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.
On account of the service rendered at Caserne Marceau, Herbert Townsend, Giles Francklyn, Robert Bowman, Brooke Edwards, and James M. Sponagle, and the Section as a whole, received citations.
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.