Section Sixty-Six (SSU 66)
Section 66 left for the Front July, 1917; it became Section 623 in September, 1917.
- Western Front, France
Section 66 was attached 17e division d'infanterie from July to August, 1917; to the 46e division des Chasseurs Alpins from August to November, 1917, and to the 61e division d'infanterie from November, 1917, to March, 1919.
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SECTION SIXTY-SIX began, after a period at May-en-Multien, at Cramaille. It moved on July 4 to Glennes, with Beaurieux as field headquarters, and worked the postes at the Moulin Rouge, Oulches, Flandres, and Village Nègre, and evacuated to Saint-Gilles, and Meurival. Then followed a repos near Château-Thierry, and moves to Nesle and Villomé in that neighborhood. On August 23 it moved north of the Aisne to Cuiry-les-Chaudardes, working postes at Monaco, Aurousseau, and Craonnelle, just under the Chemin des Dames. It was enlisted during September, 1917, in the U.S. Army Ambulance Service and subsequently became Section Six-Twenty-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)
There's a strip of the Earth
That's of infinite worth,
Though a craterous, sterile space;
Its border's a trench
And the ground of it's French,
But it's leased by the human race.
THE BEGINNINGS OF SECTION SIXTY-SIX
At rue Raynouard, a group of Dartmouth College men reported on June 13, 1917, and after remaining seven days were sent to the familiar old mill at May-en-Multien, where they received the addition of several other ambulance drivers and S.S.U. Sixty-Six became a reality. This was one of the Field Service sections, which, because of the shortage of Fords, was assigned to French ambulances. After a brief training at May they were therefore sent to the French automobile parc at Cramaille to get their cars.
The next day we met our Chef William G. Rice, Jr., who had served as a driver in Section One during the earlier days of the war. We also met Lieutenant Fries, our French Lieutenant, and several of the French sous-officiers, who were to be our allied companions during the months that were to follow.
It was at Cramaille that Sections Sixty-Seven and Sixty-Eight, haughty in new Fiats of uniform color and age, passed us while we sat gloomily surveying our mossy and doddering collection of Panhards. The departing Gallic chauffeurs boasted that the cars had not been touched in two years, and it was not long ere we believed them. "Danger" and "Innocent," les bons mécaniciens, looked over the heirlooms and asked for a release, which was refused, fortunately. After a day or two spent in tying the motors together with twine and wire, we clanked off to the aviation field at Sapony like the Anvil Chorus on parade, where we fell upon a fallen aeroplane like Indians, slicing off souvenirs in true American fashion. In the midst of all this, Halladay and Heywood excited the envy of the Section when they clattered off, tin hats and all, to carry Sixty-Six's first blessés.
Finally, after a Fourth-of-July banquet, we received orders to move. We packed up and rolled back north, knowing that at last we were to get into action. All day we skidded in the rain, and at last straggled somehow into the muddy courtyard at Glennes, with its tired poilus, stamping horses, and steaming manure-pile to bid us welcome.
GETTING TO WORK
Work was soon going smoothly, with Beaurieux as field headquarters. We ran to the postes at Moulin Rouge, ruined Oulches, Flandres, and Village Nègre, the latter a bare post on a hill exposed to fire, with the valley at its base pitted with French batteries to draw almost continual shelling from the Boches --- a mauvais coin, fitted with an old and worn-out set of brancardiers.
Our second night in Glennes was signalized by a visit from Boche aviators. Searchlights combed the heavens incessantly, staring vainly for a sight of the invader whose humming motors we heard, punctuated by the metallic tac-tac-tac of the French mitrailleuses. The crashing became louder, and we huddled under the blankets.
For some days, in addition to the poste duty, we worked at the tiresome job of evacuating from the hospital at Beaurieux, standing day and night in line, awaiting the chance to drive a blessé to Saint-Gilles or Meurival and stop at Fismes for bread and butter on the way back.
GAILEY AND HAMILTON KILLED
It was during the last week or so of July that Sixty-Six went through its first ordeal. We all know how it went, and we look back with pride on the part we played during that tense week so full of action and danger and of everything else save regular meals and sleep and comforts. We all know the climax --- the price that Gailey and Hamilton paid, killed at their post of duty; and certainly the honor given them by General Niessel at the military funeral will never be forgotten by any member of Sixty-Six. It was the war brought home to us as close as it ever could be.
At last the welcome repos came, and off we started for Château-Thierry, where we arrived in a most unmilitary manner, tearing up and down streets in search of a cantonment. At length we were installed in a loft, and the next day saw us all washed, both ourselves and our cars, and exploring the town. But after a most pleasant week there, we had to pull up stakes. We travelled all morning, and the afternoon saw us encamped on the bald top of a hill swept by wind and rain and blistered by the curses heaped upon it. Next morning we splashed down to one of our most pleasant places, the farm of Nesles. Ah! those Plums!
True to army custom, just as we were more or less comfortably settled, it was discovered that we were over a line, or under one, or, anyway, where we should not be. So up we packed and tore over to the wallow of Villomé with its knee-deep mud. But we were happily disappointed in Villomé; each one found some redeeming feature there.
It was near Nesle on August 19, 1917, that S.S.U. Sixty-Six lost its old Division and was attached to the 46th Division of Chasseurs of the Tenth Army. We will long remember the inspiring review of the troops on the plateau of Dravegny just before the Division went into the lines. How fortunate the Section was to be connected with such a Division!
On August 23 we packed up and headed back, through heavy dust, to north of the Aisne, where we lived near the village of Cuiry-les-Chaudardes, which boasted only one civilian, a man eighty years old. We immediately plunged into the Aisne, for a bath is doubly sacred in the war zone, and we took up our quarters on the river-bank, living in abris and a mule shed. We worked under a forty-eight-hour system here, at the postes of Monaco, Aurousseau, and Craonnelle --- just under the Chemin des Dames. Brown and Miles had their second car blown to pieces at the last-named poste, thus establishing a record, having driven two out of the three cars we had smashed by shell-fire.
And when, in the early autumn of 1917, the American Field Service was taken over by the United States Army and the old Section was split up, we had been together for three months of work and play, living under conditions which best show up what is inside of every one of us. We had had our high times and our low times together, and had joked over most of them; but the spirit which animated us was, in the main, well expressed by Condell, who, speaking of our purpose in France, remarked: "We did not come for money or for fun; we came as volunteers, to do what good we could."
STANLEY B. JONES*
*Of Brooklyn, New York; Dartmouth, '18; in the Field Service with Section Sixty-Six; later a Second Lieutenant, U.S. Aviation.
GAILEY AND HAMILTON
Just one month from that 29th of June when most of the Section came from the "mill" to the automobile park and first looked on their ambulances and their French comrades, James Wilson Gailey and Perley Raymond Hamilton were killed as they were loading their car with wounded at the poste de secours at Village Nègre, a military settlement on an exposed hillside near the shell-ruined village of Vassogne, Aisne.
We had been in this sector of the Chemin des Dames three weeks when the tragedy occurred, working over abominable roads with unreliable cars, and from the 25th of July under heavy fire. That night of the 25th, the worst that our Division had yet encountered, we had our first casualty. While driving along a very dark road through gas, Durbin Rowland was changed in an instant from a driver to a blessé. His injury was so serious that he was not able to return to military service. That night every man in the Section did splendid work at a time when few but they were travelling those shelf-torn roads, so shell-torn that we had to drive along railway tracks and footpaths to get past the craters that completely blocked the regular way in several places. The next five days were both busy and terrible. On the morning of the 29th came the death of Gailey and Hamilton, as they were doing their duty with the care, coolness, and the dependability that had distinguished the conduct of every driver during those hours of trial.
These two boys had just loaded their car and were on the point of getting aboard when the fatal "105" fell a few feet from them and wrecked them and their car. A brancardier was killed too, and two were wounded, as well as the blessés in the car. Hamilton died instantly, Gailey in a few minutes in the care of the priest of the poste whom we all had long admired.
The following day we honored their memory as best we could when we buried their bodies in the military cemetery at Beaurieux, where row after row of French soldiers' graves preceded theirs and row after row have since been added. The ceremony was deeply impressive. Members of the Section bore the two coffins and laid them beside the open grave-trench, covered them with the French and the American flags, and surrounded them with flowers they had picked. In the presence of General Niessel of the Army Corps, General Lancrenon of our Division, Mr. Andrew the head of the Field Service, and many other officers and men, the Chaplain conducted the burial service, while the bang and burst of artillery were blended and contrasted with his words.
General Niessel, commander of the 9th Corps of the French Army, which was at that moment actively engaged in the line, came directly down from the trenches of the Chemin des Dames to honor our dead and the Field Service by his presence and by paying personal tribute to their sacrifice. The guns in the neighboring hills thundered as if in tribute, while the General said in French:
For myself and on behalf of the 9th Army Corps and of the armies of France, I offer my grateful remembrance to your brave comrades.
James Wilson Gailey and Perley Raymond Hamilton were students, under no obligation whatever to leave their homes, to join our Army, and to go into danger. But as soon as your United States understood that the enemies of humanity could be subdued and confounded only by strength of arms, without waiting the coming of your American Forces, they offered to my country, as you all did, gentlemen, their youth, their heart, their blood.
In these last hard days of fighting the soldiers of France have seen you, each one, going to your perilous duty, always laughing, lively, gay --- as you would enter a game. After three years of fighting our troops know how to gauge true courage, and they --- all of them --- say that you are, as I know you to be, brave men.
The glorious death of your two friends justifies that compliment and that trust. France cannot repay her debt to them, nor can I, but we can express gratitude and salute their memory in offering these Croix de Guerre to the two brave men who fell on the field of battle far from their cherished homeland:
General Order 243.
The General, commanding the 9th Army Corps, mentions in the order of the day the following soldiers:
Perley Raymond Hamilton, volunteer American driver of Section Sixty-Six.
An excellent driver, devoted and courageous, was killed in the accomplishment of his duty, while loading his car with wounded at the poste de secours of Vassogne on the 29th of July, 1917, at five o'clock in the morning.
James Wilson Gailey, volunteer American driver of Section Sixty-Six.
During the night Of July 25-26, 1917, while evacuating six severely wounded men, found himself blocked in Vassogne by a fallen building and numerous shell-holes. Although the road was being heavily shelled and in spite of the thick gas, he ran to the neighboring poste and brought a reserve car into which he transferred his wounded, then evacuated them to the hospital. He was killed the 29th of July, 1917, by a shell which fell squarely upon his ambulance filled with wounded.
Hamilton and Gailey, in the name of the officers and soldiers of the 9th Army Corps, your brothers in arms, I bid you a heartfelt Adieu!
General Niessel then laid the Croix de Guerre upon the two coffins and pinned it on the persons of three other members of the Section. As we went back to our cars and our postes, where our places had been generously taken for the moment by another section, every man's sorrow was mixed with pride that he was carrying on their work and with joy to have been their companions, though for so short a time, in the Great Undertaking.
WILLIAM GORHAM RICE, JR.*
*Of Albany, New York, Harvard, B.A. 1914; M.A. 1915; served with Section One of the Field Service from July, 1916, to January, 1917, and with Section Sixty-Six from May, 1917; remained as a First Lieutenant, U.S.A. Ambulance Service during the war.
LAST ENTRIES FROM HAMILTON'S DIARY
Bombarded again last night by aeroplanes and as yet have n't heard the casualty list. Eight of our men go to the lines this morning for wounded. One ambulance man from another section was killed last night by shell hitting his car. Also six of the wounded he was carrying were killed. Eight men left this afternoon instead of morning, and as my car is out of commission, it had to stay here for repairs. I went over on another ambulance to see the various postes and the trip proved very exciting. Shells were bursting everywhere about us, and, except when we were driving, we had orders to stay in the dugouts. We were initiated rather strenuously. The roads up the hills and within the lines were awful. The towns about were masses of ruins and the hills were treeless. Shell-holes everywhere. To-night from the village we saw an attack all along the line.
Last night quiet and cloudy. Ride over to Beaurieux uninteresting. Spent the night there. Evening walk to an observation post over the third-line trenches gave us a great view of the fighting between trenches of both armies. Awaited call all night to one of the postes de secours, but we were n't called. Quiet night at the front here.
Spent the night at Glennes and the attacks along the front were furious. Word came in this morning to rush all available cars to the front. Attack lasted all morning. We can't go until our engine is put in order. Mechanics are working as fast as possible with it. Enemy stormed our sector and took three trenches. Heavy casualties on both sides. This afternoon the French counter-attacked and took the three lines and the first line of the enemy in addition. Very severe fighting to-night. Large quantities of reinforcements were brought up to-night. It's a French attack, but have not heard results yet. Our ambulances have been working steadily for thirty-six hours, and the men are about all in.
Last night was terrible on our men. We are still running after two days without sleep and the prospect is still slight for any relief. Many of our cars have broken down under the strain and that adds to the work. I have relieved Ralph Stoeltzing. Demorest and I are together. Ralph is all in and sick. We will take poste duty to-night. Plenty of rain and lots of work on awful roads.
Last night we were busy as expected and got in at eight-thirty this morning from evacuation work. Ralph is better to-day and will relieve Demorest. I have been on the road all day and shall be busy right on through the night. Much fighting in our sector now. It promises to be one of the great battles of the war. It will undoubtedly be called the battle of the Chemin des Dames. Late to-night we are still on the jump.
Ran all night and have had only a few moments now and then for a nap. Am extremely tired and worn out. The fighting has been intense. The enemy has gained a footing near us and his best army is massed to do the job. We carried three enemy blessés who were overcome by their own gas attack. They wore the Imperial Guard uniform. Fighting continued all day with successive furious attacks, and all indications point to another night without that much-needed rest.
Again we ran all night and carried terribly messed-up blessés. They say the fighting here to-day down at the first line and back through our sector is worse than the famous Verdun battle. The Colonial divisions are being brought up to throw against the enemy. I am absolutely all in, but still on duty and at this writing am next car out. Got mixed up in an aerial raid last night and one bomb came close enough to shower me with earth. Hope I may be relieved before morning.
Worked all last night and this morning. Big attack at early hours this morning and French gained two miles of territory. Six hundred wounded were carried by our ambulances. Enemy desperately trying to break our lines here. Attacks are growing in intensity every day in this Craonnelle sector. Every night the French have been sending up big guns and regiment after regiment of fresh troops. Casualties are extremely heavy. I have just been relieved and am ready for a good long sleep. The work has been strenuous. Colored troops have just passed on to the first line which surely means a fierce attack.
Had a great old rest last night, but feel a little off color to-day. Have been told to rest up for two more days. No aerial raids last night and that helped a lot toward such a sound sleep. Ralph and I slept at telephone post and figured in on night duty there. Ralph was able conveniently to handle all calls. Hot as the dickens to-day. Last night cold and damp. Starting at six-thirty to-night, a tremendous artillery duel is on. Seems to be heavier than I have ever heard before. Many clouds in the sky to-night, so there'll be no aerial raid.
One of the fiercest attacks of the enemy yielded three hundred yards of trenches last night. The officials say it was one of the worst battles of the war. More artillery than at Verdun. The Crown Prince is attacking our sector and is sacrificing thousands upon thousands of men to gain a hill within half a mile of our poste de secours. One of our fellows was wounded last night and many are ill from shock. Gill's car was found in the middle of the road with the motor running, but nothing has been heard of him for twelve hours. His driving companion is in the hospital recovering from shock and can't give any information yet, for his mind is cloudy. Great concern is felt among us for Gill.
Several missing men have all been found and the Section is again intact. The fighting to-day is very intense, and we have taken back most of the territory lost yesterday. Last night was a very active one, but not so dangerous as the evening before. To-day I am on poste duty and have been sent to the Moulin Rouge where the artillery is active this afternoon. Later, went to Flandres and stayed there several hours. The enemy shelled our poste continuously, and at night under cover of darkness we left for Beaurieux with wounded. Spent the evening at Beaurieux.
Last night we slept at Beaurieux. The moon was clear and the aviators were busy over our heads, last night being the first night since arriving here that I have slept in an abri. The bombardment continues heavily along our front and we have held consistently. To-night I am on duty at the various postes. Many wounded nowadays.
PERLEY R. HAMILTON*
*Of Clinton, Massachusetts; served in Section Sixty-Six of the Field Service from the time of its formation. These extracts are taken from his Personal diary. A few hours after this entry, during the night of the 28th, the writer was killed by a shell while on duty at the advanced poste.
SUMMARY OF THE SECTION'S HISTORY
UNDER THE UNITED STATES ARMY
On September 9, 1917, S.S.U. Sixty-Six lost its Field Service identity, and became Section Six-Twenty-Three of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service. Many men left the Section, but there remained some fifteen to perpetuate its life as it was in the old days when it took up its work on the Chemin des Dames.
The Section was at this time on active service in the Craonne Sector with the 46th Division of Chasseurs. On September 22 it moved to Tannières en repos, and then to Port-à-Binson, where it left its old "Panhards" at the automobile park and entrained for Paris to take over the new Fords. Within the next three weeks the Section was again at work in its old Craonne sector, with its admirable new equipment.
Section Six-Twenty-Three was now working with the 61st French Division, and after spending several weeks at Cuiry-les-Chaudardes it moved to Vailly, where it took over the posts of Aizy, Jouy, Allemant, and Montparnasse. Repos at Rozières, in which the hardships and rigors of winter were felt perhaps more keenly than at any other time of the Section's existence, was followed by the comforts of Soissons which will always be remembered as the best of cantonments. From January 7, 1918, until June 3 the Section evacuated the postes of Crouy and Laffaux, and it was during that period that Lieutenant J. G. B. Campbell was placed in command to take the place of our former Chef and Lieutenant, William G. Rice, Jr. On May 27 the great German offensive was launched and for the next five days the Section was put to a most severe test. It worked its postes until Soissons was evacuated, and continued with its Division during the entire retreat. Each day the Section retreated as the Germans advanced and followed a route through the towns of Breuil, Saint-Bandry, Cœuvres, Longavesne, Pierrefonds, Taillefontaine, and Vez. At this last station active duty was resumed when the Division went into action at Villers-Cotterets. In recognition of the work done during these trying days the Section received its first citation to the Corps d'Armée
From Villers-Cotterets the 61st Division was sent to the Lorraine sector. It was a beautiful trip from Vez to Baccarat, the Section passing through Meaux, Coulommiers, Troyes, Chaumont, Jussey, and Epinal, and finally reaching its destination in late June, 1918.
At Baccarat the work was exceedingly light and the Section found some difficulty in adjusting itself to this tedious aftermath of its hard work. The months of July and August were spent in this quiet sector, with the towns of Saint-Clément, Badonvillers, Lunéville, and Nancy as theatres of the Section's activities.
In September, 1918, the Section began its long trip from Baccarat back to the active front. Rumors of a great Allied offensive in the Champagne had convinced us that the Section would soon see service in that sector. On September 21 it arrived at Cuperly, northeast of Châlons. The morning of the attack was announced by the rumble of the Allied artillery, and from that time the Section was involved in one of the greatest Allied offensives of the war. As the Germans retreated the Section advanced with the 61st French Division through the towns of Suippes, Souain, Somme-Py, Pauvres, Vouziers, Attigny, Amangne, Poix-Terron, and entered Mézières with the French on the night of November 10, 1918. An enthusiastic welcome was accorded us; flags of the Allied nations were everywhere in evidence, and triumphal arches welcomed the French back to a city which during four years had experienced the hardships of German occupation.
On the night of November 10, 1918, the hospital of Mézières was bombarded by the enemy, and here the Section received its second citation for evacuating the wounded from the hospital under fire.
On November 11 the welcome news of the signing of the Armistice was received with great enthusiasm and celebration and the Section learned that it was to proceed with its Division to the bridgehead of Mayence, Germany.
During the third week of November, 1918, the Section moved by stages along the route of Flize, Sedan, Sachy, Florenville, Rulles, and Arlon, passing through the southern corner of Belgium and arriving in the fourth week of November at Wiltz, Luxembourg.
But at this point orders were received that the 61st Division was not to proceed to Germany, but was soon to be demobilized. In March, 1919, we were separated from our French comrades-in-arms and it was not without a keen sense of regret and sadness that we said good-bye to those men with whom we had been associated for so many months during quiet and exceedingly strenuous circumstances. Then came our trip back into France and to the Ambulance Base Camp, where we paused before starting for the States.
WALTER D. CARR*
*Of Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts; Dartmouth; served in Section Sixty-Six of the Field Service from July, 1917; later a Sergeant first-class, and then a Second Lieutenant in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.