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Section Nineteen (SSU 19) – Part II

Western Front, France

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Christmas Day, 1917

The morning of the day before Christmas we spent in getting a Christmas tree and decorating the dining-room with evergreens and holly. Shaw and Smith were responsible for the artistic manipulation of the evergreens, and if you had seen the room you would have said it was cleverly done. That afternoon some of the boys were sitting around our "salamandre" trying to melt some of the snow off their shoes, when some one spoke up: " Say, fellows, what do you say if we chip in and buy the kids of the school some toys and candy? I think we would all be happy to do them a good turn." Everybody seconded the motion and collections were in order. Within a half-hour two hundred francs were brought together and Sergeant Shaw and myself were on the way to the nearest big city to get the gifts.

Our cantonment is in a typical French town of about three hundred inhabitants, where the fangs of the war demon have sunk deep and hurt. Yet the villagers have the characteristic peasant optimism, and if you could have seen those people you would have contributed yourself.

When the "committee" arrived in the big city, we went to a little store, in the front window of which were displayed some Christmas toys, and bought nearly all of them. The fact is we bought seventy-three toys and some cakes and candy, as there were thirty-six boys and thirty-seven girls in the school.

This morning Smith again exercised his artistic talent and arranged the toys on and around the bottom of the tree, so that when three o'clock rolled around the tree was all ready for the children, whom the teachers marched down to the dining-room, in double file, regardless of a heavy snow then falling. When the procession arrived, we pulled down the curtains and lit the candles on the tree. Then the children were invited in and they surely were a surprised bunch of kids.

We did n't keep them waiting long, but relieved their anxiety by giving out the presents at once. Jatho, who in the States had had much experience in this useful service, lent valuable assistance, while Shaw, Hope, and Smith distributed the toys, cake, and candy, As soon as this was done, the children passed out, and soon, from the street, through the open door, came the sound of the beating of drums, the blowing of trumpets, the shouts of admiration for their toys, and requests for more candy. Then back to their homes, through the falling snow, the children plodded, each bearing, beside a little gift, a gladdened heart.

In the evening we had our own good time, a Christmas supper --- and it was "some" supper, too. We started off with soup, beefsteak and mushrooms, turkey and mashed potatoes, green peas, salad, plum pudding and rum, candied fruit, marshmallows and nuts, winding up with black coffee. During the courses white and red wine and champagne were served. And thus ended a memorable day in the life of Section Nineteen.


*Of Brooklyn, New York; Cornell, '17; served with Section Nineteen of the Field Service and later in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service. The above is from a home letter.




Section Nineteen was visited by recruiting officers September 24, 1917, while working in the sector of the Argonne between the Four-de-Paris and the Avocourt Woods. Men were enlisted on that day, although the Section did not become part of the American army until later.

On September 26, 1917, the Section went en repos at Semoigne, south of Châlons-sur-Marne, the following day moving to Montereux close by. At the commencement of the Austrian rush into Italy, our Division, the 65th, was at Camp Mailly, and it at once started for Dormans on foot, the Section following. This march took three days. Then the Division entrained for Italy and we were detached, going to Troissy en repos.

We stayed there until the middle of November, when we became attached to the 58th Division of Infantry, with whom we stayed the rest of the war. The liaison took place at Reims, where we served Clos Saint-Remy, the Fromagerie, etc., until the Division was relieved on January 17, 1918. The 58th passed through Épernay toward Châlons-sur-Marne again, the Section having one-night stands until it finally reached Noirlieu. Later it moved to Sainte-Ménehould.

On March 19, 1918, the Division and Section moved into the Butte de Mesnil sector of Champagne, where several cars were hit and the men had enough work for once.

Later the Division was relieved and sent through Châlons, through Épernay, Pierrefonds, Compiègne, to Moyenneville, where it was holding the line on both sides of Cuvilly on June 9, 1918.

The Boche attacked here on June 9, and captured among other things eight of our cars and three of our men. The Section, under orders with the whole Division, retired to Estrées-Saint-Denis, that night moving to Eraine, Saint-Remy-en-l'Eau, and finally to Valescourt on June 14

The Infantry of the 58th had been all shot to pieces, so we were given three new regiments and made an attacking division --- something we had always wanted.

On the 17th of July, we moved over to Vivières, and on the 18th the Aisne-Marne battle started. On the 19th, our G.B.D. was moved to Vertes Feuilles with postes de secours in Vierzy. Here we worked between the United States 1st and 2d Divisions.

After our Division had taken all its objectives, we were relieved on the 25th of July, returning to Saint-Remy again.

The Division went into line opposite Chevincourt, cleaned the famous Thiescourt Plateau, and took part of Noyon. We came out on September 1, going again to Estrées-Saint-Denis.

On September 24 the Section moved to La Croix Ricard, Genvry, and on to Chauny on the 27th. The Division went into line in front of Tergnier, and when our men came out en repos, several days after the Armistice, the front postes were in Belgium. The Section moved up behind the troops as follows: To Le Mont de Faux December 7; Montcornet, December 14; Aubenton, January 25, 1919; and later to Rimogne, where on March 15, 1919, we were relieved by S.S.U. 547, and proceeded to Base Camp, en route for the United States.

Our three prisoners were all returned alive, one returning to the Section December 25, 1918. The Section received a divisional citation for its work on June 9.


*Of Brookline, Massachusetts; Dartmouth, with Section Nineteen from June, 1917; and in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service for the rest of the war.


Frank G. Royce

John D. Loughlin

E. P. Shaw

SSU 19