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Section Three (SSU 3) – Part I

Section 3 left Paris April 1915 served on the Western Front, then in the Orient. It was dissolved in October 1917.

When
WWI
Where
Western Front, France

The Section was attached to the 66e Division d'Infanterie from April, 1915 to January, 1917; to the 20e Corps d'Armée and repos, from February to April, 1917; to the 129e Division d'Infanterie from April to September, 1917; to Salonica, October, 1917; to the 57e Division d'Infanterie, Armée d'Orient, from November, 1917, to May, 1917; to the Division Provisoire en Grèce from June to July, 1917; to the 2e Division Serbe from July to August, 1917; to the 156e Division d'Infanterie, Armée d'Orient, from August to October, 1917. In October the Section returned to France and was dissolved.

SECTION THREE was organized in Paris in April, 1915, and sent to the French Seventh Army for trial. Within a fortnight it was assigned to duty in reconquered Alsace. The Section was quartered successively at Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle, Mollau, and Moosch, and served twenty-five kilometres of front in the mountainous region between the valley of Metzeral and Thann. The sector included Hartmannsweilerkopf, for possession of which so many battles were fought in 1915. In February, 1916, the Section moved to Lorraine, where, although en repos, it performed evacuation work around Baccarat and Saint-Dié. In the middle of June it was moved to the great battle front of Verdun, where it did its part over the dangerous run to the poste at Bras. Early in July the Section, with its Division, went to Pont-à-Mousson, where it worked for three months in the woods of Bois le Prêtre.

With the beginning of the autumn of 1916, it was decided, owing to the request of the French Government for a section such as had been able to work in the mountains of Alsace, to send Section Three to the Balkans with the French Army of the Orient. Consequently it was ordered to Marseilles, sailing for Salonica October 20, and arriving in that city the 28th. In November the Section was assigned to the Monastir sector. Several times cars were detached and sent over into the wild, mountainous country of Albania to serve French troops there, and on one occasion the whole Section was sent to Greece with the French force ordered there to maintain Greece's neutrality. The Section remained in the Balkans until October, 1917, when the United States Army took over the Field Service work. The United States, not being at war at that time with Austria, Bulgaria, or Turkey, the War Department was unwilling to take over the Field Service work in this region. The personnel of the Section was obliged to return to France, but the material was turned over to the French Army of the Orient in order that this much-needed work might continue. It is interesting to note that the cars of the two Balkan sections were still in service during the last great advance which ended the Balkan campaign.

* * *

SECTION THREE was organized in Paris in April, 1915, and sent to the French Seventh Army for trial. Within a fortnight it was assigned to duty in reconquered Alsace. The Section was quartered successively at Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle, Mollau, and Moosch, and served twenty-five kilometres of front in the mountainous region between the valley of Metzeral and Thann. The sector included Hartmannsweilerkopf, for possession of which so many battles were fought in 1915. In February, 1916, the Section moved to Lorraine, where, although en repos, it performed evacuation work around Baccarat and Saint-Dié. In the middle of June it was moved to the great battle front of Verdun, where it did its part over the dangerous run to the poste at Bras. Early in July the Section, with its Division, went to Pont-à-Mousson, where it worked for three months in the woods of Bois le Prêtre.

With the beginning of the autumn of 1916, it was decided, owing to the request of the French Government for a section such as had been able to work in the mountains of Alsace, to send Section Three to the Balkans with the French Army of the Orient. Consequently it was ordered to Marseilles, sailing for Salonica October 20, and arriving in that city the 28th. In November the Section was assigned to the Monastir sector. Several times cars were detached and sent over into the wild, mountainous country of Albania to serve French troops there, and on one occasion the whole Section was sent to Greece with the French force ordered there to maintain Greece's neutrality. The Section remained in the Balkans until October, 1917, when the United States Army took over the Field Service work. The United States, not being at war at that time with Austria, Bulgaria, or Turkey, the War Department was unwilling to take over the Field Service work in this region. The personnel of the Section was obliged to return to France, but the material was turned over to the French Army of the Orient in order that this much-needed work might continue. It is interesting to note that the cars of the two Balkan sections were still in service during the last great advance which ended the Balkan campaign.

'The Ambulance Sections', History of the American Field Service in France, "Friends of France" 1914-1917, Told by Its Members, Volume I (Boston and New York: Houghton and Mifflin Company, 1920)

SECTION THREE

I. ON THE WESTERN FRONT

 

En avant! Tant pis pour qui tombe;
La Mort n'est rien. Vive la tombe
Quand le pays en sort vivant.
En avant!

PAUL DÉROULÈDE

 

I
ALSACE AND THE VOSGES

 

December, 1915

The trenches in this part of the Vosges --- "Alsace Reconquise" ---are cut along the brows of heights which directly overlook the Rhine Valley. From these summits can be seen, beyond the smoke which deepens the mist above the famous cities of Mulhouse and Colmar, the shadowy boundary of the Black Forest and the snow-topped mountains of Switzerland. A few yards behind the mouths of the communication trenches are the first dressing-stations, everywhere and always one of war's most ghastly spots. Paths make their way from these dressing-stations down the mountain-sides until they become roads, and, once they become roads, our work begins.

Nowhere else are foreign soldiers upon German soil. Nowhere else, from Ypres to Belfort, do the lines face each other in a mountain range of commanding summits and ever-visible, village-dotted valleys. Nowhere else can one study, in history's most. famous borderland, both war and one of those problems in nationality which bring about wars. And surely nowhere else are Detroit-manufactured automobiles competing with Missouri-raised mules in the business of carrying wounded men over dizzy heights.

Until our light, cheap cars were risked on these roads, a wounded man faced a ten-mile journey with his stretcher strapped to the back of a mule or put on the floor of a hard, springless wagon. Now he is carried by hand or in wheel-carts from one-half to two miles. Then in one of our cars there is a long climb followed by a long descent. And over such roads! Roads blocked by artillery convoys and swarming with mules staggering, likely as not, beneath a load of high-explosive shells; roads so narrow that two vehicles cannot pass each other when both are in motion; roads with a steep bank on the one side and a sheer drop on the other; roads where lights would draw German shells; roads even where horns must not be blown!

Our base was the village of Saint-Maurice, twenty-five miles to the rear on the French side of the mountains, but strategically located in relation to the various dressing-stations, sorting-points, base hospitals, and railheads which we served, and, in this war of shipping-clerks and petrol, one of those villages which is as much a part of the front as even the trenches themselves. It was a "little, one-eyed, blinking sort of place." It was not as near to the fighting as some of us, particularly adventurous humanitarians fresh from New York and Paris, desired. But, picturesquely placed on the banks of the Moselle and smiling up at the patches of hollow-streaked snow that, even in late July and August, stand out on the tops of the Ballon d'Alsace and the Ballon de Servance, it is a lovely, long-to-be-remembered spot, and every one in the Section quite naturally still speaks of it as "home."

We were billeted in some twenty-five households as if we were officers, although our rations were the rations of common soldiers. Our lodgings ranged from hayloft to electrically lighted rooms; but the character of our welcome was always the same --- pleasant, cordial, to be counted upon --- "You are doing something for France and I will do what I can for you."

 

THE BASE AT SAINT-MAURICE

We parked our cars in the public square, on a hillside, along the fence of the curé's yard and against the walls of an old church, where their bright-red crosses flamed out against the gray flaking stone. And, on a cold morning, it was always possible to save a lot of cranking by pushing them down the hill. About half the Section on any given day was to be found at the base and "in bounds," which meant the square, the hotel where we had our mess, or the room where one was billeted. These men composed the reserve list and were liable to be called at any minute, when they must "roll," as we say, instantly. The rest of the Section was on duty in detachments of from one to eight cars and for periods of from twenty-four hours to a week at various dressing-stations, sorting-points, field hospitals, and so forth. The men on reserve were used to reinforce these places, to fill up quickly trains sanitaires, and to rush to any one of a half-dozen villages which were sometimes shelled.

Often, when the fighting was heavy, not a man or a car of Section Three was to be found at Saint-Maurice. The repair car even would be driven to some crossroads or sorting-point where our ambulances brought the wounded from several dressing-stations.

Our Chef was Lovering Hill, succeeding Richard Lawrence, who, after a short time, had been compelled to return to the United States. A French lieutenant and an official interpreter were attached to the Section. This French personnel was a link between the French Automobile Service and our American organization, and they were busy from morning until night keeping abreast of the required reports, for five-day reports had to be made on the consumption of gasoline, the number of miles run, the number of wounded carried, the oil, carbide, and spare parts needed, the rations drawn, and, in great detail, any change in personnel.

There were no orderlies or mechanics attached to our Section, and each driver was responsible for the upkeep and repair of his own car. We did as much of this work as possible in the square where we parked our cars, so we patched tires, scraped carbon, and changed springs while the church bell rang persistently and mournfully for masses and funerals and while people came and went about their daily tasks and laughed at our strange language.

Around the railway station is a group of temporary tents, where the wounded are given, by the ladies of the Croix Rouge, a cup of coffee or a glass of lemonade before being packed into the train sanitaire to begin their long journey to the centre or south of France. The ambulances evacuating the hospitals draw up among these tents under the orders of the sergeant in charge. Four or five French ambulances arrive and are unloaded. Then a smaller car takes its place in the line --- a " Flivver."

The driver, after clearly doing his best to make a smooth stop, gets down and helps in lifting out the stretchers. One of the wounded, as his stretcher is slid along the floor of the car and lowered to the ground, groans pitifully. He has groaned this way and sometimes even screamed at the rough places on the road. So the driver's conscience hurts him as he pulls some tacks out of his tires and waits for the sergeant's signal to start. It is his first day's work as an ambulancier. He can still see every rock and every rut in the last mile of the road he has just driven over, and he wonders if he really has been as careful as possible....

One wet night the writer was stopped en route by a single, middle-aged soldier trudging his way along a steep road running from a cantonment behind the lines to the trenches. Embarrassed a little at first, and pulling at his cap, this man said that he had heard in the trenches of the American ambulances; that a friend had written back that he had been carried in one of them; that this was the first time he had had an opportunity of shaking hands with one of the volontaires américains. Then, as I leaned over to say good-bye, he shook both my hands, offered me a cigarette, shook both my hands again, saying, as he pointed towards where, in the black distance, sounded the rumble of guns, "Perhaps you will bring me back to-morrow."

 

THE BEAUTIES OF ALSACE

Away from our base, in our nomadic dressing-station-to-hospital existence, we were pretty much "on our own." This part of our life began in a valley reached through the famous pass of Bussang. Starting from the valley of the Moselle, easy grades along a splendid highway crowded with trucks, staff cars, wine-carts, and long lines of yellow hay-wagons, bring one to a tunnel about three hundred yards in length. In the middle of this tunnel is a low white marble stone with a rounded top that until August, 1914, marked the boundary between France and Germany. To an American driving an automobile in the dim tunnel light, this stone is simply something not to be hit. To the French, who have fought so bravely that it may no longer stand for a boundary, it is a sacred symbol. I have seen the eyes of returning wounded glisten at the sight of it. I have heard companies of chasseurs, as they passed it going to the trenches, break into singing or whistling their famous Sidi-Brahim march.

Beyond this tunnel the road, wrapping itself around the mountain like a broad, shining ribbon, descends in sweeping curves sometimes a kilometre long into the fertile commercial valley of the Thur, which flows into the Rhine. On one side are, high gray rocks where reservist road-menders seem to hang by their teeth and break stones; on the other, a sheer drop into green fields; behind, the tunnel-pierced summit; and in front, the red-roofed houses of several Alsatian villages nestling against yet another line of mountain-tops. And along this road we have made our way at midnight, at daybreak, in the late afternoon, running cautiously with wounded and running carelessly empty. We were at home, too, in the villages to which it leads; at home with the life-size portrayals of the Crucifixion that are everywhere, even in fields and nailed to trees in the mountains, and at home with the gray stone churches and their curious bulb-shaped towers and clamorous bells.

The appearance of an American ambulance in the villages was no longer a novelty. Sentries let us pass without a challenge, school-children did not any more rush over to us at recess time, or soldiers crowd around us and say to one another, "Voilà une voiture américaine!" We had friends everywhere --- the officer who wanted to speak English and invited us so often to lunch with him; the corporal of engineers who was a well-known professor; the receiving sergeant who was a waiter at the Savoy Hotel in London; the infirmier who was in charge of the French department of one of the largest of New York's publishing houses.

 

AT THE MOUNTAIN POSTES

We were housed at one of the postes in a long, low shack built against the side of the crest. Violent storms sometimes took the roof off this shack, with the consequent drenching of the surgeon in charge, ourselves, a half-dozen stretcher-bearers, and as many mule-drivers. Bunks were built crosswise against the side of the walls, and over some of these bunks the words "Pour intransportables" were written. The rest, however, were occupied by people on duty there, for it was merely a relay-point, and the wounded, unless unable to stand a further journey or arriving by mules in numbers greater than we could handle, were merely changed from one mode of conveyance to another and given such attention in passing as they might need.

When one of the beds for intransportables was occupied, it generally meant that the man died in a few days and was buried close by, a corporal of stretcher-bearers, who was before the war a Roman Catholic missionary in Ceylon, borrowing from one of us a camera to take for the dead man's family a photograph of the isolated grave marked with one of those simple wooden crosses from which no mile of northern France is free.

These mountain-tops were often for weeks on end bathed in a heavy mist varied only by rainstorms. At such times, when there was no work to do --- and very frequently there were no wounded to carry for twenty-four hours or more --- the surgeon, ourselves, the brancardiers, and the mule-drivers, would close in around the stove. One of these stretcher-bearers was transferred after being wounded at the battle of the Marne from the frontline troops to the Service Sanitaire, and before the war he had served five years in the Foreign Legion in Africa. His stories of this period were endless and interesting, and, after listening to them for a week, we would all go back to our base calling soldiers nothing but poilus; coffee, jus; wine, pinard; canned beef, singe; and military irregularities, Système D. There was also a good deal of reading done by many of the Section on the rainy days of no work. It was part of the daily relieving-man's unofficial but well-understood duties to bring along any magazines and newspapers that he could get hold of, and generally, too, books gradually accumulated and grew to be considered as a sort of library that must not be taken away. Indeed, at one poste de secours our library consisted of two or three French novels and plays, "The Newcomes," a two-volume "Life of Ruskin," "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," and "Les Misérables."

When a group of men are on duty at an isolated poste de secours like the one I am describing, they take turns in carrying the wounded who may arrive, the man who has made the last trip going to the bottom of the list. And there is something comfortable about feeling that you are the last to "roll" on a stormy night when every plank in the little hut rattles and groans, when the wind shrieks in the desolate outside, when the sinister glare of the trench rockets gleams. through the heavy blackness like a flash of lightning, and the wet mule-drivers, who borrow a little of your fire, shake their heads and, pointing towards the road, say, "un mauvais chemin." And then, as you settle a little deeper in your blankets and blow out your lantern and assure yourself for the last time as to where your matches are and how much gasoline you have in your tank, you are pretty apt to think, before you go to sleep, of the men a little way off in the rain-soaked trenches.

They are certainly not very far away --- only over there on the next ridge where the shells are exploding. They have been there, you know, without relief for ten days. You remember when they marched up the mountain to take their turn. How cheerful they seemed! Not one of them is sleeping, like you, in blankets. They won't go back to-morrow, like you, to a pleasant dinner, with good friends --- outside of the danger zone. Some will come back, and you will carry them in your ambulance. And some will never come back at all. Well ...

"Did I leave that spark-plug wrench under the car? God knows I can never find it on, a night like this and I change a plug every trip."

"Wake up! Don't talk in your sleep!"

"What, is it my turn to roll? Wounded?"

"No; Steve is en panne halfway down the mountain."

And you begin to take things in, with one of the Section's sous-chefs leaning over your cot explaining that the first man on the list with a load of wounded has had an accident. The others are waked up too. Some are left to take care of such other wounded as may arrive and the rest form a rescue party. Two ride in the rescue ambulance; two more probably walk. The wounded are moved from the broken-down car to the other ambulance, and then daylight finds three or four of us, rain-drenched and mud-smeared, changing a brake-band or digging into a carburetor.

On clear days during summer and early autumn weather, we stayed indoors very, little, for the air was champagne-like and the view on all sides magnificent. It is possible, also, from a number of these eminences to follow in a fascinating fashion the progress of artillery duels, and, with a good pair of glasses, even to see infantry advancing to the attack. When the cannonading is heavy, the whole horizon pops and rumbles and from the sea of green mountains spread out before you rise puffs of shrapnel smoke, flaky little clouds about the size of a man's hand and pale against the tree-tops, as one thinks of death as pale. They hover, sometimes too many at a time to count, above the mountains and then sink down again into general greenness.

Soldiers march by these postes on their way to and from the trenches. Whenever they were allowed to break ranks near our cars, they would crowd around us with little bottles in their hands asking for gasoline to put in briquets which they make out of German bullets. Most of these men belonged to battalions of Chasseurs alpins, and I do not believe there are any finer soldiers in the world than those stocky, merry-eyed men from the mountain provinces of France, with their picturesque berets and their dark-blue coats set off by their horizon-blue trousers. They are called, indeed, the "blue devils," and when the communiqués say, "After a heavy shelling of some of the enemy heights in the Vosges, our infantry advanced to the attack and succeeded in taking so many of the enemy trenches," it is probably the Chasseurs alpins who have led the way in the face of the hand-grenades and machinegun fire and the streams of burning oil that, in this country especially, make the "meaning of a mile" so terrible.

 

PRESTON LOCKWOOD*
*Of St. Louis; Washington University; who was in the Service during most of the years 1915 and 1916. Subsequently was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Field Artillery. This article was written in December, 1915.

 

II
NOTES FROM A DIARY

 

Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle September 5, 1915

I was invalided down from Dunkirk to Paris on August 20, assigned to our American hospital at Neuilly, and discharged ten days later. I started on September 4 for the Vosges and arrived here at noon to-day. It is wonderful to see the hills and smell wood smoke once more. There is a pleasant set of men here, rather less boisterous than at Dunkirk. Lovering Hill, the leader, is quiet, almost taciturn, but apparently well liked. There are about twenty-six cars in the Section, a third of which are over the ridge in the next valley and the lines are on the second ridge beyond.

Friday, September 10

Strolled up toward the Ballon d'Alsace. In a hundred ways this region reminds me of our own beautiful mountains at home. The contours and colors of the hills; the trees and grass; the rock and soil; especially the little wild flowers and odors of pine, burning wood, and damp earth --- these are all familiar. The inhabitants, too, seem to be shaped by their environment to a manner different from that of the other peasants of France.

Thursday, September 16

I rolled to Trehkopf to-day. The hospital is behind a little knoll, just where the line of woods stops, and the view is wonderful, especially toward evening. Just the other side, of the crest are a few shepherds' houses and some "105's" are hidden there which were firing off and on all day. Kingsland was there holding down his ambulance when I arrived and we took déjeuner with the cook at 10.30; dined with the cook about 5, after having chopped him some wood with a cross-eyed French axe; and then sat and watched the sunset. The first load of men came about 8.30 and I took them down to Krüth. On returning, found another load waiting for me and returned at once.

Sunday, September 19

Mellen came in on his way from Treh just as they were testing some gas-masks. We each tried one on and went into a chamber full of gas. Breathing was rather difficult through the heavy pad over the mouth; but otherwise there was no discomfort. Later they showed us various forms of apparatus---the French bombs, glass spheres full of acetone bromide enclosed in a broken iron shell; flame bombs; sprinklers for hyposulphite against chlorine; oxygen and hypo-respirators for thick clouds; and masks of all sorts.

Waited until almost midnight for some men whom I took to Saint-Amarin. Slept in the large salle without blankets.

 

A POSTE ON HARTMANNSWEILERKOPF

October 1

In a checkered automobiling experience, the most anxious drive I ever had occurred last evening. It was at a new poste in the mountains, not far from Hartmannsweilerkopf. I was there for the first time when a call came from a station just behind the lines. It was dusk already, but I knew no better than to start. The road is new since the beginning of the war; it follows the steep route up an old path and no lights are allowed on it lest the Germans might locate and shell it. This road is narrow, winding, and very steep, so steep that at places at the top of a descent it looks as if it ended suddenly. There was barely enough twilight through the mass of trees to allow me to see the pack-mules returning from the day's ravitaillement; but I finally made my way to the poste, where I was given a poor, blind soldier to carry back. What a trip he must have had. If it was trying for me, it was worse for him. It was now dark --- a moonless, starless night in the woods. When I started back, I could seldom see the road itself. I had to steer by the bank or by the gaps in the trees ahead. Occasionally I would feel one of the front wheels leave the crown of the road, and would quickly turn to avoid going over the precipice; but with all this I had to rush the grades which I could not see, but could only feel. At last the machine refused a hill and stalled. I knew that there were steeper hills ahead, worse roads and thicker woods. I decided that a German bullet would be better than a fall down the mountain-side, and so I lit one of my oil lamps. Some passing soldiers gave me a push and by the flickering light of the lantern I felt my way more easily back to the poste. I was glad to arrive.

Thursday, October 7

I started down with four malades assis. About two kilometres down the road I suddenly noticed that the engine had stopped firing. Meanwhile it had grown dark. My malades --- especially one --- were getting anxious. I sent word to Krüth by an automobile that was passing and then sat down to wait. About nine o'clock Douglass appeared and took my men. I told him what parts I wanted, and we pushed the car to a better place in the road. Then he gave me a piece of bread and left me. I made a chilly meal of the bread and some sardines, lighted my lights and went to bed on a rickety old stretcher, with my three blessé blankets and my overcoat. It was more comfortable than I expected.

 

MIST AND RAIN ON THE MOUNTAIN

Friday, October 8

A little passing sun. A shivering, white, misty dawn woke me about five o'clock. I decided, on reflection, that I should be warmer walking around than under my blessé blankets, and so I screwed up my courage to rise. Warmed my socks on my lanterns before putting them on. Once up, I felt better. I found in the woods the coals of a fire built by the road-menders and then I toasted the remains of the bread and stood in the ashes to warm my feet. About seven I began to hear the rattlings of wagons and the swearing of mule-drivers across the ravine, about a kilometre away by the road. Half an hour later the wagons themselves began to come into view --- the long pack-train of the day's ravitaillement. A man in a chauffeur's coat greeted me. He had spent the night out also. He was very pleasant --- a wholesale dealer in pearls in Paris --and gave me some pâté and wine as breakfast. We chatted for about an hour. A little later, some men from the French Section brought up the new parts. One of them was a Ford dealer --- also very pleasant, as they all were. They pushed me to a steeper part of the road and left me. Then I coasted down, partly in gear, as far as the artillery barracks at Krüth, walked down to the hospital in order to telegraph, and ate an enormous lunch at "The Joffre." At night slept long and deeply.

Monday, October 11

There had been a bomb-attack at Hartmanns during the night and I had a trip almost at once. Returned leisurely to lunch and tried to take a nap before going on another trip. But about 3.30 I was awakened to go to a farm called Hay, way up in the mountains, to get an artillerist who was wounded in the abdomen. The trip took about an hour and a half. The road was narrow and rough and the steepest I have ever seen. The last kilometre but one was so steep and gravelly that the brancardier who was with me had to call in a score or so of artillerists to push us over the rougher spots. At last in the dusk I arrived at the communication trench, where the blessé was waiting, unconscious and white, on a stretcher, while the doctor was impatient. They put the former in the machine and we started back over that steep, rough road. At every little jar he would groan and cry out. I was going as slowly as possible at the roughest place; but the stones in the road were very large, and the infirmier went round and spoke to him. He was breathing faintly, but unable to reply. A man at the roadside came and peered inside, too. "Il est mort," he said, whereupon the infirmier almost struck the intruder. A little way farther on, still going as gently as possible, we again stopped to look at the patient and found he was dead. We noted the hour and went on, though no faster than before, for we might have been mistaken. It took us longer to return than to climb up. When we reached the hospital and took the body in, it seemed to me once that he moved. But no; my eyes were strained and he was really dead. Then I went over to the Restaurant zur Poste, where pretty Fräulein Anna served me the quickest meal I have had in Alsace. Bed about midnight.

 

FLIVVER VS. MOTOR TRUCK

Thursday, October 28

Moore appeared in the evening much excited. He had knocked a camion from Hill 408 into the river at Urbès! He had followed it some way, trying to pass, but it would not move over, At that, he attempted to squeeze past. The hub of his front wheel wedged in under the hub of the truck's wheel, and upset its steering so that its momentum carried it off the road. Moore felt no shock, and except for a dent in the hub-cap, old 58 is undamaged. But the camion, with three cannon-barrels on board, is in the river!

Monday, November 1

There is a new médecin auxiliaire here--- a tall, quiet medical student. He had just returned from being a prisoner in Germany, having been captured thirteen months ago. The German military authorities found a revolver on him and were about to shoot him on this account, when an officer intervened, saying that their doctors also carried revolvers. They should have returned him at once; but, instead, they kept him and almost starved him. He lived mostly on food sent him from home. He was owed a salary, but it was not given him until he left, as his captors were afraid he would buy food with it.

Tuesday, November 2

One of the évacués from the hospital at La Source was the German I took there during the attack. The brancardiers were not very careful of him then. They jerked him out and slammed him down muttering, "salaud," and "cochon." But during the two weeks he was there, they had come to know him better, and he, instead of being afraid he was to be shot, as he had been at first, was now laughing and joking in broken French with his infirmiers. As he left, they all shook him by the hand and one called after him "Bonne chance, camarade!"

 

LATE AUTUMN IN THE VOSGES

Wednesday, November 10

It both rained and snowed! A white day --- misty and snowy. The sleety snow in the mountains was heavy rain in the valley.

The Section moved to-day from Saint-Maurice to Mollau near Wesserling, a tiny little village smaller than Saint-Maurice and built along a brook on the side of the mountains. I had not known that there was a town there, it is so shut in by hills. A very pretty spot; the slopes partly smooth and grassy, partly rocky, partly woods. We all sleep together---except the officers and Curley --- in the schoolroom on stretchers placed on top of plank beds. There is a splendid tall porcelain stove in the room; but the only wood that is provided for us is to be found in a tract of forest on the Ballon d'Alsace, which we cannot possibly get at. However, we procured some. In the middle of the room is a table and a good enough light in the ceiling. The two disadvantages are that the place is noisy until eleven o'clock at night so that it is difficult to write or sleep, and that we have not even hooks to hang our things on. We eat army rations, cooked at the hotel. For the moment the cooking is superb; but we are soon to get an army cook, who will probably change all that.

The chef's landlady is from Atlanta, Georgia, and her children speak some English. We get cream instead of hot milk for our coffee in the morning, and we are soon to have butter. The inhabitants here are less German than most of the Alsatians and speak French as well as patois.

Tuesday, November 16

Fair and cold. A call to Krüth --- fifty frozen feet from Adsinfirst --- came in the middle of the morning. Did various odd jobs in the afternoon, brushed out car, made a hood of green burlap, chopped wood, and wrote a little; went out walking with Fenton and otherwise amused myself. In the evening a contagious call came in. I took it and in the moonlight, carried the man from Krüth to Le Thillot.

Wednesday, November 17

A dark morning. There was a Bussang evacuation. Hill sent me over. Col de Bussang very slippery. Wagons and camions en panne all the way along. Evacuated for about an hour. Fenton tried to avoid a woman, skidded, and smashed a rear wheel. Returning found even more camions en panne on the Col. Our cars were skidding badly also. Luckily I had a pair of chains and got along fairly well. There was a convoy of four fourgons, however, which was having a hard time of it. One had gone over the edge, spilling its load of shells all over the road. Another had gone into the ditch. Still another was stuck crosswise on a steep part of the highway so that I could not pass. In one place, I was kept waiting an hour before the vehicles moved up.. Next we met a convey of wagons climbing the hill, or rather failing to climb it, and again had to stop. Farther on a team of six horses ran away on an icy slope and rushed into my car, but, luckily did no damage to anybody. So, altogether, it was night when I reached Herrenfluh; and I had to return by moonlight --- not at all difficult and most beautiful. On returning to Tomansplatz, I had to take another trip ---a man there had had a grenade explode in his hand. A cold night.

Saturday, November 20

Yesterday, on the eve of the Harvard-Yale football game, we sent the following cable to Percy Haughton, coach of the Harvard football team:

À la veille de votre combat, salut! Serrez vos ceintures, fixez vos baionnettes, chargez vos fusils, grenades à main, et en avant les gars! On vous regards même des sommets des Vosges.
Le Harvard Club d'Alsace Reconquiee

Monday, November 22

The Harvard-Yale score was announced, 41-0. The Harvard Club of Alsace Reconquise celebrated suitably, for Doyle, our only Yale man, was away.

Thursday, November 25

Light snow. Carey and Waldo Peirce are making a pack of caricature playing-cards, I sat for the queen of hearts. Our Thanksgiving dinner was a great event. Our new French officer was our guest. We had a delicious turkey, two geese, cranberries, chestnuts, apple pie, plum pudding --- a wonderful gorge. Late to bed.

Saturday, November 27

Fair. Very cold. This morning it took me three quarters of an hour to start the car. Had to lay a red-hot poker on the carburetor.

Sunday, November 28

Cold. Every one had frightful struggles getting off. Hot water on the carburetors would freeze before the motor would catch. Was orderly. After clearing up the barracks, I took a call to Thillot with Fenton. We stopped at Saint Maurice to pay our respects to all the pretty girls. Bought a goose. Arrived at Mollau about dark.

Monday, December 6

The Captain of the English Section which is to replace us rolled up from Rupt yesterday in an enormous car. Rice took him up to Tomans. He was much disgusted with the road and thinks it will be impossible to continue the service there. He was also horrified, and not without reason, at our quarters.

Friday, December 10

The road, wherever it is not a morass, is ridged and gullied by the rains and the fields near Urbès are flooded. Both the Moselle and the Thur are out of their banks. Hall declares he saw some "504" shells; probably winebarrels!

Tuesday, December 15

An English "chauffeur" (to be distinguished from "volunteer") brought over his Ford for Fenton to repair today, and spent the night. Matter committed a social solecism at Krüth by inviting both volunteer and chauffeur to lunch together with him.

Friday, December 17

The boys have sometimes complained, not without reason, of the hardships and fatigues of the work. But now that there is no work, they complain still more, and I not least of them. They are peevish; I also. They will not go to bed at night or get up in the morning. They are restless, and yet the smallest tasks are done unwillingly. I am tempted to write as a general proposition that men are happiest when working hardest. But it must not be forgotten that I am writing in a time of idleness.

 

THE ATTACK ON HARTMANNSWEILERKOPF

Tuesday, December 21

The attack is on! Terrific bombardment. An atmosphere of ill-suppressed excitement. No work in the morning or early afternoon, as the attack did not begin until noon. Walked up to the boyau leading to the trenches on the Sudelkop and cautiously peered over the ridge at Hartmanns. A terrible sight. There was a band of trees, stripped bare by shell-fire, from the valley to the crest. A company of soldiers passed up, going to the trenches. At the entrance to the boyau, they stopped to load and then went on, stopping behind the parapet. It did not seem possible that any of them could go down to that shell-clotted hillside and return alive. I wonder if any of them did?

We crawled down the ridge again, mostly on our bellies, through the light, wet snow, and so back to the poste, where we at last found a cabin which at least kept the wind off, and I went to sleep, waking up hungry and cold. In the meanwhile, the others had found a travelling kitchen and we got something to eat. Just before dusk, the prisoners and wounded began to come in. The road from Tomans down is icy and slippery; Mellen was unable to descend with only one chain, wagons everywhere in trouble. I reached Moosch in safety, however. Luckily there is a moon. Mounting to Tomans again, took two trips down, and stayed for an hour's sleep. Gailliard, the cook, is established, with food and the means of cooking it, in a little house opposite the hospital. There is also room for about six to sleep comfortably, and there I slept with the others.

Wednesday, December 22

Blessés coming in rather slowly, but still fast enough to keep us busy. Last night Hill and the Divisionnaire were down near Bains-Douches when they came across a body of Germans, unarmed but unguarded. So they had to act guard; marshalled them and marched them to the fort, Hill giving the commands in German. On one of my trips to Moosch, was able to pick up a peau de mouton and some Boche boots. The latter were much needed, for both my pairs are soaked through. The hospital is getting more and more crowded. The corridors are so full of stretchers that it is almost impossible to move along them.

There is room in the salle de triage for six stretcher cases, and there is a rule against removing any of them into the wards until all have been entered on the books, so to-day six cars waited two hours to be unloaded, the poor wretches inside crying to be taken out. Slept three hours at Tomans.

Thursday, December 23

Bombardments by the Germans. After a slight lull in the morning, work began again. Rolled pretty steadily. But the shortage of men in the Section is serious. Three are laid up with illnesses, and the strain is telling a little on all of us. Only Curley is a man of iron. But he is so uncomfortable at Moosch that he rolls up to Tomans, and is so disgusted with Tomans that he at once rolls down again to Moosch. The cars, too, are giving way. The Bitschweiler road is wearing out brake-bands faster than they can be put on. Several axle-shafts have broken, among others that on the supply car which is now reposing among the corpses in the garage at Tomans.

Friday, December 24

Heavy showers. Mist. Fitful bombardment, evidently much hampered by the fog. Made one trip in the morning and one in the early afternoon. Returning from the latter was impressed into service by Dick Hall, who rolled back to Moosch while I rolled up the mountain. Poor Dick! Poor charming, whimsical Dick! I never saw him again. Had a trip down in time for supper at Moosch. On my way up, found Cate in trouble with a tire --- his sixth since the beginning of the attack --- and stopped to help him. When we were finished, we went on, but found Douglass, Peirce, and Jennings all waiting at the watering-trough for some trucks to reach the top of the hill, as it was impossible to pass by them. Finally we started off again, a munitions convoy stopping to heave Peirce's old 'bus up every little grade. A cart stuck in the middle of the steep corner complicated matters. But we finally reached Tomans.

Thursday, December 30

The French attack has been more or less a failure. General Serret was wounded the night before last. About one in the morning Curley went down to Bains-Douches to get him. It was a very dark night, and he was, of course, unable to use any lights. The "Willer" road was kept clear of traffic and the general was rushed down to Moosch.

They have found it necessary to amputate the General's leg.*

 

TRACY J. PUTNAM

*General Serret died on January 6, 1916.

 

III
CHRISTMAS EVE, 1915

 

In one of the most beautiful countries in the world, the Alsatian Valley of the Thur runs to where the Vosges abruptly end in the great flat plain of the Rhine. In turn a small valley descends into that of the Thur. At the head of this valley lies the small village of Mollau where was billeted the Section. At the end of 1915 it had been through months of laborious, patient, never-ceasing trips from the valley to the mountain-tops and back, up the broadened mule-paths, rutted and worn by a thousand wheels and the hoofs of mules, horses, and oxen, by hobnailed boots and by the American ambulance cars (for no other Section is equipped with cars and men for such service), up from the small Alsatian towns, leaving the main valley road to grind through a few fields of ever-increasing grade on into the forest, sometimes pushed, sometimes pulled, always blocked on the steepest slopes by huge army wagons deserted where they stuck, rasping cartloads of trench torpedoes on one side, crumbling the edge of the ravine on the other --- day and night --- night and day --- in snow and rain --- and, far worse, fog --- months of foul and days of fair --- up with the interminable caravans of ravitaillement supplies with which to sustain or blast the human body (we go down with the human body once blasted), up past small armies of Alsatian peasants of three generations (rather two --- octogenarians and children) forever repairing, forever fighting the wear and tear of all that passes, --- up at last to the little log huts and rudely made postes de secours at the mouth of the trench "bowels" --- a silent little world of tethered mules, shrouded carts, and hooded figures; lightless by night, under the great pines where is a crude garage usually filled with grenades into which one may back at one's own discretion.

Day after day, night after night, wounded or no wounded, the little ambulances ply with their solitary drivers. Few men in ordinary autos or in ordinary senses travel such roads by choice, but all that is impossible is explained by a simple "C'est la guerre." Why else blindly force and scrape one's way past a creaking truck of shells testing twenty horses, two abreast, steaming in their own cloud of sweaty vapor, thick as a Fundy fog? Taking perforce the outside, the ravine side, the ambulance passes. More horses and wagons ahead in the dark, another blinding moment or two, harnesses clash and rattle, side bolts and lanterns are wiped from the car. It passes again. C'est la guerre. Why else descend endless slopes with every brake afire, with three or four human bodies, as they should not be, for cargo, where a broken drive-shaft leaves but one instantaneous twist of the wheel for salvation, a thrust straight into the bank, smashing the car, but saving its precious load? C'est la guerre.

The men in time grow tired as do the machines. A week before Christmas they rested quietly in their villages --- a week of sun and splendid moon, spent tuning up their motors and gears and jogging about afoot after all their "rolling." A lull in the fighting, and, after three weeks of solid rain, nature smiles. The Section had been ordered to leave shortly, and it was only held for a long-expected attack which would bring them all together for once on the mountain in a last great effort with the Chasseurs alpins and the mountains they both loved.

On December 21 the mountains spoke, and all the cars rolled upwards to the poste of Hartmannsweilerkopf --- taken and retaken a score of times ---a bare, brown, blunt, shell-ploughed top where before the forest stood --- up elbowing, buffeting, and tacking their way through battalions of men and beasts, up by one pass and down by another unmountable (for there was no going back against the tide of what was battle-bound). From one mountain-slope to another roared all the lungs of war. For five days and five nights --- scraps of days, the shortest of the year, nights interminable --- the air was shredded with shrieking shells --- intermittent lulls for slaughter in attack after the bombardment, then again the roar of the counter-attack.

All this time, as in all the past months, Richard Nelville Hall drove his car up the winding, shell-swept artery of the mountain at war---past crazed mules, broken-down artillery carts, swearing drivers, stricken horses, wounded stragglers still able to hobble-past long convoys of Boche prisoners, silent, descending in twos, guarded by a handful of men --- past all the personnel of war, great and small (for there is but one road, one road on which to travel, one road for the enemy to shell), past abris, bomb-proofs, subterranean huts, to arrive at the poste de secours, where silent men moved mysteriously in the mist under the great trees, where the cars were loaded with an ever-ready supply of still more quiet figures (though some made sounds), mere bundles in blankets. Hall saw to it that those quiet bundles were carefully and rapidly installed --- right side up, for instance --- for it is dark and the brancardiers are dulled, deadened by the dead they carry; then rolled down into the valley below, where little towns bear stolidly their daily burden of shells wantonly thrown from somewhere in Bocheland over the mountain to anywhere in France --- the bleeding bodies in the car a mere corpuscle in the full crimson stream, the ever-rolling tide from the trenches to the hospitals of the blood of life and the blood of death. Once there, his wounded unloaded, Dick Hall filled his gasoline tank and rolled again on his way. Two of his comrades had been wounded the day before, but Dick Hall never faltered. He slept where and when he could, in his car, at the poste, on the floor of our temporary kitchen at Moosch --- dry blankets --- wet blankets --- blankets of mud --- blankets of blood; contagion was pedantry --- microbes a myth.

At midnight Christmas Eve, 1915, he left the valley to get his load of wounded for the last time. Alone, ahead of him two hours of lonely driving up the mountain. Perhaps he was thinking of other Christmas Eves, perhaps of his distant home, and of those who were thinking of him.... The next American to pass, found him by the roadside halfway up the mountain. His face was calm and his hands still in position to grasp the wheel. A shell had struck his car and killed him instantly, painlessly. A chance shell in a thousand had struck him at his post, in the morning of his youth.

Up on the mountain fog was hanging over Hartmanns Christmas morning, as if Heaven wished certain things obscured. The trees were sodden with dripping rain. Weather, sight, sound, and smell did their all to sicken mankind, when news was brought to us that Dick Hall had fallen on the Field of Honor. No man said, "Merry Christmas," that day. No man could have mouthed it. With the fog forever closing in, with the mountain shaken by a double bombardment as never before, we sat all day in the little log hut by the stove, thinking first of Dick Hall, then of Louis Hall, his brother, down in the valley.

Dick Hall, we who knew you, worked with you, played with you, ate with you, slept with you, we who took pleasure in your company, in your modesty, in your gentle manners, in your devotion and in your youth --- we still pass that spot, and we salute. Our breath comes quicker, our eyes grow dimmer, we grip the wheel a little tighter --- we pass --- better and stronger men.

 

WALDO PEIRCE*
*The artist; of Bangor, Maine; Harvard '07. in France when the war broke out; joined Section Three, in which he served until this Section was transferred to the Balkans. A number of the paintings and sketches reproduced in these volumes are the work of Mr. Peirce.

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Richard Hall was buried with honors of war in the valley of Saint-Amarin, in Alsace, which once more belongs to France. His grave, in a crowded military cemetery, is next that of a French officer who fell the same morning. It bears the brief inscription, "Richard Hall, an American who died for France." Simple mountain people, in the then only part of Germany where foreign soldiers were, brought to the grave many wreaths of native flowers and Christmas greens. The funeral service was held in a little Protestant chapel, five miles down the valley. At the conclusion of the service, Hall's citation was read and the Cross of War pinned on the coffin. On the way to the cemetery sixteen soldiers, belonging to a battalion on leave from the trenches, marched in file on each side with arms reversed. The Médecin Chef spoke as follows at the grave:

Messieurs --- Camarades ---

C'est un suprême hommage de reconnaissance et d'affection que nous rendons, devant cette fosse fraîchement creusée, à ce jeune homme ---je dirais volontiers ---cet enfant ---tombé hier pour la France sur les pentes de l'Hartmannsweilerkopf. . . . Ai-je besoin de vous rappeler la douloureuse émotion que nous avons tous ressentis en apprenant hier matin que le conducteur Richard Hall, de la Section Sanitaire Américaine No 3, venait d'être mortellement frappé par un éclat d'obus, près du poste de secours de Thomannsplatz où il montait chercher des blessés?

À l'Ambulance 3158, où nous éprouvons pour nos camarades américains une sincère amitié basée sur des mois de vie commune pendant laquelle il nous fut permis d'apprécier leur endurance, leur courage, et leur dévouement, le conducteur Richard Hall était estimé entre tous pour sa modestie, sa douceur, sa complaisance.

À peine sorti de l'université de Dartmouth, dans la générosité de son cœur d'adolescent, il apporta à la France le précieux concours de sa charité en venant relever, sur les champs de bataille d'Alsace, ceux de nos vaillants soldats blessés en combattant pour la patrie bien-aimée.

Il est mort en "Chevalier de la Bienfaisance" ---en "Américain" --- pour l'accomplissement d'une œuvre de bonté et de charité chrétienne.

Aux êtres chers qu'il a laissés dans sa patrie, au Michigan, à ses parents désolés, à son frère ainé, qui, au milieu de nous, montre une si stoïque douleur, nos hommages et l'expression de notre tristesse sont bien sincères et bien vifs!

Conducteur Richard Hall, vous allez reposer ici à l'ombre du drapeau tricolore, auprès de tous ces vaillants dont vous êtes l'émule.... Vous faites à juste titre partie de leur bataillon sacré! . . . Seul, votre corps, glorieusement mutilé, disparaît --- votre âme est remontée trouver Dieu --- votre souvenir, lui, reste dans nos cœurs, impérissable! . . . Les Français n'oublient pas! Conducteur Richard Hall --- ADIEU!

 

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