the Turks. Now, the French maintained an outlook from this vantage-point. The sector of Albania presented a unique situation, unparalleled at this time on any front. There were no trenches; in fact, no sharply defined line between the opposing forces. The fighting consisted largely of cavalry skirmishes between the chasseurs d'Afrique upon our side, and mounted Comitajés on the other. These bandits were not regular troops, but outlaws accoutred and supported by the Austrians. The difficult nature of the country and the absence of roads had prevented both sides from bringing up artillery, though rapid-firers were from time to time brought into action, so that the fighting was of the open kind unknown on other fronts since the first days of the war. This held true of the front to the north and west of Koritza. Farther eastward in the border mountains, the Monastir line found its beginning, and here the zouaves were entrenched.
It was from this region our calls came. The main road from Serbia, now cut off by the line, rose some eight kilometres to the southeast of Koritza, and, by a series of loops, zigzagged up from the valley below to a height of five thousand feet, at which altitude it entered into a pass. Midway along this pass a view, exceeded in beauty by nothing in Switzerland, opened out below, where the vividly blue waters of Lake Presba stretched away from a barren shore to a dazzling snow-clad mountain range. It was as wild and lonesome a scene as nature presents. Undoubtedly ours was the first motor ever to enter this pass, and there, amidst the immensity of a scene which showed no traces of man's dominion, it looked strangely out of place.
There were not many calls, but when one did come in, it meant biting work. One afternoon, I remember, we left Koritza in response to a call from a little village nestling up in the foothills to the eastward. Dusk was coming on, and a nasty, chill wind, forerunner of the night's cold, was blowing steadily through the pass when we reached the narrow cut which formed the only approach to our objective. Here we shut off the motor and prospected our way. It led along the base of a hill, and the mud was such as I have never seen on road or trail. At times, as we plodded, it gripped us so that our lumbermen's boots became embedded, and in an effort to extract them we would topple, and then, in kangaroo posture, kick ourselves loose. It was apparent no car could be forced through this morass, and that the wounded would have to be brought out by hand. We found them on some rotting straw in a roofless stone court, halfway up the mountain-side and fully two kilometres from the nearest point to which the car could approach. There were three of them, all Annamites (Indo-Chinese), and all badly hit. They were the first wounded Annamites I had ever seen, for the yellow men are deemed unreliable and are rarely sent into the line. These men, we were told, had been shot by their own officers when attempting a break after being sent into a charge.
Night had now shut down. It was deemed unsafe to show a light lest it draw the fire of the enemy's patrols. Thus a pitchy darkness added to our task. There were several brancardiers in attendance, and we all now set to work to get our men to the car. None of that little group, neither the wounded nor those who bore them, will, I fancy, ever forget that night. For six hours we wallowed through that slough of despond, steaming and struggling till the cold sweat bathed our bodies, and every muscle and tendon cried out in weariness. Not a star helped out a blackness so deep that at one end of a stretcher I could not see my fellow bearer before me. How we made it we shall never know, but somehow we came through and stowed the last blessé within the car. A wet, clinging snow had begun to fall and to beat down into our faces as we drove. Once the car mired, and we groaned with apprehension lest we be held till morning, but we "rocked " it through. Once the lights --- for we had now switched them on ---showed us figures ahead in the road. We loosened our fire-arms, and stripped off our gloves the better to handle them, but passed the group without incident.
Some time after two in the morning we glimpsed the red light which showed the field hospital. We knocked the place up and commenced the unloading of our wounded. They were still alive, as the groans showed. The médecins urged us to stay the night, but the snow was coming down harder than ever, and afraid that morning might find us snowbound, we determined to push on at once. Koritza was something like thirty kilometres away down the valley, but we had no load now, and in spite of the roughness of the way, it was less than ninety minutes later when we passed the sentry, drove the car into the compound, and climbed stiffly down.
But all nights were not like this. On the second floor of a building midway down a crooked street in the town was a cosy café, and here, when there were no calls, we spent the evening sipping Turkish coffee and smoking interminable cigarettes. The walls were draped with exotic hangings. On the floor were crudely woven rugs. A small, raised platform occupied one end of the room. Cross-legged upon this sat grave old Turks nodding meditatively over their hookahs. Scattered about were tables where foregathered many men of many tongues.
All were armed, and sat with their guns across their knees or handily leaning against the walls by their sides.
It was at the café we encountered the zouave. A fascinatingly interesting chap he was. He had been everywhere, seen queer sights, and made strange journeyings. He was a child of adventure. All over the world you meet them, in the dingy cabins of tramp steamers, around balsam camp-fires, in obscure cafés of the polyglot ports, beneath tropical palms, in the tea-houses of the Far East, in compounds and bomas from Bangkok to Bahama. And always their setting seems appropriate, as they tone into it. They are usually just coming from, or are just going to, some place beyond. Of some things their knowledge is profound; of others, theirs is the innocence of children. They may be tall or short, old or young, but usually they are lean, and about their eyes are tiny wrinkles which have come from much gazing over water or from the searing glare of the tropics. They are apt to be of little speech, but when they talk odd words from queer dialects slip out. They know the food terms in a half-dozen languages and words in as many more. They have met cannibals and counts. They eat anything without complaint or praise. Nothing shocks them; nothing surprises them; but everything interests them. They are without definite plan in the larger scope of life, but never without immediate purpose. For a good woman they have respect amounting to reverence. Without doctrinal religion, they live a creed which might shame many a churchman. Living and wandering beyond the land of their nativity, they love her with the true love of the expatriate, and should she need them they would come half around the world to serve her. So the zouave talked to us of Persia and Peru, of violent deaths he had seen, of ballistics and sharks and opium dens and oases, and the while a sentry challenged without in the street, "somewhere in Albania."
My orders, when leaving the Squad, had been to proceed to Koritza and remain there until relieved, the C.O. adding that this would probably be in five days. This time passed and twice five days, yet no word or relief came. The weather had been almost continuously bad with rain and snow, so that there seemed a probability that the pass was blocked and the stream swollen beyond the possibility of a crossing. Even the most unusual surroundings may become commonplace through forced association, and "Viv" and I were beginning to tire of Koritza. We took turns in walking about the town; we worked on the machine till nothing remained to be done; we chatted with the soldiers; we read. Our library contained one book, "Dombey and Son." As I was about halfway through this, we cut the book in two, "Viv" reading the first part at the same time I was pushing through the latter half.
On the 7th of January the Albanians celebrated their Christmas, and on the 14th, following the Greek calendar, New Year's. All the stores and bazaars were closed on these days, giving the streets a particularly desolate appearance. Some astounding costumes appeared, those of European descent being the most extraordinary, the fashion of a decade gone by suffering revival. Bands of urchins roved about, and upon small provocation broke into what I suppose were Yuletide carols, though it would indeed be a "merry gentleman" who could "rest" when under fire of such vocal shrapnel.
At last one gloomy evening, when January was half over, as we crouched over our charcoal brazier, we heard the hoot of a motor horn and knew that our relief had come. We tumbled out to find the Lieutenant with two of the fellows. It had been found impossible to get another ambulance across the mountains, but the C.O. had managed to pass his light touring car through with the relief drivers. My car was to remain in Albania until conditions in the pass improved in the spring, and "Viv" and I were to return with the C.O.
With the passing of the days, these plans materialized, and soon "Viv" and I found ourselves referring in the past tense to the time spent in Albania. The return trip from Koritza was in reality the beginning of the end which was attained four months later. Ultimately Monastir, Salonica, the Island of Melos (where we put in to escape a submarine), Taranto, Rome, Paris, and New York were cities along the trail which, in May, led to the magic place that men call "home."
ROBERT WHITNEY IMBRIE
Two ambulance sections of the American Field Service are at work on the Balkan front. One of these sections, organized at Stanford University, travelled ten thousand miles to reach its present field of operations. Although attached to the French army, this section recently has been serving Russian troops. The French Service de Santé is looking after the sanitary work in this region. The mixture of nationalities and languages has produced some difficulties for the American lads. The following purports to describe the work of an average night, the experiences mentioned being representative rather than exceptional.
It is eight o'clock when the ambulance comes to a stop beneath the large tree which represents the poste. Only the stretchers leaning against the tree-trunk indicate the location of the poste. The trenches are less than seven kilometres distant --- faint lines barely visible along the mountain-tops. The ambulancier carries his folding iron cot and blankets to a rustic hut on the adjacent hillside. He exchanges a friendly Bonsoir with the French brancardier who greets him.
"Deux --- malades," says the Frenchman, indicating a shelter near by where two Russian soldiers wait.
"Couchés ou assis? " asks the conducteur. It makes considerable difference whether the passengers are able to sit up or must be carried in a reclining position.
" Couchés," is the answer. The driver raises the seats inside the car to make room for the stretchers. The sick men are placed aboard by two brancardiers, with some assistance, and the car soon goes speeding toward a relay ambulance camp, about four miles away.
Above the gate at the camp is a large canvas sign, "Ambulance Alpine," with the number. Beneath, a smaller sign, "Russe," indicates that the camp is for the accommodation of Russians. It is a camp for sick men only. Wounded men have more comfortable accommodations in a hospital about one mile away.
In the centre of the yard is a large cross, made by putting red stones in a field of white. It is intended to discourage the dropping of bombs by hostile aviators. Evidently the Red Cross is not taken seriously, for about the grounds are numerous abris, or dugouts, to which every one retires for shelter when the bugle gives the signal. In fact, the vicinity of the camp has been bombed fifteen times. The sick men rest in houses made of dirt bricks, beneath tents, and in rudely improvised huts. It is summer, and victims of dysentery and malaria are very numerous. A little chapel has been built of reeds. Above the door is a cross ingeniously constructed from tin cans placed end on end. From day to day there are newly dug graves in the adjacent graveyard. Above each grave is a little wooden cross.
The French Sergeant on duty unties from buttonholes the yellow tags which identify the sick men. I make a note of the fact that I have brought in twenty men since noon.
"Beaucoup de malades, aujourd'hui," I remark, not too confident that my newly acquired French will be understood. The remark is accepted with a smile. Every shack about the place is overcrowded, and the least ill are sleeping beneath the stars.
Darkness has come, and I venture to turn on my lights over rough places on the road. As a rule, the use of lights is not permitted near the front, but on the mountain roads illumination is absolutely essential. Shortly after nine o'clock the car is back at the poste. A Frenchman gives me a cup of tea. An occasional boom is heard.
" Soixante-quinzes," is the verdict. The French poilu is proud of his ability to recognize the different explosions.
The booming becomes more frequent --- grenadiers at work, no doubt ---and at the same time there is the swift firing of the mitrailleuse. A novice at the war game, I am convinced that a violent attack must be in progress. The Frenchman, remembering Champagne and Verdun, is amused at the thought.
"Pas de guerre, ici," he says. He proceeds to identify the explosions, and their probable significance.
A kindly "Bonne nuit," and I return to the iron couch. Sleep? Not all at once. One's first night at a poste near the front is the occasion of much activity of the mind. In a half doze I find myself thinking that the firing represents an early morning Fourth of July celebration at home. With a start I recall that the explosions involve the killing of men. I wonder how many hours will pass before the next call, and I listen intently to all sounds upon the road. There is the beating of mule hoofs on the stone, and I half rouse myself preparatory to arising. Then the sound passes away, and I know that the pack has been one of munitions rather than human freight. I think of home, I think of Paris, of Salonica, of scattered places here and there, always with a feeling that life now is something different, something that I do not understand. Then I wonder what reaction the sight of new wounds will produce. The half-lost strains of a harmonica in a Russian camp down the road are barely audible. I try to hear, mind rested by the sweetness of the harmony. Sleep comes.
I awaken suddenly. Men are moving about on the road. Through the window I see some one approaching the hut with a lantern.
"Camarade! " he shouts.
The brancardier acknowledges the hail. I pull on my shoes and go outside. By lantern light an order is read. I am to go to a stone house, on the left side of the road about a mile away --- in another country, incidentally --- there to pick up a doctor and a sick man, who will be taken to the ambulance camp. Glancing at the watch I see that it is now eleven-thirty. The motor starts after a struggle at the crank. I slip on a pair of jumpers over the uniform as protection against the chill of the night.
The doctor takes the seat beside me, apologizing in French which I can but half understand for having called me out at such an hour. I endeavor to express my pleasure at being of service to him, and his smile indicates an appreciation. He had been called out to attend a very sick man, and his horse was borrowed for some purpose which I do not understand. We attempt to converse, with the usual difficulties that encounter such attempts when one is unfamiliar with a language. I wonder whether he understands my aimless remark that it is a long way to San Francisco. Apparently he does not, so I relapse into a whistle.
A two-wheeled cart, driven by a sleepy Russian, is barely missed. Grinding on the low, spurting on the high, ungodly screeching of the Klaxon --- and the camp is at hand. Many thanks, another pleasant " good-night, and I am on my way back to the poste once more.
Plenty of booming now. There is more rifle-firing, more bombing, more reason to imagine activity at the front. Far off in the blackness a star-shell illumines a large area of the heavens. It is a weird thing. I almost forget the road as I gaze at it. The Frenchman, bon camarade that he is, meets me upon return, and offers another cup of tea. He says now that an attack is in progress. Again I retire. My eyes have not closed when I hear men on the road. I do not wait until called.
"Blessé," I hear some one say. I hope that the car will perform well on the steep road between the camp and the hospital. Always in the night one is thinking of his car, hoping that no mechanical difficulties will be encountered.
In the middle of the road, at full length on a stretcher, but half covered by a fragment of blanket, lies something that groans in agony, something that moans unmistakable evidence of prodigious suffering.
"Très mauvais," says one of the brancardiers.
I am relieved when the motor starts easily and without evidence of disorder. There is a tenseness in the situation which is not felt when the passenger is merely sick. There continually recurs the thought that life or death may depend upon the saving of minutes.
The blessé must be moved from the field brancard to another. My assistance is needed. The blood-stained bandages indicate the location of the wounds. Bandages on the arm, about chest, and around the head. Victim of a hand grenade, I learn. One man lifts the head, another the feet, and I support the trunk. Despite our care, the mangled one is convulsed with pain. As he is lowered, he turns on his side to vomit blood. The marks are still evident on the road next morning. No baggage accompanies the wounded man. His purse, which has fallen to the road, is seen by chance, and placed on the stretcher at his feet. I close the rear door, wondering whether the poor one will be alive to groan at the end of the ride. In the car opposite the couché sits another victim of dysentery.
At the ambulance camp the sick man gets out of the car. I continue toward the hospital. The branch road which I must follow is not well marked and I am not familiar with the route. In the darkness I turn on to a road which, after fifty yards, proves to be a wrong one. The engine stalls. I crank it, then run on the reverse back to the main road. I dare not be lost, but I feel no confidence in my ability to find the right road --- it had seemed easy enough by daylight.
I hurry back to the camp, two hundred yards away.
No one answers my shout. I look into the dimly lighted houses. Dozens of men, sleeping on piles of grass next to the ground. No one awakes. Then two men walk out of a tent. They are Russians. I approach one of them. With the few French phrases that I understand and a wealth of sign language, I make him understand that I seek the route to G-----. He gives me instructions in Russian. As I do not understand, I take him by the arm and insist that he accompany me. He does so, patient though he is, in a spirit of willingness which surprises me. I address him as "Bon camarade."
Another start. A wrong instruction, and another wrong turn. Then the right road at last. The car chugs noisily up the grade to the destination. A sentry awakens the Médecin-Chef. He appears in pajamas and, to my relief, quickly issues instructions as to the disposition of the blessé, who still groans. The car is emptied; I wait ten minutes until the stretcher is returned, then start once more for the poste. With real gratitude I shake hands with the soldier who has shown me the road, and remark once more, "Bon camarade." A moment later I am sorry that I have no cigarette to offer him, and resolve not to be caught empty-handed again. Munition of fellowship, the cigarette. Friendliness in its giving and in its taking. Comfort in its red tip on a chilly night!
It is a quarter to three when I fling myself wearily upon my couch. A leaden slumber for two hours, then I am awakened by hoof-beats outside. I turn out, ready for another trip. But this time it is only a sergeant who has come to attend to the ravitaillement, for the Frenchmen in the vicinity.
At six o'clock I am called for café. It is served without milk and with little sweetening, in a bowl. Yet it is delicious after the long night. The bread is plentiful, but very hard. It must be at least ten days old --- , it is so cut up, though, that I cannot recognize the baker's date-stamp which is on the crust.
That finished, I do a little oiling about my car. While I am so engaged, I hear the whirr of an aeroplane engine. A Frenchman shouts, "Avion!" All who are in the vicinity peer into the air until the craft is sighted, then retire discreetly to shelter. An anti-aircraft gun, two hundred yards away, fires three shots in rapid succession. Far in the sky three small clouds of white smoke disperse themselves leisurely on a slight breeze. The Boche plane continues on its errand, concerning which one may only speculate.
The Frenchman brings two empty gasoline cans from the camp. He asks that I have them filled and returned from the water-barrels at the ambulance station. Only a small part of the water in the Balkans is eau potable. He mentions several of my American comrades to whom he wishes to be remembered. Then he writes his name on a souvenir postcard, and asks for my address. We shake hands, and I start for the camp where I am to be relieved. The first night of duty at the poste is at an end.
The night described is in no respect exceptional --- aside from the difficulty in finding a road, it was uneventful. The trips were less frequent than ordinarily, and there was but a single wounded man to transport. Every night one or more members of the ambulance unit is having similar experiences.
From time to time one will meet a friendly soul with whom there will be a prompt interchange of courtesies and cigarettes and news items. Good-fellowship develops very quickly in the war zone, particularly between the French and Americans. After all, it is one of the chief compensations for the service that one endeavors to render. Of all the phrases that one hears, the sweetest is "Bon camarade."
HARRY W. FRANTZ*
*Of Riverbank, California; Leland Stanford, '18; joined the Field Service in June, 1917, serving with Section Ten in the Orient; subsequently with the American Red Cross.
November 20, 1917
AT noon I came in from a night on outpost work. The old adage to the effect that it never rains but it pours held true last evening. With several trips on the schedule I experienced engine trouble. One case in particular was urgent and delays in passage in this instance were to be avoided if possible. At twelve o'clock I had covered half my journey when the blessé became worse, and it finally became necessary to climb into the rear of the car to arrange him in an easier position. Having done this, I returned to my driver's seat, when I noticed directly fronting me a steep hill which I soon found my motor absolutely refused to consider; so I hurried on to the next poste, fortunately near at hand, and awoke Samuels from his dreams of Vermont. His assistance proved valuable, as we quickly transferred the man into another car and brought in the load. Upon reaching the clearing-house the wounded man thanked us, which, by the way, is the unfailing custom of all poilus. We see much of this sort of thing, these expressions of gratefulness; but sometimes cases occur beyond ordinary bounds. This was one. In following up our poor poilu's further experiences, which included a hurried trip to another hospital, I am sorry to say he very soon started out on a much longer journey. We shall always remember his feeble "Bonsoir" there in the triage, as the doctors were attempting to keep the spark going for a little while longer.
A glimpse of the lines at night from the ambulance driver's point of view is a sight never to be forgotten. Impenetrable darkness suddenly leaps into life, as it were, with the near-by bursting of every star-shell, and for a scant thirty seconds one sees a dull white road, flanked by pools of stagnant water in the flatlands which shine with an unearthly glow, while a certain undefinable sound reaches the ear, a sort of confused murmur as from a multitude of voices far away. Then, suddenly, there is again nothing but the blank, stifling darkness. One's eyes become dazzled with the quick change, and for an instant queer colors shift in front. In the meanwhile, perhaps a dull booming starts up in the distance, and then you are startled by a sniper's shot, seemingly close at hand, although in reality quite a long way off. Over and over again the lights flare up and always the scene is different. A creak of wheels or a muffled order is heard. Occasionally there is an abrupt or definitive move which aids in keeping one from the delusion that he has become lost in an inferno of sightless and soundless vacuum. The silence at times is so acute as to be actually depressing. The traveller in such a land as this loses all sense of time or direction, of feeling and almost of consciousness, such is his overpowering interest in the situation. In this war, eyes and ears, always acutely strained, reach, close to the front, the stage of a sixth sense, until the soundless approach of an object is really detected at a considerable distance. Scene upon scene shifts and closes with the birth or death of the lights; nothing ever occurs twice and no brain realizes the transitions. The lights, varied in color, seem only connecting links with material things. And then one is confronted with the necessity of a quick adjustment, for before you may lie the concrete evidence of what it is all about ---a wounded man. Then comes a quick reaction, and at such times one is almost glad there is something to do.
When the sun comes up in the morning, you look back on the events of the night before and almost wonder if you have not undergone a bad dream. The sun is thrice welcome on the front. There are many things to grip one here ---interest, wonder, fear, and a jumble of all emotions --- but to me nothing is so overpowering as the field at night followed by the dawn. After sunset there is nothing tangible upon which to hang a normal conclusion. Passing faces in the murk speak no word, features flit by as shadowy as the passage of souls, ghostly gray, till the sun comes back. Here, too, is the melting-pot of the nations and here would be the Babel of tongues if silence was not so urgent. As one views these inarticulate beings and weird happenings, between sunset and sunrise, the observer is struck by the fact that the staging is in keeping with the nature of the author of it all, the greatest of all wars. But the sun is up.
WITH the music of the great marching song of France --- "Sambre-et-Meuse" --- ringing in my ears, accompanied by the roaring of many voices in unison, I will write you of the great Thanksgiving celebration which is now ended. Just now an Algerian colonial is twanging a guitar. He is a marvellous musician and plays the songs of many lands. Occasionally he breaks into a French favorite, and then you should see the personnel of his chorus. There are Algerians of the educated type attracted by the music and noise, French of high and low degree, a few blacks, and one "Blue Devil," who, I should hasten to explain, is a chasseur alpin; then, of course, there are we Americans. The singing is very fine. André, our cook, and one of the "Blue Devils," have just been singing "Il Trovatore," and they act the parts as they sing. The French are very surprising. Until a moment ago we never knew that André could sing.
Can you imagine the picture of a big room filled with men of several nations, and with tobacco smoke and dogs, while just a little distance away the big guns are growling and rolling a deep undertone? A moment ago I stepped to the door and noticed how over the hill the sky lights up when the batteries let go. It is a wild and primitive sight, but if you were here you would soon know the true spirit of it. One of the blacks is chanting, in a musical bass, a Cairo street song of the incoming caravans, and as he pauses, we applaud him in the French fashion --- clap, clap, clap. By the way, this sort of applauding arose in the trenches and is a product of the war. It was first done by the men to warm themselves while swaying from side to side. They never jump up and down, you know. It is too dangerous, for it would bring their heads above the trenches.
It is bright moonlight outside, clearing weather following a cold rain, and a French plane away up in the sky somewhere is trying out its machine gun. The sound is similar to the pounding of a tack-hammer, but thin and metallic in tone as it comes from a long distance; and it mingles oddly with the Thanksgiving music indoors.
We have just stood at attention while the French anthem was being sung. Then "the foreigners" ---Americans --- gave the " Star-Spangled Banner," while the others saluted. The French are filing out now and the big celebration is over. André is bubbling over with joy because we liked his great dinner, while we are trying to forget that he will soon degenerate to the plodding hash-heaver, for in the morning we shall begin to get again the same old rations that we have been having for weeks past.
The Front, December 10
TIME has no leaden wings over here across the water. So many impressions and experiences are crowded into each short day that one is not conscious of the passing of the hours. Often we dwellers in this strange, perverted land live for weeks without knowing what the date is. And yet there are days which stand out as memory-sentinels from others less sensational, to which we refer from time to time. This is our method of splitting the calendar.
This is one of the long-to-be-remembered days. After weeks of rain and gloom the sun broke through the clouds this morning, a welcome sight to representatives in France of thirty-eight nations. With the sun came out of the east also the German aviators in squads, flying high; as they twisted and turned, flashes of light brightened their wing-tips. One avion, more impudent than his followers, essayed a sheer drop of a thousand feet as if to express his contempt of all things allied or earthly. This indifference was immediately taken as an insult by the anti-aircraft guns, whose crackling volleys were soon making a cotton-field of the sky. Thereupon out from behind a huge, low-banked rain cloud came more avions, of a nationality we Americans hailed with joy. Stumbling and falling, often almost colliding with each other, we followed the rapidly shifting battle of the clouds. Above the jarring crump, crump, crump of the "105's," we could hear the dry rattling of the air fleet's machine guns. Soon most of the planes had drifted out of sight, and the excitement had begun to wane, when off to the left came two desperately diving Boche planes; cut off from their fleet by a strategic Allied move, and, roaring at high speed, they were attempting to regain their lines. But between them and their objective were three Allied machines, one of which drove straight for the enemy, his companions following in the familiar wedge formation of the football field. Caught in the net, one Boche plane dropped, while the other, climbing straight up, was followed by two Allied planes until the trio became mere specks in the blue and finally disappeared entirely. And finally, falling like a shot, came the last Boche, playing his final card in a manner to gain him praise. Riding on his tail-rudder and pouring out a stream of lead was his French adversary, equally versatile. Checking his plane so close to earth that the aircraft guns feared to shoot, the Boche stood his machine on end in a sudden twist to the left. At this point watchers of the conflict saw that something had gone wrong with the enemy plane, for it began to fall; slowly at first, but with increasing momentum, until it was evident that the end was close at hand. Holding his machine as best he could, the Boche faced about for his lines, now falling in a long earthward slide, a wing-tip buckled from the unaccustomed strain or a well-placed shot had clipped a vital support, for now the Boche was falling faster, his plane a tangled wreck. Somewhere just behind the German lines the rest of the story was told. The Boche had reached his goal. Then in an instant other duties, which must be attended to, intervened and we forgot all we had just been watching, our interest taken up at another point. This is a life of quick changes. The sublime and the ridiculous become entangled, there being no border-land.
For instance, immediately after this air fight, we were roaring with laughter at "Florida," our latest acquisition from Miami. In a pleasing drawl which had made him the friend of the Section, Florida, one day old in the service, exclaimed, "Man, oh, man, I sure am a goat-getter!" Just before dinner we had a big funeral which also provoked Florida to further outbursts. He is perfectly unconscious of the pleasure he gives us by his talk, a never-ending comedy. He was given the usual night trip to the cemetery and morgue, both of which are extensively patronized. We nearly had convulsions when Florida discovered six new graves, open and waiting, this being found expedient by the management. The old story of the missing driver who one night went out on poste and was never seen again was sprung on Florida and five other shuddering fledglings who have joined our Section within the past two days; and around the stove at night you should hear some of them asking if a search had not been made for this missing driver. Other myths were told them, like the hoax of the funeral which was delayed until one of the men was sent to his car for a mislaid leg, which he had neglected to inventory previous to the obsequies. We call the local hospital a "finishing school," a name well applied, these newcomers think. Another great entertainment for old hands is to lead an unsuspecting newcomer near a hidden battery and watch him jump when it goes off. Of course, every one runs away, yelling that a Boche shell has struck.
An officer's funeral occupied part of the afternoon to-day. Stiffly starched French officers strutted, stalked, or merely walked as their various anatomies permitted. They are wonderful-looking men and dress like the Beau Brummels they are. Later, the convalescents in a near-by hospital were given a concert by a chasseur alpin band. These "Blue Devils," the fighters de luxe of France, are picked men. They dress in blue with a rakish tam-o'shanter over one ear, while their officers are in dead black and are very striking in appearance.
Without pause we are swept from one experience to another. I am writing this letter at night and have just returned from a trip to the barracks' door to listen to a barrage miles away. Far down on the horizon, you see a dull glow made by the continuous flash of the guns, and yet right near us the world is undisturbed at this same hour; so much so that a screech owl and a magpie are disputing the right of way in a tree over near the horse sheds. And the "new 'uns" are outside listening to the roar and marvelling at it all, while inside we "veterans" of four months are plotting further hair-raising exploits with the fresh boys as the actors.
The Front, December 23
TO-MORROW night will be Christmas Eve, and what a queer festival it will be this year. Despite the effort, Section Twelve will observe the day in a limited way, materially speaking, but in spirit it will be celebrated as if we were in the States. What a great collection of fellows we have here for such an event! Two of them --- Jews, of course --- do not believe in the day, but nevertheless will hang up their socks the same as the rest of us. Yes, we will hang up our boots or extra socks in the firm belief that Santa Claus will come during the night. It is a trifle amusing, if not really pathetic, to see the boys thus eagerly anticipating Christmas. Here we have every degree of intelligence and ability, and all are one in remembering the day.
The old stove is red-hot to-night, being filled to the bursting point every few minutes by some absent-minded member as he tells some anecdote of interest back in America. We have a few hot-weather boys from California and Florida, and the recent cold snap has put them on the sick-list. It is these mild-climate men who keep the stove full. We fellows from the North must be of stronger fibre, for all, except Wight, are in great shape. In fact, for the first time in my life I am able to realize what a good layer of fat is. It at least makes a red-hot stove of secondary importance this snappy weather.
To-night of all nights I know you are thinking of me and wondering if it fares me well. You are pondering of the days long ago when wild-eyed I ran downstairs to find my stocking crammed to the top with candy and presents. And, though it hardly seems possible, I am more than ever a kid again to-night, a strong believer in Santa Claus and all the good fairies.
Santa will have a hard time in France to-night, for there are so many to whom even ordinary necessities will be luxuries. To us of Section Twelve he will be kind, I am sure. We are watching for to-morrow's mail. Some have been fortunate and our Christmas tree will have a number of remembrances. Yes, we have a Christmas tree which, at the present moment, is being trimmed. We already have the candles in place, besides several sacks of smoking tobacco swinging jauntily from the topmost bough. There is red and blue ribbon, carefully saved from boxes received during the past weeks, for extra decoration, while quite an air of mystery is afoot; and who knows what will happen before morning? The fire is burning low in the grate and the boys are climbing into their bunks a little earlier than usual to give old Santa a clear field. It is growing late and my candle is burning down. On the new-fallen snow the big moon shines as brilliantly as day. There is n't a sound anywhere, maybe because all the soldiers are thinking of home and have forgotten to be watchful. Let us hope that some day it will always be like that. We, too, are at home to-night. Ever
Your wandering son
YESTERDAY was a big day, a red-letter day, and consequently one long to be remembered. It was my biggest day in France, and that you know is no small thing to say in these stirring times. Yesterday was "Christmas," that is, it was for me, for every box came which I know anything about through your letters, and several other boxes besides. And along with the boxes came --- how many do you think? --- fifteen letters. Well, I was plumb flabbergasted. With the entire Section playing attendance, I proceeded to demonstrate how Carthage, New York, does things when she starts in. Fruitcake, candy, in fact everything eatable, came in two large boxes, and the third box from the cigar store, for Wesley and myself, fairly raised the roof. Never since the days of the earliest ambulancier has any one in France received so much tobacco in one package. My audience gazed in astonishment at the outlay. "Florida," with his usual loquacity in moments of stress, exclaimed, "Where in Hell is Carthage, anyway?" The poorest were remembered, for we have some who never are very lucky. And of course there was Jack's package. Out in the gas tent, where prying eyes might not see too much, I gave Jack his package. You should have seen his face as I handed him the square package, labelled, "For Jack." Christmas had come and gone for him for many years, meaning nothing except a date in his life. With the present in his hand, he sat down on an empty gas-tank and opened up on his past. His story was the usual luck of the orphan, enhanced by intermittent wanderings. To a rather brilliant intellect, he has added the finishing touch of experience, and his story, to me, was more than interesting. "This," said he, "is the biggest day for me in years, and one I can never forget. Tell your good people that they will be repaid some day, somehow, for their charity. It means more to me than they know." A little later on in the afternoon I saw him passing candy around. He casually stated meanwhile that "his folks had been a trifle late, and he guessed the other packages had been sunk." It was remarkable to see them digging into his candy when every man in the Section was wise to the whole business. The affair was carried through very nicely withal.
It is great to feel young and able. To spend one's youth in this great war is a privilege, not a sacrifice, and who would live to old age and miss such a chance? Come what may, I am content, for I have for once been to the heart of things, have watched the world at work and play, seen the inner shrine, as it were. There is nothing more to life than these things if you measure values correctly; so I shall travel on with Fate at the wheel.
The Front, January 21
I AM back from my furlough and surrounded by nineteen letters and four more packages, which piled up during my absence. Never in my life have I seen such an outlay. Some way I did not want all this stuff for myself, but it is a great satisfaction to meet a poilu shivering and cold, with three years of war written upon his face, slap him on the back and say, "Buck up, old top," and then reach into your pocket and hand him a U.S. tailor-made cigarette. At your first salutation he will exclaim " Comment?" He does n't understand you at all., of course; but his eyes follow your motions and the smile at the proffered smoke is worth much to see. The cold or the wet, the trenches or his particular grievance, vanish and, voilà, the smiling Frenchman appears. There is much trouble, what with numb fingers and all, in finding a match; but presently there is a light, and two puffs of smoke curl up. Then the poilu shifts his gun to the other arm and remarks, in French, that "it is a hell of a night." All this is delaying things in general, as the poilu soon remembers, and after stowing your second cigarette behind his left ear, he shakes your hand and makes off through the gloom toward a distant light, where his bowl of soup and pint of pinard await him. Much is written and more told of the common soldier of every land. Whatever his failings and weaknesses may be, you will find him a king beneath the surface. Through the blackness of the night, the cold, and periods of enforced privation, you will find him uncomplaining if you will but treat him fairly. I heard women before the war speak of these "terrible soldiers." If they only knew them as they really are, these critics would admit their strictures to be groundless. You should see how an occasional woman visitor is treated at the base hospital south of here. I believe that after the war the women will get all the voting privileges they ask. There are American women here doing wonderful work. I know one, the only one ever to come here, who has played the part of a real Santa Claus to many thousand men. She had to go through great trouble, but, by jingo, she got there. It was my great privilege to ride in from Paris with her. She has been here since the beginning, and a character and a royal good sport she is. Dining with generals, or eating a cold lunch with privates, is all the same to her. I had a good talk with her at one of our long waits on our journey north, and we wandered around an ancient village and a thirteenth-century church together. So I know her well and can speak with knowledge of what I say about her and other women out here.
IT'S a good thing our dishes are of tin, as the kitchen gang to-night are especially noisy. An erstwhile librarian is busy throwing plates in the general direction of a New York pool-room graduate who is officiating with the wiping towel. The camp dog is somewhere under a bunk trying to escape the clutches of "Wild Bill." Up nearer my bunk a game of fan-tan is in progress, while in the other part of the barracks I hear the officers lingering over the supper table, while, as usual, a red-hot argument is being waged near the equally warm stove. It does not matter what the argument is, so long as every one gets in on it. Several candles are lighted here and there, marking places where letters are being written home or a paper perused. All this is taking place in a long, narrow, wooden barracks, with its unfinished interior and skeleton-like rafters, only partly illumined by the rays of the candles. Along the walls range the bunks, overhung by clothes and barrack bags, which latter serve as wardrobes. The floor is clean swept, as much as its rough surface will permit. There is no surplus of anything to be seen anywhere, for we are travelling light. Woodsmen never slung a pack more handily than we fellows of old Section Twelve, for we are like the "nigger" soldier who would not join the cavalry because, when the bugle sounded "Retreat," he did not want to be bothered with "no hoss."
To this bunch of boys time now has no meaning. We live on day by day, never noticing the passing moment. We mark the date by incidents occurring in our work. As we reach the end of the day, some one is sure to remark, with a sigh or yawn, "Well, this is the end of another," and he damns the Kaiser. You people of the States picture us as always in the centre of adventure, a notion gained, no doubt, from war articles and lectures. The truth is that time sometimes hangs heavily on us. Our life at moments closely resembles that of a lumber camp in the heart of our unbroken forest. Our entertainments, discussions, and hopes must come from within. It is remarkable what effect isolation has upon various characters. Some say nothing, others talk continually, and sometimes I wonder where all the flow of wit comes from. There is humor unmistakable in the very air. Somebody is always "the goat" to the huge amusement of the entire camp, and it often strikes me that American humor will win the war. It is the humorous streak in the Americans which the Continental cannot understand, and which appears to be lacking in all but the French. It also seems to me that Americans are essentially sturdier than all others, though that may be a wrong viewpoint.
To-night a full moon is shining. Across the little valley which we call home, the fog has settled heavily, and through an open space in the trees a patch of meadowland shows clearly, bearing a fancied resemblance to the meadow up on the old homestead, which stretches from the orchard up toward the old Coon House and the top of Brown's Falls slope. Our old friend the hoot owl is still with us in the pines back of the barracks. Everything is quite still, and a casual visitor would never dream he was near the front, while away over on a distant hill I can just distinguish the creaking of a heavy wagon. It is very often like that at night, though generally, when it is so bright, a few avions are droning high above.
THE old barracks to-night are a chaos of sight and sound, for to-morrow we depart a short way back en repos. Our journey will not be long and our rest period all too short. We shall always be in striking distance should the unforeseen, if not to say the expected, happens. The ceiling is rocking to the rollicking chorus of "Oceania rolls." Amid the ruins of moving-day we are passing our final night in song. Our cars are loaded and our duffle-bags stand in orderly rows awaiting the command of 9 A.M. to-morrow to let her go. A few minutes after the order, we shall be rolling again to pastures new in a procession, the cars being thirty yards apart. Up at the head, the staff car like a flagship will be making way, a green flag flying to the fore, the international convoy signal.
A convoy under way is a fascinating thing to watch. Should you, the wayside traveller, be halted or turned aside by the flying squadron on wheels, you will notice that first into view looms the staff car, its insistent siren warning all to stand aside. Then with a rush the fleet is upon you. Exactly ninety feet apart, the cars rip by. Everything to the last peg and water-can is in its place. There is a marvellous cleanliness apparent in the battered machines. The first division speeds by, and you resume your journey thinking the whole convoy has passed, when, lo and behold! division two is in view, just around the near-by bend. The same sight greets your eyes once more; so you decide wisely to let the dust settle before starting again. Lumbering along in the rear come the heavy trucks with all our possessions and equipment, and rattling bravely at the tail, under a full head of steam, appears the kitchen trailer with the two cooks within working on the next meal. The rush and roar are over, the convoy has passed. If you are curious to know where the excitement all originated, you might go to the cantonment just evacuated, where you would find nothing but an empty shed with not a stick or stone anywhere near to mark the spot where a bunch of soldiers had lived for several months.
The ambulanciers are the gipsies of the war. Wherever you go you will see the familiar Ford, either still or moving along, its destination figured in advance. The Ford is a welcome sight to the poilu, who detects the well-known rattling cough of its motor at long distances when all is still o' nights. It often happens that this little tin car is his home when he knows that it will get him to some haven of rest. If not too badly hit, he immediately falls asleep when he is put into a Ford. His responsibility is over. Never a word of reproach does he utter if the unlucky driver loses his way or an untimely accident delays his passage for several hours. If able, then out he comes to hold a wrench or be of assistance, and to condole with you over the trouble. Meanwhile, he samples your cigarettes or "best smoking." Time and elements mean nothing to him; why should they, considering whence he has come?
A word about another class. A man in this Section upon arriving gave vent to a sigh of relief and said, "Well, I'm here. Now start the works. I like excitement, and noise I eat." These and other violent sentiments he exuded from every pore. The next day the wood gang went out for stove fuel to a ruined village, a place where the Boches like to throw over now and then a few firecrackers just to keep things stirring. Suddenly there was a slow, familiar whistle followed by a scurry of feet, while Mr. Newcomer was left standing alone, smiling scornfully. The whistle ended in a crash and a cloud of flying earth, really not near enough to worry about. But you should have seen that boy! He hit only twice getting to an abri, and fell downstairs on the rest of us, skinning his knee. Among other things, he lost his breath, hat, and nerve, and he no longer-breathes fire and smoke, but is now a seasoned man ---only a blur when running for cover.
In the six months I have been here, I have seen only one man who was apparently without fear of any kind. He was a Frenchman. No one could figure him out until it was discovered that he was stone deaf and troubled with sciatic rheumatism. I think the airmen, though, are totally devoid of nerves. The other day I saw for the first time the famous "falling leaf" executed by a German pilot. It is apparently attempted only by the superskilful. It is a straight, fluttering tumble with the engine shut off. After a ghastly wait by the onlooker, the thing is completed with a swoop with the engine on at full speed. This flying German had the thing down cold. I have seen the tail-spin, nose-dive, straight dive, the loop, and bottom-up antic, not to mention the straight-up climb and banking on one wing, but that falling-leaf stuff was the last word. I may fly sometime if lucky, but it will be when I can't stand up any longer and St. Peter is ready to look over my passport; for if something busts, and you are a flyer, there is n't a thing to hang on to.
CLARENCE J. GRIFFIN*
*Of Carthage, New York; joined the Field Service in August, 1917; served in Section Twelve under the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
Paris, June 13,1917
I WAS present to-night at one of the most wonderful demonstrations I ever hope to see. General Pershing and his staff arrived in Paris this evening, and the reception he got was simply wonderful. On all sides of the Place de l'Opéra thousands and thousands of people were massed, extending way up the Boulevard des Capucines to the Madeleine and the Place de la Concorde. Up to the time of arrival of the motors, the gendarmes were able to keep the crowd back, but once the long train of cars appeared, the crowd closed right in so that it was almost impossible for them to move. It was all simply marvellous --- such enthusiasm and excitement. You cannot possibly imagine it, and I cannot half convey the impression I should like to. All the women were tossing flowers of various kinds at the cars, and the girl I was with threw a whole bouquet of roses to General Pershing, who caught them and thanked her. If you can imagine some of this tumult, you cannot possibly conceive of the riot when Joffre's car came along. It was just like bucking a stone wall for his chauffeur to make any progress at all. And after him such a glorious sight --- the first American soldiers on French soil! They were, in fact, some little distance behind him, and the crowd had begun to break up, thinking the parade was over. One sight of those trucks, and Charley Isbell and I simply bolted across the square and up onto the running-boards. I can hardly remember what I said, for my heart was in my mouth, but I did some shaking of hands. I shall never, never forget it all.
ROGER P. STONE*
*Of Providence, Rhode Island; Dartmouth, '17; entered the Field Service May 15, 1917; served with Section Twenty-Eight until he was rejected under army regulations for defective eyesight
LET me tell you about the Fourth of July in Paris. I ran into a French officer who spoke English, and we proceeded to the wall at the upper end of the Tuileries Gardens, on the corner near the rue de Rivoli down which the troops were to pass. We stood facing the square, with the crowd some seven or eight deep in front of us, while the crowd below was a swarm. Soon, away across the square, there was a stir that suggested "Here they are!" and the sound of French trumpets playing a bugle call told me it was so. Then came the Yankee troops, a battalion in olive drab, without overcoats or full equipment, just belts and their business-like Springfield rifles. Of course, their campaign hats were set at the conventional slant. The boys in the lead, right next to the American band, swung along at a rhythmic clip. Toward the middle the colors were carried. The soldiers came into the square from under the trees at the border, swung in serpentine fashion around the tall Egyptian obelisk and passed almost at my feet into the rue de Rivoli, while the band played "Marching Through Georgia." At the first sight of them the crowd shrieked and cheered and yelled, while "Vive l'Amérique" fairly forked through the air like lightning. The throng below, on the level of the march, was jammed in, despite the efforts of the policemen who were kept busy pushing and hauling individuals who wanted to march alongside of the American lads. As the boys came by, an unofficial escort of wounded and French soldiers on furlough joined them. They walked along both sides of the Americans forming a horizon-blue fringe to the khaki picture that has burnt itself into my mind. The informality of the escort, this first expression of camaraderie between the fighting forces of these two peoples, the spontaneity of it all ---it was wonderful. Pride and suppressed emotion tensed the marchers. They were making history and seemed to know it. As for me, I felt as if a little leaden-footed devil was running up a ladder between my heart and my ear-drums, knocking on the sides of my head and then scampering down the ladder again. Finally, the boys were unable to march in order, and the last of them lowered their guns and went at route step, a streak of olive drab between two thin lines of the light-blue of their French comrades. Not until they had nearly passed did I notice the French airplane in brand-new war paint, its shiny coat glistening in the bright sunlight---it was a California day for brightness and sweetness of air --- dipping to the colors. I did not see the first dip, but saw the second and third. The second was over the heads of the last of the Americans. The air machine tore around the square bobbing and sliding and whizzing this way and that, a graceful exemplification of happiness and excitement.
In front of the Hôtel de Ville the Americans were given about ten minutes' rest. Beside them were the French troops. In front of each detachment was its band. To the rear was the sleek mounted Paris guard, which kept the mob back. The place was jammed; a semicircle surrounded the troops. The contrast between the two ranks of soldiers was noticeable. Well-shaved, tanned, broad-shouldered, tight-waisted, supple and lithe, the Americans were standing there in olive drab "unies," with cocked campaign hats and canvas leggings. Grizzled, moustached or bearded, and sometimes both, dressed in heavy horizon blue and crowned with the trench steel helmets, the Frenchmen returned the curious glances of their comrades in arms. In uniform a Frenchman looks broad-waisted and narrow-shouldered. This is due to the arrangement of equipment as well as the cut of the clothes. They appeared like the tried and true veterans that they were --- ruddy-faced, heavy-browed, stocky, sterling men. The Yankees looked business-like, clean-cut, square-jawed, but light and young, unbearded, and still in possession of the first flush of young, unspent manhood. Our boys, too, had a modest air about them, and even appeared somewhat embarrassed with it all, and I thought I detected some who would much rather have seen less fuss, though none, of course, seemed bored. The ovation was too genuine and the feeling too intoxicating. In the meanwhile the bands were exchanging tunes, and when the orders came to proceed and the French shouldered arms, their rifles looked for all the world like a stage flower-garden suddenly popped up in the middle of things, for the rifle ends were stuck with flowers, mostly in red, white, and blue bunches. The Americans had the same; in fact all the soldiers had flowers and the officers, too, who wore them in their belts and on the pommels of their saddles. They then went. from the Hotel de Ville to the cemetery which holds the dust of Lafayette.
EDWARD D. KNEASS*
*Of San Francisco; Leland Stanford, '18 joined the Field Service in June, 1917; served in Section Ten; subsequently with the American Red Cross mission to Serbia; later an Aspirant in the French Artillery.
YESTERDAY, when the dense, dark, massive clouds drove on, and the storm swept us with a speed exceeded only by the lightning of our massed artillery, I thought to write in defence of the war-life; for man placed in the midst of its immense forces, has enlarged his contracted self, until he has learned to rejoice at hurling himself out there where all his powers are employed and augmented. He learns what resources lay slumbering in his being, until the inspiration and intensity of really great tasks roused them into action. The true warrior knows not how to trifle with work or life. Than this, there is nothing greater to be known.
Such a warrior --- four such --- I carried one night over a perilous road to the field hospital. We reached it after a long and hard trip. The blessés were tired and in pain. It was dark as I helped them to descend, but I think I could see the thanks glowing from their faces. I came to the fourth, one of those French heroes advanced in years. His foot was severed and in spite of all his efforts not to be a burden, I had to carry him. Like those spirited war horses who are heart-broken when disabled, so seemed this grand old defender of his country. Yet a hero's spirit bends but does not break, as I knew when through his tears came these words, "C'est pour la France." Tell me, if other than war has brought to earth these heavenly traits living in ten thousands of hearts. Over such heroes' graves might well be inscribed an epitaph in the spirit of that one written by Simonides --- words inspired by and made immortal by the deeds of those Greeks who fell at Plataea --- "If to die nobly be the chief part of excellence, to us of all men Fortune gave this lot: for hastening to set a crown of freedom on Hellas, we lie possessed of praise that grows not old."
Not only has war its pleasures of work but also of relaxation. These are mostly like what we turned to in our few moments of natural living which even the rush of civilization grudgingly afforded, such as childhood and camping. But here they mean far more. I shall never forget a bit of space down in Champagne, enclosed by rough unpainted boards, and cheese-cloth in the window frames; for there during a few months grew up a life, associations, comradeship, which made those barracks more to us than a palace. What congenial evenings we used to spend after we had washed the supper dishes and cut the wood for the evening fire! We read, talked, played games, sang until the retiring signal which meant ten minutes more of candlelight. Then we sought our hand-made beds, and dreamily watched the firelight flickering on the rude walls, heard the crackling in the stove, enjoyed the wind or rain or guns, until all blended joined by memory's varied scenes to form the texture of dreams. What better atmosphere for the growing up of true friendships --- simple natural life, and a common danger.
THE sky grows overcast, and rain begins to fall. The roads become a mass of oozy mud. The night is pitch black. You stand by your car at the roadside and watch the columns of worn little men plodding --- back toward the line --- horses and men silhouetted against the lurid background of the sky. Here and there a light flickers where a poilu relights his pipe. The columns of troops seem endless, but you continue to watch, held by an irresistible fascination. You can never forget the sight of a battery sweeping, at a trot, down the hill in front of you. The soldiers' faces are lit up by the glare of your lights. Stiffly astride their sweating, mud-caked horses, they are fine-looking types, their greatcoats buttoned tightly up over their chins, their helmets glistening with the rain, their equipment bouncing over their shoulders. A brief rush and clatter, then in an instant they have disappeared into the darkness.
The weather was icy. The first week of December brought snowstorms and cold, bitter winds. The scenery was mournful. The black, charred tree-stumps, where once had been forests, shell-holes filled with greenish, stagnant water, the tattered camouflage, torn away except for ragged, draggled strips which flapped weirdly in the wind, the dead horses, wrecked wagons, and overturned caissons along the way --- all contributed to make the hills and roads desolate. At night the whole sky was a living mass of crimson flashes.
It was a marvellously sunny day in the Argonne, one of those spring days that make you want to bask in the warm sun. We spent the afternoon dozing and daydreaming on the warm grass, or else gazed at the German aviators, who flew over the village of Clermont for the greater part of the afternoon. They looked like tiny white specks against the clear blue sky. Circling high in glittering security, beyond reach of the anti-aircraft shells, they spun their wary course. Toward dusk --- as if tired from their day's tedious task --- they turned back toward their own lines, drooping down the sky out of sight in the haze of early evening, leaving a pale star or two gleaming in their place.
Every road and by-path is choked with traffic. Toward Soissons marches an endless stream of dusty blue-clad infantry. Big guns are hauled along by bigger tractors. Tanks clank, bump, and grumble over the shell-gutted roads. Battery after battery of light guns. files past. Ravitaillement wagons lumber close behind. A patrol of cavalry dashes by. Ambulances in convoy are trying to work their way around the slow, munition-laden camions. Everything points in one direction. Soissons is being retaken by the French. A long growling sound fills the air. It is the snarl of the French barrage. Down in the next village big guns are blazing away, and the acrid smell of powder fills your nostrils. You catch a glimpse of artillerymen, stripped to the waist, serving the guns. At regular intervals a German shell screeches into the village and explodes with a dull, crumbling thud.
HENRY G. CROSBY*
*Of Boston; Harvard, '20; served with Section Seventy-One and later in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
IMMEDIATELY after America declared war on Germany there was a great deal of talk, the purport of which was that we should study the actions of the Allies, that we should avoid their errors; in short, that we should profit by their experiences. Never was wiser advice given.
We who have been so closely allied with the French have time and time again been saved from disaster by this connection with them. It must be admitted that often it was not our following their advice, but their interposing, that saved us from embarrassing situations. Concrete examples will best show in what respect this is true.
There have often been incidents like the following: A convoy of American-driven trucks approached a long stretch of road behind the front, and started down its length. Out ran a short, hairy-faced poilu. "N'allez pas là-bas. Très dangereux. Obus. Z-z-z-z, pouf! Pas bon." The road looked so peaceful; trees stood at frequent intervals; it surely was out of sight of the lines. And what a smooth, hard road it was. Why, we simply could n't miss such easy --- Woomp, Whee-e-e, Whang! A shell landed fifty yards down the road. The convoy was ordered to turn, while the little, serious-faced Frenchman pointed to a speck on the horizon, which was immediately recognized as an ever-watchful German observation balloon, which had already spied the convoy. "Je n'aime pas voir les américains tués. Avez-vous cigarette américaine? Merci. Au revoir."
So it has been. They have warned us against shells, mud, precipitation. They have shown us the reason for convoy rules. An American is impetuous. At the front he wants to "up and at him." On a truck he wants to pass everything in sight. But the Frenchman has taught that, in passing a long convoy, a truck may get stuck, and in the twinkling of an eye the road is blocked, there is a blockade of traffic in both directions, and the tangle makes a wonderful target for hostile artillery.
The solicitude of the French has not been for military reasons alone. There is a real feeling between the soldiers of the two nations. The Frenchman believes in the American. He relies on his good faith, and omits to stop him at every turn, as he does his compatriots, to ask for a pass. If he can share his pinard, he will. If he can be of any service whatever to him, he will insist upon doing what he can. In administrative work it is the same. Our business methods, our organization schemes, differ from those of the French, particularly in that they are formed for our faster life, the quickened pace of our business world. It naturally is hard for the French to understand the why's and wherefore's of the things we introduce, and often what we do appears foolhardy to them. Yet few occasions have arisen when they have not trusted to our knowledge and have granted changes, conceded points, and given us free rein in subjects which they regard as sacred custom.
We can truthfully say that we have never quarrelled: a rare condition even among allies. We are a race little known and little understood by the French; a race that has been alone with itself, and has thus broken away from what in Europe are regarded as rock-bound rules. We have developed new lines of thought and action, freer and bigger, broader and more liberal, than many of those of our French friends. We have burst in upon the French with our big ideas, our vehemence, our assurance, our newness, and, though somewhat bewildered, they have submitted cheerfully, have received us with open arms, have corrected our errors instead of shrugging their shoulders as they might well have done.
The men of the Réserve Mallet have observed this more than any other American unit. Living and working with them day and night, sharing perils and hardships, toiling through the terrors of the retreat, and pushing joyfully forward in the great offensives, they have learned to understand each other as only comrades can. No American army organization has been closer to the French than the Reserve, and no unit can have felt the camaraderie, the inter-feeling, more. Ever since the first contingent of American Field Service men came into the Automobile Service, the mutual good impression has been growing. We have been as one, for both sides have adapted themselves to the ways of the other --- and it is well so, when two beings are fighting for the same cause.
The gameness and spirit of the poilus, the pluck and good courage of their women, the cleverness and prettiness of the little boys and girls, have won the American heart --- even as our "pep" and initiative have aroused French admiration.
Now we see the truth of the statement that has often been made: "Every man has two countries: his own, and France."
FREDERICK W. KURTH*
*Of Roxbury, Massachusetts; Harvard, '18; joined the camion branch of the Field Service in July, 1917; later a Sergeant in the U.S. Motor Transport Corps.
IMAGINE our bewilderment when in our first flush of enthusiasm we encountered that stoic bundle of war weariness --- the poilu. The blue overcoats were our chief object of curiosity and we were eager to get acquainted. This was not a difficult matter, for he was just as interested in us, and everywhere we met --- in the cafés, at the front, or in the villages ---there was mutual cordiality.
Heaven only knows what we had expected of him. We thought he would be excitable, impulsive and a trifle effeminate ---a combination of what we had seen in French cooks and in the foreign nobility of the stage. And he was none of these things. We had looked for a lot of heroics and war avidity that we did n't find.
He is a little man with drooping, uneven moustaches, and wears his overcoat even in the heat of summer. He regards us at first a bit warily.
"Anglais ou américain ? "
"American," we state with pride.
There is an obvious brightening.
"Ah," he exclaims, "vous êtes américain? Since how much of time are you in France?"
The answer depends altogether on the imagination of the interviewed, but the usual exaggeration is something like three or four months on the truth. It later increases until the American (who has become sure of his ground) has been a volunteer since --- well, practically the beginning. But in any case the following lament is sure to succeed in one form or another. It has with its variations become a classic.
"Oh, four months --- for you; but for us four years of war! That's long, mon ami. Huh, four years, that's hard,---n'est-ce pas? Moi, I was at the Marne, on the Somme, at Verdun, vous comprenez; wounded three times, and never even sick enough to be evacuated ---jamais, jamais, jamais! France is very tired, très fatiguée, and it is always us, toujours la France. Ah, la guerre est terrible! For how much longer do you think it will last?"
It is accompanied by intonations and gestures that are impossible to reproduce in the telling. French is not merely spoken anyhow --- it is inflected and gesticulated as well, and conveys a delicacy of meaning not known to English.
There is not much to answer. You tell him you think it will be over very soon now, because the Americans are coming to finish it up, tout de suite. Yes, you have that much crust.
"How many of américains are there in France now?" he asks.
"I don't know ---a great many; and there will be three millions by spring," you lie.
With that he will appear much encouraged and will pass to other subjects. He'll ask if you have permissions in America; how much you are paid; how long it takes to get a letter from New York (which he naturally supposes to be your home); and will inquire after some relative of his in San Francisco or Montreal. He will show you a picture of himself en civil or his fiancée, or perhaps a snapshot of his father and eight brothers ---the kind of photographs we've seen in family albums --- all stiff and slick with a pillar or a waterfall in the background. Upon request, or without invitation if you are in a buvette, he will sing you the thirty-seven verses of a regimental song, and if by this time you have n't offered him a cigarette, he will ask for one and maybe offer you a swig of pinard in return. After this he tells you that it is première ligne for him to-morrow, and shaking hands he is off rather dejectedly.
The next poilu, you meet has come to sell you a briquet or a souvenir, or perhaps to beg some gasoline; in which latter case he will have a tiny flask in evidence and after you have brought out the essence, he will produce a bottle from behind his back that requires filling also. To all demurring on official grounds, he has the brisk reply that "Ça ne fait rien," and it is irrefutable. Directly he has his will he starts interrogating.
"Since how much of time are you in France?" he says, and follows it up with a recitation on the drawbacks of a lengthy war, and asks you how long you think it will last and so forth to the end of the rigmarole.
It is the same with the next poilu and with the next, until you answer the whole questionnaire automatically and with the same precision as the chess-player who sees three moves ahead. From that moment on you will never stop making public predictions on the end of the war, nor will you forget for an instant the exact space of time you have been in France --- no matter how luridly you lie about it.
Exception must be made, however, for the shock troops. Speak to a stalwart, jaunty chasseur or to a zouave in khaki with his red fez, and you will find that he does not care how long you've been in France and that he would be openly sceptical if you told him America was going to win the war. He'd tell you that it was not America but the zouaves; for his faith is with his pride --- in his regiment.
"It is we," he says, "the zouaves, who will attack. We always do. We do not hold the line --- we make it. The Boches are all afraid of us, it is always 'Kamerad, Kamerad,' and they get out their watches and souvenirs so that we won't kill them. We shall fight, we shall advance, and after that --- allez --- heup! --- le grand repos! Our losses will be heavy, but we shall not care. Paris, n'est-ce pas? " he concludes with a sly twinkle.
"Yes," you reply, "we have heard you are very good fighters, but the chasseurs, they are good, too, are n't they?"
"Yes," he will admit grudgingly, "the chasseurs are good --- but they are not so good as the zouaves. C'est nous, les zouaves, who are the best," he states complacently, "and it is we the Fourth (the First, the Sixth, as the case may be) who are the best zouaves."
He is quite in earnest and there are few who would undertake to dissuade him --- unless it might be a chasseur. To see a zouave and a chasseur disputing supremacy would hardly be a pretty sight, but there are cases when it has been done.
In our wanderings about the rear we meet the men of many nations --- Serbians, Belgians, and Portuguese; Russians and Annamites, and Chinese road laborers; and sometimes Arab horsemen with their beautiful spirited stallions. But they are all foreign to our confines; they are the curiosities, and we never get to know them as we do our poilu, with whom they have little in common.
But in order to get a proper conception of the poilu we must first inquire into two points that are inseparably associated in our minds with him --- pinard and briquets.
Pinard is probably the most important item in the poilu's existence. Without it he can do nothing. And there is a saying in the French Army, "Pas de pinard --- pas de soldat" --- which is literally true. It is his substitute for drinking-water, and he uses it as such with meals and between them, when he rises or goes to bed, and before initiating any consequential action he prepares the way with a "coup de pinard." It is his solace, his comfort, and his necessity --- all in the same bottle. And its purchasing power in the way of a bribe is incredible. If the United States had desired to lend an immediate and telling aid at the outstart, she could not have done better than to furnish the price of a double ration of pinard for the poilus. It would have shortened the war several months.
There are favored beings in the Army who deal exclusively in pinard. It is brought up by train to the centres of ravitaillement, and here these fortunates have charge of distributing it to the various services. It is done in the following manner. The cask is turned on its side and a hose inserted at the bung. Then some happy volunteer applies his mouth to the nozzle and creates violent suction resulting in a syphon. And often the miscreant neglects to withdraw his lips in time to avoid the purple onrush, much to the discontent of a throng of envious attachés who are ever in attendance --either to see there is fair play or in the hopes of sharing in the residue.
Thus the pinard is doled out in proper proportion and it is taken by wagon or truck to the close proximity of the front, whence, transferred to bidon carriers, it finds its way into dugout and shelter --- the very life-blood of the trenches, restoring, reviving, and building up new hope and energy for the conflict. In this way is the battle-line nourished and kept vigorous and vital. Pinard has been responsible for most of the great victories of the war, and when the end shall come and freedom is established transcendent in the world, it will be to pinard, as it were, that it owes its security. On such homely institutions do the destinies of mankind hang!
But if pinard is the poilu's sustenance, briquets are his employment and support. His salary of five sous per day is not sufficiently princely to keep him in the luxury to which he becomes hardened. As a consequence he resorts to the manufacture of briquets in the many hours of idleness that fall to the lot of every poilu.
The briquet is not as formidable an article as it sounds in French. It is merely an ingeniously devised gasoline cigar-lighter, generally made from empty cartridges, and decorated with buttons or bellicose stamped designs or ladies in the nude. It consists of a container for essence filled with cotton, a flint and steel in pinwheel arrangement, and a wick to catch the spark. Its principal virtues are that it is easily lost, that it gets out of order quickly, and that it is almost indispensable to life at the front. The poilu spends a world of labor in the construction of briquets and a power of time in peddling them. When he is not thus occupied, he is out getting in a supply of essence from the automobilists that he meets. The price of a briquet varies according to the poilu's estimate of the buyer's generosity, and this with Americans is generally exorbitant. For there is a widespread impression throughout the whole of shop-keeping and peddling France that Americans are très riches --- an impression gathered from the behavior of pre-war tourists, which the improvident squandering of the American soldiers has done nothing to dispel.
Just lately there have been many factory-made briquets put on the market, justly regarded by the poilus as inferior imitations --- more unreliable, if anything, than the original. They mostly take the form of the fuse briquet, whose most dependable function is to ignite the pocket, when not properly extinguished after using. So when you observe a comrade unsuspectingly walking along with smouldering nether garments, you are sure of seeing him suddenly come to life and start frantically clawing a yard or so of orange cord from his pocket.
But any sort of briquet is more or less of a frost unless you employ a couple of mechanics to keep it in operation. The main thing is that it affords the poilus a technically legal livelihood. To be sure, they deal to some extent in hand-carved walking-sticks, in decorated brass vases made from shell-cases, and in other knickknacks. And after an attack they grow dizzily affluent upon the proceeds from Boche helmets, iron crosses, automatics, field-glasses, and such-like loot that they collect. But all the while the briquet, undisturbed, maintains its superiority as a medium of trading and will retain it to the end.
The poilu expends his hard-earned wealth at the coopérative, a canteen which trails each division at a respectful distance. It is usually out of candles, tobacco, matches, cigarettes, eggs, wine, jam, and chocolate. It is run by morbid poilus who make no profits on their wares and are therefore not interested in making sales. They take wicked delight in telling you they're out of anything. In fact the motto of the coopérative is, "Il n'y en a plus --- demain --- peut-être." On the other hand, there are some very complete cooperatives where you can always buy good wines and champagne. Prices are always reasonable, and they sell impartially, alike to officers and men, and even to Americans.
But to get back to the poilu himself. Because you have heard him talk, don't think that you know him. It will take you months of careful observation, and even then you will probably never fathom his endless capabilities.
He is a most disappointing, nay, even fraudulent pessimist. Though he likes to preserve his attitude of discouragement, he is easily thrown into the highest pitch of esprit and will fling himself into an attack with an élan that is not known to other troops --- either in language or performance. Despite what the soldiers of other nations may (and constantly do) tell you of their own excellence, and despite what the poilu will tell you in his own disfavor, there is n't any question---he's the finest soldier in the war. Actually he knows it, no matter how convincingly he may dwell upon his own deficiencies.
The fact is that he knows not self-consciousness nor affectation. This is a quality of the race. Though he loves to descant on his hardships and experiences, it is not for his personal glory that he tells them. He does n't care what you think of him --- you take him as he is, for he does n't "put on." Notwithstanding his whole-souled delight in medals and decorations, and, at appropriate times, in spectacular military formalities; still, at bottom, he estimates all these things at their actual value --which is to say, practically nothing.
His secret is just this: he takes nothing too seriously, least of all himself. This is a characteristic of the French that seems wholly absent in Americans, who must needs be in dead earnest even about such a ridiculous business as making moving-picture comedies, or intensely absorbed in so shallow a pastime as baseball. We do not object to being foolish, but why be so infernally earnest about it? But the French are not so shallow as to be solemnly illusioned.
In truth, a well-seasoned poilu is about the wisest and least credulous being the world has yet produced. Put a man under imminent peril of death for an indefinite period, subject him to a life of restraint and petty distresses, and in addition kill his two brothers, wound him a couple of times, and call out his father into service; then have his family turned out of their home, and, as the least of his troubles, have his wife prove faithless in his absence; let him endure all this, add a number of minor chagrins, and you will not expect to greet an idealist when he comes to talk with you. This accounts for the great number of realists among poilus. For the poilu is faced by an array of rather uncompromising facts, and the broader, more pastoral aspects of the war, such as we might examine, say, from the notebooks of an historian, are apt to escape his notice. He sees more tangible issues than the advent of universal peace or the welfare of democracy. And phraseology, no matter bow oratorically admirable, is likely to make little impression upon him.
Then all the more marvellous are his tenacity and fortitude. Taken in groups the poilus are always good-natured and overflowing with pleasantries. And never do we pass a column of footsore poilus going into line that some one of them, recognizing us as Americans, does not call out, "Yes! " "Oh, very good!" or, on the blackest of nights, "Good-day." This is enjoyed by all, for to the poilu English is the most humorous of tongues.
The poilu possesses refinements of character that seem impossible to one of his class, and which, indeed, are wanting in the corresponding classes of another country. He is almost invariably polite, not in a superficial or obsequious manner, but with genuine disinterest, because it is a part of his nature. There is no extent to which he will not go to minister to your comfort. He will deprive himself to assist you. And in speaking to you or to other poilus, he is pleasant and considerate, and there are a hundred niceties of deportment that are natural with him that put our American thoughtlessness to shame.
"Pardon, Thank you, If you please," and, "Do not trouble yourself," instinctively rise to his lips at the proper moment, and again, I repeat, he is neither effeminate nor affected in his conduct. Whether you are entering a room or he is offering you a drink of something, it is you that precede, although in the latter case he pours just a drop in his own cup first that he may get the bits of cork if there be any.
He would not think of starting either business or conversation without first bonjour-ing and shaking hands, nor of taking leave without au-revoir-ing and doing the same. His hand-shake, be it admitted, is not the hearty grip we're used to, since, owing to the frequency of the operation, it has become a lifeless manipulation, in order, no doubt, to preserve the cuticle of the palm. It is estimated that in the course of a normal day a given poilu will have shaken hands something over two thousand times; that is, when he is not in the trenches, where I'm told he is obliged to cut down the average to discharge charge his duties assigned. Here, according to regulation, if you care to believe it, he must confine his manual intercourse to the members of his own company, but should any one else happen along, it is certain that the poilu could not be prevented from performing the fitting formality.
The poilu's most captivating as well as his most admirable quality is his independence, his initiative, his individualism. It is at once the cause of his virtues and his failings, the latter, without saying, a feeble minority.
The poilu, unlike the ordinary flock of mortals, demands to know why. He refuses to be herded, nor will he be put off with ambiguous phrases. If he does n't understand, or if he does n't agree, no power is strong enough to enforce his coöperation. He will get around it somehow. On the contrary, once he has received satisfactory enlightenment, he can be trusted to carry on to the last ditch. But he will do it in his own way.
The poilu, exact antithesis of the Boche, does not fit into a machine. He will not be bound by petty restrictions, and will not perform the unnecessary for the mere sake of obedience. It is often a source of wonder that, in spite of an obvious lack of system, the poilu gets things done so well and thoroughly --- as he always does. The reason is this: he knows what must be done and he puts his soul into it. Whether he uses the best or even the easiest method is of no importance --- he gets it done. What matters is that he has done it the way he wanted to.
Every poilu has his own ideas (he does not parrot what's been told him) and is fond of defending them. He is always a partisan in the smallest matters, and is quick to take sides. Thus, you never hear a dogmatic statement made among poilus that somebody does not respond, "Mais non, mon vieux," and proceed to set the speaker aright. All poilus present immediately become actively interested in the dispute, and the environment resounds with a competitive chorus of "Mais non's" and "Mais si's" until the question is finally settled --- by every one retaining his original views. It is not a combative or antagonistic spirit that prompts such debates so much as a pure love of argument. For the poilu is blest with that rarest of qualities --- toleration. He is as ready to recognize the merits of others as he is to perceive their shortcomings; and even toward the Boche he preserves an attitude of indulgent amusement rather than of violent hatred. Every one has been misinformed of the French excitability, and every one should be disabused of the idea. In matters of moment there is no one more calm and unconcerned than the poilu. He goes into battle munching a piece of bread or humming a tune. There is nothing ostentatious in his bravery either, for he fights with his intellect and with an intuition that none but he possesses. He does n't take chances unless he has to, and he knows when he has to and takes them superbly. No, it is the insignificant that excites him.
It is owing to his weakness for argument that French lack of organization is so exaggerated. When nothing very important is at stake, at least three times the number of poilus required are always found occupied with any particular job, be it the skinning of a dead horse or the righting of an overturned pinard wagon. There will be perhaps four active participants and a dozen or so onlookers. Of these the spectators, who are omnipresent at even the most trivial operations near the front, are by no means the least disconcerting. Their comments are always pungent and to the point; but they are always eager, too, with their irrelevant suggestions and their assistance. No task is ever completed by the method with which it is begun. The most roundabout is adopted and gives way to less complicated processes, until, after a dozen or more amateur directors have tried out their theories, they hit upon the most simple, and lo, it is performed.
Take the case of the overturned pinard wagon. The four poilus assigned to the job stand for some moments in rueful contemplation of the catastrophe. They remark on the untoward event each in his own style, with many "Bon Dieu's" and probably a few witticisms on the subject of a possible diminution of the daily pinard ration. Next they take up and discuss the cause of the accident, and when this has been settled to their liking, they will likely argue the advisability of tapping the barrel for a bit of refreshment. But by this time too large an audience has gathered to admit of such irregularity and they wisely defer it to a more opportune moment.
In the meantime each has formulated a scheme of procedure. The first sets out to procure blocks and levers from the woods; the second bethinks himself of a rope; the third of a horse; while the fourth sets about repairing an imaginary leak in the neighborhood of the bung, with no particular purpose, except the hope, who knows? that he may start a real one.
During the interim the spectators indulge in a lively discussion. One faction claims, under the leadership of a small, wizened territorial, that the barrel is so firmly lodged in the ditch that nothing short of a steam derrick can remove it; but an unusually burly poilu, with an accent of the Midi, maintains that he himself with the aid of two others could set the vehicle upright, and repeats, as a conclusive proof of his ability, that there are no steam derricks to be had. The talk then degenerates into personal remarks as to the length and angle of moustaches, and by way of retaliation the recounting of similar incidents in which the boastful one had failed.
"Peut-être c'est gelé," suggests another; but this only incites an argument as to whether or not it is cold enough to freeze pinard in November. Examination shows that this pinard is not frozen, and the unfortunate who is responsible for the theory is laughed to scorn, even though he protests that it would have been frozen in Savoy. "In Savoy, oui, but not ici," is the verdict and the subject is dropped.
Besides, the original entrepreneurs have now returned, and have begun, each irrespective of the others, the prosecution of the separate plans. One secures his rope to the wheel and the other endeavors to block up the barrel with logs that he has brought for the purpose. The third is devoting his entire energies to the horse, who is balking. He flies at the animal with an outburst of rapid-fire profanity, accompanied by vigorous jerks of the bridle. The horse, quite habituated to this treatment, merely sets himself more firmly, and waggles his head in defiance. The poilu then resorts to other tactics, and with a fresh set of expletives to aid him, he starts punching the beast in the ribs, and after a period of blinking and rolling of the eyes the quadruped realizes his disadvantage, and signifies his willingness to proceed by submissive snortings.
By this time all eyes are again on the wagon. The rope gives way under the strain; the blocks prove ineffective; and the horse is even more superfluous. After a consultation, it devolves upon the fourth poilu, who has been practically a noncombatant, up to this point. He propounds the idea of lifting it out by hand, and with the help of the burly poilu from the Midi and another volunteer, the wagon is easily rolled from the ditch.
Just at this moment the driver of the vehicle appears as claimant to the horse, which had been taken without his knowledge while he was looking for help in a neighboring buvette. General good-nature succeeds. And the upshot of it is that the barrel is tapped and a portion of pinard is served out all around.
This closes the incident, but the extraordinary part of it is that had the case been an urgent one, any one of these poilus would have accomplished it in half the time.
Yes, the poilu, irresponsible, kindly, human individualist that he is, comes pretty near to being the only ideal that this war of misdirected energy has brought to our knowledge. We who have associated with him, and witnessed with equal wonder his endurance in adversity and his esprit in success, have come to look upon him with a certain reverence. And we have come to love him. But call him a "Frog" or sneer at his supremacy, and you are our enemies thenceforth.
Poilu, à la votre --- may the pinard crop never diminish!
*Of Los Angeles, California; Leland Stanford, '17; joined the Field Service in June, 1917; served with Section Seventy, and subsequently in the U.S. Army Ambulance Service; author with R. A. Donaldson of En Repos and Elsewhere.
1. EDITOR'S FOOTNOTE: --- In reading this sketch one should bear in mind that it was written toward the end of the War, and that it depicts for the most part the old reservists, who had been called out to take the places of the younger French soldiers, over a million of whom were already "under the soil," and more than another million of whom had been withdrawn from the active army on account of wounds.
Literature of the Field Service: Poems
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