Section Sixty-Seven (SSU 67)
Section 67 left for the Front July, 1917; it became Section 624 in September, 1917.
The section was attached to the 154e division d'infanterie from July, 1917, to February, 1918; to the 5e corps d'armée from March to May, 1918; the 33e corps d'armée in May, 1918; the 53e division d'infanterie from May to October, 1918; the 15e corps d'armée from October to November, 1918 and the 12e division d'infanterie from January to March, 1919.
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The Section left Paris for May-en-Multien on June 19, 1917. On June 29 it left the training-camp, and took over its cars at Cramaille. It then went to Armentières, where, on July 6, an order came to join the 154th Division near Craonne. After two days on the road, with an overnight stop at Châtillon-sur-Marne, it arrived at Glennes, where it commenced work evacuating to base hospitals in the rear, with service at Beaurieux, Cuiry, Meurival, Fismes, and Romain, Saint-Gilles, and Courlandon. On July 18 it proceeded back from the lines, and on July 29 arrived at Chelles en repos. On August 13 it left for the Aisne front, going by Betz, Villers-Cotterets and Ressons-le-Long. On August 22 it was stationed at Villa Albert, in Soissons, with postes at Boulloy, Pont Rouge, Neuville, and Montgarni, with reserve postes at Chivres, Perrier, and Clamecy. It was enlisted in the U.S. Army on September 4 and became Section Six-Twenty-Four.
'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)
Look on thy country, look on fertile France,
And see the cities and the towns defac'd
By wasting ruin of the cruel foe!
Two units composed of about twenty men each from Yale and Princeton left Paris on June 19, 1917, for the ambulance camp at May-en-Multien, where, under the agreeable leadership of Camp-Chief Fisher, they learned the fundamentals of French drill and practised driving on the several different types of cars found there. Then, when the opportunity came to take over a French section, these two bodies united to make the total of forty-four men necessary in a Fiat section. On June 29, under the leadership of Sous-Chef Robert L. Nourse, S.S.U. Sixty-Seven marched to Crouy-sur-Ourcq to entrain for the front.
At the automobile park at Cramaille, the Section was quartered comfortably in barracks within sound of the guns of the Soissons-Reims sector, where we were joined by our Chef, Lyman C. Hibbard, formerly of Section One; and on July 2 we left for Armentières, the Headquarters of the French section we were to take over. Then, two days later --- on the Glorious Fourth --- the Section staged an appropriate celebration with a flag-raising in the morning and, in the afternoon, a hotly contested Yale-Princeton baseball game, which fortunately resulted in a tie.
The Section at this time was composed of forty-four Americans, thirteen Frenchmen, twenty Fiat ambulances, a staff car, and a camionnette. Second Lieutenant Ouachée, former commander of the French section, retained his position under the new organization, and immediately became popular with all of us, as he was a polished gentleman and a "bon camarade." Le Roy Harding and Norman Nourse were our Sous-Chefs.
Four days at Armentières were sufficient for the men to become familiar with their cars, so that everything was running in good shape when, late on the night of July 6, the order came to join our Division, the 154th, of the Tenth Army Corps, then in the trenches near Craonne.
An ambulance section on the move is self-sufficient, and the twenty Fiats, packed with everything, from the puppy mascot, "Fixe," to the kitchen stove, set out in the wee small hours to master the rules of convoy. After two days on the road, with an overnight stop at Châtillon-sur-Marne, we arrived at Glennes intact and in practically the same order in which we started.
Our cantonment at Glennes consisted of a double row of tents beautifully camouflaged, with a mud-hole in front in which to park the cars. Here we were introduced to abri life and soon became proficient in diving to a dugout when the Boche planes flew over at night dropping bombs promiscuously.
As the 154th Division had just come out of the trenches on their way to repos, we were assigned to general army work, evacuating from postes de secours at Beaurieux and Cuiry to the base hospitals in the rear.
The work, although not dangerous, was hard, and called for plenty of night driving in an active sector which had a great number of severely wounded men. A total of eleven out of our twenty cars had to be in service each day, stationed at Beaurieux, Cuiry, Meurival, Fismes, and Romain. The Beaurieux poste was by far the most interesting, as it was the first relay between the trenches under Craonne and the hospitals at Glennes, Saint-Gilles, and Courlandon.
To our newly initiated Section every sign of action was welcomed and its importance duly exaggerated. Every shell that came "crumpfing" into the fields around the cantonment was the signal for a mad rush to see what it had done, and the aerial activity never failed to gather a group of star-gazers. So the two busy weeks at Glennes passed very quickly, when on July 18 the orders came for the Section to follow the Division, which was leaving for the rear to parts unknown, en repos.
The movement of the troops being necessarily slow, we were forced to follow in easy stages, spending the nights in temporary cantonments such as old châteaux, and barns, or in the cars, which we parked along the road. Our convoys began to get better, and soon we could be counted on to reach camp in the evening with only the camion missing.
Leaving Glennes on July 18, as I have just said, we proceeded to Coulonges, thence to Le Charmel and Connigis, where we stayed two days. The cantonment was situated thoughtfully and with malicious intent in a large farmyard, where the central ornament was a combination fountain and drinking-trough.
Our next resting-place was Jouarre, where we stayed from July 21 to 27. Wild rumors of an expected review by many-starred generals had the desired effect, and the cars, parked in perfect alignment behind an eleventh-century cathedral, were polished and shined from spring bolt to tail-light. Finally, however, the review was abandoned, much to our disgust.
At Trilport, on the banks of the Marne, we parked the cars in the street and recovered from the effects of a dusty convoy by a glorious swim in the river; and just in time, too, for the civil authorities, doubting our ability to swim, put the ban upon it. The children of Trilport surpassed all previous admirers in the art of staring. Grouped in silent wonder along the curb, they attained unheard-of records for the long-distance-standing-stare.
Finally, on July 29 we arrived at Chelles, outside the war zone and within commuting distance of Paris. As we should in all likelihood remain there some time, it was an excellent opportunity for a thorough overhauling of the cars. Clutches were removed, valves ground, and many other minor operations tried, which helped pass the time between arrivals of mail. Then, after pulling many strings in official quarters, we obtained permissions for a day in Paris for every one in the Section, going in by groups of three or four. This was an unexpected treat, and the Section owed thanks to the Médecin Divisionnaire for this and many other favors. In the meanwhile we lived in hopes that the rumor that we were to be sent to Belgium would be realized. Everything pointed that way, as it was unusual to bring an ambulance section as far back as Chelles unless some long move was contemplated. But, contrary to the "dope," orders came, August 13, to leave the following day for the Aisne front.
The convoy to Betz and Villers-Cotterets differed very slightly in the main from our other convoys, except that the ennui had passed and a spirit of eagerness seemed to have taken possession of every one --- for we were headed into action again, and this time toward front-line work. At Betz Chef Hibbard left for his permission, and R. L. Nourse, former Sous-Chef, assumed command. At Villers-Cotterets we were fortunate in securing an ideal cantonment in an unused theatre, and the two days there were made doubly agreeable by the discovery of hot baths in town.
On August 17 Chef Nourse had the privilege of being present at a review by General Pétain of the officers of the Division, and we understood that there was some rivalry, which almost reached dissension, between the officers of the Automobile Service and those of the Medical Corps as to which should have "les américains."
Ressons-le-Long, where we were from August 18 to August 22, offered the poorest accommodation that we had met so far; but our stay there resulted in a final tuning-up of all the cars. And so ended our month's repos, in which we had made a rather extensive tour of a rather large portion of France behind a slowly moving body of troops who completely exhausted the supply of cigarettes in every town that they touched.
The 22d of August saw us getting settled in Villa Albert, a roomy and luxurious château in Soissons, perhaps the best cantonment any ambulance section ever occupied within shell-range of the front. The cars were parked just outside a wall surrounding the grounds which faced the main road to Villers-Cotterets and Paris. The stable near the house served as kitchen, and excellent water facilities made possible a shower bath in the basement. Ten sleeping-rooms, an office, a mess-room, another for the officers' mess, and two bomb-proof cellars, completed this ideal cantonment. Ventilation was furnished by numerous holes in the walls, memories of the day not so long passed when Soissons was under heavier bombardment. We could boast of only half a roof, but a fireplace in nearly every room gave that little touch of home which is so agreeable. Many a pleasant evening was passed before a log fire, and the music of the mandolin, ukulele, and Hawaiian guitar would carry us back to other days and stir up hopes and plans for "après la guerre."
Immediately upon arriving, the Section took up its work at the postes where a French section had been. These postes numbered eight, including a car at the disposal of the Médecin Divisionnaire. Four of these --- Boulloy, Pont Rouge, Neuville, and Montgarni ---were advanced postes de secours, with Chivres, Perrier, and Clamecy as relay postes. The evacuation was mostly done to the large hospitals at Soissons and Vauxrot, and the length of the trip and the condition of some of the roads made the work difficult. As before, we adopted the schedule of twenty-four hours on duty with the relief car arriving in the early afternoon. With nine of our twenty cars in service each day, there was very little chance for anybody to complain of idleness.
On August 25 Hibbard returned from his permission with the news that he was leaving the Service for the Artillery. It was with regret that we bade au revoir to our former Chef, who had come to the Section in its infancy and had built it up during its two months of service. Robert L. Nourse was appointed Chef, with Le Roy L. Harding as Sous-Chef.
Word had now come that the Field Service was being taken over by the United States Government, and that recruiting officers would be at our Section in a few days. On September 4 they arrived, and out of the forty-two men then composing the Section, twenty-eight at once enlisted under the new régime. Of those remaining, three were unsuited physically, and the rest were mainly so young that they wisely decided to await their parents' counsel, or to return to finish their college courses. Later, two of these received approval from home and enlisted. And here ends the history of S.S.U. Sixty-Seven, which under the American Army became Section Six-Twenty-Four.
KENNETH M. REED*
*Of New York City; Princeton, '17; served with the Field Service for four months; subsequently a member of the U.S. War Trade Board.
SUMMARY OF THE SECTION'S HISTORY
UNDER THE UNITED STATES ARMY
Section Sixty-Seven was enlisted at Soissons on September 5, 1917, and Robert L. Nourse commissioned as Lieutenant. The Section retained its Headquarters at Soissons until November 9. During this period our work consisted of maintaining three front postes on the crest of the Chemin des Dames plateau, and in addition, in evacuating the H.O.E. at Vauxrot to the entraining hospitals of Vierzy and Buzancy. Our work during the Fort Malmaison attack of October 23 was purely that of H.O.E. evacuation --- much to our sorrow.
On November 9 we moved in the train of our Division, the 154th, to Juvigny, ten miles northwest of Soissons. Our postes in the Coucy-le-Château sector were rather quiet due to a lull in the fighting. One car, however, was wrecked by shell-fire at the Landricourt poste on the Aislette. Clever work on the part of the Section mechanic put this car in rolling order again. There were no parcs then, and the parts for it were unobtainable until the following February. It was towed in all convoys until that date.
On November 19 the Cambrai affair brewing in the north drew our Division up as reserves, and with brief halts at Montgobert and Babœuf, near Noyon, we finally encamped in the valley of the Somme at Vaux, west of Saint-Quentin. The Division did not go into the lines here, and on December 20 withdrew en repos to the region around Ressons-sur-Matz. Three wintry weeks were spent here. January 10, 1918, we went into the lines south of Saint-Quentin, with Headquarters at Flavy-le-Martel. Our postes were at Clastres, Le Sablière, and Benay. The latter two were on the ridge overlooking Saint-Quentin. Lieutenant Nourse was badly burned in the face and eyes by mustard gas during our stay here. The sector was taken over by English troops on January 24
On January 27 the Division came out en repos again with Headquarters at Archen, near Roye. On February 8 we watched with wistful eyes the embarkation of the Division for Alsace, while we remained behind, an orphan section. The ruling at that time was that divisions moving long distances, detached their ambulance sections, taking on new ones in the new sectors. On February 9 we took up our abode at Berneuil-sur-Aisne, between Compiègne and Soissons, being attached to the French auto parc there. No service was done during our stay, and the time was occupied in getting the Ford fleet in good order --- something we all, of course, thoroughly hated and escaped from whenever possible.
On March 23 the long-rumored German offensive drew us to Noyon in the service of the army corps. We left Noyon hurriedly under orders at 3 A.M. on the 25th, one jump ahead of the Boches, and moved to Pont l'Evêcque, a few kilometres away. The Boches gave us no rest, however, and we moved out of the town that evening just as the German cavalry was entering it. No cars were on service at that time, as our corps was not yet moved up. Camp was made near Ribécourt that night and was abruptly moved again at daylight. The Germans were not so near that time, but it was orders. Permanent camp was made at Bienville, north of Compiègne, and the Section began army corps work again, this time for the 33d Corps d'Armée. The work consisted of evacuating the relay dressing-station of Chiry-Ourscamp to the rear railhead hospitals. This station was later removed to Ribécourt.
On May 9 we moved up to Chevincourt, five kilometres to the northward, and were assigned to the 53d Division. The postes were at Orval, Carrière-Chaufour, and l'Écouvillon. The Section remained quiet until June 9, when the German offensive between Montdidier and Noyon took place. Four days of highly exciting work followed, during which we had two men wounded and one badly gassed. Two days of the attack were spent in a region constantly deluged with gas, and the shelling during the whole period was quite intense. Excellent leadership on the part of Lieutenant Nourse was responsible for saving the Section many casualties and losses in prisoners.
The attack was over on the 14th, and the 53d Division was withdrawn for rest and reinforcements, and was entrained for an Alsatian sector. The Section followed overland, making one-night stops at Pont Sainte-Maxence, Saint-Germain-les-Couilly, near Meaux, Chaumont, Luxeuil-les-Bains, Rupt-sur-Moselle, to Montreux-le-Château, between Belfort and Altkirch. The 26th of June saw the Section snugly quartered at La Chapelle-sous-Rougemont. The 32d American Division was in a sector here, and our French troops rested behind the lines, three companies only being on duty. Work was light, and the Section had time to lay out a seven-hole golf course for the golf bugs and to organize a baseball team which competed with varying success against the various outfits of the 32d.
The fighting on the Marne in the middle of July demanded additional ambulance sections, and Section Sixty-Seven was ordered from La Chapelle to Lure as a first stage of the journey. The 53d Division remained in its sector. At Lure the travelling orders were cancelled and the Section came to rest at Faucogney, between Luxeuil and Rupt-sur-Moselle. Here we remained, enjoying the picturesque surroundings and the leisure, but impatient to be back at the front, until August 6, when the Section moved to Baccarat in Lorraine, being attached to the 37th American Division. Postes were at Montigny, Pexonne, Merviller, Neufmaisons, Saint-Pôle and Trois Sapins. The sector was very quiet save for air raids. The Section was detached September 4 and moved to Nancy. Here it was attached to the Échelon américain of Townsend. Quarters were in the Caserne Dronot. Another period of inaction followed. The Saint-Mihiel attack occurred during this time, but we had to sit idly by and watch it, never turning a wheel for over a month.
October 10 found us on the road to Meaux, via Nancy, Toul, Saint-Dizier, and Sézanne. From there orders took us to Vorges, near Laon, and in country just evacuated the day before. Corps d'Armée work was our lot here until the Armistice. After that stays of various length were made at Mont Cornet, Soissons, Fourmies, near the Belgian frontier, Mont Cornet again, and Clermont, north of Paris. Some relief work was done after the Armistice, and the latter half of the period the Section was attached to a battalion of chasseurs ---a long-cherished ambition, realized only after the Armistice. We left for Paris on March 10, en route for home.
NORMAN C. NOURSE*
*Of Boise, Idaho; Princeton, '18; served in Section Sixty-Seven in Field Service; and later in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service; a subsequently Second Lieutenant, U.S. Sanitary Corps.