SECTION ONE left Paris for Dunkirk on January 20, 1915. The latter part of March it was moved to Malo-les-Bains. From there it went on April 6 to Wormhoudt, to be ordered back later to Dunkirk. On April 22 it went to Woesten near Ypres: Later half the Section went to Elverdinghe.
In June ten ambulances were at Dunkirk and the remainder of the Section was transferred to Coxyde, Belgium, the postes being situated at Nieuport and Nieuport-Bains. On July 20 the entire Section was sent to Crombeke in Flanders.
On December 22 of the same year the Section moved near Beauvais, en repos. In January, 1916, it moved to Jaulzy, in February to Cortieux, and then to Méricourt-sur-Somme. From here it was suddenly ordered, on June 22, 1916, to Bar-le-Duc, behind the Verdun front, going from there to Dugny, where it arrived June 28. On July 13 it went en repos at Tannois, Givry-en-Argonne, Triaucourt, and Vaubécourt, all in the Argonne region. On the 15th of August it moved to Château Billemont. On September 11 it spent three days en repos at Triaucourt, and then moved to La Grange-aux-Bois, between the Argonne and Verdun sectors.
On January 19, 1917, the Section again went to Triaucourt en repos, following which it moved to Ippécourt. January 25 found it at Dombasle-en-Argonne, and the 14th of March at Vadelaincourt in the Verdun sector, en repos. On April 17 it moved to Muizon, ten kilometres west of Reims, and on June 21 to Louvois. It spent a repos, beginning July 23, at Évres. August saw it at Houdainville and later at the Caserne Béveaux. On September 14 it moved to a peaceful little village in the Jeanne d'Arc country, where it ended its career as a part of the Field Service, becoming thereafter Section Six Twenty-Five of the U.S. Army Ambulance Service, with the French Army.
'The Ambulance Sections', History of the American Field Service in France, "Friends of France" 1914-1917, Told by Its Members, Volume I (Boston and New York: Houghton and Mifflin Company, 1920)
Mon corps à la terre,
Mon âme à Dieu,
Mon coeur à la France
DUNKIRK AND YPRES
In June, 1915, it was the pride of the Section in Flanders, Section One, to feel that it had come closer to war than any other formation of the American Ambulance. In June, 1916, when these lines were written, the point of pride was to know that those first intense experiences had long since been duplicated and eclipsed.
In Dunkirk we witnessed, and within our powers tried to cope with, what yet remains, I believe, one of the most sensational artillery exploits in history. It is remembered that the little cars of the Americans often ran those empty streets, and pursued those deafening detonations, alone. At our base, Dunkirk, we shared the life of a town under sporadic, but devastating, bombardment; forward, in Elverdinghe, we shared the life of a town under perpetual, and also, devastating, bombardment; still farther forward, in Ypres, we beheld a town bombarded from the face of the earth in a single night. There we shared no life, nor yet, in Nieuport, for there was none to share. In the salient around Ypres we played for many days our small part in that vast and various activity forever going on at the back of the front. There we saw and learned things not easily to be forgotten; the diverse noises of shells going and coming, of arrivées and départs; the stupendous uproar of the "duel" before the charge, which makes the deepening quiet of a run back come like a balm and a blessing; the strange informality of roadside batteries, booming away in the sight of peasant families and every passer; the silence and the stillness, and the tenseness and the business, of night along the lines; the extreme difficulty of hiding from shrapnel successfully without a dugout; the equal difficulty of driving successfully down a shell-bitten road in darkness like ink; the glow against the sky of a burning town, and the bright steady dots of starlight around half the horizon; the constant straggle of the evicted by the field ambulance's front door, and the fast-growing cemetery at the back door; the whine and patter of bullets by the postes de secours and the businesslike ripple of the machine guns; the whir of Taubes, the practical impossibility of hitting them from the ground, and the funny little bombs sometimes dropped by the same; the noises made by men gone mad with pain; the glorious quiet of men under the acetylene lamps of the operating-table; "crowd psychology," and why a regiment becomes a "fighting machine," and how tender hearts are indurated with a toughening of the skin; the high prevalence of courage among the sons of men; drawbacks of sleeping on a stretcher in an ambulance; the unkemptness of Boche prisoners; life, death, and war, and the values and meanings thereof.
Such things, as I know, passed into the experience of Section One, in Flanders. And these things, and more, have similarly passed into the experience of scores of young Americans since, in their life and service behind the lines of France.
It is the composite experience which the following pages narrate; it is the composite service which the mind holds to with most satisfaction. We were the Service Sanitaire Américaine; a proud title, and we wished, naturally, to invest it with the realest meaning. That the American service was rendered efficiently and even valuably, this History as a whole attests, I think. That it was rendered with the requisite indifference to personal risk is also, I hope, supported by the record. A transient in the service, who by no means bore the burden and heat of the day, may be permitted, I trust, to say these necessary, or at least these interesting and pertinent things with complete detachment.
I remember the hour of Section One's "baptism of fire." We stood in the lee (or what we hoped was the lee) of the Petit Château at Elverdinghe, while German shells whistled over our heads and burst with a wicked crash about the little church, the typical target, a couple of hundred yards away. (What interest we felt when a fragment of shell, smoking hot, fell almost at our feet, and what envy of the man who gathered in this first memorable "souvenir"!) We were just down from Dunkirk; we were greener than the grass that blew; and that the novel proceedings were acutely interesting to us all will never be denied. Perhaps each of us secretly wondered to himself if he was going to be afraid; certainly all of us must have wished, with some anxiousness, that those strange whistles and roars would turn themselves another way. And still, when the young Englishman who ran the ambulance service there appeared at that moment and asked for two cars to go down the road to Brielen (which was to go straight toward the trouble), it is pleasant to remember that there was no lack of volunteers, and two of my companions were cranking up at once. There was never any time later, I am sure, when the sense of personal danger was so vivid in the minds of so many of us together.
BAD QUARTERS OF AN HOUR
Every ambulance-driver must have his bad quarters of an hour, no doubt --- and some of the worst of them may concern not himself at all, but his car or his wounded. And if it is said that these young Americans, amateurs and volunteers, have acquitted themselves well in sometimes trying circumstances, there is no intention to overemphasize this aspect of their service. A volume might be written on the developmental reactions --- all but mathematical in their working --- of war-time. Nor does it seem necessary to add that the risk of the ambulanciers, at the worst, is small in comparison with that of those whom they serve and from whom in turn they get their inspiration, --- the intrepid youths in the trenches.
We came to know these youths very well --- the gallant and charming poilus who have so long carried the Western Front upon their shoulders. We sincerely admired them; and on them largely we formed our opinions of France, and of the war generally, and of war.
From the standpoint of observation, indeed, --- and doubtless it is observation one should try to record here, --- I believe we all felt the peculiar advantage of our position to have been this, that we mingled with the soldiers on something like equal terms. We were not officers; we were not distinguished visitors dashing up in a staff car for an hour of sight-seeing. We were rankers (so far as we were anything), and we were permanent; and in the necessities of our work, we touched the life of the common fighting man at every hour of the day and night, and under almost every conceivable circumstance. We were with the poilus in the hour of rout and disaster; we were with them in the flush of a victorious charge brilliantly executed. We crawled along roads blocked for miles with them, moving forward; we wormed into railroad stations swamped with the tide of their wounded. Now we heard their boyish fun, and shared their jokes in the fine free days off duty; and now we heard from the unseen well of the jolting car, their faint entreaty, "Doucement! Doucement!" We saw them distressed by the loss of their precious sacs, or elated by the gift of a button or a cheese; we saw them again in silence and the darkness beside the Yser, very quiet and busy, with the ping and whine of many rifles; and again we found them lying on straw in dim-lit stables, bloody and silent, but not defeated. Now they gave us tobacco and souvenirs, and told us of their gosses, and helped us tinker with our cars, about which some of them, mechanicians in happier days, knew so much more than we did; and now they died in our ambulances, and sometimes went mad. We saw them gay, and we saw them gassed; we found them idling or writing letters on the running-boards of our cars, and we found the dark stains of their fading lives upon our stretchers; we passed them stealing up like stalwart ghosts to action, and we left them lying in long brown rows beside the old roads of Flanders.
THE DOMINANT NOTE OF THE POILU
And to me at least it seemed that the dominant note and characteristic quality of the poilu, and all his intense activity, was just a disciplined matter-of-factness, a calm, fine, business-like efficiency, an utter absence of all heroics. Of his heroism, it is superfluous to speak now. My observation convinced me indeed, that fortitude is everywhere more common and, evident, not less, than even rhapsodical writers have represented. There seems literally no limit to the powers of endurance of the human animal, once he is put to it. Many writers have written of the awful groanings of the wounded. I must say that, though I have seen thousands of wounded, the groans I have heard could almost be counted upon the fingers of my hand. Only once in my experience do I remember seeing any signs of excitement or disorder. That was in the roads around Poperinghe, in the first threatening hours of the second battle of Ypres. Once only did I get any impression of human terror. And that was only a reminiscence, left behind by women and children in the tumbled empty houses of Ypres. But in all the heroism, unlimited and omnipresent, there is observed, as I say, little or no heroics. That entire absence of drum and fife, which strikes and arrests all beholders at the front, is significant and symbolic. These men muster and move forward to the risk of death almost as other men take the subway and go downtown to business. There are no fanfares at all, no grand gestures, no flourishes about the soul and "la gloire."
It is true, no doubt, that the ambulance-driver views the scene from a somewhat specialized angle. His principal association is with the sequelae of war; his view is too much the hospital view. Yet, it must be insisted, he becomes quickly and strangely callous on these points; and on the whole would be less likely to overstress the mere horrors than some one who had not seen so much of them. On the other hand, as I have suggested, he has extraordinary opportunities for viewing war as a thing at once of many parts and of a marvellously organized unity.
A FATEFUL DAY AT POPERINGHE
Personally I think that my sharpest impression of war as a whole came to me, not along the postes de secours or under the guns at all, but at the station place, in the once obscure little town of Poperinghe, on April 23, 1915.
That, it will be remembered, was a fateful day. At five o'clock in the afternoon before (everybody was perfectly specific about the hour), there had begun the great movement now known as the Second Battle of Ypres (or of the Yser). The assault had begun with the terrifying surprise of poison-gas; the gas was followed by artillery attacks of a ferocity hitherto unequalled; Ypres had been wiped out in a few hours; the Germans had crossed the Yser. Thus the French and English lines, which were joined, had been abruptly pushed back over a long front. That these were anxious hours for the Allies, Sir John French's report of June 15, 1915, indicates very plainly, I think. But they were far from being idle hours. To-day the whole back country, which for weeks had swarmed with soldiers, was up. For miles around, Allied reserves had been called up from camp or billet; and now they were rushing forward to stiffen the wavering lines and stem the threatening thrust for the coast.
At three o'clock on this afternoon, I stood in the rue d'Ypres, before the railway station in Poperinghe, and watched the new army of England go up. Thousands and thousands, foot and horse, supply and artillery, gun, caisson, wagon, and lorry, the English were going up. All afternoon long, in an unending stream, they tramped and rolled up the Flemish highroad, and wheeling just before me, dipped and disappeared down a side street toward "out there." Beautifully equipped and physically attractive ---the useless cavalry especially!--- sun-tanned and confident, all ready, I am sure, to die without a whimper, they were a most likely and impressive-looking lot. And I suppose that they could have had little more idea of what they were going into than you and I have of the geography of the nether regions.
This was on my left --- the English going up. And on my right, the two streams actually touching and mingling, the English were coming back. They did not come as they went, however. They came on their backs, very still and remote; and all that you were likely to see of them now was their muddy boots at the ambulance flap.
Service Sanitaire as we were, I think Section One never saw, before or since, such a conglomeration of wounded as we saw that day at Poperinghe. Here was the railhead and the base; here for the moment were the Red Cross and Royal Army Medical Corps units shelled out of Ypres; here was the nervous centre of all that swarming and sweating back-of-the-front. And here, hour after hour, into and through the night, the slow-moving wagons, English, French, and American, rolling on one another's heels, brought back the bloody harvest.
The English, so returning to Poperinghe gare, were very well cared for. By the station wicket a large squad of English stretcher-bearers, directed, I believe, by a colonel of the line, was unceasingly and expertly busy. Behind. the wicket lay the waiting English train, steam up for Boulogne, enormously long and perfectly sumptuous; a, super-train, a hospital Pullman, all swinging white beds and shining nickel. The French, alas, were less lucky that day. Doubtless the unimagined flood of wounded had swamped the generally excellent service; for the moment, at least, there was not only no super-train for the French, there was no train. As for the bunks of the station warehouses, the hôpital d'évacuation, they were, of course, long since exhausted. Thus it was that wounded tirailleurs and Zouaves and black men from Africa set down from ambulances, staggered unattended up the station platform, sat and lay anyhow about the concrete and the sand --- no flesh-wounded hoppers these, but hard-punished men, not a few of them struck, it was only too manifest, in the seat of their lives. This was a bloody disarray which I never saw elsewhere, and hope never to see again. Here, indeed, there was moaning to be heard, with the hard gasp and hopeless coughing of the asphyxiés. And still, behind this heavy ambulance, rolled another and another and another.
On my left was the cannon fodder going up; on my right was the cannon fodder coming back. The whole mechanics of war at a stroke, you might have said; these two streams being really one, these men the same men, only at slightly different stages of their experience. But there was still another detail in the picture we saw that day, more human than the organized machine, perhaps, and it seemed even more pathetic.
THE FLOTSAM OF WAR
Behind me as I stood and watched the mingling stream of soldiers, the little square was black with réfugiés. Farther back, in the station yard, a second long train stood steaming beside the hospital train, a train for the homeless and the waifs of war. And presently the gate opened, and these crowds, old men and women and children, pushed through to embark on their unknown voyage.
These were persons who but yesterday possessed a local habitation and a name, a background, old ties and associations, community organization, a life. Abruptly severed from all this, violently hacked off at the roots, they were to-day floating units in a nameless class, droves of a ticket and number, réfugiés. I walked up the platform beside their crowded train. A little group still lingered outside --- a boy, a weazened old man, and three or four black-clad women, simple peasants, with their household goods in a tablecloth --- waiting there, it may be, for the sight of a familiar face, missed since last night. I asked the women where they came from. They said from Boesinghe, which the Germans had all but entered the night before. Their homes, then, were in Boesinghe? Oh, no; their homes, their real homes, were in a little village some twenty kilometres back. And then they fixed themselves permanently in my memory by saying, quite simply, that they had been driven from their homes by the coming of the Germans in October, 1914; and they had then come to settle with relatives in Boesinghe, which had seemed safe --- until last night. Twice expelled and severed at the roots --- where were they going now? I asked the question, and one of the women made a little gesture with her arms, and answered stoically, "To France," which was, as I consider, the brave way of saying, God knows. As the case seemed sad to me, I tried to say something to that effect; and, getting no answer to my commonplaces, I glanced up, and all the women's eyes had suddenly filled with tears.
And outside the English were still going up with a fine tramp and rumble, nice young clerks from Manchester and greengrocers' assistants from Tottenham Court Road.
I have never forgotten that the very last soldier I carried in my ambulance (on June 23, 1915) was one whose throat, while he slept, had been quietly cut by a flying sliver of a shell thrown from a gun twenty-two miles away. But it will not do, I am aware, to over-emphasize the purely mechanical side of modern war, the deadly impersonality which often seems to characterize it, the terrible meaninglessness of its deaths at times. Ours, as I have said, was too much the hospital view. That the personal equation survives everywhere, and the personal dedication, it is quite superfluous to say. Individual exaltation, fear and the victory over fear, conscious consecration to an idea and ideal, all the subtle promptings and stark behavior by which the common man chooses and avows that there are ways of dying which transcend all life, --- this, we know, must have been the experience of hundreds of thousands of the young soldiers of France. And all this, beyond doubt, will one day be duly recorded, in tales to stir the blood and set the heart afire.
HENRY SYDNOR HARRISON*
*The novelist; Columbia, '00; a member of the Field Service from March to July, 1915.
THE YEAR IN FLANDERS
Old Section One had at least one distinguishing characteristic. It was the first section of substantial proportions to be geographically separated from the American Ambulance at Neuilly and turned over to the French Army. Until it left for the front, American automobiles had worked either to and from Neuilly Hospital, as an evacuating base, or, if temporarily detached for service elsewhere, they had gone out in small units.
The Section's story began in the cold, wet days of early January, 1915, when twenty men with twelve cars left Paris for the north. En route we spent our first night in the shadow of the Beauvais cathedral, passing the following day through many towns filled with French troops, and then, as we crossed into the British sector, traversed villages abounding with the khaki-clad soldiers of England and her colonies and the turbaned troops of British India. The second night we stayed at Saint-Omer, the men sleeping in their cars in the centre of the town square; and the third morning, passing out of the British sector once more into the French lines, we arrived in Dunkirk where our work began.
We were at once assigned to duty. Every school, barrack and other large building --- even the public theatre --- in the town, or in the neighboring towns within ten miles of Dunkirk, seemed to have been turned into a hospital. The cars were parked in the railroad yard near the station where a big freight shed was fitted up as receiving-post. The drivers on active duty were quartered in a small lean-to in the station yard, which lean-to was furnished with straw-covered bunks, a table, and a stove. It was the principal loafing-place for the young Americans, and being an ill-smelling place, soon acquired the name of "Monkey House." The men secured their meals in a nearby cafe, remembered chiefly for its dirty, dingy interior.
The blessés arriving at Dunkirk by hospital trains from Belgian villages, a few miles away, were unloaded in this freight-shed and then carried to the twenty-five or more hospitals in the city and in the towns roundabout.
Our first incident of an exciting nature came on the second day. We were nearly all at the station, quietly waiting for the next train, when high up in the air there appeared first one, then three, and finally seven graceful aeroplanes. We watched, fascinated, and were the more so when a moment later we learned that they were Taubes. It seemed hard to realize that we were to witness one of the famous raids that have made Dunkirk even more famous than the raider Jean Bart himself had ever done. Explosions were heard on all sides and the sky was soon spotted with puffs of white smoke from the shells fired at the intruders. The rattle of the mitrailleuses and the bang of the "75's" became a background of sound for the more solemn boom of the shells. A few moments later there was a bang not thirty yards away and we were showered with bits of stone. We stood spellbound until the danger was over and then foolishly jumped behind our cars for protection.
WHEN BOMBING WAS YOUNG
This incident of our early days was soon thrown into unimportance by other raids, each more interesting than the last. One of them stands out in memory above all the rest. It occurred on a perfect moonlight night, quite cloudless. Four of my companions and I were on night duty in the railway yard; about eleven the excitement started; and to say that it commenced with a bang is not slang but the truth. Rather it commenced with many bangs. The sight was superb and the excitement intense. One could hear the whirr of the motors, and when they presented a certain angle to the moon, the machines showed up like enormous silver flies. One had a delicious feeling of danger, and to stand there and hear the roar of the artillery, the buzzing of the aeroplanes, the swish of the bombs as they fell and the crash as they exploded made an unforgettable experience. One could plainly hear the bombs during their flight, for each had a propeller attached which prevented its too rapid descent, thus insuring its not entering so far into the ground as to explode harmlessly. To hear them coming and to wonder if it would be your turn to be hit next was an experience new to us all. The bombardment continued for perhaps an hour and then our work began. I was sent down to the quay and brought back two wounded men and one who had been killed, and all my companions had about the same experience. One took a man from a half-demolished house; another, an old woman who had been killed in her bed; and still another three men, badly mutilated, who had been peacefully walking along the street. An hour later all was quiet --- except perhaps the nerves of some of our men.
About this time our work was enlivened by the appearance of the one and only real ambulance war dog, the official mascot of the squad, and my personal dog at that! I was very jealous on that point and rarely let him ride on another machine. I got him at Zuydcoote. I found him playing about, and as he appeared to be a stray and was very friendly, I allowed him to get on the seat and stay there. But I had to answer so many questions about him that it became a bore, and finally I prepared a speech to suit all occasions; so when any one approached me and took up the dog question, I used to say, "Non, Madame, il n'est pas américain, il est français. Je l'ai trouvé ici dans le Nord." One day a rosy-cheeked young lady came up and called the dog "Dickie"; whereupon I started my speech: "Il ne s'appelle pas Dickie, Mademoiselle, mais Khaki, et, vous savez, il est français." "Je le sais bien, Monsieur, parce qu'il est à moi."I felt sorry and chagrined, but not for long, as a moment later the lady presented him to me.
THE DRIVE FOR CALAIS
We will skip over the humdrum life of the next weeks to a night in April when we were suddenly ordered to the station at about 1 A.M. It was, I think, April 22. "The Germans have crossed the Yser" was the news that sent a thrill through all of us. Would they this time reach Calais or would they be pushed back? We had no time to linger and wonder. All night long we worked unloading the trains that followed each other without pause. The Germans had used a new and infernal method of warfare; they had released a cloud of poisonous gas which, with a favorable wind, had drifted down and completely enveloped the Allied trenches. The tales of this first gas attack were varied and fantastic, but all agreed on the surprise and horror of it. Trains rolled in filled with huddled figures, some dying, some more lightly touched, but even these coughed so that they were unable to speak coherently. All told the same story, of having become suddenly aware of a strange odor, and then of smothering and choking and falling like flies. In the midst of all this had come a hail of shrapnel. The men were broken as I have never seen men broken. In the months of our work we had become so accustomed to dreadful sights and to suffering as to be little affected by them. The sides and floors of our cars had often been bathed in blood and our ears had not infrequently been stirred by the groans of men in agony, but these sufferers from the new form of attack awakened in all of us feelings of pity beyond any that we had ever felt before. To see these big men bent double, convulsed and choking was heart-breaking and hate-inspiring.
At ten o'clock we were ordered to Poperinghe, about twenty miles from Dunkirk and three miles from Ypres, where a great battle was just getting under way. The town was filled with refugees from Ypres, which was in flames and uninhabitable. Through Poperinghe and beyond it we slowly wound our way in the midst of a solid stream of motor trucks filled with dust-covered soldiers coming up to take their heroic part in stemming the German tide. We were to make our headquarters for the time at Elverdinghe; but as we approached our destination the road was being shelled and we put on our best speed to get through the danger zone. This destination turned out to be a small château in Elverdinghe, where a first-aid hospital had been established, and where, all around us, batteries of French and English guns were thundering their aid to the men in the trenches some two miles away. In front of us and beside us were the famous "75's," and "120's," and farther back the great English marine guns, whose big shells we could hear every few seconds passing over us.
Before we reached the château, an automobile had just been put out of commission by a shell; so we had to change our route and go up another road. The château presented a terrible scene. In every room straw and beds and stretchers, with mangled men everywhere. We started to work and for twenty-six hours there was scarcely time for pause. Our labor consisted in going down to the postes de secours, situated in the Flemish farmhouses, perhaps four hundred or five hundred yards from the trenches, where the wounded get their first-aid attention, and then in carrying the men back to the dressing stations where their wounds were more carefully attended to, and finally in taking them farther to the rear to the hospitals outside of shell range. The roads were bad and we had to pass a constant line of convoys. At night no lights were allowed and we had to be especially careful not to jolt our passengers. But the best of drivers cannot help bumping on the pavements of Belgium, and when, during an hour or more, each cobble brings forth a groan from the poor fellows inside, it is hard to bear, especially as they are often out of their heads, when they call for their mothers, order the charge or to cease firing, see visions of beautiful fields or of cool water, and sometimes die before the trip is over.
The following morning we decided to stay in Elverdinghe and try to get a little sleep; but no sooner had we turned in than we were awakened by the order to get out of the château at once, as we were under fire. While I was putting on my shoes, the window fell in and part of the ceiling came down. Then we were instructed to evacuate the place of all its wounded and we were kept busy for hours getting them to a place of safety. In the meantime shells were falling all about us. One great tree in front of me was cut completely off and an auto near it was riddled with the fragments. For two weeks this battle lasted, and we watched our little village gradually disintegrating under the German shells. Our cars were many times more or less under heavy artillery and rifle fire and few of them escaped without shrapnel holes.
To most of the postes we could go only after dark, as they were in sight of the German lines. Once we did go during the day to a poste along the banks of the Yser Canal; but it was too dangerous and the General ordered such trips stopped. These few trips were splendid, however, for to see the men in the trenches and hear the screech of the shells at the very front was thrilling indeed. At times a rifle bullet would find its way over the bank and flatten itself against a near-by farmhouse. One was safer at night, of course, but the roads were so full of marmite holes and fallen trees that they were hard to drive along. We could find our way only by carefully avoiding the dark spots on the road. There was not a man among us, however, who did not feet a hundred times repaid for the danger and anxiety he had gone through when he realized the delay and suffering he had saved the wounded. Had we not been there with our little cars, the wounded would have been brought back on handstretchers or in wagons far less comfortable and much slower.
The advantage of our little cars over the bigger and heavier ambulances was demonstrated many times. On narrow roads, with a ditch on each side, choked with troops, ammunition wagons, and vehicles of all sorts moving in both directions, horses sometimes rearing in terror at exploding shells, at night in the pitch dark, except for the weird light from the illuminating rockets, the little cars would squeeze through somehow. If sometimes a wheel or two would fall into a shell hole, four or five willing soldiers were enough to lift the car out and send it on its way undamaged. If a serious collision occurred, two hours' work sufficed to repair it. Always "on the job, " always efficient, the little car, the subject of a thousand jokes, gained the admiration of every one.
THE GREAT COMBARDEMENT OF DUNKRIK
Finally the second battle of the Yser was over, and the front settled down again to the comparative quiet of trench warfare. Meanwhile some of us were beginning to feel the strain and were ordered back to Dunkirk for a rest, which we reached in time to witness one of the most exciting episodes of the war. It was just at this time that the Germans "sprang" another surprise, --- the bombardment of Dunkirk from guns more than twenty miles away. Shells that would obliterate a whole house or make a hole in the ground thirty feet across would fall and explode without even a warning whistle such as ordinary shells make when approaching. At about 9.30 in the morning we were in the-railway station working on our cars when, out of a clear, beautiful sky, the first shell fell. We thought it was from an aeroplane, as Dunkirk seemed far from the range of other guns. The dog seemed to know better, for he jumped off the seat of my car and came whining under me. A few minutes later came a second and then a third shell. Still not knowing from where they came, we got out our machines and went to where the clouds of smoke gave evidence that they had fallen. I had supposed that by this time I had become something of a veteran; but when I went into the first dismantled house and saw what it looked like inside, the street seemed to me by far a safer place, for the building was one mass of torn timbers, earth and débris. Even people in the cellar had been wounded.
We worked all that day, moving from place to place in the town, sometimes almost smothered by dust and plaster from the explosion of shells in our vicinity. We cruised slowly around the streets waiting for the shells to come and then went to see if any one had been hit. Sometimes when houses were demolished, we found every one safe in the cellars, but there were many hurt, of course, and quite a number of killed. The first day I carried three dead and ten terribly wounded soldiers, civilians, and women too. In one of the earliest bombardments a shell fell in the midst of a funeral, destroying almost every vestige of the hearse and body and all of the mourners. Another day one of them hit a group of children at play in front of the billet where at one time we lodged, and one never knew how many children had been killed, so complete was their annihilation.
For a time every one believed the shells had been fired from marine guns at sea, but later it was found that they came from heavy land guns, twenty or more miles away; and as these bombardments were repeated in succeeding weeks, measures were taken to safeguard the public from them. Although the shells weighed nearly a ton, their passage through the air took almost a minute and a half, and their arrival in later days was announced by telephone from the French trenches as soon as the explosion on their departure had been heard. At Dunkirk a siren was blown on the summit of a central tower, giving people at least a minute in which to seek shelter in their cellars before the shell arrived. Whenever we heard the siren, our duty was to run into the city and search for the injured, and during the succeeding weeks many severely wounded were carried in our ambulances, including women and children, so frequently the victims of German methods of warfare. The American Ambulance cars were the only cars on duty during these different bombardments and the leader of the Section was awarded the Croix de Guerre for the services which they performed.
In the summer a quieter period set in. Sunny weather made life agreeable and in their greater leisure our men were able to enjoy sea-bathing and walks along the sand dunes. We kept up a regular ambulance service in Dunkirk and the surrounding towns, but part of the Section was moved to Coxyde, a small village in the midst of the dunes near the sea, between the ruined city of Nieuport and La Panne, the residence of the Belgian King and Queen, where we worked for seven weeks, among the Zouaves and the Fusiliers Marins, famous the world over as the "heroes of the Yser."
Then once more we were moved to the district farther south known as Old Flanders, where our headquarters were in a Flemish farm adjacent to the town of Crombeke. The landscape thereabout is flat as a billiard-table, only a slight rise now and again breaking the view. Our work consisted in bringing back wounded from the vicinity of the Yser Canal, which then marked the line of the enemy trenches; but owing to the flatness of the country we had to work chiefly at night. Canals dotted with slow-moving barges were everywhere,. and as our work was often a cross-country affair, looking for bridges added to the length of our runs. Here we stayed from August to the middle of December, 1915, during which we did the ambulance work for the entire French front between the English and the Belgian sectors.
WINTER --- AND A MOVE
Just as another winter was setting in and we were once more beginning to get hordes of cases of frozen feet, we were ordered to move again, this time to another sector. The day before we left, Colonel Morier visited the Section and, in the name of the Army, thanked the men in glowing terms, not only for the work which they had done, but for the way in which they had done it. He recalled the great days of the second battle of the Yser and the Dunkirk bombardments and our part therein; how he had always felt sure that he could depend upon our men and how they had always been ready for any service however arduous or dull or dangerous it might be. He expressed officially and personally his regret at our departure. We left on a day that was typical and reminiscent of hundreds of other days we had spent in Flanders. It was raining when our convoy began to stretch itself out along the road and it drizzled all that day.
JOSHUA G. B. CAMPBELL*
*Of New York; member of Section One from January, 1915, to December, 1916; subsequently first lieutenant in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
NOTES FROM A DIARY
Dunkirk, May 16, 1915
We started out in four Fords from Paris yesterday and arrived here at about 4 P.M. The journey was one of the most beautiful I have ever taken. The sky was blue, with puffy white clouds, the rolling country a bright green dotted with red and white houses. The villages we passed through were almost deserted except for a few women and children. Once we came across a lot of men working in a field; but they were digging trenches, not ploughing. The children would shout "Vivent les Anglais!" as we passed, and once an old woman tossed me a bunch of lilacs.
Malo-les-Bains, May 20
We are billeted, twenty of us, in a tiny villa here, just outside the city and right on the beach. We draw rations from the French Army and a red-haired Flemish girl cooks them for us. Work is rather slack just now. Occasionally a train full of wounded comes in and we take them. out to the hospitals in the vicinity. Some German blessés arrived yesterday, all that were left of four companies. Poor devils! How melancholy they looked. An officer among them, though shot through the shoulder, was still full of nerve and kept his head up; but the others were too miserable.
There is another squad of us at Poperinghe, near the firing line, and I shall be sent there soon.
Saturday, May 22
I was "chow orderly" day before yesterday and spent all day setting or clearing the table and flirting with the cook.
Sunday, May 23
They say that the gun is broken down and that is why it does not shoot at us any more. But I doubt it. Took two couchés from Hondschoote to Zuydcoote, really a pleasant trip, for the weather, road, and scenery were beautiful. I gave a lift to a bicyclist who had been billeted near the English. It is noticeably more difficult to understand or talk to French soldiers who have had intercourse with the Tommies because these men have acquired the habit of saying only a few words in a sentence in the hope of making the meaning clear. I don't know whether the Tommies can understand such men, but I am sure I cannot. A motor truck I saw the other day was mottled in greens, reds, blues, grays, and browns, so that it looked at a distance like a mass of foliage --- camouflage, I suppose.
Monday, May 24
I am beginning to think that for once news unfavorable to the Germans is true and the big gun is broken. A red, white, and green flag flew from the town hall to-day, for Italy has entered the war. In the morning, at Malo Terminus, I had a hot and bitter dispute with a Turco officer because I insisted that the Ford could not carry eight. They say, though no one seems to know for certain, that an aeroplane dropped a bomb here last night. To-morrow I leave for Poperinghe.
Poperinghe, Tuesday, May 25
Started for this place at 10.30 and arrived about 12.30. A warm, dusty road. Roads partly good and partly vile. Most all of the Belgian roads are pavés, very much worn from heavy motor convoys and are thick with dust, too, which in wet weather turns to deep mud. Our billet, which I had some trouble in finding, is an old Flemish farmhouse. The rooms are low-studded and have beamed ceilings. The cooking is done over an open fire. All this is picturesque, but most of the men prefer to sleep in their cars rather than in the house. Day and night one hears continual cannonading.
Thursday, May 27
Very raw and windy. Sky overcast. I regret that I considered overcoats too expensive in Paris. I think I will make one out of a blanket. We went up to Woesten about 7.30 P.M. I closed up my ambulance as tightly as possible and lighted a lantern to keep warm, with fair success. An Algerian miner gave us some coffee. About midnight some wounded came in and in the shadowed moonlight I took two to West Vleteren.
VETERANS OF MONS
Sunday, May 30
I awoke this morning from a rather chilled sleep to see a long file of khakied soldiers coming up to our farm. They were the 2d Durham Regulars, being sent to the, upper end of the British sector after a few days' rest. Some of them had been fighting since September, with no furlough. This is the type of soldier that has built the empire --- tough, coarse, rather stupid, well-drilled, and with beautifully kept rifles. They did not look bloodthirsty and most of them were married. But they had become used to killing people and being killed, as a trade, and their point of view seemed rather strange when the enemy was concerned. However, we became very good friends. They were all lamenting the fact that most of their officers had been transferred to the newer regiments and they had been given amateurs. One of their lieutenants seemed no more than sixteen or seventeen. Several of the men confirmed the report in the papers of the Prussians deliberately firing upon the Saxons when the latter tried to surrender. There is no great love between them. They say that frequently the Saxons would shout over to them to save their ammunition for the Prussians and there would occasionally be an exchange of tobacco and canned stuff between the trenches. The French, on the other hand, hate the Saxons. It's a strange war.
Monday, May 31
The Durhams left about 5 o'clock. One poor fellow who was on sentry duty last night, found our wine barrel too attractive and had to be taken away under guard. The next time there is a dangerous but unimportant job to be done he will be given it and will probably get shot. After they had gone, I found and appropriated a raincoat which one of them had left. They also left some bully beef and biscuits which were confiscated by the ambulance. In the evening we saw a Zeppelin flying over the Belgian lines. It was fired at but not hit. Another was seen at Dunkirk about the same time --probably both bound for London.
Tuesday, June 1
I woke from a deep sleep about noon, to find the farm once more full of soldiers --- this time the Buffs. They did not, however, swarm all over it as the Durhams did. They lay down in a neat column in the shelter of the hedge and stayed there. But one or two non-coms came over to talk to us and make us some very welcome presents of Bovril and marmalade. One told us of finding in the field a wounded German he had known in London, who begged to be put out of pain. But the Britisher refused to do this, and the poor fellow died a few minutes later on an English stretcher.
Wednesday, June 2
The Buffs left in the afternoon. They were not so sociable as the Durhams, but neater and better drilled.
Friday, June 4
The irrepressible Budd seeing an old gentleman squinting at an aeroplane through a very long telescope, suddenly cried: "Ne tirez pas, c'est un français!" The old man was very indignant.
Saturday, June 5
I was "chow" to-day. Except that one has to get up early, the job is a "cinch." The loaf was welcome. About 6.15 there was a very heavy call and I deserted my duties and took five assis to Zuydcoote.
Monday, June 7
Warm, hazy day. The scarlet poppies are suddenly cut and the fields are gay with them. At midnight, one trip to Rosendaël. As I was about to leave, the pleasant old janitor ran into the garden and came back with a little bunch of white wild carnations growing there in the starlight. At 5.30 in the morning there was a false alarm for all the cars to go to Zuydcoote. Stebbins and Ferguson answered it; but we found there were only six blessés to be carried.
Poperinghe, June 11
There is a pretty little light-haired girl here about fourteen years old, who can run like a deer, even in sabots. She runs races with Johnson and Budd and beats them! She does most of our work, and is very pleasant and intelligent and understands a little English as well as French and Flemish. I think she is a little higher class than the rest, and is, of course, a refugee.
Saturday, June 12
In the morning Haney got a trip to Ypres. He reports that there is not a single undamaged house in the city.
Sunday, June 13,
In the afternoon, just after lunch, two joy-riding doctors strolled over to the billet and asked for some one to take them to Nieuport and Ypres. I took them. The doctors were very much afraid of being seen by some one from the hospital, so they hid inside the car until we were out of Poperinghe. We went through. Saint-Sixte, Oostvleteren Furnes, to Coxyde, one of our new postes; and then up the coast to Nieuport. The vicinity of the Yser was flooded. As we came near the city, the road and fields were frequently dotted with marmite holes. Occasionally wretched farmhouses would also be seen, and when we reached. the city itself we found it a ruin. There is scarcely a block that does not contain several ruined houses, and in the middle of the town every building is wrecked. Sometimes only the front door and the windows of a house are broken in; sometimes a corner or a side is taken off, giving a sort of diagrammatic view of all the floors; sometimes nothing is left but a pile of plaster and bricks. Leaving the city we drove along the east bank of a canal to Ypres, which was even more of a ruin than Nieuport. It seems as if not a house were untouched. We entered a rather small church --- Saint Pierre, I think, was its name. We moved cautiously for the roof had been blown in. The two doctors proceeded to help themselves to the carvings over some confessional booths, while I rummaged around with the best of them and found a pewter collection plate, an old Dutch prayer-book and some little waxen images. The whole proceeding seemed to me a trifle unscrupulous. But after all we were only robbing the next looter and the value of the pilfered articles was almost purely intrinsic. We got back to Poperinghe about half-past six. The doctors were much alarmed because they were seen by two of the men from the hospital out walking in the town. They made me drive up a back road and sneaked home on foot.
COXYDE --- THE DUNES OF THE BELGIAN COAST
Coxyde, Tuesday, June 15
This morning about 10, twelve of us started for this place where we arrived in perfect convoy without accident. Like Malo, it is on the shore; many dunes and much wind-driven sand. We are billeted in a hay-loft, from which we have removed the hay, and we eat at a house near by. The place is full of marines, territorials and zouaves --- a cheerful bunch. We have all the poste de secours work around Nieuport --- shifts --- also one car at Oost-Dunkerke. Our meals are excellent. The two chief outs about the place are that it is obtrusively sandy and is infested with dirty, prying children, who shout the ugliest Flemish in shrill harsh French voices --- an ineffable nuisance.
Friday, June 18
Went down to Adinkerke about 8.30, where I met two young Belgian chauffeurs one of whom spoke English. They were very cordial and pleasant. A lot of Belgian soldiers were there and I had my first opportunity to see them near to. One is struck by their youthfulness, as compared with the French and English, due partly to their being blond and clean-shaven. Some of the cavalry have a most brilliant uniform; the breeches are magenta with a yellow stripe. I must get a pair. The Belgians are all very grateful to America, but are afraid that if we go into the war, their countrymen under German rule will starve.
TRACY JACKSON PUTNAM*
*Of Boston; Harvard, '15; was in the Field Service from April, 1915, to January, 1916, serving in Sections One and Three.
IN ACTION --- THE AISNE
As you come along the Compiègne-Soissons road, proceeding in the direction of Soissons, about midway between the two cities you sight a small cluster of gray stone buildings. It is the village of Jaulzy. Here it was we had cast anchor. Before reaching the village you will have noticed a dark round spot in the walls. As you approach, this resolves itself into an arch. Passing through you will find yourself in a muddy stable-yard. I say "muddy" advisedly, for I firmly believe that whatever the season or whatever the weather conditions are, or may have been, you will find that courtyard muddy. Whether the mud is fed from perennial springs or gathers its moisture from the ambient atmosphere, I do not know. The fact remains, that courtyard was, is, and always will be, muddy. Facing the arch on the farther side of the yard, stands a single-storied building of one room. Its inside dimensions are, perhaps, fifty by twenty-five feet. Access is had by a single door and three windows admit a dim light. We found it simply furnished with a wire-bottomed trough, raised about three and a half feet above the floor and extending about double that from the walls on three sides of the room. This left free floor space enough to accommodate a table of planks stretched across essence boxes, flanked on either side by two benches belonging to the same school of design. Such was our cantonment. In the trough twenty of us slept, side by side. At the table we messed, wrote, mended tires, played chess, or lanced boils. Two of the windows lacked glass, so there was plenty of cold air; a condition which a small stove did its inefficient best to combat. The galley was established in a tiny hut on the left of the yard and from here the food was transported to the mess by the two unfortunates who happened to be on "chow" duty. Since the courtyard was not sufficiently large to accommodate all the cars, half were placed in another yard about two hundred metres down the road, where also was established the atelier. At night a sentry was posted on the road between these two points and "le mot" was a condition precedent to passing, a circumstance which sometimes gave rise to embarrassment when the password was forgotten.
The village of Jaulzy is made up of some two-score forbidding-looking houses. It is situated on the south bank of the Aisne and is bisected by the road from Compiègne to Soissons. At this time, February, 1916, it was, as the shell travels, about four kilometres from the line. Though thus within easy reach of the enemy's field artillery, it showed no signs of having been bombarded, and during our entire stay only five or six shells were thrown in. This immunity was probably due to the insignificant size of the place and the fact that no troops were ever quartered there. Back of the village proper, on the top of a steep hill, was Haut Jaulzy, or Upper Jaulzy. Here a large percentage of the houses was partially demolished --- from shell-fire, one of the few remaining inhabitants informed me. Halfway up the hill, between Upper and Lower Jaulzy, stands an ancient stone church. A line of reserve trenches, crossing the hill, traverses the churchyard. Here are buried a number of soldiers, "mort pour la patrie." Above one grave is a wooden cross upon which appears the inscription: "To an unknown English soldier; he died for his father's land." And this grave is even better kept and provided with flowers than the others.
PIERREFONDS --- "VEAL CUTLETS"
The region roundabout Jaulzy is surely among the most beautiful in all France. Hills, plateaus, and wooded valleys, through which flow small, clear streams, all combine to lend it natural charm, a charm of which even winter cannot rob it. Numerous villages are everywhere scattered about, and while those near the front had a war-worn aspect, in proportion to their distance from the line their freshness and attractiveness increased. Railhead for this sector was Pierrefonds, a pleasant town overshadowed by the fairylike castle from which it takes its name. It was at Pierrefonds we obtained our supply of essence and huile. Off to the southwest, in a magnificent forest bearing the same name, is the quaint little city of Villers-Cotterets ---by the Squad rechristened "Veal Cutlets." It was here Dumas was born and lived. The city owed its chief interest to us, however, to the fact that here was located one of the field hospitals to which we transported wounded. Some twenty kilometres to the west of Jaulzy is the old city of Compiègne, reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson, and here too were located evacuation hospitals. Its curious town hall, its venerable houses, and dark, mysterious shops are interesting, but our most lasting memories of the city will be of its silent, windswept streets through which we carried our wounded on those dark, icy nights.
The day began at 6.30 A.M. when the detested alarm clock went into action, supplemented by shouts of "everybody out" and sleepy groans of protest. A quick shift from flea-bag to knickers and tunic, and a promissory toilet was accomplished by 7, by which time, also, the two orderlies for the day had set the table with coffee, bread, and jam. This disposed of, the cars were cranked --- and a bone-wrenching job this usually was, the motors being so stiff from the cold it was next to impossible to "turn them over." There was a Squad rule for "lights out" at 9.30 P.M., but as there were always some individuals who wished to write or play chess or read after this hour, excellent target practice was nightly furnished to those who had retired in the trough and who objected to the continued illumination. Thus I have seen a well-directed boot wipe out an intricate chess match as completely as did the German guns the forts of Liège. The "gunner" in these fusillades always endeavored to see that the ammunition employed --- usually boots --- was the property of some one else and the joy which a "direct hit" engendered was apt to suffer abatement on discovery that they were your boots which had been employed.
EVACUATION --- VIC-SUR-AISNE AND COMPIÈGNE
The schedule under which the Squad operated while on the Aisne was a varied one, and yet so systematized that a driver could tell a fortnight in advance, by the list of sailings posted on the order board, where he should be and what his duties at any given day or hour. There were three regular-route runs, to each of which were assigned two cars a day. These were known as "evacuation runs" from the fact that the blessés were picked up at regularly established field dressing-stations, from two and a half to fifteen kilometres back of the line, and transported to an "evacuation hospital," either at Villers-Cotterets, Compiègne, or Pierrefonds. The longer of these routes was made twice each day, a run of about forty kilometres.
About two kilometres to the east of Jaulzy, on the north side of the river, is the village of Vic-sur-Aisne, at this time not much above a kilometre back of the line. Here was established our picket post and here we maintained always three cars, serving in twenty-four-hour shifts. From this station we served nine frontal postes de secours, or line dressing-stations, some of which were within five hundred metres of the German line. Such were the postes of Hautebraye and Vingre. The crossing of the Aisne to reach Vic is made by a single-spanned iron bridge, over which passed all the transport for this portion of the line. Because of the importance thus given it, the bridge was a continual object of the enemy's fire, being within easy range. The village itself, considering the fact that it was within sight of the Germans and had been under more or less continuous fire for months, was not so complete a wreck as might be imagined. This was due to the fact that the buildings were of stone and the shelling was usually done with small-calibre guns. To obstruct the enemy's view and prevent his spotting passing traffic, the roads leading from the village were screened with brush and poles. These served their purpose in winter when the roads were muddy, but when the roads dried, the rising dust betrayed the passing of the transport and then the enemy was able to shell with a greater degree of accuracy. Our station at Vic was located in the carriage-house of a château which stood on an eminence overlooking the river, about a quarter of a mile to the east of the village. When on duty there, we messed with some sous-officiers in the cellar of the chateau, the place being fairly safe from shell éclats though not from a direct hit.
Besides the three route runs described and the Vic service, the Squad was subject to special calls at any time of the day or night from any part of our sector or the surrounding country. This service was known as "bureau duty," from the fact that the cars assigned to it were stationed at our office or bureau, which was in telephonic communication with the line and region about. Twice a week one of the cars on bureau service was despatched to Compiègne on "chow" foraging, an assignment much coveted, since it meant a chance for a hot bath and a good feed.
Under this schedule a driver had one day in every seven for repos. This was more in theory than actuality, however, as the seventh day usually found work needed on his car.
We had reached Jaulzy on the 27th of January. On the first day of February we took over the sector from the retiring French Ambulance Section, and that day went into action. Heretofore we had watched the passing panorama of war; now we were of it. My first voyage was an evacuation route and hence wholly back of the line. I went in company with another car, and as there were only four assis which the other car took, I had no passengers. Coming back from Cœuvres, the road leads across a plateau which overlooks the Aisne Valley, and the country behind the German lines was plainly visible. It was from this plateau road that for the first time I saw shells bursting. The French batteries in the valley below were in action and over there in Boche-land white puffs of smoke showed where the shells were breaking.
Though I had several times been very close to the line, it was not until February was nine days old that I received my baptism of fire. On that day I was on twenty-four-hour duty at Vic and my journal written just after I came off duty, will, perhaps, give an idea of a typical shift at this station:
NOTES OF A CALL
"Jaulzy, February 10. Relieved the other cars at Vic promptly at eight o'clock yesterday morning. The French batteries were already in action, but there was no response from the enemy till about ten; when a number of shells whistled by overhead, dropping into the village of Roches, about a half mile down the road. Toward noon the range was shortened, and as we went to mess in the dugout an obus struck the wall back of the château, a hundred yards away. After lunch I went out with a soldier to look for the fusée, as the bronze shell-head is called. To my surprise, the man suddenly dropped flat on his face. Then I heard an awful screech, followed by a crash, as though a pile of lumber were falling, and a cloud of dust rose in a field, perhaps ninety metres away. Almost immediately two more crashed in. I am unable to analyze or describe my sensations and I question whether a trained psychologist would be much better off. There is something "disturbing" about shell-fire which is not conducive to abstract or analytical thought. I do not believe I was especially frightened; my feelings were more of curiosity. I knew this shelling would soon mean work for us, so I got back to my car and saw that everything was ready for 'marching.' Meanwhile a shell had dropped just back of the château, getting one of the stretcher-bearers. Joe carried him to the dressing-station at Roches where he died a little later. My first call came at two o'clock, from Roches. Here I got three men, just wounded by shell éclats, evacuating them to the field hospital at Attichy. Got back to Vic about four. Found the village still under fire, both our own and the enemy's fire having, if anything, increased. Both of the other cars were out, which meant I was due for the next call. Got into my sleeping-bag to try to get warm, but was hardly settled before a Médecin Major came in announcing a call for Vingre. In five minutes we were on our way. After leaving Vic the road was a sea of mud. An enemy observation balloon had the way in full view, so the word was vite.
"Through deserted, shell-shattered villages we ploughed, the mud spraying us from tires to top and filling our eyes, over the wind-break. It was nearing dusk as we reached the poste, a dugout in the side of a hill. Just above us, on the crest was the line and we could hear distinctly the popping of hand-grenades between the battery salvos. Our men, one shot through the leg, the other hit in the chest, were brought in from a boyau and we started back, this time going more slowly. It was a desolate scene through which we passed, made more desolate by the fading light of a gray day. The miry, deserted road, the stricken villages, the overgrown fields it seemed the very stamping-ground of death and the voice of that death passed overhead in whining shrieks. There was little of life to dispute its reign. Now and then, at the nozzle of a dugout, there appeared a soldier's head, but that was all, and, for the rest, there might not have been a soul within a thousand miles.
"One of my blessés required an immediate operation, so I passed on through Vic and headed for Compiègne, reaching there about seven o'clock and evacuating to St. Luke's Hospital. At once started back to my station. Found the cook had saved me some dinner, and after stowing this crawled into my flea-bag. The blankets were barely around me when a brancardier came in with a call for the poste at Hautebraye. The moon gave a little light, but not enough to drive fast with safety, so we drove fast and let safety look out for itself, our motto being not "safety first," but "save first." We found our man ready, shot through the body, raving with delirium, his hands bound together to prevent him tearing his wound. Though a part of our way was exposed to the enemy's machine-gun-fire, the road was too pitted with shell-holes to permit of fast driving with so badly wounded a man and so we crept back to Vic. The order was again to Compiègne. It was close to midnight when, numbed with cold, we rolled through the silent streets of the town. On my return trip I twice found myself nodding over the wheel. Nevertheless, we made the thirty-two kilometres in less than an hour. Found Vic quiet, the shelling having ceased, and save for an occasional trench-flare, little to indicate it was the front. At one o'clock I turned in on the stone floor, this time to rest undisturbed till morning.
"Roused out at 6.30 to greet a gray winter day and falling snow. The batteries on both sides were already in action and the put-put-put of machine guns came to us through the crisp air. The relief cars rolled in at eight and we at once cranked up and set out for quarters. As we crossed the Aisne, the Germans were shelling the bridge, with '150's,' I think. They had the exact range, as regards distance, but the shells were falling about a hundred yards to one side, throwing up great geysers of water as they struck the river. On reaching the other side I stopped, and watched them come in., They came four to the minute. Reached quarters here, Jaulzy, at 8.30 --- completing the twenty-four-hour shift."
So it was I had my baptism of fire. Perhaps I was not frightened by those first shells; curiosity may have supplanted other sensations, but. as time went on, and I saw the awful destructive power of shell-fire, when I had seen buildings levelled and men torn to bloody shreds, the realization of their terribleness became mine, and with it came a terror of that horrible soul-melting shriek. And now after a year and a half of war, during which I have been scores of times under fire and have lived for weeks at a time in a daily bombarded city, I am no more reconciled to shell-fire than at first. If anything, the sensation is worse, and personally I do not believe there is such a thing as becoming "used" to it.
THE SENSATION OF NIGHT DRIVING
It was early in February that I got my first experience at night driving without lights. To you gentlemen who have shot rapids, great game, and billiards, who have crossed the Painted Desert and the "line," who have punched cows in Arizona and heads in Mile End Road, who have killed moose in New Brunswick and time in Monte Carlo, who have tramped and skied and trekked, to you who have tried these and still crave a sensation, let me recommend night driving without lights over unfamiliar shell-pitted roads, cluttered with traffic, within easy range of the enemy, challenged every now and then by a sentry who has a loaded gun and no compunction in using it. Your car, which in daylight never seems very powerful, has now become a very juggernaut of force. At the slightest increase of gas it fairly jumps off the road. Throttle down as you may, the speed seems terrific. You find yourself with your head thrust over the wheel, your eyes staring ahead with an intensity which makes them ache --- staring ahead into nothing. Now and then the blackness seems, if possible, to become more dense, and you throw out your clutch and on your brake and come to a dead stop, climbing out to find your radiator touching an overturned caisson. Or mayhap a timely gun-flash or the flare of a trench light will show that you are headed off the road and straight for a tree. A little farther on, the way leads up a hill --- the pulling of the engine is the only thing that tells you this --- and then, just as you top the rise, a star-bomb lights the scene with a dense white glare and the brancardier by your side rasps out, " Vite, pour l'amour de Dieu, vite! ils peuvent nous voir!"--and you drop down the other side of that hill like the fall of a gun-hammer. Then, in a narrow, mud-gutted lane in front of a dugout, you back and fill and finally turn; your bloody load is eased in and you creep back the way you have come, save that now every bump and jolt seems to tear your flesh as you think of those poor, stricken chaps in behind. Yes, there is something of tenseness in lightless night driving under such conditions. Try it, gentlemen.
On the afternoon and night of February 12, there was an attack on the line near Vingre, preceded by drum-fire. As such things go, it was but a small affair. It would perhaps have a line in the communiqué, as, "North of the Aisne the enemy attempted a coup upon a salient of our line, but we repulsed him with loss." That and nothing more. But to those who were there it was very real. The big guns spat their exchange of hate; rifle-fire crackled along the line; the machine guns sewed the air with wicked staccato sounds, and men, with set jaws and bayonets, charged to death through barbed entanglements. As night closed down, the flare-bombs spread their fitful glare on mutilated things which that morning had been living men: now set in the bloody back-wash of wounded. With the coming of the night, the enemy lengthened the range of his artillery, so as to harass the transport, and the zone back of the line was seared with shells. The field dressing-station at Roches, near Vic, suffered greatly, and it soon became apparent that its evacuation was necessary.
I had already been on duty fourteen hours when the call reached quarters for the entire Squad. My journal for the 13th reads: "I'm too tired for much writing as I've had but two hours' sleep in the last forty, during which I have driven close to three hundred kilometres, been three times under fire, and had but two hot meals. The entire Squad was turned out just after I got into the blankets, last night. Roches was being bombarded, and it was necessary to take out all the wounded. There were a number of new shell-holes in the road and this made interesting driving. It was 1.30 when I reached Compiègne, 3 when I had completed my evacuation, and 4.15 this morning when I reached quarters. Up at 6.30 and working on my 'bus. This afternoon made route 3. Tonight I am bien fatigué. Firing light to-day, possibly because of sleet and rain. The attack was evidently repulsed."
The Squad did good work that night. Afterwards we were commended by the Colonel in command. It was in this attack that "Bill" won his Croix de Guerre when à un endroit particulièrement exposé, au moment où les obus tombaient avec violence, a arrêté sa voiture pour prendre des blesses qu'il a aidé avec courage et sang-froid." A week later he was decorated, our muddy little courtyard being the setting for the ceremony.
In celebration of his decoration, "Bill" determined to give a "burst." There would seem to be few places less adapted to the serving of a banquet or less capable of offering material than poor little war-torn Jaulzy. Nevertheless, at six o'clock on the evening of February 27, the Squad sat down to a repast that would have done credit to any hotel. "Bill" had enlisted the services of a Paris caterer, and not only was the food itself perfection, but it was served in a style that, after our accustomed tin cup, tin plate service, positively embarrassed us. Our dingy quarters were decorated and made light by carbide lamps; a snowy cloth covered our plank table; stacks of china dishes --- not tin --- appeared at each place; there were chairs to sit upon. Even flowers were not forgotten, and "Bill," being a Yale man, had seen to it that beside the plates of the other Yale men in the Squad were placed bunches of violets. The artist of the Section designed a menu card, but we were too busy crashing into the food to pay any attention to the menu. For a month past we had been living mostly on boiled beef and Army bread, and the way the Squad now eased into regular food was an eye-opener to dietitians. Hors d'oeuvres, fish, ham, roasts, vegetables, salads, sweets, wines, and smokes disappeared like art in a Hun raid. Twenty men may have gotten through a greater quantity and variety of food in three hours and lived, but it is not on record. And through it all the guns snarled and roared unheeded, and the flarebombs shed their fitful glare. Verity, in after years, when men shall foregather and the talk flows in Epicurean channels, if one there be present who was at " Bill's burst," surely his speech shall prevail.
February, which had come in with mild weather, lost its temper as it advanced; the days became increasingly cold and snow fell. The nights were cruel for driving. One night I remember especially. I had responded to a call just back of the line where I got my blessé, a poor chap shot through the lung. It was snowing, the flakes driving down with a vicious force that stung the eyes and brought tears. In spite of the snow it was very black, and to show a light meant to draw fire. We crept along, for fear of running into a ditch or colliding with traffic. At kilometre 8 my engine began to miss. I got out and changed plugs, but this did not help much and we limped along. The opiate given the blessé had begun to wear off, and his groans sounded above the whistling of the wind. Once in the darkness I lost the road, going several kilometres out of my way before I realized the error. The engine was getting weaker every minute, but by this time I was out of gun range and able to use a lantern. With the aid of the light, I was able to make some repairs, though my hands were so benumbed I could scarcely hold the tools. The car now "marched" better and I started ahead. Several times a "qui vive?" came out of the darkness, to which I ejaculated a startled "France." The snow-veiled clock in Villers-Cotterets showed the hour was half after midnight when we made our way up the choked streets. But "the load" had come through safely.
Uncomfortable as these runs were --- and every member of, the Squad made them not once, but many times --- they were what lent fascination to the work. They made us feel that it was worth while and, however small the way, we were helping.
It was about this time that the Service was militarized and incorporated into the Automobile Corps of the French Army. Thereafter, we were classed as "Militaires " and wore on our tunics the red-winged symbol of the Automobile Corps. We were now subject to all the rules and regulations governing regularly enlisted men, with one exception --- the duration of our enlistments. We were permitted to enlist for six months' periods with optional three months' extensions, and were not compelled to serve "for duration." As incident to the militarization, we received five sous a day per man --- the pay of the French poilu --- and in addition were entitled to "touch" certain articles, such as shelter tents, sabots, tobacco, etc. We had already been furnished with steel helmets and gas-masks. We were also granted the military franchise for our mail.
While at Jaulzy, the personnel of the Squad changed considerably. The terms of several men having expired, they left, their places being taken by new recruits. Thus "Hippo," "Bob," "Brooke," and "Magnum" joined us. Nor must I forget to mention another important addition to our number --the puppy mascot "Vic." He was given to us by a tirailleur, who being on the march could not take care of him, and one of the fellows brought him back to quarters in his pocket, a tiny soft, white ball who instantly wriggled himself into the Squad's affections.
When we got him, he could scarcely toddle and was never quite certain where his legs would carry him. Yet even then the button, which he fondly believed a tail, stuck belligerently upright, like a shattered mast from which had been shot the flag. For he, being a child of war, had fear of nothing, no, not gun-fire itself, and as he grew older we took him with us on our runs and he was often under shell-fire. He was always at home, in château or dugout, always sure of himself, and could tell one of our khaki uniforms a mile away, picking us out of a mob of blue-clad soldiers. Such was "Vic," the Squad mascot.
On the evening of March 3, orders came in to be prepared to move, and the following afternoon, in a clinging, wet snow, we left Jaulzy and proceeded to the village of Courtieux, some three kilometres distant. The village is in the general direction of Vic-sur-Aisne, but back from the main road. For months successive bodies of troops had been quartered here and we found it a squalid, cheerless hole, fetlock deep in mud. Our billet was a small, windowless house, squatting in the mud and through which the wind swept the snow. There was also a shed, with bush sides and roof wherein our mess was established.
Why we had been ordered from Jaulzy to this place but three kilometres away, it would be impossible to say. We were maintaining the same schedule and Courtieux was certainly not so convenient a place from which to operate. We cogitated much on the matter, but reached no conclusion. It was just one of the mysteries of war. The three days succeeding our arrival were uncomfortable ones. The weather continued bad with low temperature. When we were off duty there was nowhere to go, save to bed, and there were no beds. What Courtieux lacked in other things it made up in mud, and our cars were constantly mired. --- As a relief from the monotony of the village, three of us, being off duty one afternoon, made a peregrination to the front-line trenches, passing through miles of winding, connecting boyaux until we lost all sense of direction. We really had no right to go up to the line, but we met with no opposition, all the soldiers we met greeting us with friendly camaraderie and officers responding to our salutes with a bonjour. We found the front line disappointingly quiet. There was little or, no small-arm firing going on, though both sides were carrying on a desultory shelling. Through a sand bagged loophole we could see a low mud escarpment about ninety metres away --- the enemy's line. It was not an exciting view, the chief interest being lent by the fact that in taking it you were likely to have your eye shot out. All things considered, the excursion was a rather tame affair, though we who had made it did our best to play it up to the rest of the Squad upon our return.
We remained at Courtieux but three days, and then, at nine o'clock on the morning of the 4th, assembled in convoy at Jaulzy. It was one of the coldest mornings of the winter; the trees were masses of ice and the snow creaked beneath the tires, while our feet, hands, and ears suffered severely. As usual, we had no idea of our destination. That our Division had been temporarily withdrawn from the line and that we were to be attached to another Division, was the extent of our information. By the time the convoy had reached Compiègne we were all rather well numbed. When the C.O. halted in the town, he had failed to note a pâtisserie was in the vicinity, and the motors had hardly been shut off before the Squad en masse stormed the place, consuming gâteaux and stuffing more gâteaux into its collective pockets. Meanwhile, outside, the "Lieut" blew his starting whistle in vain.
MONTDIDIER --- MOREUIL
Shortly before noon we made the city of Montdidier, where we lunched in the hotel and waited for the laggard cars to come up. About three we again got away, passing through a beautiful rolling country, and as darkness was falling parked our cars in the town of Moreuil. It was too late to find a decent billet for the night. A dirty, rat-infested warehouse was all that offered, and after looking this over, most of us decided, in spite of the cold, to sleep in our cars. Our mess was established in the back room of the town's principal café, and the fresh bread, which we obtained from a near-by bakery, made a welcome addition to Army fare. Moreuil proved to be a dull little town, at that time some twenty-five kilometres back of the line. Aside from an aviation field there was little of interest.
On the third day of our stay we were reviewed and inspected by the ranking officer of the sector. He did not appear very enthusiastic, and expressed his doubt as to our ability to perform the work for which we were destined, an aspersion which greatly vexed us. Our vindication came two months later when, having tested us in action, he gave us unstinted praise and spoke of us in the highest terms.
After the review, the C.O. announced that we had received orders to move and would leave the following day for a station on the Somme. He refused to confirm the rumor that our destination was "Moscow."
It was 10-50 on a snowy, murky morning --- Friday, March 10 --- that our convoy came to a stop in the village of Méricourt, destined to be our Headquarters for some months to come. There was little of cheer in the prospect. One street --- the road by which we had entered --- two abortive side streets --- these lined with one- or two-storied peasants' cottages, and everywhere, inches deep, a sticky, clinging mud: such was Méricourt. This entry from my journal fairly expresses our feelings at the time: "In peace times this village must be depressive; now with added grimness of war it is dolorous. A sea of mud, shattered homes, a cesspool in its centre, rats everywhere. This is Méricourt: merry hell would be more expressive and accurate."
Our first impression was not greatly heightened by viewing the quarters assigned to us, and we felt with Joe that "they meant very little in our young lives." Two one-and-a-half-storied peasants' cottages,. with débris-littered floor and leaking roof, these rheumatic structures forming one side of a sort of courtyard and commanding a splendid view of a large, well-filled cesspool, constituted our cantonment. It would have taken a Jersey real-estate agent to find good points in the prospect. The optimist who remarked that at least there were no flies was cowed into silence by the rejoinder that the same could be said of the North Pole. However, we set to work, cleaned and disinfected, constructed a stone causeway across "the campus," and by late afternoon had, to some extent, made the place habitable. A bevy of rats at least seemed to consider the place so, and we never lacked for company of the rodent species.
The twenty of us set up our stretcher-beds in the two tiny rooms and the attic, and were at home. One of the ground-floor rooms --- and it had only the ground for a floor --- possessed a fireplace, the chimney of which led into the attic above. Here it became tired of being a chimney, resigned its duties, and became a smoke-dispenser. It was natural that the ground-floor dwellers, having a fireplace, should desire fire. It was natural, also, that the dwellers above, being imbued with strong ideas on the subject of choking to death, should object to that fire. Argument ensued. For a time those below prevailed, but the attic dwellers possessed the final word, and when their rebuttal --- in the shape of several cartridges --- was dropped down the chimney on the fire, those below lost interest in the matter and there prevailed an intense and eager longing for the great outdoors.
We established our mess in what in peace times was a tiny cafe, in the back room of which an adipose proprietress, one of the few remaining civiles, still dispensed pinard and hospitality. It was in the same back room one night that a soldier, exhibiting a hand-grenade, accidentally set it off, killing himself, a comrade, and wounding five others, whom we evacuated. Incidentally the explosion scared our zouave cook who at the time was sleeping in an adjoining room. He was more frightened than he had been since the first battle of the Marne.
The front room, which was our mess hall, was just long enough to permit the twenty of us, seated ten to a side, to squeeze about our plank table. The remaining half of the room was devoted to the galley, where the zouave held forth with his pots and pans and reigned supreme. The walls of this room had once been painted a sea-green, but now were faded into a bilious, colicky color. Great beads of sweat were always starting out and trickling down as though the house itself were in the throes of a deadly agony.
Méricourt is situated about a fifth of a mile from the right bank of the river Somme, and at this time was about seven and a half or eight kilometres from the front line. The Somme at this point marked the dividing line between the French and English armies, the French holding to the south, the English to the north. Though within easy range of the enemy's mid-calibre artillery, it was seldom shelled, and I can recall but one or two occasions during our entire stay when shells passed over.
As on the Aisne, we got our wounded from a number of scattered postes, some close to the line, others farther back, some located in villages, others in mere dugouts in the side of a hill. Evacuations were usually made to the town of Villers-Bretonneux where were located a number of field hospitals, or to an operating hospital at the village of Cérisy about fifteen kilometres from the line. A regular schedule of calls was maintained to certain postes, the cars making rounds twice a day. Such were the postes at the villages of Proyart, Chuignes, Chuignolles, and in the dugouts at Baraquette and Fontaine-lès-Cappy, all some kilometres back of the line, but under intermittent shellfire. Besides these postes there were several others which, because of their close proximity to the enemy and their exposure to machine-gun-fire, could only be made at night. There was Rainecourt, less than half a kilometre from the enemy's position; the Knotted Tree, four hundred metres from the Germans, and actually in the second-line trench, where, in turning, the engine had to be shut off and the car pushed by hand, lest the noise of the motor draw fire. There, too, was the poste at the village of Eclusier, a particularly fine run, since it was reached by a narrow, exceedingly rough road which bordered a deep canal and was exposed throughout its length to mitrailleuse fire. Besides this, the road was lined with batteries for which the Boches were continually "searching."
VILLIERS-BRETONNEUX --- PROYART
We went into action on the afternoon of the same day we reached Méricourt. My orders were to go to a point indicated on the map as the Route Nationale, there pick up my blessés and evacuate them to the town of Villers-Bretonneux. I was further instructed not to go down this road too far, as I would drive into the enemy's lines. How I was to determine what was "too far" until it was "too late," or how I was to determine the location of the poste --- a dugout beneath the road --- was left to my own solution. With these cheering instructions I set out. I reached the village of Proyart through which my route lay, noted with interest the effect of bombardment, passed on and came to the Route Nationale. Here, as were my instructions, I turned to the left. I was now headed directly toward the line which I knew could not be very far away and which transversed the road ahead. I pushed rather cautiously up two small hills, my interest always increasing as I neared the top and anticipated what sort of greeting might be awaiting me. I was on my third hill and feeling a bit depressed and lonesome, not having seen a person since leaving the sentry at Proyart, when I heard a shout somewhere behind me. Looking back I beheld a soldier wildly semaphoring. It did not take me long to turn the car and slide back down the hill. Reaching the bottom, I drew up by the soldier, who informed me that the crest of the hill was in full view of the enemy and under fire from the machine guns. I felt that the information was timely.
The poste proved to be a dugout directly beneath where I had stopped my car. Here I secured a load of wounded and by dusk had safely evacuated them to the hospital at Villers-Bretonneux. Consulting my map at the hospital it became evident that there was a more direct route back to quarters, and I determined on this. As I was by no means sure of the location of the line, I drove without lights, and as a result crashed into what proved to be a pile of rocks, but which I had taken to be a pile of snow, the jar almost loosening my teeth-fillings. The car was apparently none the worse for the encounter and I reached quarters without further mishap.
The aftermath of the mishap occurred next day. Driving at a good pace up a grade --- fortunately with no wounded on board --- I suddenly found the steering-gear would not respond to the wheel. There was half a moment of helpless suspense, then the car shot off the side of the road down a steep incline, hit a boulder, and turned completely upside down. As we went over I managed to kick off the switch, lessening the chance of 'an explosion. The Quartermaster, who was with me, and I were wholly unable to extricate ourselves, but some soldiers, passing at ,the time, lifted the car off us and we crawled out none the worse. "Old Number Nine," save for a broken steering rod, the cause of the spill, and a small radiator leak, was as fit as ever, and half an hour later, the rod replaced, was once more rolling.
Our picket poste was established at the village of Cappy. To reach the village from Méricourt we passed over a stretch of road marked with the warning sign, "This road under shell-fire: convoys or formed bodies of troops will not pass during daylight." Continuing, we crossed the Somme, at this point entering the English line, and proceeded to the village of Bray. Thence the road wandered through a rolling land for a kilometre or so, again crossing the river and a canal at the outskirts of the village.
Cappy lay in a depression behind a rise of ground about a kilometre and a half from the line. In peace times it was doubtless a rather attractive little place of perhaps three hundred people. Now, devastated by days and months of bombardment, and the passing of countless soldiers, deserted by its civil population and invaded by countless rats, it presented an aspect forlorn beyond imagination. On a gray winter's day, with sleet beating down and deepening the already miry roads, and a dreary wind whistling through the shattered houses, the place cried out with the desolation of war. And when, at night, a full moon shone through the stripped rafters, when the rats scuttled about and when, perhaps, there was no firing and only the muffled pop of a trench-light, the spirit of death itself stalked abroad and the ghosts of the men who had there met their doom haunted its gruesome, cluttered streets. And then, while the silence hung like a pall until it fairly oppressed one, there would come the awful screech, and the noises of hell would break loose.. There was no way of telling when the bombardment would come. It might be at high noon or at midnight, at twilight or as the day broke. Nor could the duration be guessed. Sometimes a single shell crashed in; sometimes a single salvo of a battery; or again, the bombardment would continue for an hour or more. It was this uncertainty which gave the place a tense, uncomfortable atmosphere so that even when there was no shelling the quiet was an uncanny quiet which was almost harder to bear than the shelling itself.
In Cappy no one remained above-ground more than was necessary. Nearly every house had its cellar, and these cellars were deepened, roofed with timbers, and piled high with sandbags. A cave so constructed was reasonably bomb-proof from small shells --- "77's"---but offered little resistance to anything larger, and I recall several occasions when a shell of larger calibre, making a direct hit, either killed or wounded every occupant of such a shelter. The resident population of the town was limited to a group of brancardiers, some grave-diggers, the crews of several goulash batteries, and some doctors and surgeons. I must not forget to mention the sole remaining representative of the civil population. He was an old, old man, so old it seemed the very shells respected his age and war itself deferred to his feebleness. Clad in nondescript rags, his tottering footsteps supported by a staff, at any hour of the day or night he could be seen making his uncertain way among what were the ruins of what had once been a prosperous town --- his town. With him, also tottering, was always a wizened old dog who seemed the Methuselah of all dogs. Panting along behind his master, his glazed eyes never leaving him, the dog, too, staggered. There, alone in the midst of this crucified town, the twain dwelt, refusing to leave what to them was yet home. And daily as their town crumbled, they crumbled, until at last, one morning, we found the old chap dead, his dog by his side. That day was laid to rest the last citizen of Cappy.
The dressing-station was located in what in peace times was the town hall, or mairie, a two-story brick building having a central structure flanked by two small wings. The building was banked with sandbags which, while not rendering it by any means shell-proof, did protect it from shrapnel and éclats. The central room was devoted to the wounded, who were brought in from the trenches on little two-wheeled, hand-pushed trucks, each truck supporting one stretcher. A shallow trough was built around the sides of the room and in this, upon straw, the wounded were placed in rows, while awaiting the doctor. In this portion of the building was also located the mortuary where those who died after being brought in were placed preparatory to burial. The bodies were placed two on a stretcher, the head of one resting on the feet of another. It was a ghastly place, this little room, with its silent, mangled tenants lying there awaiting their last bivouac. On one side of the room was a small, silver crucifix above which hung the tricolored flag of the Republic guarding those who had died that it might live.
In the left wing was the emergency operating-room where the surgeons worked, frequently under fire. At the opposite end of the building was the room we had for our quarters and where we slept when occasion permitted. The place was quite frequently hit --- on five separate occasions while I was in the building --- and its occupants suffered many narrow escapes. The location was regarded as so unsafe that an elaborate abri was finally constructed back of the mairie. This was an extraordinarily well-built and ample affair, consisting of several tunnels seven feet high in the centre, walled and roofed with heavy galvanized iron supported by stout beams. The roof at the highest point was fully ten feet below the surface of the ground. There were two rows of shelves running along both sides of the tunnels which had a total capacity of forty stretcher cases. At one end was a small operating-room, and there were two exits, so that, if one became blocked, the occupants might find egress through the other. Both of these exits were winding so as to prevent the admission of flying shell fragments and were draped with curtains to keep out the poison gas. Beside these curtains stood tubs of anti-gas solution for their drenching. This structure was proof against all save the heaviest shells and took some eight weeks in building.
THE HUMAN SHELL --- "HUIT JOURS DE PRISON"
When on duty at Cappy we messed with some medical sous-officiers in a dugout, entrance to which was had by descending a steep flight of steps. Down in this cellar, in the dim twilight which there prevailed, we enjoyed many a meal. The officers were a genial lot, like most Frenchmen delightfully courteous and much given to quaffing pinard. Their chief occupation was the making of paper knives from copper shrapnel bands, and they never lacked for material, for each day the Boche threw in a fresh supply..
One of these chaps, through constant opportunity and long practice, could give a startling imitation of the shriek of a shell, an accomplishment which got him into trouble, for happening one day to perform this specialty while a non-appreciative and startled Colonel was passing, he was presented with eight days' arrest.
The cook of the mess was a believer in garlic --- I might say a strong believer. Where he acquired the stuff amidst such surroundings was a mystery beyond solution, but acquire it--- he certainly did. Put him in the middle of the Sahara Desert and I am prepared to wager that within a half-hour that cook would dig up some garlic. He put it into everything, rice, meat, whatever we ate. I am convinced that, supposing he could have made a custard pie, he would have added garlic. His specialty was beef boiled in wine, a combination hard on the beef, hard on the wine, and hard on the partaker thereof.
Coming out of the cellar from mess one noon --- a wet, dismal day I remember --- I was startled into immobility to hear the splendid strains of the "Star-Spangled Banner," magnificently played on a piano. I was still standing at attention, and the last note had barely died away, when the one remaining door of a half-demolished house opened and a tall, handsome young fellow with the stripes of a corporal appeared, saluted, and bade me enter. I did so, and found myself in a small room upon the walls of which hung the usual military trappings. Stacked in the corners and leaning against the walls were a number of simple wooden crosses with the customary inscription, "Mort pour la patrie." Five soldiers rose and bade me welcome. They were a group of grave-diggers and here they dwelt amid their crosses. Their profession did not seem to have affected their spirits, and they were as jolly a lot as I have ever seen, constantly chaffing each other, and when the chap at the piano --- who, by the way, before the war had been a musician at the Carlton in London, and who spoke excellent English --- struck a chord, they all automatically broke into song. It was splendidly done and they enjoyed it as thoroughly as did I. The piano they had rescued from a wrecked château at the other end of the town and to them it was a godsend indeed. Before I left, at my request, they sang the Marseillaise. I have seldom heard anything finer than when in that little, stricken town, amidst those gruesome tokens of war's toll, these men stood at attention and sounded forth the stirring words of their country's hymn. When I left it was with a feeling that surely with such a spirit animating a people, there could be but one outcome to the struggle.
We had another twenty-four-hour station at the village of Cérisy some fifteen or more kilometres back of the line, where was located an operating hospital. Here we maintained always one car for the transportation of such wounded as required evacuation to the railhead. At this station we were privileged to sleep on stretchers in the same tent with the wounded. Personally I found one night in their quarters was quite enough for me. The groaning, the odor of anæsthetics, the blood, the raving of the delirious, and "the passing" of two of the inmates before morning drove me out to my car, where I often slept when on duty at the station.
We soon began to feel completely at home at Méricourt. Our schedule kept us busy without overworking us, and there was just enough risk in the life to lend it spice. We had a splendid Commander, an efficient Chef, and as a result the Squad worked in entire harmony. At this time we were attached to the 3d Colonials, a reckless, hard-fighting bunch, as fine a lot as serve the Tricolor. The relations existing between ourselves and the French could not have been more cordial. The innate courtesy and kindness, which is so characteristic of the people, found expression in so many ways and their appreciation so far exceeded any service we rendered that we could not help but be warmly drawn toward them, while their cheerful devotion and splendid courage held always our admiration.
Perhaps a few entries taken at random from my journal will serve as well as anything to give some idea of our life and the conditions under which we worked.
NOTES AT MÉRICOURT
"Tuesday, March 14. After a rat-disturbed night, got away on Route No. 3 to Proyart and Baraquette, evacuating to Cérisy. At four this afternoon, with Brooke as orderly, made same route, evacuating to Villers-Bretonneux. There were so many blessés that I had to return to Baraquette for another load. We are just in from Villers-Bretonneux at 10 P.M. after a drive through the rain.
"Saturday, March 18. On route No. 2 to Chuignolles. Road was under fire, so sentry refused to let me return over it, as the way was up-grade and with a loaded car I could not go fast. Ran down it this afternoon, evacuating by another route. Put in an hour to-day making an almost bedstead out of old bloody stretchers and now the rats will have to jump a foot or so off the floor if they want to continue to use me as a speedway.
"Thursday, March 23. Slept well in the car at Cappy, but lost all inclination for breakfast on opening door of stretcher-bearer's room and seeing two bodies, one with its jaws shot away, the other, brought in from No Man's Land --- half eaten by rats. Got a call to Chuignes before noon, evacuating to Cérisy. Of course worked on my car this afternoon; that goes without saying --- the work, not the car. To-morrow we have another one of those dashed inspections, this time the General commanding the Division.
"Thursday, March 30. To Cappy early, with as many of the Squad as were off duty, to attend the funeral of the Médecin Chef. He was killed yesterday when peering over the parapet. It was a sad affair, yet withal impressive. We walked from the little shell-torn town, Cappy, to the cemetery just beyond the village, following the simple flag-draped box, upon which rested the tunic and képi; and then, while the war planes circled and dipped above us and all around the guns spoke, we paid our last respects to a very gallant man. Waited till ten for wounded. At the exact minute I was leaving, three shells came in. One burst by the church and the other two just back of my machine as I crossed the bridge. They must have come from a small-bore gun, possibly a mortar, as they were not preceded by a screech as with a rifle shell.
Visited regimental dentist this afternoon and found him operating on a poilu whose teeth had been knocked out by a Boche gun butt in a recent charge. To-night the guns are going strong.
" Wednesday, April 5. The mess-room presented a ghastly sight this morning, a hand-grenade having been accidentally exploded there last night, blowing two men to bits which bits are still hanging to the walls. Got my spark-plugs in shape this morning. This afternoon attempted to take a nap, but a confounded battery just stationed here insisted on going into action, and as the shots were at half-minute intervals I got to counting the seconds in the intervals, banishing all chances of sleep. Two of the Squad are down with the gale --- a skin disease contracted from the blessés, and which seems almost epidemic with the Division."
AMIENS --- THE BRITISH HEADQUARTERS
It was toward the end of March, and hence some three months after leaving Paris, that one morning I received orders to evacuate a load of wounded to the railroad hospital at Amiens, some forty kilometres from Méricourt. Amiens is a modern city, one of the most pleasant in France, a city of about one hundred thousand inhabitants with up-to-date shops, tramways, tea-rooms, and a decided air of gayety. As I drove my mud-spattered ambulance down its main street I felt singularly out of place. An hour and a half before I had been within rifle range of the German trenches where men were battling to the death and big guns barked their hate, and now, as though transported on a magic carpet, I found myself in the midst of peace, where dainty women tripped by, children laughed at play, and life untrammelled by war ran its course. After the weeks amid the mud and turmoil of the front, the transition was at first stupefying. After evacuating my wounded, I parked my car, and being off duty for the rest of the day I strolled about gaping like a countryman. A "burst" at the best restaurant I could find and a good cigar put me in an appreciative frame of mind and my impression of Amiens will always remain the most favorable. Though the city had been in the hands of the Huns for nearly a fortnight in the early part of the war, and had several times been the object of air raids, there was little indication of either. The beautiful cathedral was piled high with sandbags and the beautiful windows were screened as precaution against bomb éclats, but of the precautions such as I later saw in Bar-le-Duc, there were none.
Amiens at this time was the administrative Headquarters of the English Army of the Somme. Its streets were alive with English officers and Tommies. There were many "Jocks" in their kilties, besides, of course, many French officers. Being well back of the lines it was a great place for swanking, a condition of which the English officers especially took full advantage, and in their whipcords and shining Sam Brownes, they were the last word in military sartorialism.
Having now been at the front for three months I became entitled to la permission, the six days' leave, in theory granted the soldier once every three months. George's permission was also due, and we managed to arrange it so that we secured leave simultaneously. One of our cars was so well wrecked that it had to be sent to Paris, and accordingly we secured the assignment of taking this in. This car had lost its mud-guards and part of the top of the driving-seat; its lockers, were gone and its sides had been pierced by shell splinters. It certainly looked as if "it had been through the war." It was afterwards sent to New York and there put on exhibition at the Allied Bazaar.
We set out for Paris on the morning of April 15. It was a fearful day for driving, hail and rain and a piercing wind, but we were en permission, so what cared we. It was on this voyage that, for the first and only time during my service in the Army, I saw lancers. This group was some seventy kilometres back of the line. With their burnished casques, graceful weapons, and fluttering pennons they have left me one of the few memories of the picturesque which the war has furnished.
We made Beauvais in time for luncheon; found the little restaurant, and our mere appearance was sufficient to set the little waitress off into a severe attack of giggles. By four that afternoon we were in Paris. After one hundred days in the war zone, it seemed like another world. We took the military oath not to reveal information likely to be of value to the enemy and were free to do what we liked for six days. Personally, as I remember it, I pretty well divided the time between taking hot baths and consuming unlimited quantities of white bread and fresh butter. Often we found ourselves subconsciously listening and missing something, --- the rumble of the guns. We enjoyed the respite, but the end of our permission found us willing, almost eager, to get back "out there."
It was after midnight --- Easter morning --- and the rain was falling when we ploughed our muddy way across "the campus" at Méricourt. It was cold, and the rat-infested garret, in the flickering light of an oil lamp, looked dismal enough as we felt our way across its dirty floor. Outside the sky was now and then lighted by a flare and from all around came the boom of the guns. We were home.
SPRING AND HECTIC DAYS
May opened with delightfully warm weather, a condition that was not to continue. The brown fields were clothed in green. Up to within a few kilometres of the line the land had been cultivated, and wheat and oats flourished as though shells were not passing over and the grim Reaper himself were not ever present.
Early in the month our Division moved, going into repos some fifteen kilometres back of the line. It is a simple statement --- "our Division moved." But think of twenty thousand men plodding along, twenty thousand brown guns bobbing and twenty thousand bayonets flopping against as many hips. Think of twenty thousand blue steel helmets covering as many sweaty, dusty heads; think of the transport for the men, the horses straining in their traces, the creaking wagons, the rumbling artillery, the clanging soup-wagons, the whizzing staff cars, and the honking of camion horns --- think of this and you have some idea of what is embraced in the statement "our Division moved." We did not follow them, though we did assign four cars to serve them during repos, and to take care of the sick. Instead we were attached to the incoming Division, the 2d Colonials.
My journal shows there were some hectic days in May. In the record of May 2 I find: "Rolled pretty much all night, one call taking me to Éclusier. The road was shelled behind me while I was at the poste, knocking a tree across the way---so that on my way back, the night being so dark, I could see absolutely nothing and I hit the tree and bent a guard. It's as nasty a run as I have ever made, a canal on one side, batteries on the other, and the whole way exposed to machine-gun-fire. Expected to be relieved here this morning, but one of the replacement cars is out of commission so that I am on for another twenty-four hours. To-day I measured the distance from where I was sitting last night to where the shell hit. It was exactly fourteen paces."
Again a. week later: "Two cars out, of commission, so I am fated for another forty-eight hours shift here in Cappy. Last night was uneventful. To-day we have been bombarded five times. So far have made but two runs, returning from second under fire. We have been ordered to sleep to-night in the partially completed dugout, so I am writing this fifteen feet underground, with sandbags piled high above my head. Verily the day of the cave man has returned. Now for the blanket and, thanks to the dugout, a reasonable assurance of greeting to-morrow's sun."
It was in May that "Josh" won his recognition for bringing in his wounded from Éclusier under machinegun-fire. I was not there, but I know he could not have been cooler had he been driving down Broadway.
On the 30th of May we received orders to change our base. The Squad was genuinely sorry to leave Méricourt. The village, which had looked so forbidding to us when we had first arrived, through the familiarity of three months' residence had grown to mean home. The peaceful canal with its graceful poplars where we used to swim, "the campus," the scene, on moonlight nights of many a rousing chorus, the lane where the cars were parked, the little café, all held pleasant memories. Here we had endured the rigors of winter, had seen the coming and passing of spring, and now as summer was upon us we were leaving.
We left in fleet, about one in the afternoon, and an hour later drew up in the village of Bayonvillers on the farther side of the Route Nationale. We found it an attractive place, having two squares well shaded with fine trees. In peace times its population probably numbered about four thousand. The town was far enough back of the line to be out of range of field artillery and showed no sign of bombardment. Being only slightly off the main road and about midway between the line and Villers-Bretonneux, the location was a convenient one for us, as for the present we were maintaining the same schedules and routes which prevailed at Méricourt. We were assigned quarters in the loft of a brick barn, but some of us preferred more airy surroundings and pitched a tent under the trees in a little park in the centre of the town, thus establishing the "Bayonvillers Country Club." Later, because of the arrival of a fleet of camions, we moved the club to a meadow on the outskirts of the town. Mess was also established in a tent.
PREPARING THE SOMME OFFENSIVE
Early in the spring it had become apparent that something was in the air. Ammunition dépôts began to appear, placed just out of gun range; génie parcs, with enormous quantities of barbed wire, trench-flooring, and other construction materials were established; a new road was being built from Bray to Cappy; additional aviation fields were laid out, and rows of hangars, elaborately painted to represent barns and ploughed fields, to deceive the enemy airmen, reared their bulky forms. Back of the line numerous tent hospitals sprang into being. Near Cappy immense siege guns, served by miniature railways, poked their ugly noses through concealing brush screens. Through the fields several new standard-gauge tracks made their way. The roads back of any army are always cluttered with supporting traffic, and as the spring wore on the traffic in the Somme increased day by day. There were huge five-ton camions loaded with shells, steam tractors bringing up big guns, caterpillar batteries, armored cars, mobile anti-aircraft guns, stone boats, mobile soup-kitchens, oxygen containers to combat poison gas, field artillery, searchlight sections, staff cars, telegraph and telephone wagons, long lines of motor busses now used as meat vans, horse wagons piled high with bread, portable forges, mule trains carrying machine-gun ammunition, two-wheeled carts carrying trench mortars. All the transport of war was there until by the first of June the roads back of the Somme front presented a congestion of traffic such as the world has never before seen. To the most casual observer it could not but be apparent that all this tremendous activity, the enormous supplies, the preparations, were not solely for defensive purposes. It could connote but one thing --- an offensive on a great scale.
Directly opposite Cappy, within the German lines, lay the little shell-riddled village of Dompierre. Between the sandbags of the first-line trench I had peeped forth at it, and as early as April I knew that the village was mined, for the electrician who wired the mine was a friend. I felt sure, therefore, that our Section was to be in the offensive when it came. But as to the day of the attack, of course that was a matter of speculation. As the days wore on all the talk was of "the attack." There was no longer any doubt as to the fact that an attack was to be launched; the question now was, simply, when? Both the firing and activity in the air had increased. Sometimes for hours at a time there would be continuous drum-fire and scarcely an hour passed without a fight between planes.
The opening days of June were wet and sodden. The weather was raw, almost cold, with frequent hailstorms, so that it was difficult to determine just what season was being observed. The roads, trodden by thousands of hobbed feet and cut by horses' hoofs and by tires, were deep with mud. It was sale temps. We found Bayonvillers teeming with troops. But if we thought the place already crowded, it was nothing compared to the congestion which the succeeding days brought. Day by day, almost hour by hour, the troops continued to come in, colonials, chasseurs, the famous zouaves, the Senegalese; and the sound of drum and bugle scarcely ever died.
The Senegalese were an amusing lot. I have been in Senegal, and when in the Congo, had a Senegalese for a headman, so I know a few words of their language. When I hailed them in this, they would immediately freeze into ebony statues, then their white teeth would flash in a dazzling smile as they hailed me as a white chief who knew their home. They were armed with deadly bushknives, and for a dash over the top made splendid soldiers. In the trenches, however, they were nearly useless, as artillery fire put fear into their souls. It was said they never took or were taken prisoners, and many gruesome tales were current regarding this. Most certainly they must have been useful in night manœuvres, for with that complexion it would be a matter of impossibility to determine which was the Senegalese and which was the night.
The lot upon which the "Country Club" had been the original and only squatter began to fill. A "155 " battery moved in alongside us, and several "75" batteries with their ammunition transports became our neighbors; some horse transport convoys also creaked their way in. Horses by the hundred plunged and pulled at restraining ropes or stood with downcast heads --- bone-weary of the struggle. All around us rose the little brown dog-tents and at night countless small fires flickered. It was like camping in the midst of a three-ring circus.
We mingled with our neighbors and talked with them, but no matter how the conversation started, it was sure to come around to the one, great, all-important, subject ---the attack. Even for us, who were not to be sent in, but whose duty it would be merely to carry those who had been, the delay and suspense were trying. How much worse, then, it must have been for those men who "were going over the top," waiting, waiting, many of them for their chance to greet death. I remember one afternoon talking with a chap who before the war had kept a restaurant in Prince's Street in Edinburgh, a restaurant at which I remember having dined. He was an odd little Frenchman, alert and bright-eyed , and every now and then as he talked he would pat me on the shoulder and exclaim, "Oh, my boy." He assured me that very soon now we should see the attack. "Oh, my boy, the world very soon will talk of this place. You will see the name of this village on maps" ---a true prophecy, for when the New York papers came to us weeks after the attack had started, I saw a map with Cappy marked upon it.
"Soon greater than Verdun we shall see great things, and oh, my boy, we are here to see them; we are part of them. C'est magnifique! but the waiting, the waiting; why can't they end it? Send us in! Quant à moi --- I go with the second wave, and if I come out après la guerre, you will come to my place, my place in Prince's Street which you know, and for you I will open the finest champagne of la belle France and we will raise our glasses and drink to these days; but oh, my boy, the waiting, c'est terrible!
My journal for these days reflects the feeling of suspense: "Tuesday, June 13 . En repos to-day for which I was thankful, since the rain still continues, with a low temperature. Spent most of the day in my bag reading, as being about the only place I could keep warm. The 20th zouaves marched into town to-day, their bugles playing. Their arrival and the presence of the Senegalese can mean but one thing: the attack will soon be launched. Well, if it's coming it can't come too soon. This suspense is trying. If this weather continues I will have trench foot again, as my shoes are leaking. Firing has been unusually heavy to-day, and to-night a terrific bombardment is in progress.
"Thursday, June 15. Encore this ghastly weather. More Senegalese coming in until the place looks like a Georgia camp-meeting. Three runs to-day; slow progress working through the traffic. Surely attack cannot be far off. Passed wreck of plane near Villers-Bretonneux which was fired on, falling and burning to death both pilot and driver.
"Sunday, June 18. To Fontaine lès Cappy, which incidentally was being shelled, evacuating to Villers-Bretonneux. Changed rear spring on my 'bus this afternoon, other having proved too light. Have fixed some hooks and straps on the car so that I can carry blanket roll and dunnage bag in event the line breaks and we follow the advance. 'New Number Nine' is ready for attack. Rumor says it will start in three days. Now that the clock has been set ahead --- this occurred several days ago --- we turn in by daylight."
Dry, hot weather succeeded the rains and in a day the mud of the roads had been beaten into dust. A khaki-colored fog hung over the sinuous line of never-ceasing traffic and choked man and beast. It was trying work driving now but still it was exhilarating, the feeling of being a part of a great push. By the middle of June the advance position from which we should operate from the time the first wave went over the top had been chosen. It was close back of the line near the boyau of Fontaine lès Cappy. It was very much exposed and much in advance of the position usually taken by transport sections, but it appeared the spot of greatest usefulness and this being determined, our C.O. was not the man to question further.
On the morning of June 20 I left for duty at Cappy. My journal for that date reads: "Left quarters at eight this morning, reaching Cappy an hour later, taking on a load, evacuating at once to Villers-Bretonneux. This afternoon evacuated to Chuignolles. So far I have heard but one shell come in to-day. Our batteries, too, have been singularly quiet. The calm before the storm. If possible, the roads to-day were more congested than ever with every sort of vehicle from bicycle to steam tractor. It's now nine o'clock, though owing to change of time not nearly dark. Am a bit tired to-night, but have small idea of getting much rest."
Nor was I disappointed, for throughout the night the wounded came in and we drove almost without pause. From my last evacuation I got back to Cappy about six in the morning, and as our relief was due at eight I did not consider it worth while to turn in. The day promised to be hot and clear. Already the shelling had started. It was a point of honor among the Squad to be prompt in our relief, and Gile and I were therefore surprised when no cars had appeared by 8.30. It was about ten o'clock and we had exhausted our conjectures when two cars of a French Section rolled up. We sensed at once that something had happened. One of the drivers climbed down from his car and came over to where we were standing.
We exchanged salutes. "Messieurs," he said, "your Section has been replaced by ours. I am directed to instruct you to report at once at your quarters." The concussion from a "210" could scarcely have stunned us more than the announcement, " Replaced." It was impossible; there must be some mistake. After all our months of work, which we knew had been efficient, after all our preparations for the attack. Replaced? No, it could not be. We would find out there had been a misunderstanding. In a daze we cranked our cars and drove slowly away from the familiar old poste.
Several shells had passed us as we had stood talking, and as I reached the canal bridge I found one had hit there. Beside the road lay a dead man, and three wounded were being dressed. I got out my stretchers and evacuated them to the field hospital at Cérisy. It was my last evacuation from Cappy. I reached quarters about noon, finding the Squad at mess. One glance at the fellows confirmed the morning's news. I have seldom seen a more thoroughly disgusted bunch of men. It was true; we had been replaced and were leaving for parts unknown tomorrow. Somewhere back in Automobile Headquarters in Paris a wire had been pulled, and that wire attached to us was to pull us away from the greatest offensive in history. We felt rather bitter about it at first, for we felt that in a way it reflected on our ability or even our nerve, but when we learned that the Médecin Divisionnaire and even the General of our Division had protested against our removal, had spoken of our work in the highest terms, our disappointment was softened, and so with the philosophy which army life brings we said, "C'est la guerre," struck our tents and prepared for the morrow's departure.
THE VOIE SACRÉE
Whatever may have been the aspect of Bar-le-Duc in normal times, now it impressed me as a city utterly weary, a city sapped of vitality. As a weary man, exhausted by constant strain and tension to a condition of listless indifference --- thus did Bar-le-Duc impress me. And well might it be weary. For months troops had poured through its streets, men of a score of races, men from far countries and from the heart of France. Here they had passed on their way to the Vortex, and through these streets the bleeding wrecks of the same men had been borne back. Day and night without ceasing the munition camions had rumbled by. While winter ended, spring came and passed, and summer blossomed, the thundering guns had not ceased to sound. For five months this unrelenting strain had endured and Bar-le-Duc was like a weary soul.
It was close to midnight, and "dark as the inside of a cow," when the camp was startled into wakefulness by the cry, "Show a leg! Everybody out, we're called!" Outside the rain beat against the cars and a mournful wind slapped the branches overhead. It was a painful transition from the warm comfort of the blankets to the raw chill of the night, but no one hesitated. Lanterns began to flicker; figures struggling into tunic and knickers tumbled out of cars; objects were pulled forth and piled on the ground, bedding was thrown under ground-sheets; stretchers shot into places; engines began to cough and snort, and searchlights pierced the night. The C.O., moving from car to car, issued the order, "In convoy order; gas-masks and helmets; head-lights till further orders." In twenty minutes after the first call, every car was ready, every man in his place, and the convoy formed. "Where are we going? " was the inquiry which shot from car to car, and, though no one knew, the answer was invariably "Verdun."
Presently the whistle blew and we moved out. Down through the sleeping city of Bar-le-Duc we went, and there, where the transparency blazoned the legend, "Verdun," we obeyed the silent injunction of the pointing arrow and turned to the left. We passed through the outskirts of the city and presently entered upon a broad, pitted road. Well might the road be pitted, for there was the Voie Sacrée --- the Sacred Way --- over which had passed every division of the French Army, the way over which thousands of the men of France had passed never to return.
Beyond question one reason why Verdun was chosen by the Germans as the point against which their great offensive was launched was the weakness of the supporting railroad facilities. Normally the city is served by two lines of railways, one running north from Saint-Mihiel, the other coming in from the west by Sainte-Ménehould. Since Saint-Mihiel was in their hands, the first road was eliminated, and though the second was not in the enemy's hands, it was commanded by his batteries. This left the position of Verdun without supporting railroads, heretofore considered necessary for maintaining an army. But the Hun had reckoned without two things, the wonderful organization of the French motor transport, and the Voie Sacrée. Never had a road been called upon to bear the burdens which now were thrown upon this way. An armada of ten thousand motor camions was launched, and day and night in two unbroken lines this fleet held its course and served the defending armies of Verdun.
Now we, too, passed down the road, privileged to become part of that support.
A half-moon, blood-red as though it, too, had taken on the hue of war, appeared in the broken sky, described a half arc and disappeared. Once a tremendous light illuminated the whole northern sky. Possibly it was the explosion of a mine. We never knew what. The noise of the guns grew louder as we went on. The gray fore-tone of dawn was streaking the east when we halted by a group of tents at the roadside. We were beyond Lemmes, some one said, but this meant nothing to us. It was a field hospital and here we found our men, a hundred of them. They were all gas victims as their wracking, painful coughs indicated.
The rain had ceased. The sun rose and warmed things a bit. It was seven o'clock in the morning and Bar-le-Duc was beginning to stir itself for another weary day as we reached the evacuation hospital. Three quarters of an hour later we straggled into Véel, having covered over a hundred kilometres since midnight.
After the hard rolling of the last few days there was much to be done about the cars. Bolts needed tightening, grease-cups had to be filled, and many minor repairs were to be made. This consumed most of the day and with only a couple of hours' sleep to our credit from the night before we were genuinely tired when we rolled into our blankets that night and fervently hoped for an undisturbed rest.
But such was not to be our fortune. At 2.30 in the morning it came ---the call. In the gray of dawn we wound through Bar-le-Duc. In the doorways and on street benches we could just discern the motionless forms of soldiers wrapped in chilly slumber. Once more we turned out upon the Sacred Way. Our destination was the village of Dugny, of which I shall have more to say later, --- perhaps seven kilometres from Verdun. A blowout just beyond Bar-le-Duc lost me the convoy, which in turn lost me the road, and I wandered through a series of half-demolished villages, not knowing how near I might be to the line, before I finally again emerged on the Voie Sacrée and reached Dugny. Here I was surprised to see another section of the American Ambulance. It proved to be Section Eight which we were shortly to replace.
We found the driving station at Dugny overflowing with wounded and the men placed in rows on straw in a stable. Again we filled our cars, this time mostly with couchés, as before gas victims. It was now broad daylight. The roadway even at night was a mass of traffic, mostly convoys of heavy camions. These followed each other in an endless belt, the loaded ones coming toward Verdun, the unloaded going away. They proceeded at an average speed of eighteen kilometres an hour at a distance of sixty feet from each other. It became necessary for us, if we were to make any progress at all, to squirm our way through the maze, continually dodging in and out of the convoys to avoid staff cars, yet always working by the slower moving vehicles. It was the most trying kind of driving and required extreme care lest our cars be crushed beneath the giant munition trucks or lest the unforgivable sin of causing a block be committed. It was disheartening to work by a convoy of eighty camions, dodging in and out to avoid cars coming in the opposite direction, and then just as the head of the line was reached to have a tire go bang. It is such happenings that try the soul of the ambulancier.
Not till two o'clock in the afternoon did we reach Véel, having completed the evacuation, and get our first meal of the day. We were content to rest the remainder of the day and the day following, doing only such work as the cars required, and we were very glad that no demand came for our services. On the third morning a number of us secured permission to go into Bar-le-Duc in the "chow" camion. We had just completed a hot bath and were making for a pâtisserie when the Lieutenant's car came up. "Get everybody together!" he shouted; "we're leaving for Verdun at one o'clock."
At camp we found the tents already struck and a cold singe lunch awaiting us. Promptly at one we formed in convoy and again headed for the Sacred Way. At four o'clock that afternoon we reached the village of Dugny. This was the 28th of June. The trek from the Somme to Verdun was finished.
ROBERT WHITNEY IMBRIE*
*Of Washington, D.C.; George Washington and Yale Universities; served in Sections One and Three, 1915-17; subsequently with U.S. Army. The above extracts are from his book, Behind the Wheel of a War Ambulance (McBride, 1918).
DUGNY --- THE VERDUN FRONT
On June 21, 1916, like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, came the order from General Headquarters, commanding the Section to proceed immediately to Verdun, where the great battle had been raging constantly since February. When Section One arrived on the Meuse the Boches were making their final great attempt to capture Verdun and the inner line of forts --Tavannes, Saint-Michel and Souville --- as well as the city itself. The roads in the vicinity were under heavy bombardment and gas hung for days in the low places, all of which added to the strenuousness of our work.
By June 28 the Section was quartered at Dugny, a tumble-down town a few miles south of Verdun, where we relieved Section Eight on the right bank of the Meuse, the postes being located at Fort de Tavannes, the Cabaret Rouge and the Mardi-Gras redoubt. The cantonment at Dugny left much to be desired. The sleeping quarters for the entire Section, including the French personnel, were in a barn loft, beneath which horses were stabled. What with the coming and going, the noise from the "Atelier Club," as the poker players called themselves, the coughing of gas victims, frequently placed in the entrance of the barn, and many other disturbances, the situation was not conducive to rest. Then, too, it rained most of the time, except when it drizzled, and mud was not among the things which the place lacked.
Nor at the poste of the Cabaret Rouge could conditions be said to be cheery. The festive name which the place bore was scarcely justified. It was a stone barn with a straw-covered floor and a leaky roof, the walls pierced in three places with shell holes, and mud ankle-deep all around. Then there were the wounded who were stretched by the walls; and the air was heavy with the smell of wet clothing, disinfectants, and drying blood. In the only other room of the barn were the dead awaiting burial, their rigid mangled forms lying in rows on brancards. In addition the poste was entirely surrounded by batteries whose din was unceasing, and furthermore there was hardly a minute when German shells were not coming in.
Although there was not a man in the squad who was not repeatedly under fire during the Section's stay at Dugny, it remained for Brooke Edwards, of Philadelphia, to experience the most remarkably close call. While en route at night to "Cabaret," a shell exploded by the side of his car, blowing off two tires, the éclats passing entirely through both sides and the roof of the car, and some of the fragments lodging within six inches of Edwards, who nevertheless was unscratched. A day or so later, when Tingle Culbertson was pushing along the Belleray Road in his little car, he heard a crash, and a column of earth, not twenty yards off the road, spouted into the air. Two more shells came in quick succession, but they were, so to speak, unneeded, for Culbertson was doing all that essence and an intimate knowledge of a Ford could do to make "numéro douze" exceed any previous records.
On the morning of July 12 the Section completed its work at Verdun, every ambulance having served up to the last moment to the limit of its capacity. Exceptional luck had followed the Section. The French Section, with which it shared the work, had lost two men, one by gas, another by shell-fire; the American Section which preceded us had had one man wounded, and the English Section, up to the time when we left, had been five days in the field with the loss of one man.
An account of our stay at Dugny could not be perfect without mention of the Section's Chef, Herbert Townsend. Instead of remaining out of the zone of fire, as he might have done, he was probably under fire more than any other member, remaining at "Cabaret" for hours at a time, putting new spirit into his men by his presence and giving them confidence and encouragement when they most needed it. As though this were not enough, he insisted on accompanying the ambulances on their most dangerous run, the nightly trip to Fort de Tavannes.
LEAVING VERDUN --- CHÂTEAU BILLEMONT
The Section left the Verdun sector on July 13 and went en repos, but returned there on August 15, taking up its quarters in a handsome country house north of Dugny, known as Château Billemont. The trip to the poste --- Caserne Marceau --- though it could scarcely be described as enjoyable, proved very interesting. Leaving Billemont, the cars ran some two miles over excellent roads, entering Verdun by the Porte Neuve. On the right, and dominating the ruined city, lay the imposing citadel, constructed by Vauban for Louis XIV. Farther on, the cars passed the huge shell-wrecked market, the slightly damaged theatre, then on through a blackened, chaotic mass of stone, bricks, and twisted steel, past the fine old gray stone tower of the Pont Chaussée. Leaving the city by the Pont Chaussée, the ambulances followed the Faubourg Pavé to the Fort de Souville road, where the poste was located, near the shattered buildings of the Caserne Marceau and a wrecked cistern --- a cement tank mounted on a tower --- on account of which the poste was often called La Citerne and considered at this time the most important one on the Verdun front.
VERDUN AGAIN --- FLEURY
The German trenches were just across the ridge from La Citerne, about half a kilometre distant, where the battle of Fleury was in progress, the village changing hands some ten times before it finally remained in possession of the French. Here the entire Section worked almost day and night for about three weeks, the hardest strain it had yet been under.
On September 9 the Section was relieved, having served at Caserne Marceau longer than any preceding section. Two days later two French ambulances were destroyed at this poste and several drivers and brancardiers were killed, in consequence of which the poste was abandoned for a location farther back.
Leaving the Verdun sector on September 11, three days were spent en repos at Triaucourt, when we moved into the Argonne, being quartered at La Grange-aux-Bois, just east of Sainte-Ménehould. The work was light and without special incident during the four months there, which, with the beautiful scenery, furnished a very pleasing contrast to our experience at Verdun.
THE DEATH OF HOWARD B. LINES
The first death in the Section occurred during this period, when, on December 23, 1916, Howard B. Lines, of Dartmouth, succumbed to pneumonia. The funeral took place on Christmas morning. A Protestant chaplain of the division read the burial service in the open entry way of the house where Lines had died, and the body accompanied by French soldiers and the members of the Section, and Inspector-General Andrew, and Hon. Robert Bacon, who had come from Paris, was carried to the snow-covered military cemetery on a neighboring hill. Young Lines was with the Section in Belgium from September, 1915, to January, 1916, when he returned to America to complete his work at Harvard Law School; he had rejoined the Section in October, 1916.
On January 19, the Section left La Grange-aux-Bois for Triaucourt where we were quartered in a large room on the lower floor of a hospital. The place was cheerless and quite cold. Our meals were served in an old stable several blocks distant. We soon discovered that the facilities for recreation and amusement in Triaucourt in winter were limited in the extreme. About the only relief from continual strolling about the village were the two or three little cafés where a few of the hours might be whiled away and the canteen conducted by some English women where hot coffee, tea, and cocoa were served free and where English papers might be read in comparative comfort. The many little courtesies shown us by these ladies will be long remembered.
HILL 304 --- MORT HOMME
After three days were spent en repos at Triaucourt, we went into the Hill 304-Mort-Homme sector, with postes at Esnes, Montzéville, the Bois de Récicourt and the Bois d'Esnes. The combination of extremely cold weather and very poor quarters at Ippécourt gave the section another taste of the hardships of war, until, two weeks later, better quarters were found at Dombasle.
Ippécourt, by the way, is a village situated twenty-one kilometres southwest of Verdun, and our quarters were located a kilometre east of it, on the road to Souilly. They consisted of a long shed, set on a hillside, and constructed of rough boards and branches of trees. The architect's predominating idea seems to have been to secure ample ventilation, and in this he was highly successful. The shed was divided by partitions, even more flimsily constructed than the walls of the structure, into small rooms with space --- shelter is hardly the word --- for from three to five men each. A larger room at the north end served as a dining-room. Light was admitted through windows which were covered with glazed cloth and through numerous cracks as well. The heating apparatus consisted of a number of home-made stoves left behind by our predecessors in Section Four, but which they reclaimed three or four days after our arrival, so that even the modicum of comfort which these stoves afforded was thereafter denied us. We did manage, however, by hook or crook, to secure stoves for two or three rooms which radiated, at times, enough heat to thaw out half-frozen fingers or toes. Our fuel consisted of scraps of green timbers secured from a near-by sawmill and whatever underbrush we were able to find in the vicinity. One of the vivid, if unpleasant, memories of these days is the sound of the bell at 7 A.M., which called us from between comparatively warm blankets to the dining-room which was devoid of even the small amount of heat that a bright sun contributed to the world outside. At breakfast the bread was warm, that is, it had been. placed in the oven long enough to raise considerably the temperature of the exterior, but the inside of the loaf was always frozen. The coffee seldom was hot. After breakfast the most effective means of becoming comfortably warm was to attempt to crank one's Ford. Two hours was the average length of time required to start a car. The water in the radiators froze in an incredibly short time if the motors were allowed to cool. On one occasion when the radiator on the staff car had become overheated, the boiling water which was thrown out turned to ice before it struck the windshield. During the seventeen days we were quartered at Ippécourt, the thermometer was almost constantly below zero (Fahrenheit).
The feature of the work at this time was the German attack on Hill 304 which began on January 25, after a violent bombardment. The attacks and counter-attacks continued for about a week, during which time every car that was not disabled by the miserable roads and the even more miserable weather was running almost constantly.
After these attacks had subsided, we had a moderate amount of work, an average of six cars a day running. But the sector was never entirely quiet, there being more or less artillery activity at all times, considerable gas sent over by the Boches and a coup de main occurring every few days. Montzéville, Esnes, and the road between these two villages received shells quite often, and narrow escapes were common enough to relieve the monotony of camp life. This road, in fact, was exposed to the view of the Germans whose trenches were barely two kilometres distant on Mort Homme, and merely to go over it was always something of an adventure.
THE SECTION'S "BLUE BOOK"
The following description of this road from Jubécourt to Esnes, taken from the Section's "Blue Book," will give the reader a good idea of the troubles and trials of our rolling:
"Leaving the poste des brancardiers at Jubécourt, turn right on sharp grade. This is Ringwalt Corner; for it was here that Ringwalt went over the bank on the night that we took over the sector, his car turning over twice. How he managed to get over on the left-hand side of the road and slip over the bank while going up hill on low speed, nobody knows; but he did it. Continue north over fairly level route, part of it very rough, to Brocourt (3.5 km.) entering the village over miserable piece of corduroy road after left turn at cemetery. Bear right, passing to rear of church. Beware of other roads leading to Auzéville, Brabant, and Jouy. Sentry at comer. Pass sign, 'Éteignez vos lumières' descending steep hill, cross small railroad, --- munitions dépôt down gulch to the left, large gun to the right. Ascend steep grade and continue along level road, cross old Roman road and pass on the right a génie camp situated in a small wood --- Bois de Fouchères. Continue over very rough stretch of road to sentry box (6.5 km.) turn sharp to right. Country immediately surrounding the sentry box is quite bare. From this point there is a very good view of Clermont-en-Argonne, due west; and the eastern slope of the Argonne Forest, as far south as the Côte des Cerfs near Brizeaux, is also visible, Continue along winding road --- fine view of Dombasle and country to the northeast, especially the Bois de Béthelainville --- downhill into Dombasle-en-Argonne (11.1 km.) cross Sainte-Ménehould-Verdun railroad, turn left over small bridge and cross Paris-Metz Grande Route (elevation 235 m.) passing on the right a picturesque ruin with tall chimneys and extensive garden; bear left through the village and continue on gentle upgrade. Barracks on hillside to left; Béthelainville poste de secours in cave on hillside on right. Road from this point is extremely rough. Pass source on right and enter Bois de Béthelainville --- ammunition dépôt resembling stone quarry on right. Continue through wood --- batteries on both sides of the road. Emerging from the wood (elevation 328 m.), we have good outlook, including view of hills near Chattancourt, le Mort Homme, Hill 310, Hill 304, and vicinity of Montfaucon and other points beyond the German lines. Descending from this point by easy grade along tree-lined road with shell-holes on either side, enter Montzéville (17.8 km. elevation 240 m.). The poste de secours is situated in a cave on the left. Along the left or west side of the village lies Hill 310 on which many batteries are planted. Pedestrians may take path across Hill 310 to Esnes --- 2 km. Leaving Montzéville, road bears slightly left and enters the 'Bad Lands' road --- extremely rough passage over slight rise and stretch of uncrushed stone. In field to left are batteries of soixante-quinzes disguised as pig-sties. Road is bordered by stumps. Beware of extremely rocky place, which must be crossed on low speed, and a short distance farther on, another one even worse. Bear left at fork ---road to right goes to Chattancourt. Ascend easy grade; road very rough, soixante-quinze batteries to left, camouflage made of branches erected on right side of road. In this vicinity drivers may expect to meet field kitchens and droves of burros at any hour after dark, until 3 A.M. Pass inverted fork in road where highway from Marre joins at acute angle. Now we are at Toy's comer. The road from this corner to the next corner --- about half a kilometre --- is within plain view of the German trenches on le Mort Homme, two kilometres to the north. Begin gentle descent, watch for new shell-holes, turn abrupt left (elevation 234 m.) probably the most dangerous point on the road, the corner being subject to indiscriminate shelling at all hours, and extremely skiddy in icy weather. We are now overlooking the village of Esnes. Continue---gentle descent, pass wrecked ambulance on right, where is fine view of Hill 304 about a kilometre to the right, ruins of houses on either side, dead horse on the right, dead donkey and pile of wire and other génie material on left. At this point the road becomes a perfect morass of mud and ice, which can be crossed only on low speed and by the exercise of the utmost caution to avoid crevices, boulders, and sink-holes. Pearl, Tyson, and Hibbard became fast in this hole on the night of January 25-26, and Farlow, Kurtz, Flynn, and Wood on the night of February 16-17. Arriving at corner with tower of ruined church on right (elevation 225 m.) cross bad ditch and turn into narrow lane passing to left of church. Avoid large shell-holes on left side of road and 15 metres farther on, another shellhole on left, opposite stone watering trough on right. Continue 10 metres over rocks to ruined château on right (21.8 km.). Turn car in small yard covered with rubbish. End of route."
VADELAINCOURT --- CHAMPAGNE
On March 14, 1917, the Section went en repos near by, at Vadelaincourt. While there Benjamin R. Woodworth became Chef of the Section, James M. Sponagle being made Sous-Chef. The men were quartered in an aviation field and became well acquainted with many of the aviators, a pleasant feature of our sojourn there. We remained at Vadelaincourt one month and then departed for the Champagne front, stopping, however, for two days at Dombasle, to renew acquaintance with familiar scenes around Côte 304. Here General Herr, commanding the Sixteenth Army Corps, reviewed the Section, shaking hands with each man and expressing his appreciation of our work and his keen regret at our departure. A short time later the Section was cited by order of the Sixteenth Army Corps, and four of its members were cited individually.
It was with the anticipation of great things that the Section departed for the Champagne front where, it was rumored, we were to take part in the great offensive just beginning in the neighborhood of Reims. But instead, we found ourselves once more en repos, this time in the sector where every one had looked forward to the most stirring times in the Section's history. The keen disappointment of the men was hardly allayed by the fact that they were quartered in a seventeenth-century château and that they were able to make occasional visits to Reims and the historic cathedral. Some of the men witnessed the burning, on May 3, of the Hotel de Ville, after a large number of incendiary shells had been thrown in the vicinity.
THE LEGION OF HONOR FOR MR. ANDREW
On April 29, 1917, Inspector-General Andrew received the Cross of the Legion of Honor, the ceremony being held in front of the chateau at Muizon. If the presentation had taken place at the Invalides the setting could not have been more impressive. There was a military band which supplied music, punctuated by the thundering of some big guns located near by. The presentation of the Cross was made by General Ragueneau, of General Nivelle's staff. In front of an imposing group of French officers stood two standard bearers, one a French Lieutenant carrying the tricolor and the other James M. Sponagle, carrying our Section flag on which appeared the Croix de Guerre and the names of the campaigns.
While we were at Dombasle, by the way, we enjoyed several visits from Mr. Andrew. On March 1, he and Sponagle inspected the cars with a view to possible improvement in the construction of the bodies. Townsend offered the suggestion that the side boxes should be enlarged to provide ample space, not only for tools, but for personal equipment which drivers require while on service. Mr. Andrew argued that there was already plenty of room; in fact if more space were provided it would simply mean that many of the cars would be loaded down with souvenirs and junk. But Townsend insisted that more space was necessary, whereupon Mr. Andrew said, "Well, Ned, let's see what you've got in your boxes, anyway." So lifting up the lids they found several obus in his side boxes and in an arm box a dead owl!
On May 6 the Section suffered one of the most severe losses to its personnel that had occurred since its organization, when Lieutenant de Kersauson, who for two years had been its energetic and highly prized leader, was ordered to take charge of the new training school for American officers at Meaux, A day or two later, Lieutenant James F. Reymond arrived and assumed charge of the Section.
During the latter part of May the Section began working in connection with a division of dismounted cavalry attached to the Fifth Army. The line extended from Cauroy to Brimont, the poste de secours being located on the Reims-Laon highway, in sight of the German trenches. The work was very light and two cars, stationed at Villers-Franqueux, went down at night only. One of the interesting sights from this village was the occasional shelling of Brimont, about three kilometres away, by the French guns, which from various points on the road between Muizon and Villers-Franqueux, the German shells could be seen falling on Reims.
On June 15 Benjamin R. Woodworth, the Section's Chef, was instantly killed while riding as a passenger in a French aeroplane. The accident occurred as Woodworth and Chatkoff, the pilot, a member of an escadrille near Muizon, were leaving the grounds of the Lafayette Escadrille near Soissons. The interment took place at Châlons-sur-Vesle with military honors. "Woody" was a member of the Section from June, 1915, to July, 1916. He reentered the service in November, 1916, and had been Chef of the Section since April, 1917. W. Yorke Stevenson succeeded him as Chef, and the latter part of June, James M. Sponagle resigned as Sous-Chef to be come Chef of Section Sixty-Five, being succeeded by James M. White.
On June 21, the Section moved to Louvois, an attractive village in the midst of the Champagne district some fifteen kilometres southeast of Reims where were two postes --- one in the almost demolished village of Sillery and the other at a point on the Aisne-Marne canal, known as l'Espérance. One car was kept constantly at the latter poste and another was held at the Château Romont, a beautiful place, while four cars remained at the near-by village of Ludes to relieve these two.
The sector was comparatively quiet. The lines had remained practically stationary for more than two years and the peasants could be seen working daily in the fields within plain view of and almost up to the trenches. From Ludes and Chateau Romont the German positions were visible from Reims to Mont Cornillet. At this time there was considerable activity around Mont Cornillet and Mont Haut, a little farther east, and there was an occasional bombardment or a coup de main in front of Sillery or l'Espérance, because of the proximity to the more active sector. Evacuations were to Ludes, Chenay, Louvois, and Épernay.
On the evening of July 12 George Frederick Norton was killed by an air bomb while on duty at Ludes. Norton and the other men on duty there at that time --- Robert H. Gamble, Hugh Elliott, and Richard Oller --- had turned in for the night, when at about ten-thirty a German plane was heard in the vicinity and two bombs exploded on the other side of the village. Norton arose, and was looking out of the window of the chalet, when a third bomb exploded just across the road about twenty yards away, at least three éclats striking him, killing him instantly and piercing the wall of the chalet in many places. The other men had very narrow escapes; indeed Gamble received a slight wound in the shoulder, though he was able to continue on duty for forty-eight hours.
The funeral service over the body of Norton was held the following evening at dusk. As the village was within plain view of the German lines, it was not possible to hold it during the day. The French chaplain who conducted the service spoke simply but eloquently of the beautiful spirit of sacrifice which led Norton to offer his services to France. The body was interred with full military honors in a new cemetery on the edge of the village. Norton was cited to the order of the Army and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm. Three other members of the Section were also cited on the same occasion.
On July 23 the Section left this beautiful region of the Champagne and went via Bar-le-Duc to Évres where one week was spent en repos. Everywhere were rumors of the great offensive about to be started on the Meuse, and in August the Section moved on to Verdun and began work on the right bank. How many had been the changes on the historic battlefield within the past year! The village of Fleury, the centre of such terrific attacks and counter-attacks a year before, was now so utterly razed that some of the men passed it several times before they could believe that the maps had it correctly located, while the Caserne Marceau, near Fort Saint-Michel, which in August, 1916, was an advanced poste with the German trenches less that a kilometre distant across the ridge, was now well to the rear.
Four cars stationed here went on call to postes at Saint-Fine, near Fort Souville, La Source near Vaux, and Chambouillat and Carrière Sud near Douaumont. Other cars served postes near Fort Tavannes and at Carrière d'Haudromont near Louvemont, all of which points were held by the Germans when the Section worked there the year before and some of which were then well behind the battle lines. The conditions under which we labored were trying from the very first, for the roads were congested with traffic, were frequently shelled, and gas was encountered almost every night.
The men were quartered at first at Haudainville; but after a few days we secured a site for our tents just outside the hospital grounds at the Caserne Beveaux, on the south side of Verdun. All cars evacuated to this hospital, except during the first few days when the Maison Nathan in Verdun, near the Porte de Saint-Paul, was used.
The artillery bombardment, which was expected daily, did not begin in earnest until about August 14. A day or two later a Red Cross ambulance section --- S.S.U. 61 --- began working with Section One at all the postes except Carrière d'Haudromont, which we continued to care for unaided until the infantry attack began, when we surrendered it to two French ambulance sections.
PEARL WOUNDED --- THE VERDUN ATTACK, 1917
On the evening of August 16 William A. Pearl, the Section mechanic, was severely wounded while on the way to Haudromont with Rice, to repair a disabled car. A shell exploded a few yards from the car in which they were riding and a large éclat passed through Pearl's forearm, completely disabling his hand so that he had to be evacuated to Paris.
The first infantry attack was launched early on the morning of the 20th with magnificent success for the French. Hill 304, the Mort Homme, the Bois des Corbeaux, the Bois de Cumières, the Côte du Talon, Champneuville, Hill 344, Mormont Farm, and Hill 240 were entirely retaken. In the morning Lieutenant Reymond went with the first cars to the Carrière Sud and rendered such valuable aid in clearing the roads of wrecked wagons, dead horses, and munition trucks that he was cited shortly after by the Division. German counter-attacks followed, but the French continued to attack with vigor, Beaumont falling into their hands on the 26th.
The fighting on both sides, especially the artillery activity, continued heavy day and night and reacted on us. Every car in the Section received its quota of shell-holes, one car driven by Ryan being utterly demolished while standing in front of the poste of Carrière Sud. A short time before the sides of two cars --- driven by Flynn and Tapley --- had been blown out by shells at Haudromont. On several occasions shells exploded near ambulances on the road, when the couchés inside the car became so frightened that they jumped off their stretchers and took refuge in near-by abris. At times it was impossible to go through and we had first of all to repair the road ourselves by filling the holes with loose rocks and earth. Holt was badly gassed near Haudromont, a shell exploding near him while he was standing beside his car waiting for a congestion of artillery caissons and guns to let him through. He was knocked down, his mask fell off, and he was rendered practically unconscious. After being dragged to a poste de secours and given the anti-gas treatment, he insisted upon resuming work, for which he received a fine citation.
CLOSING DAYS AT VERDUN
During the last week of the Section's stay at Verdun, there were many entries under the heading "collisions and derailments," for every man was pretty well tired out and most of the men were running on their nerves, with the result that accidents were of frequent occurrence. At times the rush was so great that in order to relieve the congestion, Chief Stevenson drove ambulances himself. There was rejoicing in camp, therefore, when at last the news came that the Section was to be relieved; and when, on September 14, we departed for a period of repos, the drivers no less than the soldiers of the division felt it was richly deserved. So we proceeded south to a peaceful little village in Jeanne d'Arc's country.
For their work at Verdun the following men received the Croix de Guerre: Robert J. Flynn, J. Clifford Hanna, Edward D. Townsend (second citation), R. H. Plow, Roy Stockwell, William A. Pearl, James M. White, Arthur M. Dallin, Richard H. Stout, William S. Holt, Harold E. Purdy, H. B. Day, Frank A. Farnham, R. W. Tapley, John Kreutzberg, and Philip S. Rice. A few days later the Section was cited by order of the Second Army for the work before Verdun during August and September, receiving the Croix de Guerre with the palm, this being the Section's fourth citation.
The American recruiting officers arrived at the Section September 13, 1917, on which date it ceased to be a volunteer organization and became a part of the United States Army.
ROY H. STOCKWELL*
*Of New Bedford, Massachusetts; University of Kansas, '11 , and the Harvard Law School; with Section One from November, 1916, to November, 1917; subsequently First Lieutenant in the U.S. Field Artillery in France.
THE WORK AT VERDUN
Paris, September 9, 1916
I have just returned from a visit to Section One. After seeing the extraordinary work that those boys are doing up there, I felt that I ought to write and tell you about it.
A good many of the Sections are now living under canvas and have often had difficulty in finding a suitable place to cook. So we have had built a kitchen on two wheels which is pulled along by a big two-ton White truck used for sitting cases, and the real reason of my visit was to leave one with Section One.
As it happens, they are situated at the present moment in the splendid Château de Billemont about four kilometres outside of Verdun, which up to a few weeks ago was the headquarters of some French officers. But the Germans, having got hold of the fact, shelled them out. It is an ideal place for our men.
The poste de secours to which they are attached is six kilometres the other side of Verdun; and since ten days before my arrival, and during my stay, the French have been doing incessant attacking and counter-attacking, the work of carrying the wounded has been practically continuous night and day.
Going to the poste de secours from the château, you pass through Verdun, and continue on a wide, level road for about one kilometre, and then you start up a very steep hill which continues, for five kilometres, right to the poste de secours. This road is very narrow and sufficiently dangerous from a driving point of view apart from the fact that it is shelled continuously day and night. Indeed, one of the duties of Townsend, Section Director, is to go up every morning at daybreak with a couple of men and fill up the holes which have been made during the hours of darkness, so that our cars will not fall into them.
The poste itself is only one hundred and fifty yards from Fort Saint-Michel, which, of course, accounts for the attention which that part of the country gets from the German artillery. Besides this, the whole valley and hillsides are covered with French batteries, and the din at the top of the hill makes it impossible to talk in anything like an ordinary tone of voice.
The day driving is comparatively nothing. The part, however, for which they deserve all the praise that we can give them, is their work at night. Naturally no lights are allowed, and I have never seen a country that can produce darker nights than that district. Therefore let one try and imagine the difficulties of starting from the top of that hill with a car full of wounded and driving down a narrow hillside road in a blackness impenetrable for more than a yard. In fact if it were not for the light given by the firing of the guns and hand-grenades, the work would be well-nigh impossible; and what makes it more difficult still is that all the traffic starts at night when the ammunition is brought up to the various batteries and you are continually finding teams of horses almost on the top of the car before you have any idea of their presence. The round trip from the poste de secours to the hospital takes from two hours and a half to three hours, which averages a speed of about ten kilometres an hour. This will give an idea of how slowly one has to go.
When I visited the Section, it had been doing this work for ten days before I got there, and yet there was not the slightest sign of fatigue or impatience among the men. I doubt, however, if any man in the Section had had, during that time, five hours' consecutive sleep. But far from shirking what they had to do, they were each and every one of them attempting more than their share. One night, for example, the Médecin Chef, who had charge of the poste, received word to prepare, on account of an unexpected attack, for an unusual number of wounded, and fearing that Section One might not be able to handle the situation alone, he called out as reserve a French Section which was in Verdun. No deeper offence than this could have been offered to poor Townsend, and every man in the American Section worked double that night. Needless to say that the French Section stayed where it was --- in reserve. The idea that any situation was too big for our boys to handle was something not to be considered.
No matter how carefully a man drives at night, a number of accidents are bound to occur. In one night there were six. Of course these were minor accidents which could be repaired in a fairly short time. For instance, the White camion one night went into a ditch; two cars went head on into each other in the darkness; two more cars went into ditches and another fell into a shell-hole. Occasionally, of course, something occurred which would put a car out of commission three or four days, which means that the Section is that much short. If this sort of thing happens too often the authorities get impatient and threaten to replace the incomplete Section by a complete one, which, of course, about breaks the hearts of our fellows. So in the end we had cars in reserve for each Section to prevent this contingency ever happening.
The fact that every car has been hit makes no impression whatever on the men. I do not mean to say by this that they are reckless or foolhardy; on the contrary, they take all possible precautions. But when there is anything to be done, it is carried through without question or hesitation. Without exaggeration and without indulging in any blood-curdling stories, their work really impressed me as tremendously fine. Nothing that I can say can give an idea of how splendid these boys are.
JOHN H. McFADDEN, JR.*
*Of Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania, '13; entered the Field Service in October, 1914; became treasurer of the organization in France; left the Service in 1917 to accept the post of Assistant Military Attaché at the American Embassy in Paris.
NOTES FROM A DIARY
Cappy, Somme, April 3, 1916
I spent the night here at our advanced poste. The town is in ruins. There was no call for the trenches. The night was too clear. I woke about 4 A.M., thinking it was late because I heard the birds chirping, but found it was only the rats squeaking. The place is full of them; they walk over you at night. But nobody cares. The country is full of quail and hares, but no one bothers them and they are very tame.
This morning I watched the twenty-first "Suicide Club" practising hand-grenade throwing. Magoun and I noted where the things were thrown, with the idea of picking up a few fusées afterwards. Now and then they don't land right; so Magoun later picked up a couple of unexploded ones and offered me one. I declined and told him he had better let them alone. just as we were arguing up came a file of men with shovels to bury the unfired grenades. When they saw Magoun with two in his hands they nearly had a fit; said he was crazy, and to prove it they told us to get in a near-by trench and they'd show us. So we all crawled in and an expert then recocked the little spring and threw the grenade, which went off with a bang that shook the trench! That evening we got a call to carry two blessés --one man with his face mutilated and another one with his feet blown off, who, oddly enough, had been "fishing" in the canal, by throwing hand-grenades in and then collecting the dead fish which floated up to the surface --- a nice sporting thing to do! I must say I could n't feel very sorry for them. The same night we heard a heavy explosion close to our farm and at first supposed that it was an incoming obus. But it really occurred in the back room of a café in which we eat, and a call came shortly after when we collected three more poor fellows hurt, and three dead, from fiddling with hand-grenades. I made a point to rub it into Magoun, calling his attention to the fact that that day, in our Sector, the French lost more men through their own carelessness than from Boche activity.
Roche, Magoun, Francklyn, and I now occupy the palatial apartment known as the "rat incubator." Some of the boys --- Underhill, Baylies, and Paul --- have erected a tent; as they were above us in the "Rat Hole," and their feet kept continually coming through the ceiling carrying plaster and splinters on to us, we are now more comfortable and clean, although Lewis, Lathrop, and Edwards are still up there. Townsend, White, and Woodworth have the best rooms in a really well-kept house, while Sponagle, Cunningham, and Winsor sleep next to the repair shop. The Lieutenant and the other Frenchmen attached to the Section sleep in the bureau, a nice little well-kept cottage also. The washing is done by a dear old woman who hates to leave and hopes, despite orders, to stay.
Yesterday I was "Chow," that is, the man who sets the table and waits on it. Each takes this duty by turns. But as we eat everything off the same plate, that is each one of us has but one plate, with the same fork and knife, there is no great strain upon the Admirable Crichton on duty. Although I got to bed at 3 A.M. I had to be up at 6.30 to set the table, being "Chow." It's a great life, though, which I would n't miss for worlds. We have a lot of fun on the side; play base-ball and a funny sort of adaptation of tennis with a hoop. At night we play roulette for centime stakes, occasionally fish for pike with a sort of trident made out of old Ford brake rods, and swim now and then when it is warm.
Whte and Campbell finally received their decorations to-day. An amusing incident occurred when the General took White, who had been told to stand out in front of the line, to be a mere onlooker and ordered him back. It had to be explained to him that this was the hero who was to be decorated! The General apologized, of course, but it got every one giggling and somewhat marred the solemnity of the occasion.
Cappy, June 1
Big mortar batteries are arriving along the front. I saw several here, at Cappy, this afternoon, hidden near the cemetery. Nowadays even when a man gets killed he is not permitted to rest in peace. The Germans, trying to reach these new mortars, are bound to blow hell out of the cemetery.
Bayonvillers, June 2
I had fun with Francklyn this morning. It appears that he used Imbrie's paillasse last night, so that when Imbrie and I returned from Cappy, it was nowhere to be found. Francklyn was still asleep; so we carried him, bunk and all, out into the main street and placed him, on the sidewalk. A large crowd immediately gathered, thinking he was a blessé, as he had nothing on but a blanket. He woke up just as a division staff was passing, and he certainly did make a quick jump for the yard with the blanket flapping like the tail of a kite behind his long, bare legs as he beat it.
Éclusier, June 13
The other day a trooper fell off his horse and hit his head and they ordered me to carry the unconscious man to Villers-Bretonneux. The car was already full, but I piled him in and took him along to save argument. Of course I had a hideous time at the hospital at Villers, not having a ticket for him. For an hour or so nobody could take him in --- the usual red tape.
To-day I had an interesting talk with a French Lieutenant. He says the Senegalese are awfully hard to handle. They won't stand shell-fire, but don't mind machine guns, so Frenchmen are put on either side of them --- fifteen hundred Senegalese in each division. They have strings of Boche ears which they keep as trophies. On the other hand, the "Germs" always kill the black wounded and prisoners; so it is about fifty-fifty.
To-day we saw the funeral of two aviators. It was quite impressive. One plane made the sign of the cross in the heavens above the grave.
Châlons, June 23
The French kids are good little fellows. To-day one insisted I should have a rose in my buttonhole. Everywhere they give us flowers or candy. Another led me by the hand all around the village of Pont-Sainte-Maxence. Along the roads they always, girls and boys, click their heels together and give the military salute when we pass.
Bar-le-Duc, June 25
We, all went to bed at 7 A.M. and slept until Roche was awakened by something licking his face. Thinking it was one of the dogs, he just gave it a slap, and then the whole tent nearly collapsed! A stray cow had drifted in and tried to get acquainted! The riot that followed set all thought of further sleep at an end.
Dugny, June 29
One gets some astonishing directions when one is working at night in a new country. For instance, in going to Fort Tavannes, I was told to go along a certain road, until I passed two smells and then turn to the left. This referred to two piles of dead horses!
Verdun itself is pretty well shot to pieces. To-day I noticed a marble statue of Napoleon standing up in a hole above the street, which hole used to be a window in a house. The statue creates a rather impressive effect, as it looks out over the ruins and desolation toward the smoking, rocking hills.
Verdun, June 30
The other day Bowman carried a Division Commander whose leg was cut off by a " 77." He died in the car in the arms of his orderly, whose only words were, "It's too bad, too bad, to be killed by a mere '77' after all he had been through." Around here nothing under a "130" is regarded as amounting to much.
Dugny, July 1
We have now three dogs attached to the Section. Besides "Vic," Magoun has picked up a little woolly one at Bayonvillers, while Bowman got a sad sort of mongrel pointer along the road to Bar-le-Duc. They are really more trouble than they are worth, as they continually get lost, while at night they come nosing into the men's blankets and get kicked out to the accompaniment of the usual yelping. Fleas, of course, also help. There are signs, I see, of another dog joining the squad here.. It looks somewhat like a young hyena and is hanging around the cantonment. The tame crows and fox of the camion drivers at Bayonvillers were amusing and could be caged, but these pups are continually escaping. What with our three tents, the zouave, "Lizzie," and the varied menagerie, we certainly are assuming the aspect of a traveling circus.
On the road into Verdun this morning, George End saw a man killed by the shock of a "210." The "Germs " were attacking Thiaumont again when a shell exploded just beside the road, but without touching the man, who was killed simply by the shock.
Imbrie is certainly a "scream." He remarked to-day that on going out on his run to the poste the road was O.K., but coming back he saw a fresh-killed horse. He said: "Now that's the sort of a thing that causes one to stop and reflect, but I didn't. I jammed down both the levers and did my reflecting at forty miles an hour." When Francklyn came in and said "to be careful " on a certain road, Imbrie, with his usual cheerfulness, remarked: "Careful! careful! Good Lord, how's anybody going to be careful? If we wanted to be careful, we should have been careful not to leave America."
A GAS BARRAGE
Many new dead horses along the road. The gas gets them, even the smallest whiff, and of course they have no masks. Speaking of gas reminds me that the Germans have been trying a new dodge --a sort of tir de barrage of "77" gas shells. These shells do not make much noise, but the gas spreads fast. The men who were caught by it all admit that they had taken off their masks for one reason or another. Some get sick at their stomachs and that forces them to take off their masks. It is not amusing to talk to, men who don't know they are as good as dead! One really should have two masks, switch from one to the other in such a case, not breathing meantime. We all have had another one issued to us to-day.
Triaucourt, July 30
I have been struck forcibly with the quiet, restrained and generally dignified behavior of the thousands of French soldiers camped about here. They wander through the handsome Poincaré château grounds and never disturb or injure anything. Bottles of wine left to cool in the spring are not touched.
Billemont, near Verdun, August 21
We have worked three days and three nights without any sleep except naps snatched in the cars. There was the usual comic scene with Baylies. Bowman was coming down the road when he found it blocked by a mass of dead and wounded horses, and men all tangled up with harness and wagons, and beside them one of our cars. It turned out to be Baylies who came running up to Bowman, exclaiming: "There's been an awful mess, Bob," and Bowman, perfectly unthinkingly, ejaculated, "Good Lord, what have you done now, Baylies?" Baylies was as sore as two sticks and growled, "Ah, where d'you get that stuff ? " --- his conventional answer to all gibes. The word "to Baylies" (French "Bayliser") has been standardized in Section One and is even spreading to the other Sections.
Our greatest difficulty is to snatch a chance to sleep. So far, I have run every night since we've been here and I take naps at the poste.. Five men get one night's sleep in three. I take off my hat to Roche, who can curl up anywhere and sleep peacefully. Last night, for example, he got a very bloody brancard, laid it under the bench where the blessés sit awaiting their turn to be patched up, and was sound asleep for four hours, while the Boches dropped "220" marmites around the poste and the groans of the wounded and chatter of the doctors and brancardiers kept up a continual disturbance. I've given up trying to sleep in the abris and so take a chance in the car outside. At least it is cool, though the air is foul with the odor of burned wood and rotting flesh.
A CLOSE ONE --- A CRAZY MAN
Francklyn and Walker had a close call to-day. They were sitting in the front of the dugout reading a paper, when a "105 " high explosive hit a tree not five yards from them. Pieces of the shell smashed into Francklyn's car and a shower of stones knocked the paper out of Walker's hand, while both men were thrown to the ground. Walker says all that he remembers was that some one seemed to snatch his paper away and knock him down at the same time, and he found himself crawling under his car, while Gyles made one long slide for the dugout entrance.
Verdun, August 25
I carried a crazy man this morning. I found him wandering aimlessly around Verdun with a nasty hole in his head and tried to get him into the car; but he kept insisting he was too heavy. Finally, with the aid of a couple of soldiers we I made him get aboard, though he murmured all the time, "Je suis trop lourd, je suis trop lourd."
On our last round to-day I carried a well-educated poilu about forty years of age who paid the American Ambulance many compliments. He said the soldiers of France would not forget the debt they owed us. This man had rifle bullets through both hands. He said he and another soldier "got the drop" on four Boches, who put up their rifles and yelled "Kamerad" in token of surrender. Then when the Frenchmen let down their sighted guns and beckoned them to come in, the Boches suddenly opened fire, wounding my man. But his partner and a machine-gun squad wiped out the four dirty curs before they could play any more of their foul tricks.
Vic White says the attack was only partially successful. He tells how one Boche was blown in three pieces high above the tree tops, when two of the pieces fell rapidly, but the third came drifting down slowly. It turned out to be the Boche's overcoat which had been ripped right off him by the explosion.
We have now a big White truck which carries eighteen assis at a time --- a great help, as it takes the place of more than three cars. When it toppled over the bank recently, there were seven French wounded sitting on one side and eight Boches on the other side. As the French were on the up side, they fell on the Boches who thought they were being attacked again! It was quite a job to get them all extricated. But apparently the mix-up did little harm to any one.
I carried a regular pousse café of a load this afternoon, --- a Boche, an Englishman, a Senegalese, a Martiniquais, and a Frenchman, with an American driving.
Verdun, September 7
It certainly is a satisfaction to note the contrast in the comments at the front concerning the American Ambulance from those to which one is forced to listen in Paris and other cities far from the lines. Here the soldiers can't praise us enough and the same is true of the officers and even of the priests. Many soldiers make it a point to salute the ambulances when they catch sight of the now familiar cars and uniform, because they have heard of the quickness and of the comfortable springs, --- so different from the ordinary type of camion ambulance. "Ah, c'est les volontaires! Bon!" is a common phrase from a wounded man.
Last night the commander of the 214th arrived with his regiment to relieve the 67th. We carried his body down this morning. He had n't been at the front three hours before a shell got him.
Section One cited by order of the Army Corps. This puts us "top dog" of all the foreign Sections.
La-Grange-aux-Bois, September 15
To-day the Section moved to the so-called front again, but in the Argonne this time --- to this little place named Sainte-Ménehould, where Louis XVI was kept by the revolutionists when he was caught. I saw the room in the town hall where he was prisoner.
To-day I took three joy-riding officers into Sainte-Ménehould, where they stayed for a couple of hours and came back with two live chickens, which I was told to carry over to the car, just like "Jimes in the ply," because it looked "odd" for them to do it. However, it's amusing and I don't give a hang anyway, as we are here to help the French.
Tyson is a great fellow, --- only about six feet four inches high! When he, Culby, and Roche come into a café the whole conversation stops --- everybody turns to see the giants. Pity we have n't still got Lathrop, for then there would be twenty-five feet of America represented by four men.
The Salonikans left to-day and Francklyn took little "Vic" with him, which I think peeved Section One almost as much as the loss of the men. "Vic" had come to be considered our mascot and knew us all well. He would associate with no one else. Peter Avard picked him up at Vic-sur-Aisne about a year ago when he was only a few weeks old. The pup always enjoyed going up to the firing-line, riding cheerfully on the front seat or on the hood. The poilus and brancardiers all knew him, and petted and fed him. I believe "Vic" has been under fire more often than any one of us.
It's astonishing how everybody trusts everybody else out here. The Frenchmen give us money to buy them wine, tobacco, send telegrams and so on; and we leave all our belongings lying around loose and they never touch them. Of course it would n't be safe to do this with Senegalese, and on a highway where the troops are passing; but in the lines nobody touches any one else's things.
Dombasle, April 13, 1917
This afternoon General Herr, the commander of the Sixteenth Army Corps, inspected us. We were introduced to him individually and he said some very complimentary things, remarking that with the entry of America into the war "the combat would be shortened." Amen, I say.
Flynn took Lidden to the Esnes poste. On their way, at "the bad corner," two shells dropped right close to them on the road, leaving several big holes in the car, and ripping the whole back out of Lidden's coat! Surely a remarkable escape, and "some" experience for a brand-new man on his first appearance on the firing-line. He had to remain at the poste for twenty-four hours, too!
BERRY-AU-BAC --- CRAONNE
Muizon, April 17
Our orders came to roll at 7 P.M. and the whole Section went out. We handled the wounded from Berry-au-Bac and Craonne. There were heavy fighting and heavy losses. The receiving hospital, which is far to the rear, was so full that we had to wait four and five hours before the cars could be unloaded, and the wounded, naturally, suffered terribly.
This has been an interesting day. Word came that A. Piatt Andrew was to be decorated with the Legion of Honor. General Rageneau, General Nivelle's second, the head of the entire Automobile Service, and so many other "stripers" that it reminded one of Sing-Sing, turned up. The cars were formed in a hollow square in the château courtyard, and some two hundred troops, beside "us volunteers," fell in before them. Section One had been selected as the oldest Section in the Field Service, and Andrew's Section as well. The day was perfect. Mr. Andrew arrived and presented us with our new Section Flag, with the croix twice starred on it, and the names of the battles in which we had served: Dunkirk, Ypres, Verdun, Somme, Argonne, Aisne, Champagne --- some eight or ten names. We were introduced to the General individually; and, after his speech, some of the older men were invited into the château to drink the health of France and the United States; Sponagle, Woodworth, Kurtz, Stockwell, and I were chosen. As it happened, the big guns were roaring straight ahead, behind, and all around us. In addition Boche aviators chose the moment to drop bombs on Muizon (our town) and the anti-aircraft batteries were going full tilt. One bomb fell into the Vesle right near our tent. We had been swimming in the stream but a short time before. It was a splendid mise-en-scene for such a military ceremony.
We have organized two baseball teams, the "Back and Forths " and the "Here and Theres." We have games every day, some of them most exciting. We have quite an audience of poilus, too. Of course, the playing is rather weird, but we get a lot of fun out of it.
While we were playing baseball to-day, the Boches jumped on two saucisses. One of the observers came down in his parachute all right.
Disaster! All are plunged in woe! They have spread manure over our baseball field!!
Villers-Franqueux, May 29
Our abris here are amusingly named. One is "le Métro" another is "Ça me suffit, " which the men pronounce "Sam Suphy"; still another, "Grotte des Coryphées," etc.
PROMOTION AND DUTIES
Louvois, June 25
Our new cantonment is at this place, about fifteen kilometres southeast of Reims. Word has just come that I have been made Chef, which carries with it the equivalent of a First Lieutenancy in the French Army. I do hope I can hold down this job properly. It is a difficult one, as the men are so hard to keep disciplined when they are not getting much work. In a way, I am sorry to be taken off my car, and the life of a Section Chief is rather lonely, as one cannot play around with the men as much as before. On the other hand, one has a staff car of one's own, and a private officer's room with an orderly, and all that, so that one's creature comforts are fine.
I fired a man to-day. I hate this sort of thing, but it has to be done. I told him that we want up here only men who are both able and willing to work and that he seemed to be neither. "What have I done? " he asked. "It's what you have n't done," I replied --- car never clean, breaking minor rules, shamming sickness when it is his turn to work, and so on. Everybody says I was perfectly right, and the boys all seem to approve the step.
This certainly is no soft job. I spend most of my time acting as a bumper between the Frenchmen in the Section and the boys who insist on "kidding" them. A Frenchman does not understand the American method of teasing and jollying, and gets raving mad, feeling insulted. And so I spend my time smoothing over alleged insults which were never meant.
I have had an interesting talk with a French officer to whom I said something about not understanding why they were so generous in conferring Croix de Guerre on Americans, when lots of Frenchmen, who had actually been in the trenches, had not got the decoration. He replied that that had nothing to do with it; that these Frenchmen were forced to go into the war, some of them very much against their will, whereas the American Ambulance men, who had volunteered long before the United States entered the conflict, were each and every one a small but vital factor in bringing America into the struggle. Every time a man volunteered, he carried with him the hopes and sympathies of all his relatives and friends; and as the Ambulance grew, so did the pro-Ally sentiment grow, by leaps and bounds, in the United States.
Haudainville, August 1
Reymond, our French Lieutenant, has had a funny argument with the Médecin Chef at Vaux, who insisted upon our carrying corpses of men killed right around the poste. We demurred, saying that it was the job of the mortuary wagons. Finally we compromised, the Lieutenant agreeing that if the corpses were still warm (!) we would carry them; but not any that had been dead a length of time. Rather gruesome, that.
Passing along the Douaumont road the other day to get one of our men out of a ditch, I saw a boot lying on the way. I picked it up to throw it out of the road, and found a rotten leg still in it!
We are in the midst of the heaviest work the Section ever had. The men and the cars are sights ---plastered with mud from top to bottom. No fenders or side boxes left, nearly every car full of holes from éclats, and two of them with their entire sides blown out.
AN UNEXPECTED ATROCITY
Flynn, who is driving No. 17, a car "presented by the Young Girls of San Francisco," --- this is the name plate attached to it, --- came back to-day announcing "another German atrocity!" "They've been knocking out 'the Young Girls of San Francisco,'" he said. And indeed, the whole side of his car was blown out.
Dallin is a funny chap. He likes to go up to the postes, even when off duty, and always asks to accompany the drivers. Just now he asked to go with Plow in the camionnette, although the road is being heavily bombarded. They certainly are a great bunch of boys! One couldn't ask for a better crowd to lead.
The cars are all "marching." That is due to Pearl, who is working his head off. He keeps them going in spite of everything and has grown a scraggy beard and worn out his clothes in the doing. But they go. The boys, too, are fine. Hardly any sleep, food grabbed when they can get it, but they make good every time. They are a splendid bunch.
This morning Rice came in plastered with mud. It rains every day and the roads are quagmires. Rice, who has a well-developed sense of humor, remarked, "If I were the French, I'd give the Boches the damned country and then laugh at them!"
Every hour, as the men return from the postes, some story of lucky escapes and weird experiences is brought in. It is the biggest work the Section has ever done.
We are to be relieved of the Haudromont poste by two French Sections! Some compliment, considering that only one half of Section One was working the poste!
The attack has been an unexpectedly big success. The Sanitary Service worked finely. Everybody is praising the Americans.
This job certainly is instructive, if nothing else. I am becoming quite a doctor. I treat all my children with the medicine chest furnished by the Field Service. All the various dopes are described and numbered in a little catalogue. I catechize the patient, look wise, scratch my chin, and then, after a quick "once over" of the catalogue, hand him out the pills.
Haudainville, August 31
Red Day and I have had a tight squeeze in the staff car here at this place. The Germans were shelling the road with "220's" at half-a-minute intervals. So we got up as close as we dared, and then made a dash for it with the throttle wide open just after a shell had landed. We made it by the skin of our teeth, the next shell failing within thirty feet behind us, exactly on the road. The shock was terrific and our ears were dulled for an hour or more.
The Boches shelled around the hospital all day to-day, and the smell is fierce, as they landed several of their shells in the graveyard. We, too, get shelled all day, and the avions drop bombs on us every clear night. For the first time I hear the men hoping for rain! Those boys, by the way have been wonderful. I never saw such work as they have been doing. It far exceeds anything the Section has done before, and I really don't see how they keep it up. Of course, I give them every bit of rest I can, and insist upon their being fed at a hours, both day and night. It is putting a crimp in the Section's books, but it's keeping them physically fit, anyway.
Little Tapley has an abscess; so, as he is pretty well done up, I sent him down to Paris for his Croix and gave him two days' permission to get his teeth fixed. An amusing thing occurred to him at Bar-le-Duc, where he was buying a little Croix ribbon, when an old poilu, noticing his extreme youth, came up and kissed him! You may imagineTapley's feelings!
We are still hard at work, and the men are still doing wonderfully, considering the strain under which they have been for five weeks. Two of the cars have been completely destroyed by shells, and several others have been badly hit. But we have managed to patch them up with bits of board and odds and ends. They don't look like ambulances, but they run. The sides of one have simply been remade out of two canvas sleeping bags. Only two of the men have broken down under the nerve strain, but the others are getting pretty jumpy.
FORDS AND PIGEONS
The French Army now apparently classes Fords with carrier pigeons! At least I received this morning a letter from Captain Foix, Intelligence Officer of the 32d Army Corps, which reads as follows:
"I herewith send you two crates of pigeons for General Riberpray's Division, whose headquarters are in the Carrière Sud. It would be very kind of you to deliver them to him, on behalf of the 32d Army Corps, and thus do me a great service, for our cars cannot go so far."
I gave them to Ned Townsend, and told him to "fly with them!"
Regan pulled "a funny one" up at the poste. He had some pretty close calls getting there; so, as he had not confessed for some time, he asked the Lieutenant to let him see the Catholic priest. The Lieutenant found the priest; but the latter couldn't understand English and Regan knew no French. Regan then asked the Lieutenant to translate his confession. But the Lieutenant, being a Catholic himself, refused, because, he said, it was n't the proper thing for a third party to hear a confession. Then the priest had a happy thought, and said he could absolve, or do whatever Regan's sins required, without understanding them. So Regan confessed in English, and got next to Heaven in good shape, although the priest did n't comprehend a word Regan said; and everybody seems to have been satisfied.
The latest method to, rehabilitate blessés, particularly couchés, is to be stopped by a cut road or a smashed-up ravitaillement train, while shells are coming in. Several of our men report remarkable resurrections of this kind. Couchés get out and run like deer, while assis make regular Annette Kellerman dives into abris. The other night Dix had to go up and down a line of dugouts shouting "Oosong mes blessés? Oosong mes blesses?" for half an hour, before he finally corralled his wounded and could proceed on his way. He relates that one of his couchés actually climbed off the top stretcher, all by himself, and succeeded in unfastening the back.
An amusing incident occurred while I was fixing things so that our cars could pass up to the door of the abris. A tall man in a blue cap called to me, "Why have n't you got on your helmet?" Thinking he was just a lieutenant like the rest of us, I shouted back, "How about yourself?" There was a laugh from one or two of the other "stripers" who were in the group with the tall man, and when I looked up to see what they were laughing at, I saw it was General Riberpray himself! --- the Commander of the 128th Division, who only grinned and said nothing.
THE DEATH OF GENERAL RIBERPRAY
General Riberpray was killed yesterday morning. It could n't have been more than two hours after we met. It appears that he went down the line and a shell got him.
At last, orders have come for us to move. We leave tomorrow for Vaucouleurs.
Last night, the English Section invited the Lieutenant and me to dinner and were mighty nice to us. They said we "had set them a pace that they found it damned hard to follow." Pretty good for the usually undemonstrative Englishman.
RESTING AFTER THE BATTLE
Vaucouleurs, September 18
We are slowly getting over the recent work. Personally, I slept straight through for twenty-four hours. We have had wonderful luck in coming out of the offensive virtually intact, at least as far as men go, for not a single car in the whole outfit escaped without a hole. At all events, we seem to have made quite an impression, as the English Section working with us could not make the front postes, excepting in the daytime, whereas we made them day and night, on account of the lightness of the Fords, and the quick-wittedness of our drivers, who filled up shell holes, with anything handy, as fast as they were made. Often, three or four times in one night, we would remake the road sufficiently for a Ford to pass over.
On our way here we passed many American troops in training, and one of the officers remarked that he "never had seen such a looking crew" --- referring to us. To be sure, one half of the boys were wearing trousers and poilu shoes; some had on helmets, and all had a week or two's growth of beard. Every one was covered with mud, and the cars were all smashed up as to headlights, fenders, radiators, and also covered with mud and dozens of éclat holes. Altogether, it was a scaly-looking bunch of heroes.
Allainville, September 28
The boys have lots of fun with the peasants. They dance with the girls, and jolly them in great style. We had a regular party last night. Several of the boys whistled on pieces of cardboard; others sang, and all had a fine time.
Section One has been cited "by order of the Army," and gets the Palm, "for its valiant conduct at Verdun in August, 1917, when everybody admired its audacity and zeal notwithstanding the continual bombardment of the roads by large asphyxiating shells; nor was there any interruption of its service, though suffering severe losses." The citation is signed by General Guillaumat.
Dr. W. P. Gary, Médecin Principal, of the 96th Division, sends an official letter to our Lieutenant Reymond, in which he refers to our "brilliant personnel" and to our "magnificent go, endurance, courage, and devotion." We feel that we are going out of the old régime into the new with every reason to be proud of one's record. Personally, I cannot find words to express what I think of those wonderful boys. May the new Service live up to the old!
WILLIAM YORKE STEVENSON*
*Of Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania; served in Field Service from March, 1916, to December, 1916, and April, 1917, to the end of the Field Service, when he was commissioned First Lieutenant, U.S.A. Ambulance Service, and continued work with Section One; author of At the Front in a Flivver and From Poilu to Yank.
SUMMARY OF THE SECTION'S HISTORY
UNDER THE UNITED STATES ARMY
It was with a glorious past that Section One of the American Field Service was taken over by the United States Army as Section 625 on the 30th of September, 1917, among the rolling fields and heavy woods of the Vosges at Aillianville, not so far from the home of Jeanne d'Arc.
Further, the Section was serving with the famous 69th Division composed of the 162d, 151st, and 129th regiments of Infantry and the 268th Artillery. The first two regiments as members of the 42d Division had been in the First Battle of the Marne at La Fère Champenoise.
The months of October, November, and December, 1917, the Section was to all purposes en repos, cantoned at Aillianville and Beaufrémont, the Division being engaged in teaching and training, around Neufchâteau, the 26th Division of the U.S. Army, the Yankee or New England Division, which during the ensuing year so magnificently earned its reputation of being among the very finest American troops.
On January 11, orders came to proceed to the sector of the lines in front of Toul, the Woevre, and the Section moved with the troops which marched through the heavy snow. On successive nights the cantonments were Fruze, Saulxures, and Charmes la Côte, and on January 17, Andilly, its permanent cantonment, was reached. That night the Division went into the sector of trenches between Seicheprey and Limey, west of Pont-à-Mousson. On the 18th of January the First Moroccan Division, which had occupied this sector, and more to the left, was withdrawn and their place to the left of Seicheprey and Flirey was filled by the United States First Division. This date is notable in that it marks the occasion when American troops first took over what might be called their own sector of trenches.
During the next five months --- for the 69th Division was in the lines here without a break for that period --Section 625 served the following postes: Xivray, Beaumont, Seicheprey, Poste Saint-Victor, Flirey, Bois de la Voisogne, Lironville, Limey, Saint-Jacques, Pont-de-Metz, Mamey, Poste Pouillot, Jonc Fontaine, and Poste Pétain in the Bois le Prêtre. During this period the evacuations were made to Minorville, Manoncourt, Rogéville, and Toul. As the U.S. First Division, and later the 26th Division which relieved it, took over more of the lines, the 69th slipped farther and farther to the right, until eventually its flank lay in the famous Bois le Prêtre in front of Pont-à-Mousson. On April 13, the Section cantonment was moved to Manonville.
It is true that this sector of the front had the reputation of being "quiet," and for the most part it upheld its character as such, but with the advent of the United States troops the whole neighboring line took on a more tense tone and coups-de-main for the purpose of taking prisoners, destroying positions, and to test opponents were more frequently indulged in. The whole sector had hibernated peacefully under the snows of winter until the first week in January, but it was then rudely aroused to the serious business of the New Year by an extensive and successful raid conducted by the Foreign Legion in front of Flirey, Seicheprey, and beyond the war-worn Bois de Remières. From the results of this raid it became apparent that the front lines on both sides were so lightly held that a coup-de-main, to become effective, must be conducted on a large scale and penetrate a considerable distance.
The work the Section was called on to do for the most part was not difficult, but when, as here, the trenches had been fixed for over three years, the shelling of roads, cross-roads, and postes de secours, especially those near a Poste de Commandement, was extremely accurate, and during a coup-de-main the evacuation of wounded was often conducted under heavy fire.
More than passing comment must be given the Boche attack of April 19 against the 102d Regiment of the U.S. 26th Division at Seicheprey, not only because this was the first engagement of any size participated in by United States troops, but because of the part Section 625 was called on to play. The attack was made at dawn, after a severe, but short preliminary bombardment by over 1000 picked Prussian Sturmtruppen, to the right of Seicheprey and near the place in the Bois de Jury where the United States and French troops joined. The line was pierced and the village entered from the side and rear. Very fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place during the ensuing day, and the enemy eventually retired toward their own lines occupying trenches in and near the Bois de Remières. Here they were pinned down by an enfilading cross-fire, but because of some misunderstanding or neglect, the four companies of the I02d Regiment designated for the counter-attack failed to take part with two companies of the French 162d Infantry who went over the top, and the enemy were allowed to regain their lines during the night without suffering further losses. Despite the unfaltering gallantry of the 102d Infantry, this engagement must be regarded as a Boche success, for although the casualties perhaps about balanced, the raiders gathered approximately 150 prisoners.
On June 4 the Section moved to Pagney-derrière-Barine near Toul. The morning of June 6 the Section started en convoi for Vitry-le-François, but received orders there to continue. At Esternay and Coulommiers further orders kept the Section en route, and three o'clock the following morning found it bivouacked in the market-place of Meaux, three hundred kilometres from its starting-point, with every car in good shape.
The civilians were rapidly evacuating Meaux, but the town was busy with the handling of American Marine wounded who were being brought in from the neighborhood of Bouresches and the Bois de Belleau. That day, by the way of Senlis, Creil, and Clermont, the Ferme la Quadre, near Nointel, was reached, where the Section rested and prepared itself, on June 8. It was apparent that a great Boche drive was pending, but the Section, though prepared, hardly expected to be ordered to the alerte at dawn on June 9 with the rumble of a tremendous barrage in its ears. It later proved to be a terrific attack extending between Montdidier and Noyon. Toward noon orders were received to proceed to Monchy-Humières behind Lassigny by the way of Arsy and Remy. The roads were jammed with the 69th Division going up in camions and refugees and wounded streaming back, and as the Section convoy neared Monchy about four o'clock, heavy and light artillery and fragments of infantry passed it, hastening to take up positions in the rear. It was by no means a rout, but even the most inexperienced eye could see that the enemy was coming very fast and that the situation was uncertain at best. The cloud of battle smoke approached rapidly and the line of enemy saucisses advanced steadily, while those of the French, still in the air attached to their motor trucks, passed the convoy bound rearwards. As Monchy was reached, orders were given for the Section to turn in its tracks and go to Remy, there to await further instructions. Along the return route elements of the 69th Division were going up across the fields in skirmish order. Darkness came, and still no orders had been received concerning the establishing of postes de secours, or as to the location of any units to be served. Because of the unsettled situation, Lieutenant Stevenson determined to separate the Section. About half the cars were left at Remy to await further orders, and the remainder, under the direct supervision of Lieutenant Stevenson, went to the Sucrerie d'Apremont, a kilometre behind Gournay, where the Lieutenant, in Huston's car, went out to establish connection with the French infantry in front. By this distribution the instant availability of a part of the cars was assured. During the latter part of the night there was a pause in the attack, probably due to the bringing up of fresh enemy divisions, but before dawn it was renewed violently. At that time the lines ran through Gournay-sur-Aronde, which was held by a mere skirmish line of infantry, alone. During the next four days the struggle surged back and forth through Gournay, Ferme la Porte, Ferme de Loge, and Antheuil, the fortunes of battle changing so rapidly that it was impossible to be sure where the lines or postes de secours would be the next hour. Because of the continuous succession of attacks and counter-attacks, the cars served battalion and regimental postes in extremely advanced positions subjected to machine-gun and rifle fire. On the fourth day, after having been forced back approximately three kilometres since the morning of June 10, the Division counter-attacked heavily, driving the enemy back two kilometres and establishing the line more firmly. But for a week the fighting was over a very irregular front, entirely in the open wheat-fields without trenches, or even camouflage or concealment for the "75's"; the postes served by the Section were often unexpectedly retired or advanced and the difficulties and the anxieties of the work were doubled. It is difficult to designate the postes worked by the Section during this period, June 9 to 18, for temporary postes were several times established in open fields or roadside ditches, but the main ones are as follows: Montmartin, Le Moulin, two kilometres; in advance, Sucrerie d'Apremont, the roadside behind Gournay, Le Ferme de Monchy, Le Ferme Beaumanoir, Monchy village, Château de Monchy, Baugy Château, Baugy village, and a roadside conduit in front of Baugy near the Compiègne-Montdidier highway. Evacuations were made to Le Fayel, Canly, Catenois, and Estrées-Saint-Denis. The Section cantonment was behind the church at Remy, the town being shelled frequently, and bombed severely every night by avions. On the 16th the Division started to withdraw from the lines, moving to the right as it did so, the Section being shifted to Venette on the edge of Compiègne, and postes established at Braisnes, Anelle, and Coudun. On June 20, the whole Division was out of the line, one regiment alone being held in active reserve, and the Section moved back to Jonquières, serving only one poste, at Lachelle.
The following twenty-four days of light work was welcome, not so much because of the rest it afforded the men, but because the Section felt what was still ahead of them and desired to be ready and prepared in every conceivable way. The 69th Division had played the main part in stopping what proved to be the last Boche drive which met with any measure of success or perceptible advance. The Division had met the very middle of the drive, borne its full force, stopped it, and then hurled it back almost to the same position where it had first come to grips, inflicting almost unprecedented losses on the three divisions which opposed it. Of course its own losses were heavy, the Section on three successive days evacuating over 1500 men, together with another 150 from the divisions on either side. During the next three weeks the regiments were rested and recruited up, and were trained for attack with tanks, the nature of their work in the future becoming apparent.
The night of July 4, orders arrived, and the following after noon the Section moved to the centre of the great forest just east of Compiègne, traversing the desolate streets of that city in the gathering dusk. Here a stop was made for two days near the Château de Franc Port, where the Section was quartered a week in 1916 on the way to the Aisne front. (Later the enemy armistice delegates were here to spend their first night within the allied lines.) Two days of solitude followed, unbroken except by avion bombing, but noon of the second day, July 17, brought directions, and at sundown the convoy took up its way through the aisles of the forest, reaching Pierrefonds before night. All extra equipment, a large part of the atelier, and the bureau were left in a house at the foot of that marvellous castle, and the first darkness saw the Section with faces turned toward the lines. Early dawn had been set with Mortefontaine, twelve kilometres away, as the rendezvous, but it was with the greatest difficulty that the order was carried out, for that night was filled with more muffled activity and strained anxiety than the world will ever see again. The road was jammed with every factor of a vast army, sensed around rather than seen, but revealed momentarily in the flashes; camions, wagons, caissons, machine-gun carts, staff cars, motor-cycles, artillery, little and big tanks, armored cars, cavalry with their towering lances, bicycle detachments, and always the plodding infantry in two endless columns following the ditches on either side. Steadily and ceaselessly this stream poured forward through the black, no singing, little talking, few orders; the tramp of feet in the mud, the rattle of wheels, the throbbing of motors, the staccato explosions of the motor-cycles, and the ponderous clanking of tanks; an irresistible tide of manhood, poilus and doughboys, shoulder to shoulder straining toward the future. Surely the night of July 17-18 should be as memorable and glorious forever as the dawn of July 18, the hour when the forces of liberty commenced their overwhelming attacks, never ceasing till the final victorious peace was attained.
At the first break of day the Section was all assembled at Mortefontaine in time to see the attack beyond. Again the Section was serving in the famous 20e Corps d'Armée, the first it had ever been attached to, and this time it was in Mangin's magnificent Tenth Army. As the battle progressed it turned as a pivot till, instead of facing east, as on the first day, on August 2, when Soissons fell before it, it faced north on its whole front. This manoeuvre required great skill of generalship and all the brains and force in personnel of a truly veteran organization.
July 19 again only a few cars were used, and these carried Americans, Moroccans, and soldiers of the Legion as well as their own Division's wounded. No definite postes were established, the wounded being picked up at widely scattered places.
The first postes de secours were established on July 20, in a roadside ditch near the ruins of the Raperie at a cross-road on the route from Cutry to Saconin, and on the 21st, in the village of Missy-aux-Bois. Then the Section commenced real work, for the runs from these places were constant, the evacuations all being made to Pierrefonds, twenty-five-odd kilometres to the rear, over rough, narrow roads at all hours solid with traffic. The Missy poste was in the cellar of the château on the northern edge of the town and adequately answered the purpose, being maintained until August 2. But the Raperie poste, which lay in the middle of some three-score "75's" in the open field, and within a stone's throw of an important cross-road, was different. It almost immediately became untenable as a place to retain wounded for more than a moment. On July 21, it was moved over a kilometre forward to a quarry-hole in the hillside above the village of Saconin, from which the enemy had just been driven. The mouth of the cave, labelled "Minenwerfer Hohle," faced toward the lines across the narrow valley, and was subject to a constant and severe fire, directed not only at the mouth of the poste, but the road in front, and the loop of the road behind and above. All postes, with the exception of the one at Missy-aux-Bois, were reached by one road which ran down the hill past the Minenwerfer Hohle, wound down through the little valley, through the village of Saconin, curled up the opposite side through the hamlet of Breuil, and up over the crest to the great covered quarry beyond. The evacuations which were made over this route were very numerous, as may be assumed from the fact that all the cars, including the camionnette and often the White truck, were working night and day steadily until the fall of Soissons on. August 2, the men snatching minutes of sleep rather than hours. Missy was reached by the route through Saint-Pierre-Aigle and Dommiers to the Croix de Fer on the Paris-Soissons highway, from which a small road led diagonally back to Missy.
On July 20, the Section cantonment moved into the town of Cœuvres, from which on July 21 it was shifted to an open field behind Dommiers, where the kitchen was placed in the lee of a destroyed tank and the men slept under the cars or in shell-craters, when they were fortunate enough to have an opportunity. Before this site could be made available, a number of bodies had to be removed and buried.
The night of the 22d a remarkable array of Scotch regiments, composing the 15th Division, entered the lines on the right; among them were some of the recognized élite of the British Army --- the Black Watch, the Gordons, the Seaforths, the Camerons, and the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. These troops went up to the skirling of the pipes, every man immaculate and the acme of military precision and orderliness; and after a week of terrific attacking, which terminated in the triumphant storming of Buzancy, came out the same way, unruffled and undisturbed, notwithstanding extreme losses, every man shaved and perfect in attire and equipment. The Section was privileged in evacuating many --- too many --- of them from Missy and temporary postes beyond Chaudun in the neighborhood of Ploisy and Berzy-le-Sec.
A poste in the village of Ploisy was established July 23. This was veritably among the French machine guns, for the lines --- if such they could be termed, being merely an irregular chain of isolated and almost unrelated positions and nests --- ran barely beyond the end of the village. The cars were allowed to arrive only after dark and were ordered to depart before dawn; but often dire necessity ruled and the runs were made by day as well. So insecure and vague were the lines here that the Division aumonier going up by day in one of the cars and alighting at Ploisy, walked unwarned into the enemies' positions a few hundred feet beyond and was made a prisoner.
Soissons fell on August 2, and the city was completely cleared to the river-bank in short order, with the exception of one tremendously strong outpost at the "hydraulic pump," where the Aisne loops in passing through. This was attacked and wiped out the afternoon of August 9 after severe concentrated artillery preparation, the cars being taken to within almost a stone's throw of the scene in the city streets before the barrage started, in order to be instantly available for the wounded.
On August 3 new postes were established at Billy-sur-Aisne, Carrière l'Évèque, the châteaux at Belleu and Septmonts, Noyant, Vignolles, and on August 7 one at the enormous hospital near the railroad station in Soissons. There were other temporary battalion and advanced postes at various places, a cave on the plateau beyond Carrière l'Évèque and two in Soissons, one near the Place de la République and one in a house on the east edge of the city.
The Section at dawn of July 30 had been shelled out of its cantonment in the field behind Dommiers and was fortunate in being able to move back to the vicinity of the château in Cœuvres without damage, On August 5, with the advance of the troops, it took up quarters in the village of Ploisy, the kitchen and atelier being set up next to the château and the men and cars being scattered in various places, a precaution made necessary by the continual shelling of the town itself and the numerous batteries surrounding it. The work of evacuation had been especially arduous because of the length of the runs necessary to reach the hospitals. From July 18 to 25, all evacuations were made to Pierrefonds over twenty kilometres by road from Cœuvres alone; on that day a small ambulance was opened at the château in Cœuvres, where gassed men, assis, and all slightly wounded could be left. About August 5 the evacuations of couchés and seriously wounded were changed to the hospital at Villers-Cotterets, more than twenty-five kilometres from Ploisy; but on August 14, the Section labors were greatly lessened by orders to evacuate all to a triage hospital situated in a great cave in Vierzy, barely ten kilometres from Soissons itself.
About this time one of the cars was detached to accompany the 162d Regiment, which was withdrawn from the lines and moved over to the left, crossing the Aisne at Vic-sur-Aisne and advancing into an attack as support to another division. It returned to its former place in less than a week.
Source of indignation was the lax and inexcusable manner in which the burying of the American dead was conducted. Despite the fact that at the 1st Division had been withdrawn from the lines on July 23, a great many of their dead lay unburied, kilometres behind the lines, for a full month. The French burying-parties, made up of territorials, were instructed that the Americans desired to bury their own dead, but despite this, for sanitary reasons, were forced hastily to cover many bodies. They could not have fallen later than July 22, for the 1st Division had been relieved then and no United States troops remained in this part of the line. The Section was working desperately at the time, and the men and time were not available to give these unfortunates a decent burial. The detachment of the 1st Division, stationed at Mortefontaine, for the purpose of properly marking and of mapping the locality of graves, was immediately notified. The reply Sergeant Day received when letting them know of these conditions was, "Well, that's a pretty hot place yet, and what's the use of risking your life for a dead man?" These bodies remained untouched till finally necessity demanded action, so on the 20th of August they were decently buried by friendly hands where they fell fighting fiercely in the Greatest Cause. The French had more than they could do to take care of their own victims, and to put away the Boches, and the Section to a man writhed in unavailing indignation that their own country's dead should be left to the care of hurried foreign hands without cause or even excuse. A contrast to this was the Scotch. Future generations will see orderly, neat, clean little cemeteries, which were erected and completed to their last tenant twenty-four hours after the Scotch were withdrawn from the lines.
The morning of August 28, the attack to cross the river was commenced and a few hours later the immediate suburbs of the city beyond, including strongholds at the distillerie, the briquéterie, and the abattoir were cleared and a tiny pontoon bridge laid. The first vehicle of any kind to cross the Aisne at Soissons or to the right was one of the Section cars driven by Irving Moses. The new postes de secours were all on the far bank along the fringe of the city, the briquéterie, almost immediately made utterly untenable, the abattoir, and the Abbey Saint-Médard, the last being the resting-place of ancient kings of France. Attack followed attack, the flats beyond the river were cleared foot by foot, but the Boches still retained the dominating heights along the edge of the plateau, and every inch of every road was open to machine-gun-fire. Toward the last days of August, the Division resumed its heavy attacks, crossed the Aisne, cleared the suburbs of the city on the other side and numerous positions in the valley, stormed up the heights to the plateau, captured Crouy, and put the enemy to open flight across the plateau top, pursuing them beyond Bucy-le-Long, Vregny, and Pont Rouge toward Vauxaillon, being relieved on September 7 at Moulin de Laffaux. The achievements of the 69th Division during these fifty-one successive days of terrible struggle have been recognized as one of the most heroic annals of the French Army.
The order for convoy to Nancy came September 15 and the Section proceeded to its destination by easy stages, stopping the first night at Châlons-sur-Marne in the market-place, and the second at Vaucouleurs, reaching Vandoeuvre, its billet on the edge of Nancy, the afternoon of September 17. En route the men had been given an opportunity for a hurried glance at the Bois de Belleau, where in those dark days of early June the Marines had thrilled the world; and a stop for lunch had been made in Château-Thierry, a name which will roll down the centuries as more American than French.
The three days at Vandoeuvre were spent in overhauling the cars and re-equipping, and September 22 found the Section quartered in the grounds of the field hospital at Millery on the right bank of the Moselle, having stopped for two days at Frouard while the Division slowly took over the lines to the right of Pont-à-Mousson, part of which was occupied by the 82d U.S. Division. On the 25th, a company of the 162d Regiment, and a company of the 29th Battalion of Senegalese, joined with the 60th U.S. Infantry Regiment in an unsuccessful attack along the right bank of the Moselle, in front of Pont-à-Mousson. The objectives were reached first by the United States troops, but they were forced to fall back sooner than were the French, who held on until it was obvious that their position could not be retained without entailing too expensive losses. During the attack the Section served a poste in the demolished site of a hospital beyond Pont-à-Mousson, and during the next few weeks had cars stationed at Sainte-Geneviève, Loisy, and Landremont, from which various advanced postes were worked. On October 10 the 92d Division of United States negro troops relieved the 69th Division, which nevertheless left its artillery for additional support until further protection could be afforded. The Section during the relief had the additional work of evacuating many footsore and sick soldiers of the 92d Division.
Again the Section spent a few days in Vandoeuvre and on October 14, moved to Eulmont, the Division shifting along the lines to the right. The sector here was very quiet, and the Section for some three weeks, as well as serving the 69th Division, took care of the 165th Division, which also belongs to the 32d Corps. Two more battalions of Senegalese were added to the Division. Again the Section prepared itself to take part in a tremendous attack. This time it was apparent, from military preparations, that the attack was to be upon a gigantic scale, dwarfing everything that the war had hitherto known; but the glorious news of the signing of the Armistice intervened at the last minute, and the old Section flag was cheated of another name to add to the immortal ones it already bore: Dunkirk, Ypres, Nieuport, Vic-sur-Aisne, Cappy-sur-Somme, Verdun, Côte 304, Reims, Route 44, Houdromont, Douaumont, Seicheprey, Monchy, Soissons, Crouy, and Pont-à-Mousson.
Here starts another phase in the history of Section Six Twenty-Five. As an American unit in the war, dating as a Section from the first days of 1915, and with an origin from almost the first hours of the war, it rightfully claims the distinction of being the oldest, the veteran organization, of America in the World War. The records show that from January, 1915, to the signing of the Armistice, it had evacuated well over 56,000 men. But now it turned willing hands to aid in the French Army of Occupation, the Tenth Army commanded by General Mangin.
On the 17th day of November the Section crossed the lines between Abaucourt and Jallaucourt and slowly travelled with the Division through Lorraine into Germany. Stops of several days were made at Tincy, Suisse, Gesslingen, Helleringen, and Sulzbach, and finally on December 9, Neunkirchen was reached, where the Section remained comfortably quartered for several weeks. About the only incident worthy of comment during this period was the attempt by hidden snipers to shoot Orrie Lovell and Weld while transporting sick to the hospital. In the early part of January, the 69th Division was split up, the various regiments returning to their old Corps, which fact left the Section unattached and with no services to render. On January 20, orders came to report to the Parc at Mayence and the 130-kilometre convoy was made in good shape. Billeted on the edge of Mayence in the town of Bretzenheim, the Section waited for orders to report to the U.S. Army Ambulance Service Base Camp for demobilization and return to the United States. A fitting climax to the four years' service came on the receipt of the 5th Citation à l'ordre de l'armée, which carried with it the privilege of wearing the Croix de Guerre Fourragère, for the splendid work of the past summer near Compiègne and around Soissons.
EDWARD A. G. WYLIE*
*Of New York City; Yale; in S.S.U. 1 and Six-Twenty-Five during 1917-19. The above is from a privately printed History of Section 625.