Section Three on the Western Front (SSU 3)
- Published in History
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)
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.
ALSACE AND THE VOSGES
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.
*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.
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
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.*
*General Serret died on January 6, 1916.
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.
*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!
FROM TWO DIARIES
Mittlach, December 1, 1915
The other night, just as I was going to crawl in, three blessés arrived from the trenches, and another was down the road in a farmhouse waiting for the Médecin Chef; he was too badly wounded to go farther. They asked me to take the men to the hospital at Krüth, which is back over the mountains twenty miles. I dressed again --- I hated to because it was warm in the little log shack and it had begun to rain outside. I lit my lantern, and went out to the shelter where the cars were, got my tank filled with gas, and my lights ready to burn when I could use them. It was so black one could see nothing. We put two of the blesses on stretchers and pushed them slowly into the back of the car; the other sat in front with me. This we did under the protection of the hill where the poste de secours is located. When one goes fifty yards on the road beyond the station, there is a valley, narrow but clear, which is in full view of the trenches, and going and coming, it is necessary to pass over this road. In the daytime one cannot be seen, because the French have put up a row of evergreens along it which hides the road. I started and proceeded very carefully, keeping my lantern under a blanket, and we soon arrived at the house where the other blessé was waiting for the doctor. It was a little old Alsatian farmhouse. I pushed in the door and stepped down into the flagstone kitchen. On the floor lay the chasseur on a stretcher, his face pale under the lamplight from the table. The Médecin Chef was bending over him injecting tetanus anti-toxin into his side, and with each punch of the needle the poor fellow, already suffering from terrible wounds, would squirm, but not utter a word. The soldiers stood around the tiny room, their heads almost touching the brown rafters above. We took the man out to my car on the stretcher, carrying the light under the coat of one of the stretcher-bearers; for if the Germans see a light moving anywhere in French territory, they will fire on it if they think it near enough. I started up the mountain with my load of wounded. On either side of the road the French guns at certain places pounded out their greetings to the Boches; the concussion shook the road so that I could feel it in my car. I could light my lights after about a mile; so I proceeded slowly up the mountain in low speed while the heat from my motor kept the blessés and myself warm. About halfway up, we ran into the clouds, and it became so foggy one could scarcely see; farther up it became colder and began to snow. I had no chains on my car, and it worried me to be without them, especially with three helpless men inside and one out. However, I kept climbing up, and the higher I went the more it snowed and the harder it blew. Near the top it became veritably blinding --- snow, sleet, and wind --- a typical northeasterly American blizzard. The little car ploughed on bravely; it stuck only once on a sharp turn, and after backing I was able to get on by rushing it. But I could not see the road, the sleet was blowing so into my face and the snow was so thick. At last, however, I reached the summit where the wind was strong enough at one time actually to lift my car a little. On one side of the road was a high embankment and on the other a ravine sloping down at least a thousand feet. I was scared to death, for without chains we were liable to skid and plunge down this depth. The snow had been falling all day, and in places had drifted over a yard deep. Twice I took a level stretch to be the road, but discovered my mistake in time to back up. The third time was more serious --- I plunged ahead through a drift which I thought was the road, and finally I stuck and could move neither way. I could not leave these men there all night wounded, and the blizzard did not stop, so the only thing to do was to find help. I walked back to what I thought was the road and kept on towards a slight, glimmering light I could see at a distance. It turned out to be an enclosure for the mules which haul ammunition over the mountains; and I felt better again, for I knew there were a lot of territorial soldiers with them. I pulled them out of bed; it was then 10.30. They came with me and pushed me back on the road, also pushed me along --- ten of them --- until they got me on the descent, and from there on the weight of my car carried me down through the drifts. I arrived at the hospital at 12.30, the happiest man one ever saw to get those poor fellows there safely.
I was sent back to Mittlach the next day to get four more wounded. They were assis, not couchés, fortunately, for the snow on top of Trehkopf had been falling and drifting all day and night and rolling was not easy. When I got to the top of the mountain and started down, I found the roads had been broken and beaten down by munition wagons and were like a sheet of ice. I started down without chains, when the car, though all my brakes were on, began to slide slowly down the road. It even slid toward the edge of the ravine until the two front wheels went over; but there, fortunately, it stopped, and I got it back on the road again. I then turned the radiator into the bank on the other side and tried tying rags on the rear wheels to keep the car from sliding. Then a big wagon with four horses came behind me down the hill, which was so slippery at this spot that the horses began to slide down on their haunches, and the driver, even with brakes on, could not stop them. The horses came on faster, and faster, slid into the rear of my car, pushed it along for about six feet, and then nothing could stop it. It, too, started down the road going faster and faster. I yelled to the wounded to jump. They understood my poor French and piled out just in time, for the car ran across the road and plunged down into the ravine. There was a lot of snow on the side of the ravine, which had piled up in such a way that the car was stopped part-way down so that it was not injured very much, though it took nine men and as many mules to pull it out.
*Of Worcester, Massachusetts; Yale, '09; in the Service during part of 1915 and 1916; Captain and later Major in U.S.A. Sanitary Corps.
December 31, 1915
Some little time ago we received our first taste of winter, and my first experience made me put more faith in the rumors of larger falls of snow here than an American likes to concede to any country but his own.
The car I was to relieve got a trip late one night in what was, even at Mittlach, a terrific rainstorm. The next morning it continued raining, but I could see the peaks of the mountains covered with snow. Late in the afternoon, just after dark, the familiar sound of a Ford brought me out of the poste de secours, and I found Rice, with his car covered with snow which even the rain had n't yet melted. His story was of helping the car I had relieved, and of having worked all morning, in their efforts to pull it back on the road from which a heavy ammunition wagon had pushed it, neither vehicle being able to stick to the icy road. Farther on, he had met continual snowdrifts. His eagerness to bring me chains, my only chance of getting up, persuaded him to keep on, and he eventually got through with everybody's help on the road. We decided to wait until the storm was over --- our only alternative --and proceeded to make ourselves as comfortable as we could, which means a stove, somewhere to sleep, and plenty of books to read and tobacco to smoke. It was four days before the snow let up and we had visions of a long and lonely winter; but as soon as the storm broke we started up, and, as it proved, in the nick of time, as the five kilometres along the crest were again swept by snow and sleet and drifts were beginning to form. The Mittlach service had to be abandoned after this, although in late November and early December a car could go through, but it was impossible to assure the service and it was found better to have sleighs and wagons do the work.
*Of New York City; Harvard,'10; joined Section Three in 1915 in Alsace; later adjoint at Headquarters to Mr. Andrew, and second in command of Service; first a Captain, then a Major in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service, when the United States took over and continued the Service.
We left Alsace one morning early in February, 1916, when the valleys were filled with tinted mist and the snowy hill slopes were glowing pink with sunrise, and we hated to leave. We still look back upon it as the Promised Land. We formed a convoy of twenty-three cars, in which 170 was placed immediately behind the leader, an arrangement to which twenty-one persons objected. Every time the side-boxes came open and the extra tins of gasoline scattered over the landscape, or when the engine stopped through lack of sympathy with the engineer, three or four cars would manage to slip by. It was a sort of progressive-euchre party in which 170 never held a winning hand.
No one concerned had the least idea whither we were headed. The first night we spent at Rupt, where there is an automobile park. We took it on hearsay that there was an automobile park, for we left the next morning without having seen it; but when two days later we joined the Twentieth Army Corps --- " the Fighting Twentieth" --- at Moyen, we were reported as coming straight from the automobile park at Rupt. Consequently we were assumed to be ready for indefinite service "to the last button of the last uniform," but when we had explained that mechanically speaking our last uniform was on its last button the Fighting Twentieth shook us off.
We spent a week at Moyen however --- in it up to our knees. The surrounding country was dry and almost dusty; but Moyen has an atmosphere of its own and local color --- and the streets are not clean. Yet to most of us the stay was intensely interesting. At that time it lay just back of the high-water mark of German invasion, and the little villages and towns roundabout looked like the broken wreckage tossed up by the tide --- long streets of roofless, blackened ruins, and in the midst the empty skeleton of a church, whose tower had been pierced by shells, and with the broken chimes blocking the entrance. Nothing had been done to alter or disguise the marks of invasion, The fields surrounding Moyen were pitted with shell-craters, which had a suggestive way of lining the open roads, along whose edges were rifle-pits and shallow trenches filled with a litter of cartridge-boxes and bits of trampled uniform and accoutrements, blue and red, or greenish-gray, mixed together; and always and everywhere the long grave-mounds with the little wooden crosses which are a sadly familiar feature of every landscape on the Western Front. The Moyen region lacked, perhaps, the bald, grim cruelty of Hartmannsweilerkopf, but it is a place not to be forgotten.
From Moyen we moved on to Tantonville, a place not lacking in material comforts, but totally devoid of soul; and from there we made our round of postes --- of one, two, or four cars, and for two, four, or eight days. At some postes, the work was fairly constant, carrying the sick and second-hand wounded from poste to hospital and from hospital to railroad; in others, one struggled against mental and physical decay.
At Oeleville, we saw the class of 1916 called out --- brave, cheerful-looking boys, standing very straight at attention as their officers passed down the line, and later, as we passed them on the march, cheering loudly for "les américains" -and so marching on to the open lid of hell at Verdun. The roads were filled with soldiers, and every day and all day the troop-trains were rumbling by to the north; and day after day and week after week the northern horizon echoed with the steady thunder of artillery. Sometimes, lying awake in the stillness of dawn to listen, one could not count the separate explosions, so closely did they follow each other. The old man who used to open the railway gate for me at Dombasle would shake his head and say that we ought to be up at Verdun, and once a soldier beside him, told him that we were neutrals and not supposed to be sent under fire. I heard that suggestion several times made, and one of our men used to carry in his pocket a photograph of poor Hall's car to refute it.
A CALL FOR BACCARAT
There was a momentary thrill of interest when a call came for four cars to Baccarat --- a new poste and almost on the front, where was an English section in need of assistance; and we four who went intended to "show them how." But it seemed that the call had come too late and the pressing need was over --- the last batch of German prisoners had been brought in the day before and the active fighting had ceased. We stepped into the long wooden cabin where they waited --- the German wounded --- and they struggled up to salute --- a more pitiful, undersized, weak-chested, and woe-begone set of human derelicts I hope never to see again in uniform; and as we stood among them in our strong, warm clothes, for it was snowing outside, all of us over six feet tall, I felt suddenly uncomfortable and ashamed.
Once we were startled at lunch-time, while we were eating the rarity of blood sausage, by an explosion near the edge of town, when three of us stepped to the door, but the fourth man kept his seat to help himself from the next man's plate, a striking example of coolness under fire. As we looked out there came a second explosion a little farther off, and then in a few moments a telephone call for an ambulance, with the news that a Taube had struck a train. When I reached the place, the train had gone on, carrying ten slightly wounded to Lunéville, while I brought back the other two on stretchers --- one a civilian struck in a dozen places, but otherwise apparently in excellent health and spirits; the other, a. soldier in pretty bad shape. It must have been excellent marksmanship for the Taube, since we had seen nothing in the clear blue sky overhead nor heard the characteristic whirr of the motor, and yet both shell-craters were very close to the tracks.
In Alsace these Taubes were constantly in sight, but seldom attacked and almost never scored a hit, while the French gunners seemed perfectly happy to fire shrapnel at them all the afternoon with the same indecisive result. One could not even take the white shrapnel clouds as a point of departure in looking for the aeroplane, though the French artillery is very justly famous for its accuracy of fire. In this instance, as in all air raids, the success scored seemed pitifully futile, for it was not a military train, and most of the wounded were non-combatants, while it added its little unnecessary mite of suffering, and of hatred to the vast monument which Germany has reared to herself and by which she will always be remembered.
WALTER KERR RAINSFORD*
*Of Ridgefield, Connecticut; Harvard, '04; in the Field Service during the greater part of 1916; subsequently Captain in Infantry, U.S.A.
"ON TO VERDUN"
Our journey from the Lorraine front carried us to a small village where was quartered the État-Major and which was situated directly on the main Verdun road. There was no mistaking our destination now. The first impressions in that village will always be clear and distinct. Here was the first evidence of the immensity and awfulness of a modern battle --- the Verdun road. The village itself was nothing; simply a spot through which passed the Verdun road. This was a broad street, and it well needed to be. It was rough, too, for the constant churning of the thousands of wheels that passed upon it destroyed any surface as fast as it could be made. Where were all these trucks with their loads of men and material going? To Verdun!
There they come now. First appears a squad of twenty, thirty, or fifty French trucks, loaded down with men; close upon them is another squad, larger even, of American Whites, said to have been captured by the British fleet on their way to Germany; then another squad of an Italian make; then a French make; then the Americans again; and so the never-ending line moves on. An ambulance slips by; the men are beginning to return already. Were we to be doing that soon? Now a staff car rushes on and another passes returning. A truck comes by bearing the compressed hydrogen for the many artillery observation balloons. And so this terrible traffic of the awful business of war pressed back and forth --- an almost unending stream. Such was the first impression of the Verdun road.
Our stay in the village was short. Two or three days passed and we were again on the move, stopping this time at a little town called Sousbrienne, well off from the main Verdun road. Here we waited five or six days to be sent up finally to near Nixéville, whence we did the work of removing the blessés back from the fight around Verdun. Our cars were parked on the slope of a small hill rising to the north of the village. A short walk brought one to the top of it, where could be distinctly heard the tremendous battle tune of the cannon, and at night the bright flashes of the larger guns would appear.
Across the hollow in which was built the town and on a level plateau was situated the aerial station, whence flew the battle planes to do the service about Verdun. This was real flying and made what we saw near Nancy seem nothing. All the machines here were of the fastest type and the pilots were in a class with Navarre. It was a wonderful sight to see three or four Nieuports swooping about in the air, looping the loop, or doing the leaf-drop or the war-hawk swoop. Like swallows they seemed, not only in numbers, but in dexterity. On one side we had these birds of war and their nest --- the aerodrome ---rising from just beyond the top of the hill; below us was the village full of soldiers; and beyond it the fields filled with wagons and horses, and to the right the same.
In front of us, up the hill, and to our right, lay Verdun and the immense area of fighting that was involved in the defence of it. Here was that steady sound of guns which, like the pounding of the sea, made one stop in awe to wonder why it is and whence come the great forces that drive it on. At times, as one questions how best to describe the one small chapter of the story of Verdun with which one is familiar, there comes a terrible feeling of disgust that any attempt should be made to put into words things that have been recorded already in the blood of some members of practically every family in France. It is a sacrilege to make the attempt, and any one who reads such efforts to describe this terrific struggle must remember that words do not count, but that the real story, the real evidence, is found only in the pain and suffering and loss of life of a nation's great.
SERVICE AT VERDUN
The first night of our service at Verdun began. Fifteen of our twenty cars "rolled" along the main Verdun road past the long line of camions, ammunition wagons, and soup kitchens; then into the city itself, through the ruins of the heavily shelled district and across the river to a small poste just in the outskirts of the town. All about us in this suburb of Verdun were batteries of "75" or "105 " or "220" guns, all firing at regular intervals up over the projecting cliff and upon the German positions beyond.
Occasionally the Germans sent an answering shell, and the men in the neighborhood would seek safety in the many abris close by. That night the Germans were making a gas attack, and they threw thousands of gas-shells upon the French trenches and beyond, to interfere with the ravitaillement. The gas reached us, and men not equipped with proper masks began to cough and choke and gag, and were sent deep into a cellar where the air was still fresh. The time for us to go to the advance poste and start bringing in the wounded arrived; but the road had been blocked by incendiary bombs which had set a house on fire. About an hour later this was cleared and we could begin our work. Happily also at about that time there was a severe thunderstorm, the breeze and rain of which cleared away the gas.
This road to the advance poste, Bras, ran along the side of the river a short distance, when it turned to the right off over the field, passing between a row of trees, then through a wood, and finally over the fields again until it reached Bras. Due to the blockade earlier in the evening, this road was covered with traffic of one sort and another, and it was difficult, terribly difficult sometimes, to get through, the darkness of the night and the need for haste making the danger of a smash-up exceedingly great. One French phrase will always remain in the vocabulary of the American ambulance drivers even if every other word of the language be forgotten. It is "à droite, à droite," which has saved men and machines many times.
On arriving at Bras, a town of mines, we found a great number of wounded and men suffering from gas poisoning. It was terrible to see their eagerness to get back and farther back from the horrors they had left. Our work lasted till daylight, when it was impossible to pass over the road as it was in plain view of the Germans. Once daylight came, however, there yet remained the task of carrying to Verdun those wounded we had brought down from Bras, and from Verdun back inland again to the first stationary hospital. This work kept us "rolling" on till nine o'clock in the morning when other men took it up and completed it later in the day.
The next night there was no gas attack and we could begin our work promptly just after dark. But while we did n't have the terror of the gas, we were made to realize the terror of the shrapnel shells and high-explosives. One of our drivers had the front of his car broken open and two men were killed beside it, while he just saved himself by sliding under the car when he heard the whistle. Another man had a shrapnel bullet pierce his purse and stop; and another was bruised in the ankle by a stone driven by the near-by explosion of a shell. The cars, with the one exception just mentioned, were untouched, and the work went on till daybreak made it too dangerous to stay, when began the work of carrying the wounded, gas-poisoned, and burnt, back from Verdun.
The next night was much the same thing as the previous one; but as it is fairly representative, it is well to consider it in detail. The first man goes at about 9.30; then another, followed by two more. The first man returns and reports lots of wounded, shelling of the road, and much traffic passing out. Five other men go. They meet first some loose horses and then a man riding a horse at a gallop back toward us. A shriek, à droite, just keeps him from running into the cars, and as he passes he cries out in turn, "Tir de barrage." We soon come to a block of long lines of traffic, and are told we can't go farther. But by dint of much urging and squeezing, we finally reach the head of the line, where we find a terrible mix-up of dead and dying horses and men. Then begins the tir de barrage again, and the shrill whistle of an approaching shell gives warning that it is coming to kill. We crouch low, hoping nothing may happen. Then comes another and another, and one close enough to cause the rattle of pebbles about us; but the others are wild shots. Now they cease and for the moment we thank God for the darkness that hides us and the immense crowd of wagons about us from the eyes of the Germans.
Then some one takes a chance, finds there is room to pass in the ditch at the side of the road, and the block gradually clears. We are able now to move on, after removing the body of the man just ahead of us, and at last succeed in arriving at Bras. One of the five, however, remains behind to pick up the wounded from about the road. If luck had been with us we could have got a load and returned; but we are compelled to wait, and while we wait some German shells begin to find the town and we go to the cellar. A rattle of éclats and stones tells of one near shot. But now we can get our wounded and we start back, picking our way carefully about some of the large shell-holes that fill the roads in the town.
We roll on, but only to be stopped farther down by another block. This time we stay where we are, waiting for the block to be cleared, while the air is alive above us with the passing shells, both French and German. Beside us in the fields near the roads, batteries are going off at regular intervals. Far off to the right in the direction of Mort Homme, a terrific bombardment is on and the whole horizon is a line of flashing lights. Back of us are rising and falling German and French star-bombs which throw a light that to us seems enough to disclose our whereabouts.
The block clears, and we pass on and come without hindrance to the top of a long hill that leads down into the valley where lies Verdun. Below us is booming forth a series of sounds from the "105" French battery, and it seems as if the shells must graze us as they pass on toward their goal among the Germans. It is but a short distance then to the poste in Verdun, and we discharge our wounded to start on a second trip which repeats with little variation the experiences of the first. Then comes a third, and for one or two men, a fourth.
The next night the same things were repeated in varying degrees. Perhaps that night you did n't have the frightful tir de barrage, but you had a narrow escape from being smashed by an artillery wagon coming full tilt past the quarry which was often a mark for the German shells. Perhaps you had some frightful moments when, listening to the pleas of the wounded and nerve-shattered men along the road, you took a heavier load than a Ford could stand and then found yourself rocking and rolling and smashing through some deep shell-holes you had forgotten, amid the cries of the frightened wounded. Perhaps that night your machine was caught and held by tangled barbed wire and you had to be cut free. These were all part of some man's experiences if not the experiences of all of us.
Such in brief and very imperfect outline were some of the things we did and felt and saw during the eight terrible days of strain at Verdun; and when the moment came for our release, it was like casting off great weights of lead. But if the strain upon us, who really could not have seen more than a small part of the horror of this struggle, was so great, what must be said of the endurance and suffering of the soldiers who saw it all and endured it all?
*Of Charleston, South Carolina; University of Virginia; entered the Field Service in April, 1916, and served for nine months; later Captain, U.S.A. Sanitary Corps.
THE GLORY OF THE FRENCH
I have noticed that French soldiers everywhere are most eager to talk and make friends with us Americans, and they are the most sympathetic, appreciative, and generous people I have ever known. They often run across the street just to shake hands with us or say a word or two, and invite us to have a glass of wine with them which they in their unbounded generosity always want to pay for. It hurts me to see them reach down into their jeans for their meagre change, and I can never allow them to treat me out of their small and hard-earned savings. Whatever they have, however, is yours if you want it.
Ligny, June 10, 1916
As I was walking through the town to-day a French soldier called to me from across the street and said he had a present he wished to give me. He then produced from his pocket an English copy of "Robinson Crusoe," which in his simple and unconventional way he presented to me, after writing his name and a few words in the front of it --- a perfect example of the genuineness of the French spirit.
Condé, Monday, June 12
Yesterday dawned with heavy rain. I packed up my regular load of section material, which is allotted to me to carry from place to place as we travel, and we proceeded to Bar-le-Duc once more on our way to Verdun. We stopped there to eat, and after lunch we went on farther to the little town of Condé, recalling the Duke of Condé, and drew up our machines in a barnyard. I noticed that the lady at the farmhouse by which we had stopped was crying. At first we thought it was because she did not like us to stop on her premises; but we soon learned that she had more reason than that for her grief, for she had just received a letter saying that her only son had been killed on the battle-field. She recovered her composure soon, however, and extended rare hospitality to us. Wonderful people are the French!
It has rained here for more than a week, and the old story is certainly an apt one --- when a soldier walks in French mud and lifts up one foot, he is sure all of France is clinging to it, but finds he is mistaken, for when he lifts the other, he discovers that half of France is there! Here we see long files of troops going to and returning from the front.
Late this afternoon Mr. Hill asked a few of us if we wanted to accompany him and the French Lieutenant on a trip to our future working-ground. We were eager to go, and taking our gas-masks with us and putting on our iron derbies, we set off. I was in the French Lieutenant's car --- a Berliet ---and here began what proved to be the most interesting four hours that I have had since I joined the American Field Service. We took a "switch road" to Verdun, getting onto the main road when we were halfway there. It was twilight and the countryside with the setting sun glow on it was beautiful. On the hillsides could be seen the French encampments and hospitals, and over the roads ---we were continually in sight of two besides the one we were on --- were passing constant streams of traffic to and from Verdun. Ahead of us and at the right could be seen continual flashes of light which grew brighter and brighter, and the cannonading grew louder and louder as we neared the trenches.
Passing through the outskirts of the city we came to the ancient walls, gateways, and moat of Verdun, and once in Verdun the sight was like a three-ringed circus, so many things claiming one's notice at a time that it was hard to determine just where to fix one's attention.
Verdun was absolutely deserted and in complete ruin; I saw no stores and but a few walls were left standing. Débris was piled so high on both sides of the road and took up so much space that there was only enough room left for one machine to pass at a time. There was not a light to be seen in the town, and no horns or klaxons were supposed to be used. Shells shot by us over our heads, but so near that the noise was deafening.
We finally drew up at an American Field Service poste in Verdun, where I saw the first signs of life anywhere. Here we met the American boys who had been doing the work we were about to begin. There were twelve of them who had had five days of it and were to leave in the morning. Each ambulance section is assigned to an army division, follows it to the front, and when it leaves, the ambulance section leaves also. The division sometimes stays until about forty per cent have been killed or wounded. During the past five days fourteen of their ambulance cars have been hit by shells or scattering fragments; two of the twelve men have been wounded, and I was not surprised to find them rather glad to get away from the lines.
VERDUN TO BRAS
The road from Verdun to Bras is dangerous, filled as it is with deep shell-holes, and it leads along a very difficult way. There is a choice of two roads to Bras; but one was under constant fire, so we were forced to take the other, proceeding along this road up to the very top of a steep cliff, below which are the French guns and beyond which are the trenches. It was at this point that we heard explosions the din of which more than doubly eclipsed anything we had previously heard. They were simply tremendous. We were at that point which is the very muzzle of some big French guns, and because the Germans are most anxious to get the "battery," they direct their heaviest firing against it. We had to go as fast as we could in order to escape the shells, and yet we had to go cautiously enough to avoid the terrible holes in the road, some of which were five or six feet deep and as big as the machine itself. I was almost hurled from the back to the front seat of the machine when Mr. Hill, going twelve miles an hour, hit one of these holes. We got out of it soon, however, and approached a bridge, about the only bridge that the Germans have not taken in that locality, and they want that badly. It was under intermittent fire all the time, and we were supposed to stop if shelling were going on and wait for it to cease. All along the roadside was a deep trench into which we could go if the shelling became too severe. We soon approached Bras, where great rockets kept flashing out green, yellow, and red star-bombs, lighting up the sky and exposing the enemy's trenches.
Bras is simply a ruined village. At one spot just off the field of, battle is a sort of first-aid station to which the stretcher-bearers carry the wounded from the field. If anything can be done to ease temporarily their suffering, they are taken at once down into the cellar and treated. It is there that we are to get our blessés, and from there we are to take them back to the poste at Verdun. Every trip from Bras to Verdun has to be made between the hours of 9 P.M. and 2 A.M. No traffic goes over that road in daylight. The week before our arrival, an ambulance had been sent out during the daytime and as a result was shelled and hit twice. After treatment at the Verdun poste, the wounded are taken in daylight to Baleycourt beyond Verdun and put in the rear hospitals. It is at Baleycourt that our encampment is to be. There is a cellar at the Verdun poste where the boys can catch a wink of sleep, if possible, between trips.
Baleycourt, June 24
As per order we left promptly at 8.30 yesterday for Verdun. The camp which is to be our eating and sleeping place is in this little town of Baleycourt, about seven miles from Verdun. We pulled up here in the usual fashion, our ambulances lined up straight before the camp, and pitched our tent, in which we set the beds which we have carried all the way from Nancy. It was very hot, and being one of the first to arrive I pushed my cot up into the comer by the door so as to get plenty of air. Whenever we pitch camp, it always reminds me of a Western land-lottery in our own country. Every one rushes into the tent with some of his possessions --- suitcase, bag, or bed --- and flings them down in a desirable place, so that, later, his chosen spot is claimed by prior right of possession.
LOST IN VERDUN
Before going to bed last night I learned that I was to be on duty for the twenty-four-hour stretch to-day, and I went to sleep anticipating some new experiences, especially as the men sent out the night before had run into a heavy gas attack and had come back with their eyes inflamed, paining terribly, and their lungs choked up. I was called to work at seven this morning, and made the trip to the hospital at Baleycourt for a load of wounded whom I evacuated to Queue-de-Mala farther back. I had no sooner returned to camp than Clark suggested that I had better help him evacuate the wounded from Verdun, as that job was getting ahead of him. I accordingly started for Verdun, entered by the wrong gate, and was completely lost for some time. This is no fun, getting lost in Verdun, for there is scarcely a man to be seen on the streets, and if by chance you do see one, he is sure to be on the run to the nearest cellar. People know better than to promenade in Verdun! I finally got my bearings, and after getting some horribly wounded men, I returned to our poste, after which I made several of these trips. Often I would notice fresh shell-holes in the road, which had to be filled in, and quantities of débris, which had to be cleared away, before I could proceed, so narrow was the way. Occasionally a dead horse had to be put aside from the road. During one trip two of the poor fellows I had in my ambulance died before arriving at the hospital, and as the attendants took another out of the car they noticed that he looked deathly white and lifeless, when one of them said, "He is dead, is n't he?" "Yes, he is dead," replied the other as they proceeded to leave him; but the wretched soldier spoke up for himself at this point, and said feebly, "No, I am not dead," and so they carried him in with the others.
It was six o'clock yesterday before I lay off for supper and a general fixing-up of my car for the evening work. When the time came for us to set out, we left in pairs at intervals of five minutes. Munroe and I started out together, and here began for me one of the worst nights I have ever experienced. We arrived at our poste at Verdun all right, and in half an hour we went on toward the Croix-de-Fer, which is two thirds of the way to Bras, to get the wounded there. I started back before Munroe was ready, with five wounded in my machine. Driving on a dark night over a narrow road full of shell-holes with five wounded mortals is bad enough, but when in addition to this it rains pitchforks and lightning flashes continually, it is much worse. The lightning absolutely blinded me so that I could not see an inch of the road, while all the time passing on both sides of me were great streams of infantry, cavalry, carts, and trucks; consequently many were the collisions and scrapings that night. We were never allowed to use our horns, and would press on desperately until, hitting some one, we would back up, get out of the mess, and start on again.
Finally, I reached my destination, filled my car with injured soldiers, and started back. Nearing Verdun I missed the road I was supposed to turn in on and lost my way entirely. Lost in the dead of night between Verdun and the trenches, my ambulance full of wounded men, I was desperate. I drove my car back and forth, in and out, in great confusion of mind, into all sorts of places. Failing to find the right way, I at last gave up in despair and decided to wait until it began to grow a little lighter, although I knew that this would be a dangerous thing to do. Then I thought of the poor fellows in my car and decided I must devise some way of getting them back. It at last occurred to me, if I could discover the railroad station in Verdun, I could, since I knew the location of that place, find my way onto the road I usually took. This I decided to do even though it was quite a distance out of the way; and after inquiring of several men who did n't seem to understand what I was trying to get at, I got one of the less injured soldiers in my ambulance to get information in French from one of them and in turn direct me how to go. In this way, although I was side-tracked several times, I made my way towards the railroad station. Before reaching it, however, I came, by accident, upon the old familiar road and made my way straight to our poste. When I arrived there I was in a state of nervous exhaustion.
In the French Military Hospital, Vadelaincourt
About four o'clock on the afternoon of June 30, we were all seated around our camp when we heard shells dropping within a mile of us and learned that our large front hospital was being shelled. Our work was to carry wounded from this hospital to one farther back, which was not so likely to be shelled. After leaving Vadelaincourt, I started out for Verdun at 8.45, and at 10 o'clock Dawson and I got orders to go to Bras. Before we started, Dawson said, "Barber, if we get into very thick fire, just stop and we will get under our cars and wait until it is over." I agreed and we started off. The night was very cloudy and the darkness was intensified by the heavy overhanging foliage of the trees. Everything went as well as ever at first, and I arrived at Bras before Dawson. I loaded three blessés into my ambulance and started back to Verdun.
I passed Dawson's car not far out, grimly standing by the roadside en panne. I had not gone far from Bras when the shelling became very heavy. I climbed out of my car, and after instructing the wounded soldier with whom I was sharing my seat to get under the car, I did so myself. We stayed there ten or fifteen minutes until shells began to explode back of us, and I thought it would be better for us to jump into the machine and make a dash for Verdun before another volley of shells was sent ahead of us.
I got out from under the car and walked around to the front of it. This, however, is where I made my fatal mistake, for no sooner had I left the protection of the machine than I recognized the shrill whistle and swish of what seemed to me to be the largest obus that I had ever heard. The loudness of the noise was probably caused by the nearness of the shell. I had stooped in front of the car's radiator to gain its protection and when the shell exploded, I saw for an instant a great band of flame around my stomach and for the moment I thought surely the end had come. I noticed that my car was ruined. The rear was completely demolished and every one of my three wounded men killed. Recovering a little from my dazed condition, I distinctly remember trying out my various faculties. I found out that I could still breathe, with difficulty, however, for every respiration hurt my lungs; I tried to walk and succeeded, with pain, however; I could see with both eyes and could swallow, and I still had my two arms.
At this point I began to feel a sharp, stinging sensation all over my body, became very weak and could only stagger along. I was in great pain. It was agony to breathe. My legs and back hurt, and I reasoned out that I must have been struck by pieces of shell in numerous parts of my body. I struggled along a few yards on the road and then fell prostrate. I thought if I could only get back to Verdun some way, I could be fixed up. As I lay there on the road helpless, it occurred to me that when the next ambulance came along I could call out the name of one of the drivers, get in an English word or two, and perhaps thus attract his attention. In about fifteen minutes one loomed in sight, coming down the road with great speed, whereupon I yelled out the first name I thought of, that of a boy in our Section, "Tison, Tison!" The scheme worked, and although Wheeler was driving he pulled up with "What's the matter here?" A soldier whom I had spoken to explained to Wheeler the situation, and I called to him from the other side of the road where I lay under a soup cart. When he found out that I was hurt, he jumped out of his car and helped me over to it. The shelling was continuing very heavily, and I thought we had better get under his car until it subsided a bit. We stayed under the car for a few minutes, but Wheeler finally dragged me out and placed me on the floor of the front seat of his ambulance. He was already sharing his seat with one wounded soldier, and another fellow, who was eager to be taken back to Verdun, climbed onto the car, too. Wheeler told him to get off, but he insisted that he would be needed to hold me on, which he did all the way back. This made seven in the car already, and in the excitement of the moment another had jumped onto the other side of the machine. In a hurry to get me to Verdun, Wheeler with his load went at top speed over a dark, muddy, thickly travelled road. It was a masterpiece of driving. I was by this time very weak; but we had come upon Bluethenthal, who gave me water from his canteen, which revived me somewhat. Wheeler, intent upon getting me to Verdun as quickly as possible, got out of his car at the bridge over the canal, ran across, and succeeded in getting some passing troops to stop long enough for us to go over, so that we finally got through the gates of Verdun and drew up at our poste. There I was taken in, injected for lockjaw and my wounds bound up a bit, when it was found that I was hurt in over twenty-five places. Later at the Vadelaincourt Hospital I was laid on the operating-table and chloroformed, which was all I knew until I awoke the next morning, bound up in bandages, in a long room with a row of cots on each side.
IN THE HOSPITAL
Then followed three or four of the most uncomfortable days I have ever spent. I was comfortable in no position, my body paining me on all sides, and the ringing in my ears continuing. For three days I was not allowed to eat or drink. Some French officers came into the hospital a few days later, inquired for me, came up to my bed, said a lot in French which I did not understand; this much, however, I did get: "In the name of the French Republic, we have the honor to confer upon you, as a reward for your services, the Médaille Militaire" --- which they then and there pinned on my nightshirt, shook hands with me, and departed. This was quite a compliment, although I could not feel that I deserved such a distinction, since I had done no more than the other boys. Some of them came in to see me every day, and General Pétain, commander of the army of Verdun, visited the ward and shook hands with me.
At my second operation the surgeon took out of me a piece of my Ford radiator as big as the end of my middle finger. My radiator always had given me trouble! Some of the boys who came to see me brought with them a handful of shots which they had taken out of my car the day after I was wounded, and said they could have brought me a basketful. Every once in a while, little pieces of shell would be removed from my body, but I had no more serious operations.
The ambulance I had been driving was given by Mr. and Mrs. Allston Burr, of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, in memory of their nephew, Francis Hardon Burr, and as soon as they learned that it had been demolished, they immediately replaced it by a new one.
When I began looking around me in the hospital, I recognized several blessés whom I had carried in my ambulance on previous days. I spent a peculiar Fourth of July, the only feature of it for me being a small American flag which my nurse gave me and which I stuck on the wall by my bed.. In the evening, an American from Section Four came in to see me and brought me a bottle of champagne and a sack of apricots. He was the cheeriest fellow I ever met, and though he stayed but five minutes with me, the spirit he put into me remained with me for the rest of the night. Balsley, the American aviator who was seriously injured in his encounter with three German airplanes at once, was in the same hospital. He wrote me a very friendly note and sent me some of his magazines to read, and I sent him in return a London newspaper giving details of his own experiences and those of Chapman, who was on his way to get oranges for Balsley when he was killed by a German shell. I had not been long in the hospital at Vadelaincourt before the Section, in which I had been, moved back to Ligny, and though I missed their coming in to see me, I was glad for their sakes that the dangerous part of their work was over for a while at least.
WILLIAM M. BARBER*
*Of Toledo, Ohio; Oberlin, '19; left college May, 1916, for ambulance work in France; was severely wounded during his first month at the front and invalided home; received the Médaille Militaire. In 1918 became an aspirant in French artillery.
VERDUN DAYS AND NIGHTS
June 22, 1916
Twelve of our men were out last night on the Bras service and struck the edge of a gas attack. One of them gave me a cigarette this morning from the case he had carried, but it reeked so of gas that I couldn't smoke it. The air here was tainted with gas all the morning, but whether from the patients or from the occasional shell that struck in the woods above, I could not tell. The gas patients are in a terrible state, those less affected coughing and choking continually; but the others are far beyond that. Two of us took the less desperate cases on to the evacuation camp at Queue-de-Mala; the others went down the hill on stretchers --- uncovered, for treatment --- with blanketed face, for burial. After twelve hours' work and about ten trips apiece, we came in for supper, utterly unrecognizable in our masks of dust.
Bras, June 30
During the shelling of the road last night, I found myself repeating the chorus we had sung those long months ago in Mirecourt:
"Hardis, mes gars! C'est pour la France."
We shall have only one night more here. As I waited for my last load, sitting on the end of the sandbag wall, I looked about me. A pace inside the doorway rose the piled débris and wreckage of the house, and above it a weird perspective of broken beams and masonry against the morning stars. I wondered if I should ever return to walk in safety up these dark hills of fear. We are leaving to-morrow, and very soon I am leaving France --- leaving it with a fading memory of things unreal, and with a great gladness that in some slight way I have been able to bring a message of sympathy to her in her time of agony and travail.
"Hardis, mes gars! C'est pour la France."
WALTER KERR RAINSFORD*
*The above is from Mr. Rainsford's diary.
Verdun, June, 1916
It is an extraordinary and exhilarating feeling to be actually taking part in the greatest battle of history, in a front-row seat, so to speak. Those who declare that there is nothing picturesque about modern warfare are all off. It is gorgeous.
Our run from Verdun to Bras was over a road which was shelled intermittently every night. Looking back on those ten days (we are now en repos), I feel that it was perfectly miraculous our getting away with only one man badly wounded. Half the cars have holes in them from éclats, two or three men were grazed by shrapnel, and one bullet actually lodged in Waldo Peirce's pocket-book in the most approved melodramatic manner.
The night after our arrival, the Germans launched a gas attack, which is about the most unpleasant thing imaginable. Fortunately, we had been equipped with gasmasks that really fitted and which were entirely effective; but it was impossible to see through them clearly enough to drive a car, so that when actually on the road we had to go without them. Most of the gas was of the "lacrimogène" variety, which merely makes your eyes run and your throat sting; but out toward Bras one got a whiff of the chlorine, which is fearful. Many of those whom we brought in overcome died soon after in horrible agony. We all noticed, as a curious after-effect of the gas, that for days afterwards cigarettes tasted like the most horrible sulphur fumes, and all liquor like powerful acid.
It is really an extraordinary experience to be right in the thick of the most acute stage of this terrific battle, where, second only to the wonderful fortitude of the French wounded, who are always magnificent, is the really heroic behavior of the brancardiers, who crawl out between the lines and carry in wounded on their backs. To me it seems that their work requires more real courage than any other branch of the service.
CHARLES R. CODMAN, JR.*
*Of Boston; Harvard, '15; member of the Field Service from March, 1915; subsequently entered the U.S. Aviation Service and was taken prisoner. These extracts are from home letters.
EN REPOS AFTER VERDUN
July 3, 1916
We are back, far back of the lines, en repos, with the tattered remains of our French division. We have just come back from two weeks at Verdun and our cars are battered and broken beyond a year's ordinary service. It began strong. The first night I was off duty and missed out on one disagreeable experience --- a gas attack. One has to breathe through a little bag affair packed with layers of cloth and chemicals! The eyes are also protected with tight-fitting isinglass, which mists over and makes driving difficult. The road was not shelled that night, so things might have been worse.
The second night was my go. We rolled all night from the poste de secours back to the first sorting-station. The poste was in a little town with the Germans on three sides of the road and all in full view of them, which made daylight going impossible. The day work was evacuating from sorting-stations to field hospitals. There our work stopped. English and French sections worked from there back to the base hospitals. The road ran out through fields and a little stretch of woods, with French batteries situated on both sides the entire way, which drew the fire. Four trips between dusk and dawn were the most possible. The noise of French fire was terrifying until we learned to distinguish it from the German arrivées. It is important to know the difference, and one soon learns. The départ is a sharp bark and then the whistle diminishing. The arrivées come in with a slower, increasing whistle, and ripping crash. In noise alone it is more than disagreeable. The poste de secours was an abri in a cellar.
Of the town there was scarcely a wall standing --- marmites had done their work well. The road was an open space between, scalloped and scooped like the moon in miniature. We would drive up, crawling in and out of these holes, turn around, get our load, and go. When the place was shelled, we had time to hear the obus coming and dive under our cars. The drive back was harrowing. One was sure to go a little too fast on a stretch of road that felt smooth and then pitch into a hole, all but breaking every spring on the body. I'll never forget the screams of the wounded as they got rocked about inside. At times a stretcher would break and we would have to go on as it was. Of course we had to drive in utter darkness, with passing convois of artillery at a full gallop going in opposite directions on either side. Each night a bit more of tool box or mud-guard would be taken off. Often I found myself in a wedge where I had to back and go forward until a little hole was found to skip through, and then make a dash for it and take a chance. One night there was a thunderstorm with vivid lightning and pitch darkness. The flashes of guns and of lightning were as one, and the noise terrific. That night, too, the road was crowded with ammunition wagons. But worst of all, it was under shellfire in three places so that traffic became demoralized because of the dead horses and wrecked wagons smashed up by shrapnel. All our cars were held up in parts of this road. There is no feeling of more utter helplessness than being jammed in between cannon and caissons in a road under shell-fire. In order to get through, two of the men had to run ahead and cut loose dead horses; but no one was hit that night.
The next night was the climax of danger, as things eased off a bit after; but the strain was telling and our driving was not so skilful. For instance, next to the last night I collided with a huge ravitaillement wagon coming at full gallop on the wrong side of the road, with the result that the entire front of my car went into bow knots. But I landed clear in safety. This occurred under the lee of a cliff, so we went in search with a wrecking-car the next day. After twenty hours my car was running again, shaky on her wheels, but strong in engine. She goes to Paris soon for shop repairs. Poor old Alice! A wrecked car in so short a time! Patched with string and wire and straps, she looks battle-scarred to a degree. Her real battle souvenirs are five shrapnel balls embedded in the roof and sides. I don't believe in collecting souvenirs, but these I could not help preserving!
There were humorous incidents; that is, humorous when we look back on them safely in camp. One goes as follows: Three cars running out to the poste about thirty yards apart. The whistle of shells and a great increase in speed in the cars. (Somehow speed seems to give the feeling of more security.) Road getting too hot --- shells falling between the cars--- as they run. First car stopped short and driver jumped about thirty feet into a trench by the roadside. Landed in six inches of water and stayed. Car No. 2 stopped, but not short enough to prevent smashing into tail-board of No. 1. Driver made jump and splash No. 2 into trench. Ditto for car No. 3 (me). Whistle and bang of shells, crash of hitting cars, and splash of falling men in water. Here we remained until the "storm blew over."
I am mighty glad we are through and out of it all. Whatever action we go into again, it cannot be harder or more dangerous than what we have been through. That will be impossible. I don't yet know whether I am glad or not to have had such an experience. It was all so gigantic and terrifying. It was war in its worst butchery. We all of us lost weight, but health and morale are O.K., and we are ready for more work after a rest.
EDWARD I. TINKHAM*
*Of Montclair, New Jersey; Cornell, '17; served in Sections Three and Four, and commanded in 1917 the first Motor Transport Section sent out by the Field Service; subsequently entered naval aviation, in which service he died in Ravenna, Italy, March 30, 1919
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- When: WWI
- Where: France, Western Front
- Section (WWI): S.S.U. 3