SECTION EIGHTEEN left Paris on May 8, 1917, going to Glorieux, near Verdun, working the postes of Bras and Montgrignon, and thence to Thonnance-les-Moulins en repos. It worked in the French attack at Verdun in August, where the Section received a divisional citation. From Verdun it went to Dolancourt, en repos, and thence to the hospital at La Veuve, in the Champagne, near Châlons-sur-Marne, in October, where the break-up took place and its U.S. Army régime began as Section Six-Thirty-Six.
'The Ambulance Sections', History of the American Field Service in France, "Friends of France" 1914-1917, Told by Its Members, Volume II (Boston and New York: Houghton and Mifflin Company, 1920)
Come, come, O Bard, from out some unknown
place, Come and record, in words and songs of fire,
The valiant deaths, the struggles of the race,
The fight to check an Emperor's desire!
Come strike thy harp; the force of man is hurled;
--- Give us an Iliad of the Western World!
On May 8, 1917, Section Eighteen left Paris for an unknown destination. All of the cars, in the park at 21 rue Raynouard, looked very gay in their new paint with the crossed French and American emblems emblazoned on their sides. Each man glanced over the group and chose the car that appealed to him most, the choice usually being governed by the facility with which the engine could be started. During the next few days there was a mighty tuning of motors, inspection of equipment, filling of bidons, and making of trial spins. Finally the name plates were attached and everything put in readiness. About 9.30 A.M. Paul Kurtz, our Chef, gave the signal, we left the park, lined up on the quai in numerical order, made one last adieu, and passed out through the streets and boulevards of Paris in convoy formation. It was a proud moment for us all.
Our final stop for the day was at Sézanne, where we parked our cars in the court-house square, and found that the day's run had been rather remarkable, every car having got through in good order. A can of "monkey meat," a hunk of bread, and a bar of chocolate served for supper, after which the cots were set up in the cars. Some of the men, however, preferred the grand stand. Needless to say, it was not necessary to rock the Section to sleep that night.
Early the next morning we took the road again and soon entered the valley of the Marne, a country of plains and rolling fields which smiled in the early sunshine, for nature had well repaired the ravages of man. It required a being without a soul to devastate such a spot as this. Now the roadside graves grew more numerous, and we felt that we were passing through a region where world history had been made. From Vitry-le-François, we hurried to Bar-le-Duc, where we were directed to Fains, a treeless, uninteresting little place of one street, which was our temporary headquarters. Two days later the coveted order came authorizing us to proceed to Verdun.
An early start was made from Fains, and the convoy passed through the edge of Bar-le-Duc and then out into a fine rolling country over a good road that led us slowly on among never-ending vistas of hills and valleys, woods and fields. We were now on the main artery of communication with Verdun and there was much to catch and hold our interest. About noon we arrived at Vadelaincourt, which was to become our regular "port of call," and we then passed into a section where trenches and barbed-wire entanglements formed a goodly portion of the landscape, and where, in the distance, could be heard the occasional boom of a gun, while about us were ammunition dumps, parked camions, cavalry en repos, and other military essentials that led us to believe that at last we were going to have a first-hand view of "the real thing." As we turned into the edge of Verdun, and the ruined houses began to rear their fragmentary walls, we realized that the description of this locality had not been overdrawn. Skirting the edge of the town we swung into the cantonment at Glorieux and brought our cars to a halt.
At Glorieux we relieved Section Eight, which had done arduous service in this sector in the various attacks of the preceding months. Our cantonment was about one mile from the citadel of Verdun on the southwest side, and was located on the slope of a hill from the crest of which a large portion of the defences to the north of Verdun could be seen. It was made up of several stone hospital buildings and numerous long frame barracks. The bâtiment which Section Eight evacuated the morning after our arrival, and which we took over, was a commodious one and we were able to fix ourselves up very comfortably, indeed, these quarters being considered among the most comfortable at the front. In an adjoining bâtiment was an English section, also numbered eighteen, and attached to the French Army. They did evacuation work alternately with us, and the two groups were thrown close together and became very firm friends.
BRAS --- MONTGRIGNON --- MAISON NATHAN
At the outset only two postes de secours were assigned to Section Eighteen, one being located in the ruins of the village of Bras and the other across the Meuse from the village of Thierville, and known as Montgrignon. The village of Bras was near the Fort de Côte du Poivre and about four miles north of the citadel of Verdun, the poste de secours being installed in a well-constructed abri which, however, abounded in rats and was pervaded with the odor of acetylene gas used for its illumination. This town formerly housed about fifteen hundred inhabitants, but at this time there was hardly a wall standing, and the ruins were intersected in every direction by communication trenches. When the poste was taken over, it was about twelve hundred yards from the German first-line trenches.
As the road to Bras could not be used in the daytime, the wounded were brought down the canal in a péniche and unloaded at the poste at Montgrignon, from which point the ambulances carried them to Maison Nathan, a residence originally built for and occupied by General Bouvet, who planned the fortifications of Verdun. It was a sort of villa constructed on three sides of a square, the fourth side opening on a very pretty garden, which also was cut up by communication trenches. The fruit trees were sadly shattered, and among the flowers lay unused hand grenades, unexploded obus, and various other specimens of the flotsam of war; but still the apple blossoms, the lilacs and the columbine --- the bleeding heart of a flower which typifies France --- made a brave show. The Maison, which, I may add, was just inside the Saint Paul gate at Verdun, was badly shell-torn, and as it was still bombarded, the wounded were handled in specially prepared rooms in the cellar. In a word, Maison Nathan was a kind of clearing-house, where the doctors classified the wounded or sick, according to their hurt or ailment., and then tagged them for evacuation to the various hospitals in the vicinity. So here in the courtyard we kept our cars ready to go to Bras or Montgrignon or to the surrounding hospitals.
In the beginning we were assigned, as quarters at the Maison Nathan, a room in the cellar adjacent to the kitchen, a hole with only artificial light, partly electric and partly from oil lamps. We slept fully clothed in the beds and dared not investigate the blankets. A cat and her kittens ate and slept on these same beds. Later, a room was secured on the first floor which was made fairly comfortable, and where at least fresh air and sunshine could be had, though at night the windows had to be carefully covered in order that no light might show outside. In case of bombardment, the abri was quite handy, and we knew, in the dark, every foot of the way thereto.
VARIETIES OF WORK
As a general thing there was sufficient variety in our work to keep us entertained while on duty, for there were the blessés, the brancardiers, and the poilus to talk to, the ruins of the town to explore if time permitted, reading and writing and many arguments on various topics, all of which caused the time to pass away very pleasantly. But the men were not allowed to visit Verdun, nor to stray far from the cantonment, particularly in the directions where batteries were stationed. Yet, just before dusk, the top of the hill behind the camp was quite a gathering-place, as from there could be caught glimpses of Douaumont, Côte de Talon, Côte du Poivre, and other points of interest, while the flash of the guns, the bursting of obus, the illumination of the star-shells, and the display of the signal rockets were a never-ending fascination.
On the road to Bras it was duck and dodge and twist and turn, and when the eye-strain became too great, we sometimes parried things that did not exist. Along the Faubourg Pavé we went, and up the Belleville Hill, striving to make it in "high." A turn to the right at the top and it was a straight run to Bras, with the camouflage on the left and the open fields on the right, and plenty of traffic rattling by with the flash of a searchlight here and there to indicate positions, or a dazzling glare from a star-shell that soon expired and left the darkness blacker than ever. So a wave of relief swept over us as we passed under the waving arches of camouflage that graced the streets of the ruined town, and this feeling was accentuated when we slipped the car into the shelter and we ourselves descended the steps to the abri where the brancardiers, the rats, and various odors welcomed us. We shan't forget in a hurry that road to Bras.
EN REPOS --- THONNANCE-LES-MOULINS
On June 28, we were notified that we should leave the next morning to go en repos. In view of the expected offensive in the near future in which our Division was to take an important part, the soldiers were to be given a good rest behind the lines and the Section was to accompany them. So the cars were loaded that day, and the next morning early we took the road to the rear after seven busy weeks in the immediate sector of Verdun. The convoy had a pleasant run through some very charming French country. The day was ideal, and the wealth of color in the landscape suggested the hand of a master painter. We followed the broad highway to Bar-le-Duc, and were interested in seeing civilians again while the sight of the feminine filled us with wonder. At Suzannecourt our cars were parked near an ancient and run-down château where quarters were secured for most of the boys. The stores were unloaded and set up, and after a good meal we were all glad to "turn in." The next day, however, we received a jolt. The French authorities had sent us to the wrong town, so we had to pack up again, bid good-bye to our new-made friends, and seek quarters ten kilometres farther east. A short run brought us to our destination --- Thonnance-les-Moulins --- a small village with only two cafés, nestling in a valley among some well-defined and wooded hills and with a delightfully clear and cold little stream near by where the drivers could scrub themselves and their cars. These cars were parked in a field behind the mairie and adjacent to the stream, while the kitchen and the atelier were set up in the stable-yard of our main billet.
The men who had the good fortune to be quartered among the townspeople now experienced the exquisite pleasure of sheets, pillows, and feather mattresses, something it was mighty difficult to pull us away from in the morning. The old peasant women who rented the rooms did not understand our habits any better than most of us understand their mitrailleuse speech, this being their first experience with the Americans at close range. Everything considered, however, we lived together in peace and harmony, and at the same time had an opportunity to gain an intimate knowledge of the French peasant class.
THE GLORIOUS FOURTH
Soon after our arrival at Thonnance, the "Glorious Fourth" came to pass. So large United States and French flags were hung at the entrance to our stable-yard, and that evening we had a sumptuous repast, including champagne and several speeches wherein we spoke very nicely of ourselves. It was, indeed, a "large" day, and though the natives did not know what the Fourth of July was, they suspected that it was quite an important occasion. The French Government, in view of the Fourth and the landing of American troops in France, allowed us a two days' leave in Paris, which by travelling at night were stretched into four days. This was, indeed, a welcome break in our daily life, and the "bright lights" were thoroughly enjoyed by those who could scrape together sufficient funds.
In the meantime the regiments of the Division were busy practising for the offensive at Verdun. The G.B.D. unit had to listen to lectures on their duties, and as there was little for Section Eighteen to do but sit and wait --- we had almost eight weeks of that --- the inaction began to tell on the men before the end came. With a world war in progress within cannon sound of us, we felt that we were spending our time as though we were at some summer resort. So when finally we were told, on August 6, that we should return to Verdun the next day, there was universal rejoicing. We packed our things, hitched on our kitchen trailer, and about noon, on a bright summer day, took the road back to what we knew would be a wonderful experience if we lived to see it through.
"COMING HOME" TO GLORIEUX
To most of us, the return to Glorieux was somewhat like a home-coming; but this time we did not have the commodious quarters that we formerly occupied. Indeed, we were restricted to three rooms, and the remainder of the building was given over to a French G.B.D. transport squad, and our English friends of S.S.A. Eighteen, who arrived soon after we did, and who had to be partly quartered in tents. What were barracks before had now to be converted into hospital wards. But otherwise things had not changed much since our departure. The cemeteries had grown a bit, some temporary structures had been erected, and there was an observation balloon station near by that interested us mightily. The hill from which we had been accustomed to make so many thrilling observations was also there, but alas, we were forbidden to ascend to the top. But as many plum trees grew near the crest of the hill, and as we were all very fond of that fruit, this proved some compensation.
During the first week of our stay there, we had very little to do, as our Division, which, in view of the attack, had been augmented by another regiment, had not yet moved up to the trenches. Most of our activity consisted in keeping a car at the Caserne Griboval for the purpose of hauling the Médecin Divisionnaire around on his various inspection trips and to his numerous conferences. Occasionally, too, a car went on a special run, and on such occasions the driver was envied. Interest was increased by the fact that the roads were now being strictly policed, illuminated signs placed along the routes at all crossings and various traffic rules enforced ad literatim.
Along about August 15th, our Division began to enter the trenches and the Médecin Divisionnaire moved his headquarters to Bras, which poste we then commenced to work regularly. In the beginning, most of the men handled were gas cases, for the Germans were using a shell containing a new kind of gas. It had no odor and the effects were not felt to any degree until a good many hours after the victim had been subjected to it, when the eyes, nose, throat, lungs, and stomach were attacked, and, penetrating the clothing, it would raise large blisters where it came in contact with the sweaty parts of the body.
DRIVING AND LUCK
Successful night driving now became largely a matter of good judgment and luck. As the rain had ceased, dust became an important factor in the art, and when the gas-mask had to be put on, progress on the highway was pure guesswork. The Bras road was barely wide enough in places for three vehicles abreast, and then it was necessary for one of them to run on the dummy track alongside. When an ambulance dashed out from behind some convoy and took a chance in the darkness and dust, it never knew what it was going to meet; and when some vague shape loomed up almost upon one, one had to find a hole somewhere and find it quickly. If there were horses on the right-hand side of the road, you could push them into the ditch and make this hole, and, incidentally, be glad you could not understand the language of the driver. All the other vehicles were larger than a Ford ambulance, and generally you had to rely on a hole being made for you. In the midst of all this, perhaps you might lose a mudguard, dent a fender, or smash a lamp, but that was just a part of the game.
PANDEMONIUM AT BRAS
The approach to Bras on the night of the attack was a scene of bewildering confusion. The road was choked with horses and vehicles of every description seemingly mixed in inextricable chaos, brancardiers were going forth empty-handed or returning with silent burdens, batteries roared and flashed in every direction, while shells whistled overhead continuously. The route was lit up by the glare of two burning camions which had been struck by German shells, and the ruined town, with its waving arches of camouflage, presented a weird and grotesque appearance as the lights and shadows played about its distorted walls and crumbling piles of masonry.
A short while after midnight, gas-shells began to come over, and then the confusion became worse and the difficulties for us increased ---for as the breath soon condenses on the lenses of the gas-mask, to see through it at night is well-nigh an impossibility. Horses affected by the gas pranced all over the road, and their drivers, looking like so many ghouls, cursed inaudibly beneath their masks, doubly irritated by their inability to see clearly. In the meanwhile, the traffic assumed more and more a condition of turmoil, and finally everything had to be halted until the worst had passed, while those of us at the poste were compelled to enter the abri, where every crack and crevice was tightly closed, and what with every inch of space occupied by sleeping, eating, or smoking poilus, it was a question of whether the air without was not preferable to that within. But as soon as there was a lull in the gas attack, the ambulances were loaded and started on their way. Most of them, however, did little more than start, for soon the gas was as thick as ever, and again the traffic became badly congested and everything had to halt. With our gas-masks on, we waited, wedged in the mass, while on one side fell the gas-shells, on the other the high-explosives, and overhead occasionally burst shrapnel. Sometimes a shell would find its billet, and the screams of horses and shouts of men would add to the hideousness of the scene. After what seemed an interminable time, the gas let up, the road was partially cleared, and, though still hampered with gas-masks, we crawled and felt our way toward Verdun, where we deposited our burdens at the triage with a feeling of relief that no words can describe.
It was during the night just mentioned that Long, hearing an aeroplane bomb burst behind him, got out of his car, investigated and, finding a man with his leg nearly torn off, immediately applied a tourniquet, using a piece of trace rope, a hammer, and one of his tire tools. He then loaded him with two other wounded into the ambulance, and hurried to the hospital, and thus saved a life by his prompt action, for which he later received the Croix de Guerre. This is one of the many fine examples of the work done by our men during this stormy crisis.
THE MORNING OF ATTACK
During the night of August 20 and the early morning of the 21st, the bombardment was intense, and soon after dawn the troops went over, when the road to Bras became a very unpleasant sight, for it was lined its whole length with dead and dying horses and the wrecks of vehicles. Near the junction of the Petit Bras with the Bras road was a particularly gruesome scene, a bursting shell having involved a camion and a horse-drawn ammunition wagon, left the bodies of four of the horses, two partially burned, lying in the ditch, the wreckage of the conveyances, and numerous loaded shells strewn all about, while in the midst of the repulsive mess was a poilu whose body was completely severed at the waist and the skin burned from the nether limbs.
For the whole of the day the little Fords went up and down the Bras road like so many mechanical toys. The shelling was still pretty warm in the localities roundabout, and the highway was so full of shell-holes that it was a wonder the springs ever stood the strain. In the meanwhile, the wounded were being brought into the triage so rapidly that its facilities were overwhelmed, and the drivers had to act as their own brancardiers, depositing the wounded in the open courtyard until room could be made inside the building. Finally we even had all to turn in and evacuate them to the railroad station at Souilly, where they were transported to hospitals in cars of other sections.
August 31st was the red-letter day in the annals of Section Eighteen, when between seven hundred and eight hundred blessés were handled and the cars kept in motion almost constantly. The men performed their work efficiently and thoroughly, and the wounded were removed from the poste de secours just as rapidly as they could receive the necessary attention and be placed in the cars. Section Four furnished ten cars which worked in conjunction with Section Eighteen during the major portion of the attack, and they are entitled to the greatest praise for the aid they gave us.
Our English friends of S.S.A. Eighteen, who, I may say in passing, had given a very fine account of themselves during the attack, now packed up their "old kitbags" and left us. We felt rather lonesome at their departure. Finally it was settled that we, too, were to leave on September 2. So we immediately began to set our house in order. The cars were in a rather sorry plight, for there was hardly one that did not bear scars from the work of the attack --- rear mudguards gone, fenders pushed in, radiators bent, lamps smashed, holes punched in the bodies, and side boxes knocked off. As far as possible these defects were remedied, the mud was cleaned off as well as could be, and everything put in shape for a long cross-country run, while Section Four moved into our quarters, prepared to take over our postes on the day of our departure. And then, at 3 A.M., September 2, we awakened to a wet, drizzly morning, caught a quick breakfast of coffee, jam, and bread, and by the time it was fairly light took our last look at Glorieux and the environs of Verdun, swung into the Bar-le-Duc road, and were quickly on our way to peace and rest.
Dolancourt, which had been selected as our place of repos, proved to be a very quaint and pretty little village with fine trees and attractive surroundings. The work we were called upon to do there was similar to that of our first repos. The Médecin Divisionnaire had his headquarters at Vendoeuvre, a pleasant, small town about eight miles from Dolancourt, where we kept a car on duty at all times, each driver serving twenty-four hours.
The latter part of September was marked by several occurrences of interest, including the arrival of the United States officers to enlist the men in the Regular Army. Several of the fellows departed for home or aviation work, and new men came out to the Section to replace them. But the principal event and the climax of the Section's career was the conferring upon it of the Croix de Guerre, in recognition of the work done at the Verdun attack described above.
A SECTION CITATION
On the morning of the 29th, the citation ceremony took place in a superb spot, a small plateau just outside of Dolancourt, which was itself nestled beneath in a verdant cup. In every direction stretched the rolling fields and hills covered with vineyards and wood plots, the stately poplar rearing its head wherever the eyes turned, until the succession of green heights seemed to dissolve in the distance, while here and there bright bits of color flashed out where the mustard and the poppy held sway.
Such was the scene when there swung into the field, passing the ambulances, spick and span, drivers at attention, the various detachments of the G.B.D. --- companies; of brancardiers, trim and polished for the occasion, and horse-drawn vehicles of the Service Sanitaire equipped for various purposes of aid and relief. The Red Cross was everywhere. Indeed, all the units of a G.B.D. were present, and each proceeded with military precision and despatch to allotted positions, forming three sides of a hollow square, the fourth side being left open for the Médecin Divisionnaire and the reviewing party, who soon arrived, and, with his staff and his decorations glistening in the sun, the former marched around the field and made a brief inspection of the assembled units. Then the individuals who were to be decorated formed a line in the centre of the square, with the Médecin Chef carrying the official emblem of the G.B.D. and the Lieutenant carrying that of Section Eighteen. Unfortunately, out of our six men who were to receive decorations, only the Chef, William Slidell, and young Olmstead, were present. Then the citations of the G.B.D. and Section Eighteen were read out and the Médecin Divisionnaire pinned a Croix de Guerre upon the flag of each, this being followed by the reading of the individual citations. As each of the latter was concluded, he attached a Croix de Guerre to the breast of the man cited, and accompanied the act by a few congratulatory words and a shake of the hand. When this was finished, the Médecin Divisionnaire, his staff, and the honor men retired to the open side of the square, where they watched the entire organization pass in review.
As the procession swung by in the midst of this wonderful setting, the sight was an inspiring one. And finally the little American ambulances, chugging slowly along in the rear of the procession, slipped over the hill and back to their park, and thus Section Eighteen of the American Field Service passed out of existence as a volunteer organization.
ERNEST R. SCHOEN*
*Of Richmond, Virginia; Virginia University, '04; served with Section Eighteen for six months; subsequently a Captain, U.S.A. Air Service.
THE ROAD TO VERDUN
On our way from Paris to the Front
Sézanne, May 9, 1917
Arose early. My head and blankets were pretty wet from having slept in a heavy dew. We finally got away about 9.30 A.M. Passed a small monument commemorating the Battle of the Marne, and about the same time the burial plots began to grow rather numerous. Yet there were few signs of devastation, and the bright green of the meadows, with the brighter yellow of the dandelions, made a picture that brought a sparkle to the most tired eyes. Soon we passed some small villages, with here and there a house levelled. It is not possible to imagine that a country such as this could be destroyed by any one who had the least particle of appreciation for the beautiful and picturesque.
Bras, May 12
On the road to Verdun! I sat out in front of the poste for a while, watching the flares, the flash of the adjacent batteries, and the soldiers shooting at rats that attempted to cross the road. Eventually I went below and was writing when my first call came. I loaded an assis and a couché into my machine and started for the Maison Nathan. The strain of my first night's driving was terrific --- the continual peering through the gloom, the unexpected appearance of men and wagons, the impossibility of avoiding bumps and holes, and at the same time knowing that every jar and bump meant a pang to the man or men inside --- all kept one in a state of suspense that tried the nerves severely.
The invisibility of this warfare is amazing. One sees the flashes of the guns, but no battery; there are forts, but no men in sight; trenches, but no soldiers. Everything is under cover, and the ingenuity displayed to bring this about is wonderful. Were it not for the eyes of the armies --- the aeroplanes and observation balloons --- the wastage of ammunition would be worse than it actually is; and, as things are, it is appalling.
The other day I brought in a bunch of lilacs, and it makes a beautiful sight on the table before me. Its vase, a French "75" shell-casing, is rather incongruous, but so is war.
Rather amused at the comments of some English the other night when the bombardment was on. "Silly asses," they said, "throwing things at one another; probably never saw each other in their lives and don't know what they are fighting about." Peculiar chaps, these English, smugly satisfied, but in their way always polite and considerate.
From Montgrignon I brought back one couché and three assis, the former in a pitiable state --- leg broken, arm injured, part of his chest torn away, and his head battered in! My! how he moaned; his cries of "Oh! là ! là! Oh! là ! là!" will haunt my memory for weeks to come. He would raise himself from the brancard and endeavor to get water, but they would give him none. His eyes would roll back till one saw nothing but their whites, and then he would burst into tears. God! how these men suffer. Can such occurrences be part of the order of things? Are men born, raised, and educated to be slaughtered like so many animals, and to suffer the tortures of hell and the damned, through the course of it? Perhaps so; but the reason of it all is beyond my narrow intelligence. There must be some great reward to the world to repay the enormous sacrifice that mankind is now enduring.
NATURE AND WAR
Another beautiful day. The country is wonderful. The scarred and riven hills with their wire entanglements are green and luxurious with grasses and wild flowers; and the portions where are the buttercups are cloth-of-gold. Nature will hold her own; but over toward Douaumont way the rage of man has been too much for her healing efforts, and there the hill which marks the fort is as bare as the palm of one's hand. By the way, one can always tell when he is approaching a hospital by the field of crosses which appears just before. The wooden crosses, or croix de bois, have been awarded much oftener than the Croix de Guerre.
Another trip to Bras at 1.30 A.M. I had no sooner arrived than they gave me two couchés with directions to beat it back "vite." I did, and one poor devil with his side shot away suffered frightfully. How he kicked the sides of the car and called out into the night --- ye gods! It was monstrous; but the race with death had to be run. Death won.
AUTRES PAYS, AUTRES VÊTEMENTS
The tails of the French shirts have been giving me some trouble due to their astounding length. I hear that the wealth of material is put there as a result of the tendency of the French to omit one of their nether garments. Be that as it may, its disposal is quite a problem and causes me to labor earnestly to avoid knots of cloth that make sitting at times exceedingly uncomfortable. The French may economize in other ways, but in this respect they certainly are prodigal.
The English have given a little entertainment which consisted principally of songs and shadowgraphs. The most wonderful thing of the whole show was that the English burlesqued themselves and enjoyed it. After this war I do not think that the line of demarcation between the nationalities will be so closely drawn as before; there has been too much association, and the influence of one upon the other is already apparent. Now that we Americans, too, are influencing the situation sufficiently to cause notice, the resulting reaction of the nationalities upon one another is going to make a still more interesting study.
After supper I took a long cross-country walk; got some wonderful views and had some excellent cherries. My! How the larks sang. They hover in the air and pour out their notes till it seems that they must drop from exhaustion. Then Frantz and I took a look over the church and graveyard. The artificial wreaths and ornaments with which the French decorate the graves are most hideous, making the cemeteries look like factories.
In the afternoon an independent Boche plane slipped over and fired, in their usual nervy way, two French saucisses. Some of the English section who were looking on applauded the nerve of the act, and a Frenchman near by went to their C.O. and made complaint. He was informed, for his trouble, that he failed to understand the sporting instinct of the English. The C.O. was perfectly correct.
Well, it was a bit of hell last night. Perhaps not so much of a trench hell, but a small-sized ambulance hell. I had barely gone to bed and not yet to sleep when the call came for four cars for Bras, of which mine was one. I got away smoothly in the darkness, and to avoid the traffic as much as possible took a roundabout way past the citadel and through the erstwhile city of Verdun. When I reached the ruins of Belleville I began to run into considerable traffic, but managed to slip by the ravitaillement and in and out of the camion convoys until I had passed over the Belleville Hill. Here my troubles began. There was an endless procession of traffic moving in both directions over a road that was about wide enough for one. After making several attempts to get control of the middle of the road, I ducked in behind a Buick of one of our English friends, and there I stayed for about an hour, now and then crawling a few hundred yards. Even the little donkey carts passed me, nipping off pieces of my car as they passed. The sky was lit up from artillery fire on all sides. In front of us at Bras a camion, set on fire by a wandering shell, was burning fiercely and making a great reflection. Shells burst constantly in the neighborhood, and every now and then a piece of shrapnel would sing by. Besides the roar of the guns there were the steady rattle and creak of the stream of passing vehicles. Of these latter there was a most remarkable variety: the little two-wheeled, low-bodied ammunition wagons with donkeys pulling them, one- or two-horse carts with canvas covers, gun carriages, lumber trucks, horses single, tandem, three, four, and five abreast, motor-cycles, staff cars, ambulances, camionnettes, huge camions, every imaginable vehicle, and every conceivable kind of military equipment, all mixed, apparently inextricably, in the darkness. Darting in among them were the omnipresent gendarmes and road marshals, shouting orders in a mad attempt to keep the traffic moving and the needs of a great attack promptly served.
Early in the morning I passed a body of Boche prisoners --- a pretty hard-looking bunch and some of them quite young. I was rather struck by the consideration shown them by the French brancardiers. It is true that many of them were deprived of their insignia, masks, casques, etc., but permission was usually first asked and they were generally given substitutes in exchange. The French are like that. They fight ferociously, but cruelty to wounded or prisoner enemies is an impossibility. A mistake when dealing with the Boche!
"WHERE STAND THE CROSSES, ROW ON ROW"
Saturday, August 25
I wandered up to the morgue yesterday and watched the soldiers appointed for that purpose go through the pockets of the dead and prepare them for burial. It was a gruesome sight. The one near-by cemetery has had about three hundred additions in the last few days.
Wednesday, August 29
Th funerals keep up. The grave-diggers are kept busy. Every little while the coffins go by in front of our bâtiment and more mounds appear in the lot near by.
ERNEST R. SCHOEN*
*Notes from an unpublished diary.
- When: WWI
- Where: France, Western Front
- Section (WWI): S.S.U. 18