Section Fifteen (SSU 15) – Part I
Section 15 left Paris April, 1917; it became Section 633 November,1917.
- Western Front, France
Section 15 was attached to the 32e division infanterie from April to October, 1917, and to the 124e division d'infanterie from October, 1917 to February, 1919.
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SECTION FIFTEEN left Paris about April 10, 1917, arriving a little later at Dombasle, near Verdun. It had postes opposite Mort Homme and Côte 304, and there it remained until the end of June, when it retired en repos to Wassy far back of the lines. In late July the Section returned to the Verdun sector, working again in the region of Mort Homme, which the French successfully attacked on August 20. Its next move was early in October to the Champagne, where it worked in the region of the Mounts. It was there that the Section was made a part of the American Army as Section Six-Thirty-Three.
'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)
Spirit of France, immortal, hail to thee!
Symbol of hope throughout these darkened years
When tyranny and might, on land and sea,
Bring pain and tears.
THE FRONT --- A MOST AUSPICIOUS TIME
Section Fifteen left Paris for the front at a most auspicious time --- it was the first section to go out after the entrance of America into the war, and we were hailed as soldiers and allies.
Just as winter was breaking, the Section arrived at Dombasle-en-Argonne, and found quarters in that little shell-smashed village, ten miles west of Verdun and just behind Mort Homme and Hill 304, both world-famed for the battles that raged over their possession. Section One of the Field Service was on the ground when we arrived, and we took over its postes de secours. We were attached to the 32d Division of the French Army, with which we remained during the whole of our history as a unit of the Field Service; and, except for five weeks en repos, we always operated in and around Dombasle.
Although the Verdun sector was a comparatively quiet front during the spring of 1917, the work was interesting and somewhat dangerous, the advanced poste being at Esnes. This little run from Montzéville to Esnes is well known to every American section that ever worked in the Verdun sector. Nearly the entire road was in view of the German trenches at the foot of Mort Homme. Many sections won their spurs on this road. On it James Liddell, driving ambulance 530, was shelled forty-eight hours after leaving Paris. On his first run to Esnes a shell burst thirty feet away, while fragments from the explosion tore through the car, and an éclat cut the back of his coat.
The spot where Liddell nearly met his fate was the scene of many more escapes during the eleven weeks that the Section operated there. It was christened "Hell Corner," and the name has gone down in ambulance history. As a provider of thrills, "Hell Corner" has had no peer.
REPOS --- JUBÉCOURT --- PREPARATION FOR ATTACK
Before the Section left Dombasle, it lost its first and highly popular Chef, Henderson, who was sent to the School at Meaux. His time with Section Fifteen was brief, but be put into it much energy.
On June 28, the Section went en repos at Wassy, in the Department of the Haute-Marne, where we celebrated the Fourth of July, and the French inhabitants made a special effort to do honor to their new ally. The Section acquitted itself well, after doing justice to a champagne dinner, by winning a game of association football and capturing most of the prizes offered at a field meet.
But the most important event of the stay at Wassy was the coming of Lieutenant Fabre, who was to be in charge of the Section, as it proved, as long as we remained members of the Field Service. He became the main factor in the success of the Section because of his energy and cheeriness. He knew how to awaken activity when we were tired of repos, and to cheer us when we were worn out with work. Where there were dangers to be encountered, our French Lieutenant was the first man on the scene.
August 2 saw the Section once more on the road back to the front. After a series of stops at various towns, it finally arrived, on August 10, at Jubécourt, where evacuation work started. This was the same sector that we had worked in before; but it was no longer possible to live so close to the lines as Dombasle, for since our departure the Boches had advanced long-range guns, and villages as far as twenty kilometres back were in danger. So our old cantonment at Dombasle was deserted. Section Two had moved out of it under a bombardment and no section occupied it afterwards.
OSBORN AND RICH WOUNDED
At Jubécourt we could see the preparations for the great attack before Hill 304 and Mort Homme. Troops and supplies moved up nightly. The far-famed Foreign Legion was called upon, together with several other magnificent divisions of France's best Colonial troops, to aid in the effort. The sky was alive with aeroplanes, and the rumble of cannon along the front was almost a continuous roar.
Our Division was expected to figure in the attack, and we all knew what that would mean for us. So Osborn our Chef, Lieutenant Fabre, Dominic Rich and Van Alstyne, went out to investigate the prospective poste de secours at La Claire. The trip resulted disastrously. At La Claire a bombardment was in progress, and before the men could make their way to cover, a shell exploded near them. Osborn and Rich were wounded and Lieutenant Fabre and Van Alstyne knocked down by the concussion, but not wounded. Rich, with his right arm splintered, and Osborn, with both legs struck, were hurt rather seriously. Eventually the latter had to return to America. Robert Paradise succeeded him as Chef, with Van Alstyne as Sous-Chef.
RAMPONT --- AIDING IN THE ATTACK
On August 18 the Section moved to Rampont, in order to be nearer the lines when the attack should take place. At about this time, we learned, however, that our Division would not participate and that we should doubtless be doing evacuation work for some weeks. There was, of course, a feeling of disappointment in the Section, until the Lieutenant asked and received permission to assist an English ambulance section during the coming battle. The morning of the attack on Mort Homme, ten ambulances were called out, and headed for Hill 232, where we were to receive the wounded. Curtis and Dunn, driving car 513, were the first to reach the poste and brought down the first load. The Lieutenant followed close behind them in another ambulance, then others arrived in rapid succession. From then until two o'clock it was "hurry down and get back." The Lieutenant helped load each car as it came up and slammed the door shut as it started down the long stretch to the evacuation hospital eight miles distant. Every car was running its best, and we entered into good-natured rivalry with the English section to see which could carry the most wounded.
By two o'clock all the wounded at the dressing-station had been taken down, though a few were coming in all the time. The Section remained on duty until five o'clock when the day's work appeared to be finished.
Few of the men who were present at that attack will ever forget it. The dust and smoke that covered the country in a murky haze, the ride like mad to the poste near Mort Homme, with the guns blazing away on all sides, the hundreds of German prisoners tramping back, and the long rows of wounded at the poste, formed a picture so vivid as to be unforgettable. It was a glorious victory for the French, for where Dead Man's Hill and Hill 304 reared their shattered summits, the poilus had charged to a depth of four kilometres along the whole sector and had captured more than seven thousand prisoners.
JOUY-EN-ARGONNE --- MORT HOMME
Our Division moved up on Mort Homme on August 25, and the Section officially took over the poste de secours on Hill 232. Then the cantonment was moved again, this time to Jouy-en-Argonne, a village just over the hill from our former home at Dombasle. The work there was more consistently hard than any the Section had ever had before, for besides the three cars of the poste de secours, two or three others were needed for evacuation work at the hospital of Claires-Chêsnes.
As at Jouy, we lived in tents. Things were damp during the rainy season which followed, and, to add to our troubles, a Boche bombing escadrille took up its quarters on the other side of the lines. Now, on every clear night, hostile airplanes circled overhead, spraying the ground with their machine guns, and dropping bombs. The famous hospital of Vadelaincourt was bombed and partially burned on the night of August 20, the day of the great attack, and twice again in September.
The Section just missed trouble at Rampont when the site of the cantonment was bombed the night after we had left for Jouy. It is supposed that the ambulances had been sighted in daytime by an observation plane and that the bombing-planes made their call the same night. In any event one of the four bombs which were dropped fell only a few feet from the spot which had been occupied by our main tent with eighteen men in it.
On September 28 the recruiting officer of the United States Army Ambulance Service visited Section Fifteen, and twenty-three of our thirty men enlisted in the American Army, whereupon Section Fifteen ceased to exist as a Unit of the American Field Service.
*Of Waco, Texas, University of Texas, '16; entered the Field Service, February, , 1917; served with Section Fifteen, and continued with the Section when it became part of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service in France.
MAKING MERRY EN REPOS
En Repos, Wassy, July 5, 1917
Our twenty ambulances are lined up in the public square of a delightful little town, and each one is completely cleaned and slicked up with oiled rags till they all look like new. One man stays here en réserve in case of accidents or sick-calls, while the rest of us swim, play ball, walk, and generally enjoy ourselves, for we are here en repos. I have been promoted to Sous-Chef of the Section and now have the privilege of "swanking" about the town with a silver grenade, instead of a red, on my collar, and a stripe on my sleeve. We have most excellent quarters in a small Louis XIV château. When we arrived, however, we were billeted in a former dance-hall. But one day, while the Chef and I were out walking, we discovered that there were apartments to let in this house, and so inquiries resulted in the Section moving in here, the Chef and I sharing the extra rent. Don't be alarmed at this prodigality, for it means only fifty francs per month to be divided between two of us. The place is owned by a most charming French lady, whose husband is in the trenches, and who manages the whole property, together with four charming children, three boys, of thirteen, eight, and six, and a little girl of four. We have all become great friends with the little ones and we play about together. The soldats américains, as they call us, are great favorites with all the children and even the grown people of the town, and it is very pleasant, indeed, to know how kindly they all feel toward us. We also indulge in football and sports generally with the jeunesse sportive of Wassy, who much admire our prowess in games. But it is rather a new experience to be stopped in the square by a Sister of Charity and orated at --- that is the only way to express it --- to this effect: " Oh! how glad the French people are to have you here; how much they like you personally and admire your sports. How kind you are to the children," and so on. I trust the two of us who underwent the ordeal did not look too foolish. It was embarrassing, but certainly not without its humorous and kindly side.
The Fourth of July was celebrated yesterday by the whole town, and we were quite the centre of attraction. it was about the most hectic day I have known. Lord, what a party! It started after breakfast with an inspection by the General of the Division, a courtesy for the Section. Numerous rehearsals had taught us to keep something of a line and how and when to salute; but as a smartly drilled army, I am afraid S.S.U. Fifteen would not take many prizes. The General was very amiable, however; asked to be presented to each man, and went down the line, shaking bands and asking questions as to age, state, etc. He then spoke with the Chef, and myself as Sous-Chef, for a few minutes and invited us to dinner. Fancy me dining with the General! I will tell of that in its proper place. After the inspection, we had a period for furbishing up, till the municipality gave the Section a banquet at noon. Never before have I eaten and drunk so much. We sat down, some sixty strong, at noon and rose at 2.45 to rush off to prepare for a fête sportive. There was course after course of delicious food with two kinds of wine, not to mention coffee and liqueurs at the end; and we ate and ate, and stuffed and drank, all the time knowing that we had to run races and play baseball and football immediately after.
Anyhow, at 2.45 we changed into "sportive costumes," khaki shirts, BVD shorts, and such tennis shoes and socks as we could find, and went to the park for the games. Imagine us, torpid with food and drink, doing what follows: All the races and jumps were won by us, for the poilus, as you know, are like the French in general, not very athletic. Our demonstration of baseball was highly successful and we won our football game, but were utterly exhausted afterwards.
Then the Section had dinner with champagne, which the Chef and I did not attend, as we dined with the General! It was most interesting ---we two at a staff dinner where all the other guests were in gorgeous uniforms plentifully bestrewn with medals. I should hardly call it a gay meal. But the General was most gracious and amiable --- set the Chef on his left hand and poured wine for him, while I was placed next to the Chief of Staff, who speaks English perfectly, and we conversed of hunting and shooting and fishing in California. More wines --- three kinds --- with liqueurs and coffee again. When we finally left at 9.15, I felt this had been indeed an active day --- a banquet, a dinner with the General, an inspection by the General, a track meet, a baseball game, and a game of soccer football. So to-day the whole Section is nursing sore muscles and sore heads, and thanking the Lord that July Fourth comes but once a year, especially in France in war-time, and just after America's declaration of war.
Wassy, July 15
We have seen two bodies of Americans here on the way to their training-camps. They are a good lot, most of them, but furnish some amusement to our French Lieutenant. For example, a truck-load of officers came through yesterday, none of whom spoke French, and who had only the vaguest idea where they were headed for. We set them on a road leading in the general direction in which they thought their destination lay and gave them our blessings. They were very grateful and a very nice-looking bunch. But it all amuses the French, and I suppose we have a lot to learn.
*Of Azusa, California; University of California, '10, Oxford University, England, and Harvard; served with Sections Fifteen and Thirty-Two of the Field Service, which he joined in February, 1917; later a First Lieutenant in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service in France. The above are extracts from Mr. Vosburg's home correspondence.
DAY BY DAY
Paris, Sunday, March 4, 1917
The Champs Elysées was brilliant with life and color this fine Sunday afternoon. The sidewalks were crowded with officers and beautiful women, with the conditions of color absolutely reversed from those of peace-time --- black for the women and all the tints of the rainbow for the soldiers. There is nothing of the stiff martial Hun about them, but a certain soldierly dignity of carriage that conceals, but at the same time proclaims, sternness and unflinching devotion in time of peril.
Tuesday, March 13
When I walked home this evening, through the deserted streets with a light shining only here and there, a strange impression of the unreality of my experience came upon me. It did not seem possible that I was walking down a street of that Paris of my dreams, thousands of miles from home.
Wednesday, April 11
A big dinner here at 21 rue Raynouard this evening to Section Fifteen, which goes out to the front to-morrow.
Dombasle, Sunday, April 15
We started out slowly from Paris at 8 A.M. on the 12th. Our Section has the record for quick time. Forty seven hours out of Paris, we carried blessés at Verdun, replacing Section One which went to Champagne. Cleaned up my car in the morning and played a little baseball. It is certainly a queer contrast --- a quiet game of catch in the road here, while just over the hill the batteries are banging away. As yet I cannot quite realize that we are in the midst of death and suffering. We are not far from Verdun, with Mort Homme and Hill 304 on the east, and the Argonne Forest to the west. In the evening, we played duck on the rock to the great amusement of some poilus, who are most interesting and pleasant. They seem to have a very real and hearty welcome for us. The corporal we talked with was very intelligent, and well-educated; he made me feel ashamed of myself, he knew so much of English literature. He recited Keats and Tennyson for us.... We have a wonderfully comfortable room with a fire going all the time.
Wednesday, April 18
Dull. Snow. Am writing this entry in the little abri in the gray, dripping woods. Everywhere is dirty, sticky, yellow mud that is unlike anything I have seen before. A poilu has just come in from the trenches looking very sad and discouraged. The poor fellow was malade; so Clark took him back in his car. He also took two permissionnaires who were as happy as children at the thought of leaving, at least for a little while, the misery of it all.
Thursday, April 19
Slept very comfortably on my stretcher and woke at six o'clock to take four assis down to Dombasle. When I got out, the sun had just risen and shone redly through the woods, like a ball of dull fire. The sky was streaked with bands of blue, saffron, and pink, all in the lightest tints. Along the road, between me and the dawn, came a file of blue-clad heroes. They were going to relieve their comrades in the trenches, and, in spite of what lay ahead, they were singing. The finest men in the world, they are, and the sight of them cheerily going forward, in the peaceful freshness of dawn, to their terrible task, made an impression on me that I shall never forget.... Ate lunch outdoors in the warm sun to the music of shells whistling overhead and the batteries of "75's" exploding under my nose. It was all very new and tremendously interesting. But, though it was the first time I had been under fire, I did not feel any peculiar emotion aside from curiosity and interest. At twelve o'clock they brought in a poor fellow who had been badly wounded and I set right out with him. An exploding shell had hurt him terribly, so I went very slowly and carefully all the way to Ville, as he was fully conscious and suffering intensely. The poor man kept softly groaning all the way, for, in spite of all my efforts, the jolts and jars were dreadful. Coming back from Ville a natural reaction took place and I slewed and tore around the slippery corners to beat the band; singing away for no reason in the wide world --- but feeling much relieved and almost normal again.
LANDSCAPES AND WAR
Sunday, April 22
It was a beautiful evening, and after supper I went up on the hill and watched the sunset. I could see Dombasle, with some of its quaint red roofs still intact, resting peacefully in the fertile, green valley between the rolling hills that curved up on all sides, finally ending, westward, in the blue swell of the Argonne. White bands of roadway ran out of the little village, some rolling in wide curves, others running straight as arrows, and along these slowly moved long files of carts and tiny men. Across the horizon against the red sun was a road, bordered by toy trees, over which moved a lone team. The whole scene was as clearly outlined as though it were only a few yards away.... And all the while the booming and crashing of the big guns ripped up the peaceful quiet and turned a beautiful landscape into a troubled sea of war. After I returned to the room, we sat around the fire looking into the flames and talked in low voices of many things. It was a time of confidences, of the opening of jealously guarded secrets, of cherished ambitions. It is comforting also merely to gaze into the mysterious, leaping flames and let the mind run whither it will.
To-day was really my first experience under fire. I was tremendously excited ---and to be frank, scared stiff. The chief emotion I recollect when the shell landed near me, was surprise and satisfaction that the great organization known as the German Army should have bothered to fire upon me. With a little exaggeration, it became a case of me vs. Guillaume. I feel very important.
Saturday, April 28
The Commander of our Army, General Herr, --- three stars and a stripe---visited us and shook hands and spoke with each one of us. The "big bug" was a kindly old man with cavernous eyes. Our French Lieutenant was very nervous during the ceremony and hid a lighted pipe in his Pocket. The General noticed something burning and called the Lieutenant's attention to a big hole in the latter's pocket. Which very much embarrassed said Lieutenant.
Sunday, April 29
Two new fellows arrived yesterday on the mail truck. The lads have been filled with as many stories as their credulity admits. We sowed mitrailleuse bullets in the walls of their room and spoke meaningly of aeroplane bombs and German sharpshooters.
Monday, April 30
After lunch I had my hair cut at the G.B.D. I sat in a rickety old chair on a bale of burlap in a dirty little side room, while the barber clipped away with dull tools, and, nevertheless, did a very good job. Just as I was driving into Montzéville this evening two soldiers asked me to help them draw their camion out of the ditch into which the hind wheels had fallen. Of course I gladly assented and spent the best part of an hour trying to pull the truck out. We procured some wire, but it broke several times before we finally succeeded. By this time I was mighty tired and I fell asleep almost as soon as I hit the hay. "Hay" is to be taken literally. During to-night's ride large rats kept scurrying across the road at intervals, giving me a great sense of companionship.
Tuesday, May 1
We have discovered the difference between the French and German star-shells. The former explode when they reach the height of their trajectory and the stick part falls to the ground, leaving a little pin-prick of light that gradually grows into a ghastly green flare. The light is suspended from a parachute that remains in the air by virtue of the hot air generated by the flame and lasts about a minute. The Boche star-shells light on the way up and remain up only as long as it takes the torch to describe a long arching curve in the air.
Saturday, May 5
Our Chef, Barton, and Richmond are leaving for Meaux, and we all feel very sad over losing three whom we all liked and respected. We gave a farewell dinner at which they all spoke, as did the new Chef Osborn and our French Lieutenant, Clark making an efficient and amusing toastmaster. It is really remarkable how close the Section has grown together since its formation and how genuine was the regret at the split. Red Clark carried a wounded German prisoner and was terribly bawled out for shaking hands with him.
BRANCARDIERS AND POILUS
Friday, May 18
The French brancardier is a kindly, sympathetic man who has been through the mill and come out strengthened in faith and understanding rather than hardened. He is probably the most lovable character I have met. So many of his kind seem like big children; but in time of stress, they show unsuspected depths of strength and coolness.
Sunday, May 20
In the afternoon, most of the fellows went down to the coöperative field and played baseball with the English. I have had a long talk with a little poilu who did some laundry for me. He had a kindly face with twinkling eyes and humorous wrinkles, though lines of care are only too evident also. He is a simple farmer chap of no education. As for the war, he said he was mightily wearied of it all, but that he and every one of his countrymen would continue till the cause of right and humanity be won. I finished by entertaining a respect and admiration for the man that I cannot express. He was absolutely above anything that was small or mean; and I am beginning to realize that there are a lot of his comrades just like him.
Esnes, Tuesday, May 22
After lunch I sat outside playing checkers with one of the brancardiers, when a shell landed just outside the yard and the éclats rattled against the château. We ducked for the abri, as three more fell uncomfortably close, one near my car and one in the graveyard. Though the éclats shot by my car on all sides, not a piece went through it, much to my disgust.
Thursday, June 14
All the afternoon, I sat around in my car trying to read and basking in the hot sun. Suddenly I heard a loud explosion and looked up to see a soldier, whom I had noticed working among the ruins across the road, blown into a bloody heap. He got up, streaming blood from his chest and arms, and staggered down the street a few yards, when he collapsed again. The brancardiers rushed out and I got a stretcher from my car, while the pharmacien arranged a tourniquet for a severed artery in the man's arm. Then I hurried him to Ville, as fast as the wretched condition of the road would allow, where they told me he would live, but that his arm would have to be amputated. The whole terrible drama was caused by the poor fellow having dropped a piece of tile on an old grenade.
Saturday, June 16
For some unaccountable reason our whole room was late to breakfast, and work in the garden as punishment being pretty well exhausted, we were forced to aid the génie down by the railroad. We slung huge logs around, piled planks, and in about two hours accomplished what the génie were accustomed to take a week to do. This latter gentry sat around smoking cigarettes in the shelter of a pile of timbers, and, with mildly curious and altogether satisfied eyes, watched us work. It was awfully hot business, and I was very glad when I got back and had a cold bath.
The Lieutenant tells me that the poor fellow who was hit by the grenade died shortly after his arm was amputated.
I am told that three men of the 143d Regiment have just been shot because they refused to fight and were stirring up trouble among the soldiers. Two men from every other company in the Division were compelled to witness the execution.
Sunday, June 17
The cherries are ripe and hang in tiny red clusters that peep from under shiny leaves, affording pleasing contrast in color. The first hay of the season has been cut and its lingering fragrance still hangs over the stubbled meadows.
The birds chirp in a rather listless sort of way and seem not to mind being drowned out by the lazy humming of bees and innumerable flies. Wandering through the tall, unkempt grass, one is apt to make the pleasing discovery of a row of rosebushes laden with heavy blossoms that alone mark the spot of a former garden, while everywhere one goes, one meets the piquant dash of brilliant red that denotes the poppy, standing boastfully forth from the field of soft, mellow colors. The world hereabouts is a great fragrant garden inviting you with all its subtle influence to further investigate its beauties.
GOOD-BYE TO MORT HOMME
Sunday, June 24
After a very excellent meal, I prepared to do my last day's ambulance work here. My car was filled with blessés and malades, and I was about to frank it, when M. Charvet, the pharmacien at Esnes, told me that the Boches were firing on the "Corner" and that I had better hurry when I got there. I could see the cloud of black smoke hanging over it and every once in a while a new explosion boomed out. I felt that it was rather unnecessary to send the car out while the bombardment lasted, since I had no grave cases. But I couldn't tell him that and so I started off with very decided misgivings. . . . After supper, when I was relieved, and reached the top of the hill for a last view of the familiar scene, I almost felt a sensation of affection for Mort Homme ---now that we are leaving it.
Wassy, Haute-Marne, Tuesday, June 26
We rose at five o'clock, made up our blanket-rolls, ate a wretched, uncooked breakfast, and were off by six o'clock with an astonishing lack of confusion and an equally amazing proximity to the time schedule. The squad system worked well. We took a direct route which included the towns of Ville, Jubécourt, Bar-le-Duc, Saint-Dizier, and Wassy. From the very start my car ran wretchedly and could not maintain the fast pace set by the convoy; so I had to travel close to the camionnette with Bailey in order to save time on the repair job. The Lieutenant and the Médecin Chef, who travelled with him, were much interested in my mishaps and even kept close to me in order not to miss any of the fun. Just outside of Bar-le-Duc I caught up again with the convoy and managed, by the exercise of great skill and persuasion, to stick with it the rest of the way. Near by in the fields where we stopped for lunch were several cherry trees laden with rich luscious fruit, and in a few moments we gathered enough to last the rest of the trip. At about 11 A.M. we arrived at Wassy, parked our cars, made a scanty meal at one of the cafés and spent the afternoon arranging our quarters. After supper I took a stroll and went to bed early.
LIFE EN REPOS
Wednesday, June 27
Wassy is a quaint, beautiful little city of four thousand inhabitants. The small centralized area devoted to business is a tangled maze of clean, cobblestone streets, the other streets being wide and shady like a New England village. At present the town is very deserted, for the soldiers have not yet arrived, and the only people at home are old men, women, and children, who come out and gaze at us as though we were strange animals. We are the first Americans, except perhaps a few casual tourists, who have ever visited the place, and consequently we are the topic of the day. The little girls and boys follow us around everywhere, and when we stop, we are surrounded by an eager, curious crowd. These children are so well-behaved and lovable that we feel like adopting several on the spot. We worked all the morning washing our cars with the aid of hundreds of little urchins who insisted on going over with a dirty rag spots that we had just cleaned. Our cars are parked by the public square guarded by two soldiers, bayonets drawn, to protect them, I suppose, from the curious infants.
The river Blaise flows through the village in front of our camp, finally ending its journey in the Marne. A canal also traverses the place, and both of these streams have their source in a reservoir just outside of the town proper. We went swimming there this afternoon, as it was terribly hot, and absolutely had the time of our lives. The water was warm and clean, and we dived from a stone embankment into deep water, so there is no muddy bottom to consider. Down in the fields below the embankment they were making hay, and the warm, sweet odor drifted up to us as we lay stretched out in a luxurious sunbath.
Thursday, June 28
Our new quarters are in the second story of the grand château of the town, one that was formerly occupied by the Governor of the province and which dates back to 1700. The family lives on the first floor and rents the second to us. We have six rooms, all of them very large; so we are not at all cramped. There are three little children in the family and we have all fallen in love with them.
Saturday, June 30
After supper, Bundy, Liddell, and I went up to see the communiqué posted outside the mairie. Returning, we stopped to talk with an old gentleman and his wife who were leaning through their parlor window that opened on the sidewalk. They were the most genuine, patriotic, lovable, kindly ---except when they spoke of the Boches --- and hospitable people I have ever known. In honor of the occasion, a new bottle of some mild liqueur was opened, and when we finally forced ourselves to leave, the old gentleman called us "mes enfants."
Tuesday, July 3
Frazer Clark and I paid a visit to the Marquis de Mauroy to see his wonderful collection of meteors and minerals, the former being the best in the world. We met the Marquis on the street here in Wassy, and he invited us to come after lunch. Though almost an invalid he showed us his things personally with a great deal of pride in his collection, and was very kind and hospitable.
The Fourth of July
The Wassy College invited us to dinner at the Hotel de la Gare, which proved to be very interesting and enjoyable. We were each seated between two étudiants who insisted on speaking broken English, while we murdered the French language with our usual cheerful unconcern. At three o'clock we had a track meet with the soldiers in which we managed to win about everything, and after that a short exhibition of baseball, ending up the afternoon with a soccer game with the French soldiers, which we won, 6 to 4. The features of the day were the huge crowds of people, their enthusiasm and the evidences of their friendly feeling for us. It was very thrilling to find such hospitality and welcome so far away from home.
BACK TO VERDUN
Trémont, Wednesday, August 1
We arrived at this little village in time to arrange our quarters before lunch, in a huge, garish château that was evidently the pride of the town. I have an immense feather-bed to myself. A shallow brook five feet wide flows along the main street and in this brook all the washing is done. On the top of one of the neighboring hills, we found a fine level field for baseball, which we played all the afternoon.
Saturday, August 4
Startling news! We leave to-morrow morning! Frantic eleventh-hour repairs and packing occupied the evening.
As we watched, three planes descended, swooping down in wide circles and making spectacular dives and turns for the benefit of the crowds of soldiers who stood gazing up with us. The sun was just setting and on each downward circle the machines were blackly silhouetted against the glowing crimson clouds in the west.... It made one catch one's breath.
Jubécourt, Monday, August 6
We went to bed early, as the lights have to be turned out at nine o'clock on account of enemy aeroplanes. The woods are full of artillery, wheel to wheel --- the most stupendous massing of guns the officers have ever seen. We hear the continual sound of cannon.
Wednesday, August 8
We went to-day with a camion to Vadelaincourt to get ravitaillement. The activity and ordered confusion that covered the road and all the countryside we could see were proof of the importance of this sector. Thousands of camions passed us. We played baseball in the afternoon.
Thursday, August 9
Almost half the Section was called out this morning. The traffic on the road was worse than yesterday.
Tuesday, August 14
Last night at La Claire, beyond Fromeréville, a good deal of shelling was going on, when a "130" burst near our staff car, éclats wounding Dominic Rich and Earl Osborn, who were quickly taken to Vadelaincourt.
Wednesday, August 15
Apparently, the Section is not at all worried by the casualties, for life goes on as usual in every way. We make pilgrimages to Vadelaincourt in squads of four to visit our blessés. There was a terrific bombardment last night and all day. Playing baseball in the afternoon, I sprained my ankle and have to limp around with a cane.
Thursday, August 16
The whole campaign of action has been mapped out to us on secret army maps so that we know pretty much what is to take place. Forty more prisoners were marched by to-day and Jimmy got a hat, while Frazer cut off an iron-cross ribbon.
Saturday, August 18
Had a very interesting conversation with a soldier-priest touching the vital points of religion, especially in its relation to those going into battle. We watched battalions of the 31st Infantry go by in their light attacking order, with a small blanket-roll and no pack. The priest remarked that many of the soldiers had new uniforms and overcoats so that they "might be well-dressed to die." Later, however, he said that no matter how much a Frenchman may complain and mutter, he always fights like a hero when the test comes. These men going into battle were so downcast and serious-looking that I could not force a smile of good-cheer, for visions of what was before them. They offered quite a contrast to the Moroccans who went up singing and joking like boisterous children.
Rampont, Sunday, August 19
We had breakfast at seven o'clock and immediately after broke camp. It was a long, hard task for there was much to do and the day was enervating. The Section has accumulated so much material that it took three voyages of the White to finish up things. Our new quarters are on the hill above the town. We have not a great deal of room, but there is a grassy stretch where we have pitched our tents. The French anti-aircraft guns shot down a Boche avion near here this afternoon. A crowd of Moroccans rushed to the scene and were all for tearing the German to pieces; in fact, it was only the intervention of a general that saved him. "Tex" Jones, in a long raincoat and goggles, with a handkerchief over his nose against the dust, also hurried to the spot, and was almost knocked down himself before the Moroccans discovered that he was not the Boche. The machine was quickly broken up into souvenirs.
Monday, August 20
My first call came at eleven o'clock last night, and since then I have n't had time to eat or sleep. The attack started at four o'clock this morning. My pulses were pounding away with excitement as I turned up the old Montzéville road, and the noise of the roaring guns grew louder and louder, till finally I reached the crest of the hill and the whole stunning effect of sight and sound burst upon me. Guns exploding on all sides of me --- huge nightmarish things that shook the very ground; dugouts with men standing around laughing and joking; I remember now how the contrast struck me --- the light casualness of these men and the hellishness of the scene around them. The attack had gone famously and the enthusiasm was contagious. I became conscious of nothing but an overwhelming desire to shout and yell. The day was brilliant and sunshiny; it seemed like a holiday. I started back with my wounded, determined to return as soon as possible in order not to miss any of the show; what then was my anger and disappointment when I was forced to wait half an hour to unload! The second time at poste I got a Boche helmet from a very attractive-looking prisoner. I finished out my twenty-four hours' duty with a trip to Chaumont. During the day our Section alone carried over 700 wounded, covering a distance of 2000 kilometres. I carried 55 men, went over 350 kilometres, and used 50 litres of gas. I was fairly well tired out when at length I was able to tumble into bed and forget the war for a while.
Wednesday, August 22
Last night a German aeroplane bombed the Vadelaincourt hospital and worked terrible havoc among the wounded, including many of their own. It was a frightful deed, done apparently in cold blood. I made a trip from Jubécourt to Vadelaincourt, and had a very interesting conversation on the way over with a Dutchman of the Foreign Legion. He said that 460 of his countrymen had enlisted at the beginning of the war, only 40 of whom remained. His words showed what a marvellous esprit de corps the Legion had built up. Every man is proud of its reputation and would rather die than in any way harm it. It has never once failed to obtain its objective.
Claires-Chêsnes, Thursday, August 23
After supper, I went on duty at Claires-Chêsnes and immediately was sent to Chaumont with one man --- a badly wounded Moroccan. These Moroccans are wonderful fighters, but when they are wounded, they cry and suffer out loud like children --- untaught to conceal their emotions. This poor fellow cried out all the way in spite of all my efforts to prevent jars. It was a fearful experience, for there was nothing I could do to help him except continue.
Claires-Chêsnes, Saturday, September 1
I made several trips last night, which gave me an opportunity to revolve in my mind all the troubled impressions caused by my reading of last evening and before. It was a beautiful night with a clear, calm moon that made all human problems seem futile and unnecessary. On one trip a sergeant of the Foreign Legion sat with me on the front seat, and during the ride talked cheerfully on various matters, though his head was entirely bandaged. On reaching Vadelaincourt, I put my hand on the side box while alighting and it came away dripping with blood, while the faint glimmer from the Attente des Couchés sign showed a pool of blood stretching several feet on the mudguard. . . . There was the answer to the moon.
A NEW CANTONNEMENT --- BOMBING
Jouy, Sunday, September 2
At 5 P.M. I proceeded to our new cantonment at this place. It is located in the woods of a steep slope rising on the north side of the village. The fellows had worked well, and numerous tents, cleverly placed to avoid detection by aeroplanes, gleamed through the trees. It is a pleasant, roomy sort of a spot, though the guns sound uncomfortably close, and occasionally the sharp whine of a shell tells of a near-by battery that makes the whole place a target.
Jouy, Wednesday, September 5
Last night German aviators dropped bombs all night long. The most terrible effect was the destruction in the hospital at Vadelaincourt, where I stopped on the way back this afternoon. One bomb landed in the officers' barrack, killing instantly the Médecin Chef and two officers. The other three landed in different parts of the wards, working terrible destruction, as the éclats left no building untouched. The casualties were chiefly among the personnel. Three nurses were badly wounded and a doctor was killed with the patient he was operating upon. It was a truly frightful spectacle, one that made the onlooker forget any sense of humanity in an overwhelming desire to crush a people whose doctrines sanction deeds like that; for there is no doubt that the thing was done in cold blood.
Jouy, Saturday, September 8
To-day and last night I made about seven trips. The cannonading on the right bank of the Meuse was terrific all night. I spent the afternoon in taxi service getting delicacies for a banquet that the Médecin Chef at Claires-Chesnes is giving to the French Lieutenant on the occasion of his Croix de Guerre. At Rarécourt, we --- Lieutenant Rubait and I --- went into a pâtisserie to buy éclairs and before we left we had either bought or eaten almost the entire stock.
Monday, September 10
Last night was a little too nerve-racking. About midnight we were awakened by the crash of two shells, one on top of the other, somewhere down in the orchard between the cars and the village. We were just about congratulating ourselves on the conclusion of the strafe, when two more shells landed so near that éclats whistled through the trees. At that, all dignity broke down and there was one mad, trampling rush for the trench. Ryan's bed was in the entrance and about fifteen fellows walked over him before he had a chance to escape. I found myself in the trench with one shoe and my sheepskin coat on. Somebody stepped on my unprotected foot with praiseworthy energy, though I felt it to be somewhat out of place under the circumstances. No more shells came, however and wit began to make itself heard, until finally the party broke up as a sort of lark. All day I have been limping around on my bad foot.
Claires-Chêsnes, Friday, September 14
The tricolor at the gate is struggling manfully against the beating rain. It flaps painfully from side to side, slower and slower, and now seems about to give up and hang dead. But every time a new impulse appears to spring through it, for up it struggles again, fluttering in dogged resistance against the downpour. And, somehow, I feel cheered at the sight of this sacred emblem of France, so worthily emulating its people.
A VISIT TO MORT HOMME
Poste 232, Wednesday, September 19
After breakfast I was standing outside the poste enjoying the morning sun when Sergeant Marcel came along and invited me to a ramble on Mort Homme. I naturally jumped at the opportunity and asked for and received the necessary permission from Chaussard. The morning was bright, but hazy, thus preventing efficient artillery observation, and consequently we were able to avoid the boyau and take the open path. So we tramped beside the trench for some distance till we came to a supply station, where we branched off on to what had once been a road. but which is now so spotted with shell-holes that I could hardly believe Marcel when he said the artillery caissons traversed it easily. Here we saw some sturdy little bobsleds which are used in wet weather, and passed batteries, support trenches, then the former third line, barbed wire, the second line, more barbed wire, and finally the old first line. There were many shell-holes all about, but the trenches were in excellent condition, with the exception of the first line which was battered in places, We now crossed No Man's Land, past chevaux-de-frise hastily thrown aside to open up a pathway for the attacking troops, and came on to --- imagine if you can the interior of a volcano, the smoke-blasted sides, the tumbled heaps of stuff thrown up, the yellow, scarred appearance; or picture an angry yellow sea running in mountainous swells and covered with smaller waves and troughs. We were in a sort of pocket formed by the first slopes of Mort Homme rising on three sides; and here had been the German lines, Marcel told me. But I saw nothing, nothing except the most frightful cataclysm I shall ever see. We had left the road now and were on a narrow path running along the crest of enormous, gaping holes; past twisted, useless barbed wire, and occasionally along half-submerged sap entrances from which drifted a faint, acrid odor. The French have cleaned up the place well since the attack, but I saw some gruesome sights. An innocent-looking bundle of rags more than once turned out to hold remains of a man. A shoe with a foot and sometimes a leg in it was a common occurrence, and once I noticed a skull. Grenades, body armor, helmets, gasmasks, and everything imaginable, lay strewn all about.
Presently we entered a trench which was at first shallow, but which suddenly deepened into a strong, well-protected thoroughfare that took us over the crest of Mort Homme. Here of a sudden Marcel drew me into a sap just in time to avoid the Colonel of the 80th, for my presence could hardly be explained. This sap, which had been built by the Germans, was of strong and of most curious design. It had so little head-room that the only way to enter it, as far as I could see, was by crawling backwards on hands and knees. After proceeding a little farther along the trench, Marcel turned into an abri and then through a curtained doorway into a little box of a room --- the observation post, where, through a narrow slit, I could look down into a valley from which rose, on the near side, the rather steep slope of Mort Homme covered with shattered trees. The French trenches ran very near, just below me, and the German ones showed very plainly in front of the Bois de Forges, the two being separated by over a kilometre, due to the marshy quality of the low ground. On the way back, we stopped at a telephone station to see a friend of Marcel's and were conducted down a very long sap into a stuffy chamber where we were received with the hospitality and grace of a drawing-room. The telephonist made chocolate for us, apologized for the lack of room with an ease and poise that made me quite forget my surroundings. I was quite tired out when we finally reached the poste, for we had gone over eight kilometres.
TO THE CHAMPAGNE
Vaubécourt, Saturday, October 6
We left Jouy at 9 A.M. to-day and Section Thirty-One took our place. We reached this village at 11 A.M. The kitchen trailer was delayed, so we went forth in search of food. After many rebuffs and failures, four of us found ourselves in the back room of a tumble-down house that we reached by going through a stable and up three steps. The room was bare, but very clean, and with a cheerful fire burning on a wide hearth. Two old women served us with fried potatoes, cider, and pears, which, added to the tins of meat and huge loaf of bread and cheese we had bought, made a very substantial meal. The women told us a pathetic story of the vandalism and wanton destruction of the Huns when they occupied the village before the Battle of the Marne, All the furniture and goods were transported to Germany and the houses were then burned. The English, with customary thoroughness, gave to each of the inhabitants of the destroyed villages around here---a bed, some clothes, a rooster, a hen and a cow.
Chantrix, Tuesday, October 9
We left this morning for the Champagne sector, having been transferred to the Fourth Army. We were stopped at the first village beyond Vaubécourt to make way for a party of notables including President Poincaré, Marshal Joffre, and the President of Portugal. We lined up by the roadside while the automobiles wheeled by, and every one acknowledged our formation, President Poincaré raising his hat completely and accompanying it with a short bow. We reached this village at 4 P.M. I slept the night in my car. The church here rings out the hours with a bell that is the exact counterpart of the Andover chapel bell.
Prosnes, Sunday, November 4
There is a cemetery near here of more than two hundred soldiers, ten to twenty in a grave. These graveyards are everywhere, with occasional black crosses conspicuous by the absence of the tricolor cockade; they mark the resting-place of Germans. After supper I got a hurry call to Petite Haie where were two very graves blessés, both suffering from the most painful wound possible --- leg fracture. Returning, I missed the sharp turn outside of Prosnes and took the road that runs off to the left toward Baconnes. After going about three kilometres, I became worried at not finding La Plaine and finally stopped and asked my whereabouts. I went through awful mental agony, emphasized each moment by the tortured cries of the poor fellows in back, both fully conscious, and aware, I had no doubt, of my mistake and my fatal helplessness. The horror, the agony of that ride will rest graven on my mind. I asked the doctor if the extra fifteen minutes in my car would have made any difference and he assured me no. Both men died at one o'clock that same morning.
Wednesday, November 7
I spent the greater part of the afternoon at bridge, writing, and talking with the telephonist. I learned that the corps de santé has an informal code that is used over the telephone in case the Boches should overhear what is said. Thus, an automobile is a bidon; a wounded man, une catégorie; a dead man, une planche, etc. The new abri at Bouleaux has just been finished and is by far the most comfortable of all those of the front-line postes. You enter it from a trench near the road and go down twenty-four steps, which brings the little room at the bottom just under the road, so that wagons and men passing overhead make a curious noise a little like the scuffling of rats. In this little box there is just place for three bunks, cut out of the pure white chalk. The absence of rats and totos is noticeable and worthy of mention.
A COUP DE MAIN
Tuesday, November 13
Greenwood apparently has some very secret "dope," as he has told us flatly that there is to be a large coup de main by the French on Thursday morning and that he expects to call all cars out. One battalion of the 101st Regiment is going to make the attack.
La Plaine, Wednesday, November 14
To-night I feel as though I could do anything, and yet I sit here in luxury while other poor fellows are thinking of morn when they are going to risk their lives --- for what? What does it matter if the Germans win? We will forget it on the morrow. But no! I know why it matters and I feel I am not doing enough. The trenches are a great melting-pot from which emerges all the good purged of the evil. To-morrow morning at five o'clock Bill and I are going to Constancelager to carry away those brave fellows who are waiting now, thinking ... I don't know what I think.
Thursday, November 15
WE rose in the darkness, and after a hasty breakfast set forth. The morning was unexpectedly mild and so misty that I found it difficult to keep Bill's car in sight. It grew light rapidly and by the time we arrived at Prat, the gaunt plain was easily visible. All was quiet and peaceful, but I realized how deceptive it was when I thought of the inferno about to break forth. I was waiting with ears strained to catch the first sound when I learned that the coup de main had been postponed till to-morrow morning.
Constancelager, Friday, November 16
We started out again in exactly the same way as yesterday, except that just as I backed my car into the shelter at Prat, it happened. The din was tremendous. The sky showed streaks of crimson in the east, over the dead, peaceful countryside, and birds were singing in the air. But the inferno on the hills yonder only increased. However, the coup de main was an absolute failure. I carried two terrible head cases.
Reims, Monday, November 19
I have been struck by the careless way in which an inventory is made of the dead man's effects. To me it is such a sacred, touching office. The crowd of brancardiers are as boyish as we are. They laugh and joke like a lot of schoolboys, which is nothing short of marvellous considering the depressing effect of their lives. How I admire them!
Dillman, Wednesday, November 21
At 11 P.M. I was awakened and given a couché to take to Châlons; so I visited the American canteen at the station. It is a marvellous place with hundreds of brancards for the soldiers to sleep on, arranged in groups according to the destinations of the soldiers who may thus be awakened in time for their train. There are reading-rooms, shower-baths, an outdoor garden, and a huge refectory where one may buy simple, extraordinarily cheap food served with the efficiency of a modern American quick-lunch counter. The big rooms are quaintly and cleverly decorated and furnished with indirect lighting. The kitchen is a model establishment. But chief of all attractions, for me at least, were the pleasant American women in charge. I talked for a long time with a very attractive lady before I could finally tear myself away.
LIFE AND COMFORT AT THE FRONT
Sunday, December 2
Woke at eight o'clock to find a broad beam of sunlight across the foot of my bed. What a glorious day! Clear, limitless blue overhead, sunlight on the green firs, a wind bringing air like wine that sends the blood tingling through the veins. From the observation tower the whole city of Reims was plainly visible. What a wonderful thing to be alive!
Haie Claire, Monday, December 3
Arrived here for the night, I followed my guide into a maze of trenches, one of which ended in a wide entrance to the poste, sloping downward with short, regular steps and plenty of head-room, unlike any other abri I have ever seen. At the foot is a broad archway cut out of pure chalk and then comes the door of the main room of the poste. What a surprise to find a blazing fire crackling on a hearth in the opposite wall, throwing ruddy reflections on the whitewashed walls and filling the place with warmth and comfort. The Médecin Chef lounged on a bench with his slippered feet on the hearth, and several brancardiers were talking in an undertone in a corner. A more peaceful, homelike spot would be hard to find. From another wing of the abri floated softly the sound of a flute and men's voices in chorus. The Médecin Chef nodded his head in approval. "It keeps the men happy," he said. Reluctantly I broke away from the warm fire and crept into my narrow bunk.
Constancelager, Sunday, December 9
I took a walk with an aspirant who spoke English and who led me through a maze of trenches, all labelled with picturesque names. We passed officers' quarters, very cosy and comfortable, with smoke betraying the warmth within, soldiers grouped about a table playing cards, messengers hurrying along, the postman with letters and newspapers, soldiers working on new boyaux or abris or repairing fils de fer; in fact, all the ordinary aspects of trench existence which is now so perfect that a system of trenches is a busy, humming community, with its main streets, and alleys, its tenement row and its "Fifth Avenue," its church, its hospital, and its store.