Section Eight (SSU 8)
- Published in History
SECTION EIGHT left Versailles on May 25, 1916, going directly to Champagne in the Mourmelon sector. It remained there but a few days when it moved on to Dugny for the great battle of Verdun. It next served in the region of Les Éparges. Reward came in the form of an extended repos in the Moselle region, followed by a long journey to the Somme where it spent part of the winter of 1916-17. From there it went to the Meuse, thence to Sainte-Ménehould and the Argonne in the early spring of 1917. In April of the same year the Section went again to Verdun. From there it moved to Champagne, remaining until August, then returning once more to Sainte-Ménehould. It was while here that Eight was taken over by the Army in the autumn of 1917, as Section Six-Twenty-Eight of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
'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)
In weariness and worry and mischance
Remember the long fortitude of France,
And write in deeds your country's true romance.
It was about the first of May that our Section assembled in the General Headquarters at Neuilly-sur-Seine. The men were ready, but the cars were not. The chassis were standing in line in Kellner's great carrosserie works, near Sèvres, a couple of miles beyond the Bois de Boulogne, awaiting the construction of the wooden bodies which were only half completed. Kellner was short of men, and we went to Kellner's. Within twenty-four hours men among us who had never swung anything heavier than a mashie were working at forge and anvil, making heavy iron braces and hinges; others drilled holes in the wood and iron; still others screwed and riveted the parts together. The sturdy women, who were working by hundreds in place of men who had gone to the front, stopped building bomb-cases and handling heavy tools to watch us for an instant, from time to time, and bring us little sprigs of lily-of-the-valley, "le muguet qui porte bonheur." The French carpenters became our friends and frequently invited us to share the coarse bread and red wine which they kept loose in the same box with their tools, by way of refreshment between meals.
In eight days we had completed the work, and in another twenty-four hours a squad switched to the paint shops and covered the cars with the official battleship-gray. On Saturday, May 20, moving pictures were taken of the Section at work in the shops, and on Sunday morning, May 21, the twenty cars were standing in line in front of the hospital at Neuilly, completely equipped and ready for the field.
Among the men of our Section who worked as laborers and mechanics at Kellner's were many who had never handled tools before --- the Section included professional men, business men, university students, Rhodes scholars, a minister of the Gospel, a winner of golf tournaments, and even a dramatic and musical critic. Indeed, our metamorphosis seemed a slight thing when some of us learned that in the great historic porcelain works of Sevres immediately across the river all art had ceased for the time being, and the men whose brains and hands had only a short time before been engaged in designing plates and vases of marvellous grace and beauty were now one and all occupied solely with the rude labor of constructing immense rough earthenware jars and acid-containers used in the manufacture of high explosives.
No matter what experiences may come to us later, we shall never forget those days --- the early morning rides from Neuilly through the Bois, the trees in leaf and flower, the silent lakes with here and there a single swan --- a splotch of white on the black surface of the water beneath tall cypress groves; perfect beauty, perfect peace.
Châlons-sur-Marne, May 25, 1916
We started this morning from Versailles. On the way here we began to see wooden crosses dotting the fields by the roadside, sometimes a single grave, sometimes a cluster, sometimes a field full of them. Each cross is made from an upright piece of pine sapling about five feet high, with a cross-piece of the same wood about three feet in length, the bark still on, and the name, when there is a name, inscribed on a small board nailed to the centre. Some of the crosses stood over barren mounds; other mounds were covered with flowers; but beneath them all, marked or nameless, lie men who died to save France.
Mourmelon-le-Grand, May 26
From Châlons we came on to this village situated in the plains of Champagne about twenty-five kilometres southwest of Reims and about nine kilometres behind the trenches. This is to be our headquarters as long as the 6th Army Corps, of which we are a part, remains in this sector.
To-day Section Eight received its baptism of fire. Three cars were called to Saint-Hilaire, our evacuation poste eight kilometres from Mourmelon and about two and a half kilometres behind the first-line trenches. We arrived there under a German bombardment. "They are not firing at us," explained the French sergeant on duty there, at the entrance to his dugout and smoking a pipe, while a half-dozen of his stretcher-bearers were sitting around under the trees; "but a shell timed a fraction of a second earlier, or fired a fraction of a centimetre lower, might land here by accident; so we had better get our blessés loaded and away." Scarcely had the sergeant ceased speaking when the shells began to fly about us. By the way, descriptions of how one feels under shell-fire are always inadequate because every man feels differently; but close observation, on this and subsequent occasions, of the men of our Section, seems to show that they are alike in only one respect --- they all hold their ground.
Calm follows storm on an artillery front, as we discovered on one of the quiet mornings recently when an officer consented to show us the batteries in the woods behind the evacuation poste. Though many of the guns were quite close by, they were so skilfully screened by trees and brush-heaps that we could never have found them without a guide. Birds were singing, the trees glistening from a flurry of rain, while the sun was again breaking through the leaves around the now silent monsters of destruction.
We surprised the Lieutenant of the nearest battery engaged, like Candide, in cultivating his garden. He had cleared a tiny spot, a few yards wide, facing the entrance of his bomb-proof dugout, and had planted lettuce and radishes, with rows of flowers between the vegetable beds. He had even built a little wooden bench where he could sit and smoke his pipe and dream of his real vegetable garden in Provence. One of his men was darning socks; another was mending a shirt; a boy who looked scarcely more than twenty was amusing himself tossing bits of bread to a puppy; while others were reading books or laughing over last week's funny papers from Paris. "So you find an opportunity to enjoy life even here," one of us remarked to a grizzled veteran, who, with a smile that was half a sigh, responded: "Mais il le faut, on est tué si vite.
FROM MOURMELON TO LA VEUVE --- EN REPOS
La Veuve, June 2
A formal order came to our Section yesterday instructing us to leave Mourmelon at 2 A.M. and repair to the stable and back yard of the Widow Cueux, in this village where we are now billeted. We filed out of Mourmelon in the darkness, running without lights, but by 2.30 the dawn was red and it was broad daylight at 3 A.M., when we got here, turned down a narrow side street, found the Widow Cueux's house and parked our cars under the sycamore trees. It is true that this village is squalid; it is true that the mayor had to order the removal of large quantities of stable manure from the Widow Cueux's premises before its barn doors opened to receive us; it is true that a score of our own huskiest lads had to work with shovel and wheelbarrow to make the yard habitable; but the squalor of La Veuve has its picturesque qualities, nevertheless. It straggles along the main road from Châlons to Reims just where the Mourmelon route branches off. And the very thought of Reims lying at the far end of this same street lends romance to the humble town.
This morning the poilus who are en repos in this village introduced us to the corporal who has "sixteen bullets in his blanket, but not a scratch on his skin." He proudly exhibited the blanket and told us how the poilus, when all patent armour devices and bullet-proof jackets had failed to deflect the German rifle-fire, had themselves invented, or rather discovered, the unknown buffer that no rifle bullet can pierce. They take their own heavy sleeping-blankets, soak them in water, and then roll two or three of them in a tight wad, sometimes putting a knapsack in the centre of the roll to make it thicker. Crawling along on their bellies, pushing the wad of blankets foot by foot in front of them, it affords just enough cover to protect them from horizontal rifle-fire. The high velocity bullets, which neither wood nor steel can turn, sink into the soft, soggy, woollen roll and die there, harmless as eggs in a nest. Many another trick the poilus have learned in order to save their skins, but none so efficient as this roll of wet blankets.
TAKING STOCK OF OURSELVES AND NEIGHBORS
Our ten days here with the soldiers of our Division, quartered at La Veuve and in neighboring villages, have given us a splendid opportunity to take stock of ourselves and also to learn something of the men with whom we shall be associated for the next few months. We are the official ambulance section of the 12th Division of the 6th Corps of the Fourth Army. Our Division is composed of four regiments of about three thousand each, totalling in all some twelve thousand men. We are as much a part of the Division as if we were all born Frenchmen. Our rations are furnished by the army; we are under army regulations; billeted in our sleeping quarters by the army; each of us receives five sous per day, the regular pay of the poilu; and each of us receives his army ration of pipe-tobacco every ten days. Back in Paris the Field Service furnished us a list of things which we ought to have; but all this would have been as appropriate for a hard auto-camping trip across the American continent in time of peace as it is for our present purposes here. On the first day of our arrival at the front, the army added two items for each of us more important than all the rest, namely, one regulation steel casque and one regulation gas-mask. So here we are, poilus and comrades like the rest, by these two tokens, and by the aluminum numbered identification tags which we wear on a chain around our wrists.
The regiment which we have learned to know best is the 67th, as it is quartered in La Veuve. It has been one of the hardest hit by the war; thirty thousand men have passed through it during the past sixteen months. As they marched by in closed ranks at a review the other day, we could recognize many faces of new-made friends. How many of them, we wonder, will be left "là-bas!" in the next attack; how many will be brought back bleeding and broken in our "belles petites voitures" which they have gathered around so often in the evening to admire.
We were merely spectators at the review. An hour later our new Commander, General Giraudon, left his limousine, left his prancing steed, left his general staff, and came down the alley on foot through the mud to our barnyard, accompanied only by an orderly, to "review" his new "section sanitaire." As we are all under military regulations, we scarcely dared to blink an eyelid as we stood stiffly beside our cars on his arrival. The General walked along the line and stopped before Boyd. We had been given our instructions' to stand at attention and not salute while under inspection; so Boyd stood like a statue, until it became unmistakably evident that the General intended speaking to him. Boyd's hand then started toward his cap in a salute that was never finished. Those of us up the line never will know exactly what happened in that embarrassing half-second; but an instant later the General and Boyd were shaking hands in good American fashion, while words escaped Boyd's lips which sounded suspiciously like "How are you?" The ice was broken, and when the General left he told us he was proud to have an American section in his division.
Our only duties while en repos here have been to transport occasional sick men in the Division. Most of our time off duty has been spent exchanging visits and souvenirs with the poilus of the 67th, who have been very much taken with the American songs. Every evening they gather in a ring before the cars to hear Armour, Jacobs, and the other musical members of the Section singing to the accompaniment of mandolin and guitars. One night they decided it would be appropriate for them to exchange courtesies, and they invited the Section to the sleeping-quarters of one of the companies in a neighboring barn, where wine and cakes were served in the straw, and chansons de guerre were sung.
BRABANT-LE-ROI --- DUGNY --- VERDUN
BRABANT-LE-ROI, June 12
Fifty kilometres we came in cold and rain, and here we are, quartered for three days in a huge stock-farm barn with Verdun fifty-five kilometres farther north. But we are still too far away to hear the guns.
June 13, STILL at BRABANT-LE-ROI.
It was among the ruins of one of the little villages in the Marne that Charlie Faulkner encountered and made friends with a fluffy-haired puppy of mongrel breed in which the setter seemed to predominate, and straightway adopted him as the mascot of Section Eight. After the puppy was washed and as many of the fleas removed from his hide as possible, the problem of a name presented itself. Some one suggested the name of "Pinard," which is war-time slang for the red wine furnished the men in the trenches, and the soldiers found both the dog and the name so droll that Pinard became not only the mascot of our American Section, but the joke and the pet of the whole French Division. Some of the boys of the Section who are not very strong on French, have anglicized Pinard's name and call him "Peanut."
Dugny, June 21
This village is four kilometres behind the city of Verdun. Here we have been with our Division since the 18th inst. We will remain here for perhaps a fortnight longer, when we will be sent back en repos and replaced by a new Division. Three weeks is about the limit of human endurance. For four nerve-racking days and nights our little cars have been climbing to the citadel of Verdun, turning to the right and going into the hills among the batteries and bursting shells, to a poste de secours in the Fort of Tavannes, less than two kilometres behind Vaux and the first-line trenches. The road by which we pass is shelled day and night. Ambulance drivers have been killed and wounded in the sections which preceded us. We have seen men mangled by shells bursting a few yards away in front of us while we have escaped. We have driven our cars over the bodies of dying horses. Three of our cars have been pierced by shrapnel and shell fragments. Yet not a man among us has been touched. Lack of sleep, the continued noise of artillery, bad drinking-water and the attendant dysentery have put our nerves on edge; but we are doing the work, and the one thought in the minds of all of us, when we are not too worn out to think at all, is that, come what may, we are going to stick it out.
It is hard to write about --- this Verdun service. Those of us who used to laugh at danger have stopped laughing. Those of us who used to turn pale have got the same set took about the jaws and eyes as the rest, but we no longer change color. We don't come back any longer and tell each other with excited interest how close to our car this or that shell burst---it is sufficient that we come back.
The hundred and sixty brancardiers, or stretcher-bearers, of our Division had to be transported from Houdainville, near Dugny, to Fort Tavannes, and the duty fell to us. Each car made about four trips by night during a period of thirty-six hours, in the midst of conditions like those described in my last entry. It was inevitable that some of our cars and some of our men would be touched. Three of our twenty cars were en panne, and the other seventeen were doing the work supposed normally to be done by two sections totalling forty cars. It was during this time of stress that we also evacuated 540 wounded from Tavannes Fort to Dugny, a distance of fifteen kilometres each way, in twenty-four hours, making the record of the war, so far, for that particular poste, and for that specified length of time.
RIDDLED WITH ÉCLATS
Night before last Davison answered a midnight Tavannes call and had his car pierced through and through with shell fragments as he was entering the fort. The next morning, as I was leaving the fort with a load of wounded, my car was struck in the same way. Both Davison and I were untouched, but one of the wounded men in my car was hit in the side by a small fragment. In the afternoon, Rogers lying on the grass near our dining-tent, received a slight surface wound in the leg from a stray piece of shell. Yesterday morning the entrance tunnel of the same fort was caved in by German "380" high-explosive shells. Rogers, Faulkner, Boyd, and MacMonagle were in the fort at the time and escaped, by a miracle, with their lives. They were hurled to the ground by the concussion. The place is no longer tenable as a poste de secours and so is to be abandoned. While we are not afraid to go there, we are glad to leave, for the underground, vaulted tunnels of that fort composed a chamber of horrors which we remember in our dreams. The floors were mud, the ceiling slimy-dripping stone; and the light was scant, while the wounded were so numerous that we had to step over their prostrate bodies; and to add to it all, the stench was horrible.
Cabaret Rouge, June 24
To-day this picturesquely named place became our regular poste de secours. There is a diabolical fitness about the name. The house, which is halfway up the slope in a valley, is simply surrounded by the French batteries, while German shells are continually bursting in the fields around. Red signal rockets illumine the sky. Down from the trenches come the stretcher-bearers with their crimson burdens. Red Cabaret, red rockets, red fire, red blood!
The Germans keep shelling the road. On the night of the 23d, Charlie Faulkner, volunteering to drive a car, had the metal part of the searchlight smashed by a shell. The next night, Keogh, the laughing, brave-hearted boy we love perhaps most of all, came walking back with his arm streaming blood, and last night I was nearly finished off by a gas attack, but was saved by Faulkner.
SECTION ONE FOR NEIGHBORS
To-day the French ambulance section was replaced by our Section One, so that we now have two American sections, parked side by side here, with forty cars doing the work that we originally had had to do with seventeen cars. Yesterday, Charlie Faulkner saved a French soldier from drowning in the swift current of the Meuse where we often go to swim. He went in and got him, having to swim against the current and go twice to the bottom. The Frenchmen were filled with gratitude and admiration. "We can't swim like Americans," was one of their repeated comments. Then Faulkner leaped on a bareback horse, galloped across the marshes to Dugny for a doctor and an ambulance, and soon the little Ford came tearing along in best three-reel-thriller style with Faulkner on the seat. We all began laughing and wondered if he had the horse inside.
The chief medical officers of the Division tell us that our little cars are doing great work. We are glad, for we have been doing the best we can, and, without knowing it, we seem to have established some new records in this sector.
Thus, on our "best day," June 22, in thirty-four hours we transported 555 wounded from Tavannes and Cabaret to Dugny, an average distance per round trip of 25 kilometres. The work was done by 19 cars, the total 19 making an aggregate distance of 1339 kilometres loaded, and 1359 kilometres empty, or an average of about 142 kilometres per car. Practically all the work was done under shell-fire. Armour made the best individual record, totalling four trips to Tavannes and five to Cabaret, carrying a total of 51 wounded.
Our work has been growing lighter so that we were able to let half of our men go up to Paris to celebrate "the glorious Fourth." When they came back we had a pleasant surprise for them. Section Eight had left Dugny and had gone in convoy to Ancerville, a lovely village fully eighty kilometres behind the lines, out of sound of the guns.
THE GLORIOUS FOURTH --- AND FOURTEENTH
Ancerville, July 15
Yesterday was celebrated the French national fête. We joined heart and soul with our friends of the Division in celebrating it. The Section Américaine was featured on the programme as the "grande attraction," and consisted of mandolin and guitar music by Armour and Jacobs, followed by a boxing bout between Jacobs and MacMonagle, and another bout between Buffum and Armour. The applause was generous and sincere. That night there was a torchlight procession through the village in which our boys carried lanterns, marching and singing, side by side, and arm in arm with the poilus.
BACK TO CABARET ROUGE
Dugny, July 18
Early yesterday morning we left our Division to go back to Dugny. It was a real chagrin for us. Early as it was, scores of our personal friends in the Division came to bid us good-bye. Our work is to be the same as before. In fact we had n't been here five minutes when an orderly came with his little square scrap of paper: "Two cars quick to the Cabaret Rouge." The people of Dugny remembered us and seemed to be glad to see us again --- especially the little woman who still makes "café chaud à toute heure." We brought her a dozen glasses, which she needed, and some shirts from Paris for her little boy.
The day after our arrival there was consternation in the Section. Pinard was missing. He came on Armour's car from Ancerville to Dugny, and had been seen frolicking around the street. But on the evening of our arrival a big German shell burst near us and Pinard was seen no more. We did n't seriously believe he had been struck by the shell, but he had nevertheless completely disappeared. Armour found it necessary to return for a day to Ancerville, and there, exhausted and asleep in the straw of the deserted house where we had slept, he discovered Pinard, lonely, miserable, lost. He brought him back in triumph and there was joy at his return.
The troops in our sector are now taking many German prisoners, and we are all avid for German souvenirs, and so are the poilus. Sometimes the prisoners are willing to let us take their little red-banded vizorless caps, provided we give them some kind of head covering in exchange. But we have never seen an American or Frenchman either take a cap from a German without asking it and unless the owner was willing.
A queer story came to us a couple of nights ago about the German wireless message, said to have been picked up by a French station over on the other side of Verdun near Mort Homme. Rumor said the message was from the German General Staff, announcing that an American ambulance unit, working the Cabaret Rouge poste, had been seen by the German aviators, and that instructions had been given the German gunners not to fire on Cabaret. But just as we were beginning to give serious credence to the tale, word came that fifteen men had been killed and fifty wounded by shells within a few paces of the poste; and a few hours afterwards, while Iasigi's car was standing in front of Cabaret, a German "77" landed within five paces of it, luckily doing no damage. No wonder we are now laughing at our own credulity.
Though the work here as a whole is not so dangerous now as it was in June, some of the men have had rather narrow escapes since we returned. For instance, a piece of shell came through the top of one car yesterday, and Keogh was missed less than two feet by a fragment that struck the seat beside him.
THE REAL HERO
And let me close this record with one reflection. The real hero of Verdun and of the war is the poilu, or infantry soldier, of the first-line trenches. The destiny of France is in his keeping. The man in the trenches is the essential factor. The rest of us, back here among the batteries and observation points and postes de secours, are engaged solely in the work of backing up his efforts. Whether generals, artillerymen, stretcher-bearers, or ambulance drivers, we are here only to protect and serve the men out yonder --- preparing the way before him with shell and shrapnel when he advances, and transporting him back, covered with blood and mud and glory, when his work is done.
WILLIAM B. SEABROOK*
*Of Atlanta, Georgia; Newberry College; spent six months in the Field Service during the year 1916 with Section Eight.
SHELLS AND GAS --- THE ROADS OF VERDUN
In the Hills of France, June 23, 1916
They have given us a very important work as well as a dangerous one ---to evacuate the wounded about one and a quarter miles from the first-line trenches in this Verdun sector, and since we have been here --- about a week --- our little ambulances, holding five wounded, have carried some hundreds of men. We are quartered in Dugny, about four miles away from the front, which the Germans take pleasure in shelling twice a day. We got here a week ago, or Friday, and on Saturday morning I made my first trip, on a French machine, to our poste de secours. The first part of the drive is through a valley, where there is a beautiful winding river, and some pretty old towns. Then you begin an ascent for about two miles on a road which is lined with French batteries and quite open to the view of the Germans, who have a large observation balloon only a mile or two away. Consequently the road is fired over all the time; so you feel that a passing shell may at any moment fall on you. Just this morning, about four o'clock, three shells went over my machine and broke in a field near by. When one reaches the top of the ascent, there is a piece of road, very rough, and covered with débris of all kinds --- dead horses, old carts and wheels, guns, and confusion everywhere. This road leads to an old fort where our wounded are, and on this road the German fire is even worse.
Well, this first morning, just before we arrived, the Germans began a bombardment which lasted five hours. The shells landed all around us, but we finally got in safely. Before this, however, we discovered a small tunnel large enough to hold three of our cars, and here I waited five hours, without any breakfast, hearing the roar of the shells --- they made a noise like a loud, prolonged whistle --- and then listening to the French batteries answer with a more awful roar, because nearer. To add to the interest, two or three gas-shells exploded near us, which made our eyes water. Luckily we had our gas-masks with us; but we had got the gas in our faces before we could put them on. Meanwhile, the wounded were being carried in from the first-line trenches by the stretcher-bearers, who, by the way, are among the real heroes of this war. Finally the time came for us to go out into the open in order to let the other cars get in after us. We went along slowly but surely, and at last we got down the hill, away from all the noise and danger. It was worth while, though, for we were carrying many wounded with us. For a week we have been doing this work and are still alive; and we have to our credit about 700 blessés. The French are, of course, very appreciative of our labor. I may add that I am well in spite of the excitement, but tired to death of the horrors, the smells, and the sights of war. I am glad to have got a taste of real war, though, so as to know what it really means.
MALBONE H. BIRCKHEAD*
"Of New York City; Harvard University; an Episcopal clergyman; served in Section Eight from April to October, 1916. The above is an extract from a letter written to Mr. Birckhead's mother.
Thursday, July 20
This morning at 1.30 I left Dugny and went up to Cabaret, where I relieved, with Forbush, who went with me, the two cars which were there. At the time there was a very heavy French attack going on, so our run up was one of the noisiest that I ever made. All along the road the French batteries were firing tirs de barrage, and roaring right in our ears. The roads were also very bad with breaking shells, because, naturally, the heavy fire of the French guns called forth much bombarding by the Germans. At Cabaret there were no wounded, and I just had to sit around until 8.30 A.M., when I was relieved by two other cars from our Section. During the first few hours of my wait, I lay down in the straw on the floor of the dugout and tried to get some sleep. This, however, was out of the question, owing to the terrific noise. At about 3 A.M. I got up and just hung around. The day was just beginning to break, and it was a wonderful sight to see the long trains of artillery passing along the brow of the hill directly behind Cabaret, coming in from their night's shift. All around Cabaret were situated French "75" batteries. I went down into the dugout connected with the nearest one of these, and watched it work. It was really a foolish thing to do, for the batteries were being bombarded. However, I thought it too good a chance to miss, and I am now very glad that I did it. The Lieutenant in charge of the battery gave me little plugs to put in my ears, and mica goggles to keep the powder out of my eyes. He also told me that each time that a gun was fired to rise up on my toes. This stops a great deal of the shock to your ear-drums. At about 5 A.M. the sun was bright enough to enable me to take pictures. I got some good views of the guns in action. The Lieutenant in command did everything he could to enable me to get the best possible positions and exposures.
Friday, July 21
I slept quite late and got up just in time for lunch. During the afternoon worked on my car. At 8 P.M. our Division went again on call and "Doc" Armour and I immediately left for Cabaret, to relieve the two cars of the other division and to stay until 2 A.M. to-morrow morning. On our run up, there was not very much firing done by either side, and it was not until 11 P.M. that the action began. At this hour the Germans launched a very heavy attack on all positions along the line of our sector. The attack lasted for an hour and was immediately followed by the French counter-attack, in which they regained all the ground that they had lost. This French attack, of course, made things very uncomfortable for Doc and me, who had to stay in the dugout behind Cabaret. Cabaret itself simply rocked with the vibration and concussion of the huge guns which were firing all around it. The whole country, as far as we could see, was a mass of flashes from the French light and heavy artillery. The terrific noise was mingled with the crashing of the German shells, which kept continually breaking on the hill just behind Cabaret. Many times they broke so close that our dugout was sprinkled with éclats and pieces of stone. At about midnight there were four men carried in from one of the near-by batteries in a horrible condition. A German gun had found the range of this battery, and before it could be moved had killed most of the gun crew and wounded nearly all the rest. The doctor in Cabaret (a surgeon) dressed their wounds there. It looked just like the pictures you see in books of a doctor fixing up the wounded in a little dugout. This doctor did all the dressing on his knees because it was not possible to stand up owing to the lowness of the roof. He had on his helmet, with his gas-mask fastened at his side. During all the dressings the French batteries directly outside the door and all around the surrounding hills kept up the steady roar of a tir de barrage.
I left Cabaret at 12.30 with my first load, and; as soon as I had delivered them at the hospital, returned, because we were not to be relieved until 2 or 2.30 A.M. On the trip back and forth I had some quite narrow squeaks. Once a shell broke right in the road about twenty yards in front of me, and before I could stop I ran right into the shellhole, but did n't break the car at all. However, it gave the blessés a terrible shaking-up and they all roared to beat the band! A small piece of the same shell chipped one of my front spokes. At 2.15 A.M. the other two cars arrived and I went straight back to Dugny.
Monday, July 24
This morning at 2.30 a call came in for two cars at "Berlin." The reason that we call this poste "Berlin" is because it is only two hundred yards away from the German trenches. It is a very dangerous run and also a very interesting one. From the poste (a little dugout) you can plainly see the men firing their rifles from the shell-holes out on the firing-line. Bill Seabrook and I were the first two on call, and were therefore the ones sent out. When we left Dugny we could easily tell, by the exceptionally heavy firing, that there was an attack going on. The road after we passed Belleray was as bright as day owing to the great number of batteries firing directly over it and to the star-shells with which the sky was thickly dotted. This did not make any difference to us, until after we passed the hill beyond Cabaret. In fact, it was really a great help. When we passed the top of the hill, however, we came into plain sight of the Germans, and this made it very dangerous. We also came into sight of the whole attack, which happened to be taking place around Fleury. It was a magnificent sight to watch. The whole valley was filled with the little puffs of flame from the German and French rifles. We had to run down to the Rue de Moulainville which was only three hundred yards away from the lines, and which was therefore very nearly in rifle range. Our blessés were all ready, waiting for us in a little dugout which was at the junction of the roads. I for one was very glad that they were ready, because this was my idea of "nowhere to hang out." We got our cars loaded and started back. Bill Seabrook's car, which was just in front of mine coming back, was struck by a number of éclats. The woodwork on the back of his car was filled with holes, and one of the blessés whom he was carrying was hit again. He himself was not touched. We arrived, back at Dugny again, at 5.45 A.M.
Wednesday, July 26
This morning at 1.30 I left Dugny for Cabaret. When I arrived there, there was a terrible tir de barrage going on. The noise was absolutely deafening. All the hills around Cabaret were as light as day owing to the flashes of all the guns. Their fire kept up steadily until nearly three o'clock, when it stopped as suddenly as it had begun. However, this was by no means the end of the noise. All this heavy firing enabled the Boches to locate the batteries, and when they once got the range the slaughter began. For an hour and a half they kept pouring enormous shells into all the hillsides. We spent the whole day in an abri, and I never spent such an hour and a half in all my life. We did not know at what minute a shell would hit our dugout and smash it to pieces. However, none even as much as touched it, and when the bombardment ceased our work began.
Wounded kept pouring into Cabaret from all sides. They, of course, had had no dressings, and therefore the ones who were badly wounded were in a terrible way. Many of these poor fellows had their arms and legs completely shot off. As quickly as they were dressed, we carried them down to Dugny and then returned to Cabaret again for another load. We kept running back and forth steadily until eight o'clock, when we were relieved by Armour and Sortwell. As soon as I arrived at Dugny I tumbled into bed and slept steadily until 2 P.M.
Monday, August 7
At 1.30 A.M. I was pulled out of bed to go to Cabaret. When I left Dugny the firing was very heavy. After I had passed through the woods outside of Verdun, the shells began landing all around the road. The French batteries were roaring and the place was certainly noisy. Just before I got to Cabaret, I was held up by a block of convoy wagons. I jumped out of the car and ran on ahead to see what the trouble was. When I arrived at the cause of the hold-up a sight met my eyes that I will not forget for some time. Lying right in the middle of the road was a wagon all smashed to bits, and beside it four men simply torn to pieces. One had his head just hanging by a shred, while another had his two legs blown off, just below his waist. The other two were just scattered all over the road. I helped with the job of cleaning away the wreckage and carrying what was left of the bodies into our poste de secours. I then went back and got my car, and went on up to the poste. The bombardment of the roads kept up all the rest of the night. However, I made nine trips back and forth. This kept me going until 11 A.M.
It is now almost sure that we have to leave here the day after to-morrow for a poste in the Les Éparges district.
Tuesday, August 8
To-day I had my first real experience with mitrailleuse fire. This morning at about eleven o'clock a call came in for one car up at an advanced poste, to which we had never been before. Fred Forbush was on call, but Mason said that he wanted two men on the car just for safety's sake, so I went along with him. The poste was situated fully one hundred and fifty yards in front of Fort Tavannes, and was closer to the lines than any to which we have ever been sent. Until we got up to Tavannes, things went along all right, but as soon as we passed the fort and started down the hill in front, things immediately livened up. The whole side of the hill was covered with puffs of white smoke, caused by the breaking of German shells. We got down to our poste and picked up our wounded. Just as we were going to start, all the men around us began yelling at us to hurry out of the car and get into a dugout. We did n't have any idea of what was happening until we got into the dugout and heard the rapid-fire guns spattering. We could follow the course of their curtain fire from the door of the dugout. It extended for very nearly a mile. From where we were, we could see it coming closer and closer until it passed right over the dugout, and for about five hundred yards beyond. It looked as if a slight puff of wind was stirring the trees. The steady rain of bullets shook the trees and completely wiped out all the small bushes. Of course, these small bullets couldn't penetrate our dugouts, but when we came out after it was all over, we found that one of our front tires had been punctured. We fixed it right there and then came back to Dugny without having anything more happen.
Sunday, August 13
This was a "big day" for our Section. To-night the Médecin Divisionnaire (a Colonel), a Lieutenant from our poste de secours, Walker (Chef of Section 2), and his Lieutenant, all came over to our "Croix de Guerre Dinner." We had our dining-room out in a big field. We backed all the cars in around the table. The dinner itself was a big success. After dinner the old Médecin Divisionnaire stood up and made a very nice little speech. He surprised us all by decorating MacMonagle with the Croix de Guerre. His citation went in about two weeks ago, but we had no idea that he was to be decorated to-night.
In his speech the Colonel thanked us all for coming over here. He complimented us on the way we went through our big rush at Verdun. He said that it was a wonderful piece of work, and one to be remembered with pride throughout our lifetime.
Tuesday, August 15
This morning Section Two of the Field Service, which is doing evacuation work at Petit Monthairon about five miles from here, brought over a baseball team. As there wasn't much work for us, nine of us went down and played with them. We beat them 7 to 4.
In the afternoon I had to take a lieutenant to Benoite-Vaux, a little town about six miles from here, and close to the lines. All the roads leading up to it were heavily screened because they were in plain sight of the Germans. They were also being shelled when we were coming back over them. Many shells landed very close to my car, but none close enough to do any damage. One time the lieutenant and I counted twenty-five puffs of smoke, caused by breaking shells, in a radius of half a mile. I arrived back at Belle Hélène at about five o'clock and was immediately sent up with Armour to the poste at Les Éparges to get four men who had been very seriously wounded.
We went up and nothing extraordinary happened. However, after we had been at the poste for several minutes waiting for our men to be prepared to leave, the Germans loosed a cloud of poison gas. We put on our masks, got our car loaded, and started back, but owing to the way our breath smoked up our goggles we could n't drive. We therefore stopped on the road and waited for the gas to pass. When it was entirely gone we went on. Between the point where we stopped and Belle Hélène we picked up four gas victims, who had forgotten to bring along their masks. We also saw three lying dead beside the road, but did n't stop, because there was nothing that we could do.
Tuesday, August 29
This morning I was called out at three to bring a lieutenant of the Medical Corps up to the various batteries in this vicinity. One of these trips is always most interesting, because it is just a tour of inspection and you get a chance to see a great deal more than you do when you go to get wounded. We went to all the heavy artillery batteries situated on the hills behind Les Éparges. They were all firing unceasingly when we were there, because it is almost always just at dawn that the attacking is done, and an infantry attack is necessarily preceded by heavy bombarding from the heavy guns behind the lines.
We arrived back at Belle Hélène after a trip which lasted for five hours. Mason was beginning to get worried about us, and was just going to start out in the staff car to look for us.
At about eleven o'clock this morning I answered a regular call to our poste de secours. These calls don't often come in during the day, but a huge mine had exploded right beside the poste and wounded about forty men and killed fifteen. If it had gone off during the night it would have wounded some of our fellows, because there are always two or more cars there, whether there are blessés or not.
This afternoon there was nothing for me to do, so I took my car and went over to Section Two's quarters and had a swim.
On the night of September 3 the French started a big offensive which lasted until late last night. During these five days I have had in all eight hours' sleep. Our cars have been running steadily back and forth to the various postes de secours. We carried at least five hundred wounded every night, and had to evacuate the same number of wounded every day.
This grand offensive extended over the entire Éparges front, which is about eight miles long. The roads have been simply jammed with long, heavy convoys of ammunition and food wagons. The offensive was very important, inasmuch as the French wanted to drive the Germans out of the portion of the city of Les Éparges which they occupied. This they succeeded in doing, but only at the expense of hundreds and hundreds of men. There were three extra divisions moved up here, just for the attack, and in each regiment there were twelve thousand men, and picked men at that; that is, they were picked men for attacking. One regiment was of the Foreign Legion, one of Senegals (negroes), and one of zouaves, or colonials. Any one that has read of, or that knows anything at all about these things, will be fully able to realize what three divisions such as these can do. From the very start the French had the whip hand. This was shown by the hundreds upon hundreds of German prisoners taken every day.
The work was very hard, as well as very dangerous. Roads which never before had been shelled were subject to the most terrible bombardment. The reason for this was that the Germans knew very well that all the roads were sure to be filled with troops and convoys, so they moved over a great deal of their heavy artillery from Verdun and simply showered the roads with high-explosive shells. This, in one way, is what the French wanted, because, when they saw the artillery being moved, they immediately started another attack in the Verdun sector and retook all of Fleury.
Of course all this shelling made our work just so much more difficult. Many of our cars were hit, and one of our men got a piece of shell casing in his leg. However, it did n't amount to anything. Instead of getting some of our wounded at the more protected postes, as we had been doing, we had to get them all right up at the advanced poste. You see, they could n't waste any time in bringing the wounded back, so we simply had to go and get them. Up at the poste we could plainly hear the shouting and yelling of the men fighting. Of course, it was not always continuous. There were times, however, for nearly hours at a time, when things were as quiet as the grave. It was during these lapses that the wounded were carried back by hand. None of the wounds had been dressed at all, and were in a horrid condition. After about two days the walls and sides and even roofs of our ambulances were covered with blood. We did n't have any time to clean them. It was about the worst four days, besides the ones we put in at Tavannes, that I ever spent. We did n't have any regular time for eating. There was hot coffee always ready at our poste, and when we had a chance we would grab a cup and be off again. Besides this, in the office there were always little bundles, containing a cake of chocolate and some sandwiches, which we would take with us and eat on the way up to the poste.
This afternoon the General of the Division here came around to our camp and made a long speech congratulating us on our work. He said that it was a piece of work which we might pride ourselves on, as few others could do it as well. He also said that the poste at Les Éparges was on no occasion overcrowded with wounded. This in itself meant a great deal, because more than fifty were carried in every hour. He finished up by thanking us, not only for himself, but also for the men in his Division.
We are all nearly crazy from loss of sleep and the roads are in terrible condition from shelling.
Sunday, September 17
These past four days have been very quiet in comparison with the past two weeks and a half. There has been very little or no attacking done by either side, although there have been quite a number of wounded. This was due to the fact that a great number of mines were exploded by the Germans.
On Friday a rumor started around our quarters that we were to move within the next two or three days. We did n't pay much attention to this, and were therefore very much surprised on Saturday when an order came in for us to pack up all our things and be ready to move at four o'clock on Sunday morning (this morning).
Therefore at five o'clock our whole Section started off for a little town just outside of Ligny for a short rest. The entire Division moved with us. After this rest the Division (the 18th) will very likely go up to the Somme or down to the Vosges Mountains, and unless we change divisions it naturally means that we shall go along with them. Everybody thinks that there is only one chance in a hundred of this outfit returning to Verdun, because, as they have been in the Verdun district since February without a single real rest, they surely will now be let off. It is a regiment composed entirely of old classes, and is therefore used more for holding trenches than for taking them. For this reason the majority of opinions seem to point to the Vosges.
Our Section is fixed up very well here. We are quartered in the classroom of the village school, and are looking forward to four or five days, at least, with nothing at all to do except to take care of the few men who are taken ill during this repos. This usually amounts to one call a day, so we shall have plenty of time to make up for the sleep we lost during the past three weeks.
GRENVILLE T. KEOGH*
*Of New Rochelle, New York, served in Sections Eight and Three in 1916 and 1917; subsequently a Sous-Lieutenant in French Aviation, on duty in the Orient; these are extracts from Mr. Keogh's diary.
THE FAMOUS CONVOY THAT DID N'T
Crèvecœur, The Somme, December 4, 1916
Our first few days of convoy running were very amusing. In fact, I think our Section must now be one of the best jokes in the French Army. We left early one very foggy morning, with our thirty-odd voitures all beautifully lined up, and ready for a long spin the first day; but we had scarcely turned our backs on the little village before the entire convoy was lost in a fog and headed in thirty separate directions---all going like mad to "catch up." Mason, our Chef, took the wrong turn in the middle of the town and went up a terrific hill, while two cars that tried to follow him broke down on the grade. A marching company cut the rest of us off and every car following got a different road.
Two days later, when the majority of us had finally been collected at a small town several hundred kilometres distant, we found a nice hotel and decided to eat our Thanksgiving dinner there, although the date was a day too early. On this occasion, in lieu of post-prandial oratory, I produced some atrocious doggerel; but, after a good turkey and mince-pie feast, the Section was in a mood to laugh at anything, and some of the unpolished stuff I wrote seemed to appeal to the fellows --- a fine crowd of rough, good-hearted boys, whose performances have been "a scream" from the start of the convoy. . . .
We are not far from one of the quaintest and oldest towns in France, full of houses and monuments dating from 1000 to 1500, and offering endless material for little sight-seeing expeditions. The name of "American Touring Club," which has been given us, is not half the joke that it would appear to be. It is really astounding the amount of leisure and comfort that the French military system allows officers and men who are in the convois autos. Of course, when they are in active operations they are in a perfect hell for a period, but when they come out, it is possible to forget now and then that France is at war.
We are quartered temporarily over a café. I have a very nice room with a big desk on which I work considerably making cartoons as a record of our convoy experiences. If we get into an interesting sector, the boys want to have these cartoons and these experiences put into a book as a souvenir of the Section. They would only have a personal, not a general interest; but I am going to make the most of my last two months over here and try to bring together the material for a permanent keepsake of the time I have spent here.
Furthermore, I don't want to go away without feeling that I have done a little for France, which has certainly given me innumerable lessons in the philosophy of living and dying. It is too bad that every American cannot see first-hand what this indomitable nation is now going through, and with what a fine spirit it faces crisis after crisis. France is entitled to the reward of a magnificent future, and every American who has been here will be bitterly disgusted if the United States does not lend all its aid to assuring such a future. We know nothing of true Democracy. The innate courtesy, forbearance, and steadfastness of the "common people" here is something that never ceases to inspire one, day after day. I hope I can return here often and never lose touch and sympathy with these surroundings.
CHARLES LAW WATKINS*
*Of Rye, New York; Yale, '08; served in Sections Three and Eight, from August, 1916, to February, 1917; entered the French Artillery School at Fontainebleau, and subsequently became a Sous-Lieutenant in the French Army. The above are extracts from home letters.
THE SOMME --- AND COLD WEATHER
January 10, 1917
We were at Crèvecœur some two weeks before we got out. Finally, about the middle of December, after all the troops had gone, we got our orders to go to Mailly Raineval, near Moreuil. We stayed there four or five days, and were beginning to think we had been side-tracked and would not get up to the front at all, when we got our orders in the middle of the night to move the next morning to Proyart. So we ploughed up there through the mud.
There is a long, straight road running due east from Amiens along which were some of our postes, and Proyart is only a mile off it. We landed there on December 21, parked our cars in a foot of mud, and with great difficulty found an old barn as cantonment.
On the 22d I went up with the French Lieutenant to see the postes. We went out along that straight road through Foucaucourt toward Estrées. At the latter town we were to keep one car and another at Fay, just north of it. Then at a point called Bois de Satyr, in a little valley behind Estrées, we were to hold three cars to replace the others when they came in with a load.
Foucaucourt was about the most demolished village I had ever seen, not a house standing, just walls and ruins. The street was one sea of mud. The original lines used to be just beyond Foucaucourt, and we could see the old trenches, pretty well broken in now, and the fields ploughed all to pieces and covered with shell-holes. They looked more like a choppy sea than fields. Then we came to a little bois down in a gully, the Bois de Satyr, where were old abris made by the Germans --- and wonderfully well made, very deep and nicely boarded in. Then we went on and came to a cross-roads. We asked some one where Estrées was, and he said simply, "This is Estrées!" There was no sign of a house --- only dugouts. In fact, of Estrées, that had been a thriving village, nothing remained --- it was razed to the ground, And Fay was nearly as bad.
Next day we began work, replacing two French sections instead of one; but it was not hard, and later we took over a third section's service of evacuating back from Proyart. But even with tripled work we had no great difficulties. We worked only four or five days, following to Bayonvillers, when our Division was moved back.
A couple of days before we left Proyart the Boches bombarded the place with an eight-inch marine gun. It was quite a day. We had gotten off three cars to relieve the night shift at the hospital ---and the other two drivers were having a time cranking their cars --- when, Bang! right across the street came a huge explosion. Rocks began to fall all around. I did not know whether it was an avion bomb or a shell. Some one cried, "Gas," but I knew it was not that. A wounded Frenchman came tearing into our quarters hanging onto his arm, and Watkins took him up to the hospital. We did not know what it was, but soon heard another one down in the village. I went across the street to see what had happened. The shell had dropped through a barn and pretty well wrecked it, killing a man and a horse, and wounding other horses. It had dug a hole six or eight feet deep in the ground --- and down in it stood a couple of horses shivering.
I had just come back into our court, when, Bang! again, right behind me. I knew it was awfully close, much closer than the last one, and, knowing that rocks would begin to fall, ducked under d'Estes' car. Usually one ducks, or dodges into an abri from common sense, but this time I was carried under the car without conscious effort on my part. I know now I was blown down onto my hands and knees, because my first recollection was exerting every effort to crawl under the nearest car.
I got up, and saw several fellows appear from behind the radiator of the car, among them Meadowcroft, with a very white face and a gash on his head. He was a little shaky, but said he was O.K., and I saw it was only a cut, though bleeding a little.
It is hard to tell the sequence of events, but about the same time that I saw Meadowcroft I looked around and saw a great hole in the middle of our yard, and two cars that had been standing there had disappeared. Breed told me afterwards that I said, "My God! I did n't know it was so close." I don't know just what I did then, but Tower was hollering about abris, and we started down into the cave, though it would not stop a shell. Some one said there was a deeper one out back in our garden and a lot of us ran out there to find it; but there was nothing, so I came back to the cave. My last impression as I turned back was of half a dozen of our fellows climbing the eight-foot garden wall with the greatest ease and agility, and "Booze," our dog, yelping after them.
Several more shells fell in town ---about eighteen in all --- and fourteen Frenchmen were killed. They say it was the first bombardment of Proyart in five months.
In our courtyard four cars had been lined up on each side, and the shell, landing between two cars, blew one twenty-five feet away against the wall, and the other fifteen feet in the opposite direction. The bodies of both cars had completely disappeared and the chassis were all twisted up. One other car was tipped up at an angle of forty-five degrees against the wall with a bent wheel and a window blown off. A fourth car was lifted sideways five feet, its body all broken in, and a wheel smashed. Later half of Breed's rear axle was found two hundred and fifty yards away behind the château, and other parts were scattered about.
I was only eight or ten feet from the shell when it dropped; my reflex action was so prompt that I don't know whether it was the explosion or my muscles that propelled me under the car so quickly. My ears sang for some time. Why I was n't blown to atoms I don't know. The ground was soft, of course, and the shell sank deep and was somewhat muffled, but all the same I consider it a miraculous escape.
Sainte-Ménehould, February 1, 1917
December 30 we moved a short distance from Proyart and did the old work of looking after the malades of the Division. This lasted about four days, after which we had four days of travel --- going each day only thirty or forty kilometres. We could have done the whole distance in one day, but had to obey orders. It was a nuisance. Finally, after stops of some days in a couple of places, we made a long run of three days, beginning January 22, into the Sainte-Ménehould sector. The day of our start it got very cold, and has been ever since, ten to twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit all the time. We have our troubles with cars freezing up and have already ruined one motor that froze up solid.
February 2, 1917
We, live in a sort of house and barn combined. The carriage-room is our dining-hall. Only one chamber we heat with a stove. All the sleeping-rooms are frigid, the dining-place dead cold, and everything is frozen solid all the time. Even my ink-bottle down in the bottom of my trunk froze and had to be thawed out on the stove. My toothbrush, sponge, and nailbrush are always frozen stiff, and one has to wash, if one must, in water with ice floating in it. They say it is the coldest spell they have had in France for fifteen years.
Glorieux, March 18, 1917
In our Sainte-Ménehould sector the fellows had nice little abris to live in up at the postes, dug into the back side of the hill, where they had a fire and kept warm. They were, in fact, much more comfortable than we were back in town, with a heatless barn for eating-place, heatless rooms and loft to sleep in, and a room with one lone stove for a sitting-room! And we had continuous cold weather.
I don't think the thermometer ever rose above freezing point while we were there, but ranged from zero to about twenty-five degrees. Our cars would freeze up in a jiffy if we were not very careful, and we always ran the motors in the morning before putting any water in the radiators, otherwise the water froze solid before the car was even cranked.
Shortly after this we moved over to the next army and were attached to a new Division, then en repos. We made a cold convoy run to Érize-la-Petite, where we stayed one night last June. We got as cantonment the same barn we had before, but whereas then we were much pleased with it as airy quarters this winter it was terrific. It was draughty and cold, and the weather was as cold as ever, never above freezing. It was something fearful, as we had no place we could even put up a stove, and no place to go to get warm ---except the cuisine roulante, which at best could hold only three men at a time. The village was crowded with 1300 troops, whereas it is figured to hold only 800, and half the village was burned down at the beginning of the war. I slept in the barn four nights and nearly froze; slept in my clothes with a sweater around my neck. My toes were numb when I went to bed and did not get thoroughly thawed out by morning, with two pairs of socks on.
Everything froze up. One fellow had a flask of brandy which solidified. It broke the bottle and the chap had a great hunk of frozen brandy. He would break off chunks and treat every one to cognac glacé.
We moved up here into the caserne on March 5, in the snow. Our work is sufficient to keep us more than occupied, and, thank Heaven, we have comfortable barracks and plenty of stoves!
AUSTIN B. MASON*
*Of Boston, Massachusetts; Harvard, '08; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, '10; joined the Field Service March 4, 1916, serving with Section Four and as Chef of Section Eight; left in April, 1917, to enter Aviation, where he became a First Lieutenant, U.S. signal Corps. These are clippings from home letters.
LAST MONTHS OF THE FIELD SERVICE
Glorieux, May 3, 1917
Cadman, Gwynn, Eckstein, and I (the California-Belgium quartet) arrived here day before yesterday and were at once initiated into Section Eight. All of us were much impressed by our proximity to Verdun, and by the war-scarred, veteran tradition which pervaded the atmosphere of the little ambulancier group.
Glorieux is three kilometres from Verdun. We send six cars there every evening. They wait at Maison Nathan for calls to go to the front or to the hospitals in the rear. Our front postes are at Bras and Montgrignon, and the hospitals to which we evacuate are at Dugny, Vadelaincourt, Fontaine Routon, and Souhesme.
The first trip I made was to Bras, about three kilometres from the German lines. The road is screened, but we went up before dark and raised a good deal of dust. We had just put the Ford in a shed near the poste when shells began to whistle over and burst a hundred yards or so behind us. Paden and I watched them calmly enough, until a poilu ran in and called for brancardiers, saying that a sergeant had just been killed and several soldiers wounded when one of the above-mentioned shells broke in the room in which they were sitting. They took a stretcher out and brought the dead man in --- his head had been smashed. The incident made a great impression on me. But Paden did not seem to think much about it. The truth is, as I soon found out, the Section considers this a rest sector, and is impatient to be moving out and into something interesting.
Ferme de Piémont, May 15
On May 12 we were succeeded at Glorieux by Section Eighteen, and convoyed past the Argonne into the Champagne to our present headquarters. "Doc" Dodge has gone to Paris and Steve Munger is now our Chef.
Here we have three front postes and three back, or evacuation, postes. The advanced postes are at Bois Carré, Ferme des Wacques (which is on the position of the frontline trenches of September, 1915), and Pont Suippes. The latter is about three kilometres from the front. One car goes there and another stays at Jonchery. When the car comes down from Pont Suippes the car from Jonchery replaces it. Our back postes are at Ambulance 2/60 at Suippes, from which we evacuate to the Suippes hospitals, to Nantivet, to Bussy, to Cuperly and Châlons.
We are beginning to realize that our change of sectors was not for the better. It is even quieter in the Champagne than it was at Verdun. All we can do is to sit about and listen to "Ken" Austin, "Steve" Munger, and "Ap" Miles tell of the glory that used to be Section Eight's, and to speculate on the great things that we shall do if we are ever given a chance. I rather think that the powers that be have decided Section Eight has enough citations and that this summer should be one of repos for us.
DETAILS OF THE DAILY ROUND
I went to G.B.D. Headquarters yesterday, resigning myself to a day en réserve, meaning a day of doing nothing. When Sewall and I arrived, Blake and "Ken" Austin, whom we were to replace, told us that four or five gentle obus had dropped into camp during the evening. The first ones landed quite a way from the cars, and Blake, who was sitting in his voiture, had time to duck into an abri. The next one landed in the road and the éclat knocked a hole in Burton's radiator, and splintered the top of Blake's car.
The Médecin Chef said that that was enough for him and he moved his quarters to the Ferme de Piémont, among a cluster of trees, back of Suippes, just off the main road to Châlons.
This afternoon's communiqué will probably read, "Artillery activity on the Champagne front." The Germans found a battery of French "150's" near Saint-Hilaire last night. They destroyed all four guns and broke up the abris with penetration shells; then they completed the job with gas-shells. Most of the artillerymen were killed, but a call came in for three ambulances, and Austin, Lambert, and Boardman answered it. Only one blessé was still alive when they arrived.
Blake arrived back from permission yesterday, bringing a large strawberry shortcake. We had been talking of such a delicacy for the past two weeks, and to have it appear so suddenly was too good.
The Boches located a French battery near the Ferme des Wacques last night. Burton brought one of the victims down. The poor fellow had both legs shot off, and died in the ambulance.
"Booze," the Section dog, was hit by a camion on the Châlons road yesterday. After dinner Austin, Hall, Sewall, Lieutenant Bollaert, Pohlman, and I went up and buried him.
Pont Suippes, June 9
The wagon des morts has just come up the road and is waiting for dark, so that it can continue up to La Rose. It comes every night about this time, goes up to get the dead, and takes them down to Jonchery, where the gravediggers bury them in the divisional cemetery. An average of four or five are taken down every night.
There was a successful French coup de main yesterday morning in the sector on our right. I could see the artillery preparation from Jonchery. It sounded like a regular battle, but only seven Germans were taken, and no French were killed or wounded.
Bill Gwynn's car was almost converted into kindling wood yesterday, but luckily Bill was not in it when the shell landed. The same shell hit a general's chauffeur who was standing near. Bill rushed out and brought the man in, and then went out and found that though the body of the ambulance had been knocked out, the engine would still run as well as ever. So he took the wounded chauffeur down to Suippes.
Ferme des Wacques, June 21
I have just seen my first dead German. A brancardier came in a few minutes ago and said that a Boche had been killed with a hand-grenade near one of the petites postes. We went down the road to see him. He was a young fellow, with a light mustache. The brancardiers stopped laughing and looked at him. One said, "He is very young"; another, " That is what is happening to all the young men"; "And the old ones too, and it is not over yet," said a third.
A lively bombardment in the direction of Mont Cornillet started about an hour ago and is still going strong. It sounds as though one side had attacked and the other were now getting ready a counter-attack. I can see the star-shells over the trenches and occasional gun flashes.
We were replaced at Ferme de Piémont by Section Twelve and are now at St. Martin-sur-le-Pré, encamped in a barnyard. Our Division is en repos.
Most of us celebrated the 4th of July in Paris (thanks to a forty-eight-hour permission) and saw a contingent of the American First Division, which had just landed at Saint-Nazaire, march down the Boulevards. It was a great inspiration, both for us and for the French.
Ville-Sur-Terre, July 18
We left Saint-Martin July 13 and convoyed here, passing through very beautiful country on the way. Our Division is completely en repos. We are ninety kilometres from the nearest point on the Saint-Mihiel front.
This is a wonderful place for the Division to rest in. The land is rolling and green and highly cultivated, except for occasional woods. We are on the southern edge of the Champagne, near where Burgundy begins.
There is very little to do. Every day two cars go out to visit all the villages where the Division is billeted. If there are any sick we carry them to the hospital at Bar-sur-Aube.
ANTICIPATED ACTION AND A DISAPPOINTMENT
(near Les Petites Loges in the Champagne)
We arrived Saturday and relieved the English section which was on duty here. At last it looks as if we were in for some action. We are serving the Moronvilliers Massifs Sector, composed of Monts Cornillet, Blanc, and Haut. Since April, when the crests of the heights were taken by the French, this has been one of the liveliest sectors on the Western Front. The position on the hills is a commanding one for either side. The hills rise almost directly from the plain and offer excellent observation postes for about twenty kilometres. The last fight here was about three weeks ago. The division which we replaced took the first line of German trenches. The Germans recovered them the next night; the French retook them the next, and after dark the following day kept such a heavy barrage on the German lines that the Boches could not get out to attack. The French division lost about 1600 in the two weeks that it was here.
Our front postes are at Prosnes and L'Esplanade. We do not keep cars continually at the latter, but two cars are always at Prosnes. We take the blessés from there to La Plaine, where they are numbered and examined, and then sent on.
We have been here three days, and now, just as an interesting time seems to loom up ahead of us, we are leaving for what I know is a quiet sector. We are swapping places, and divisions, with Section Thirteen. We are going to Sainte-Ménehould this afternoon.
A REPOS SECTOR
Arrived at Sainte-Ménehould Tuesday afternoon. We have fairly good quarters in an alley and a couple of barns and a schoolhouse, right in the middle of the town. It is a prosperous little city, and we will be able to get anything we want, even baths.
Our postes are a long way from Sainte-Ménehould, but near the lines. Because of the many hills and the thick woods fighting on a large scale is very difficult in this sector, and both sides have settled down as if they intend to stay where they are for the duration of the war. Though in some places the trenches are but fifty feet apart, concrete dugouts, with electric lights, have been built. The roads run up to within less than a kilometre of the lines.
This is a repos sector. The French division now here (the 169th) was in the first attack at Mont Cornillet. In the German trenches is a part of the Prussian Guard, which was also at Cornillet.
Besides this poste (Saint-Thomas) our only other one is at La Narazée, in one of the ravines to the right of here. We have one car at each of these postes and three at the triage to which we evacuate. But the work is very light.
HARRY L. DUNN*
*Of Santa Barbara, California; University of California; in Section Eight from April to October, 1917; subsequently an officer in the U.S. Field Artillery; these are extracts from an unpublished diary.
SUMMARY OF THE SECTION'S HISTORY
UNDER THE UNITED STATES ARMY
After it was enlisted in the United States Army, Section Eight, now 628, remained in the Argonne, with front-line postes at La Harazée, Saint-Thomas, and Le Four de Paris until February 28, 1918, having during this time very little work.
From February 28 until March 28, it was en repos at Saint-Ouen, Corbeil, and Herpont, small towns in the vicinity of Vitry-le-François. From April 2 until June 9, it was in the Oise and Somme sectors in Picardy. It was cantoned at Coivrel, a small town south of Montdidier, and had postes at Dompierre, Domfront, Godenvillers, and Le Ployron. It sustained a gas attack April 17 and 18, for which the Section was cited to the order of the Division. The work was very heavy. Jack Keogh was wounded by a shell at Coivrel, and was in a hospital for two months.
From June 9 until August 19 it remained in the Oise sector, being cantoned at Ravenel, south of Montdidier. The French offensive here began on the 9th of August. The 169th Division, to which the Section was attached, advanced from Le Ployron to Fescamps, approximately twenty kilometres. The front postes during the attack were at Domfront, Rubescourt, Le Ployron, Assainvillers, Fescamps, and Bus. The Section's French Lieutenant, Lieutenant Bollaërt, was killed, and Henri Werlemman, his French driver, was very gravely wounded in the leg at the poste at Rubescourt. The Section was cited for its work here.
From August 19 until September 7, the Section was en repos at Froissy, near Beauvais. It went back to the front again on September 7, and from this time until October 16 had some of its hardest work. It went into line just behind Ham at a town called Vilette. Its Division attacked and advanced from Ham to Saint-Quentin, and beyond to Mont Origny --- a distance of over thirty-five kilometres. In this advance the Division broke the Hindenburg line just in front of Saint-Quentin. The Section was here again cited for its work. During the advance from Ham to Mont Origny, it worked postes at Ham, Ollezy, Saint-Simon, Avesne, Clastres, Lizerolles, Essigny-le-Grand, Urvillers, Itancourt, Mesnil-Saint-Laurent, and Regny.
From October 16 until November 1, it was en repos at Crèvecœur-le-Grand, near Beauvais. On November 11, at the signing of the Armistice, the Section was at Guise. After the Armistice it proceeded with the French Army of Occupation into Belgium, passing through Le Nouvion, La Capelle, Trelon, Chimay, as far as Mariembourg. The Division was demobilized at La Nouvion January 22, 1919, and the Section went to Crépy-en-Valois, outside of Paris until it was ordered to Base Camp in February.