Section Nine (SSU 9)
- Published in History
SECTION NINE came into existence on August 14, 1916, and left Versailles for the Vosges Mountains. It worked over practically the same ground that Section Three had worked over before it, serving in the valley of the Thur, in the region of the Ballon de Guebwiller, Hartmannsweilerkopf, and around Mollau and Mittlach. The Section left this region of Alsace on December 14, 1916, going to Bar-le-Duc and later to Vadelaincourt and Glorieux, where they worked the Verdun front in the region of the Meuse River and around Montgrignon. On January 15, 1917, the Section was moved again, this time going to Toul. On January 24, 1917, it moved to Royaumeix, and worked postes at Saint-Jacques and La Carrière de Flirey. On February 5, 1917, it again moved to Rupt, close to Saint-Mihiel. Another move took place in April to Ligny-en-Barrois, Vaucouleurs, and Éloyes-sur-Moselle. On April 19 it went to Vandœuvre, near Nancy. On June 15 it worked about Pont-à-Mousson. On October 6 the Section changed once again, going to Saint-Max, just outside of Nancy, where, two weeks later, it was taken over by the United States Army as Section Six Twenty-Nine.
'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)
O friends, in your fortunate present ease ...
If you would see how a race can soar
That has no love, but no fear, of war,
How each can turn from his private rôle
That all may act as a perfect whole,
How men can live up to the place they claim
And a nation, jealous of its good name,
Be true to its proud inheritance,
Oh, look over here and learn from France.
FORMING THE SECTION --- FIRST EXPERIENCES
In June of 1916, two generous Americans made possible a new Field Service section. Living in Paris from the beginning of the war, they had observed and recognized how greatly the French Army appreciated the five sections already in the field, and they offered to provide cars and equipment, and all expenses incident to the formation and maintenance of a sixth section. They made this great gift anonymously, only asking that each of the twenty-five cars composing the section should bear upon its nameplate this inscription:
"Aux Soldats de France,
Deux Américains Reconnaissants"
The names of the donors were only known at the time to the officers of the Field Service, but the nameless benefactors maintained throughout the war deep interest in the work of the Section, and in the welfare and achievements of its members, sending them continually articles for their comfort and convenience. We believe it only appropriate to-day to state that the donors of this Section were Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss.
Section Nine came into existence August 14, 1916, and left Versailles for the Vosges. Carleton Burr was the American Chef and Lieutenant J. Ostheimer, the French Commander. Three days and two nights of convoy brought us to Rupt-sur-Moselle, where we waited a week, and on August 25 the Section moved and took up its real work at Mollau, a little town in Alsace Reconquise, where all the natives speak a mixture of German and French --- mostly German.
Our troubles in maintaining the service were caused by mountains and poor roads. The first day, Walter Chrystie's car was assisted to the top of the Ballon de Guebwiller by horses, while my car, going to the poste near Hartmannsweilerkopf, simply expired three times, on each of which occasions a total change of water in the radiator was necessary. An hour in low gear seemed too much. However, practice and removing carbon from cylinders told in our favor to such an extent that finally we could make the grades unassisted.
We had six postes that required mountain-climbing. There was one car at Camp Hoche, near Hartmannsweilerkopf; one at Camp Duchet, near the Sudel; another at Hoog on the Ballon de Guebwiller; a fourth at Nenette, in the valley of the Lauchensée; a fifth at Treh, the mountain of Trehkopf; and a sixth at Mittlach in the valley of the Fecht. In the same valley as Mollau we had two cars at Villers, and one each at Moosch, Wesserling, Krüth, and Urbès. Later Krüth was taken off and the car at Moosch transferred to Camp Larchey on the Trehkopf. For such a widespread service, drivers had to go to poste for forty-eight hours and then had twenty-four hours' repos at Mollau. During our four months' stay in Alsace our only excitements were a few near-accidents.
The roads had sheer walls on one side and a drop-off abruptly on the other. On the outer side there was occasionally a one-foot-high bank, as a gentle reminder that you might drop a long way to the nearest tree down the mountain-side. Several cars temporarily tight-rope-walked these little embankments in the dark. One expert at this game was Judd Farley, who on a certain occasion had to be pulled back onto the road by three artillery horses and about fifteen men.
Our relations with the French Army were most cordial. The Section was reviewed by General Boyer, commanding the Division, who congratulated and thanked the men for the work done, and when, on December 12, the Division left, the General sent us his felicitations, On December 14 we, too, left Alsace. A prettier sight I have never seen. Two days before, the country had been clothed in a blanket of snow three feet deep. The day was clear and there was a real zip in the air. Passing through the little town of Urbès, the Section was informally reviewed by the natives who waved us good-bye. Then came the long climb over the famous Col de Bussang, a passage through the tunnel, and we were out of Alsace. Riding at the end and watching the long convoy file out ahead was wonderful.
GREAT DAYS AT VERDUN
Two days later found us at Bar-le-Duc. We spent the night at Joinville. The next day an urgent telephone message ordered us to the H.O.E. of Vadelaincourt, and by 2.30 in the afternoon we were there --- our blanket rolls, section belongings, and all dumped out in the mud. Real mud it was; mud that was like a ten-pound weight on your feet when you walked, and like the most exquisite auto grease if you were on an incline. The French had just taken the Côte du Poivre and everything was going full blast. We set to work helping Section Fifteen evacuate men from Fontaine Routon to the H.O.E., which continued till 2 A.M., when the whole Section was given a load for Bar-le-Duc. This finished our rush work, but for two weeks more we had plenty to do, as we were attached to the hospital.
On January 1 we were attached to the 123d Division, and our headquarters changed to Glorieux, just outside the city of Verdun. Our poste was on the Meuse River at Montgrignon, just across from Thierville, and we evacuated to Fontaine Routon, a distance of about eighteen kilometres. Then commenced two weeks of about the stiffest labor possible --- not that we had any "red-hot" corners to round, but because it was an everlasting grind. Theoretically half the Section would go on duty for twenty-four hours, when the other half would relieve them. As a matter of fact the work became so heavy that the squad en repos would commence about 2.30 P.M., and then officially go on duty at 7 P.M., when we could always count on keeping the motors humming steadily until 5 A.M. Between then and 11 A.M. there were many calls, though not enough to keep the whole squad on the go continually. After that the grind began again and lasted until evening.
Bed was a welcome place after such a turn on duty. In fact, for two weeks we thought of nothing but eating, sleeping, and driving. Any great amount of washing, either of the men or the cars, went by the board. The number of wounded carried cannot be told at this writing, but suffice it to say that in two weeks the Section covered more than 34,000 kilometres over abominable roads. The amount of work, coupled with the fact that we had low-spring hangers and were constantly banging flat on the axles, caused crystallization of all the axles so that most of them soon broke as a result, which neither lightened our labor nor our spirits.
On January 15 the Section was moved again, this time going to Toul, where Carleton Burr left the Section for home. Every one, I may add, was mighty sorry to see him leave, for he was a fine leader and always well liked by the men. Walter Jepson then became chef "par interim."
On January 24 we moved to Royaumeix, and were attached to the 130th Division. Our postes were Saint-Jacques and La Carrière de Flirey. Cars went out every night. A cold streak of weather made the Fords extremely balky. With the temperature below zero, Fahrenheit, a half-hour's steady cranking, often with a torch on the manifold, was the usual procedure. While running, the lower half of the radiator on every Ford was always blocked to prevent freezing.
On February 5 the Section again lived up to its reputation as the "Wanderer" of the Field Service by moving again. After packing up in a great hurry and thawing out a few radiators, we got under way about noon, and eleven o'clock that night saw us installed at Rupt right by Saint-Mihiel, where we relieved the same French sanitary section that we relieved in the Vosges. Our Division was the 63d. For a fixed poste we had Pierrefitte, which was supposed to keep three cars busy.
The Section shifted its cantonment, March 10, to Villotte, but maintained the same service at the front. On the 15th the Boches shot at the hospital of Bellevallée which had to be evacuated in a hurry.
On the evening of April 4, General Andlauer and the Staff of the 63d Division, with which Section Nine served during many months, dined with us in our Headquarters, when the General presented each "American volunteer" with a copy of a letter, which was really his speech at the dinner, signed by him.
We all felt very proud and happy, especially as the General shook hands and spoke with each of us.
April 3 the Section again moved, and this was the beginning of its famous tour with the 63d Division. Three nights were spent at Ligny-en-Barrois. Then commenced the real tour. We spent nights in Vaucouleurs, Coussey, Valaincourt, Remoncourt, Dompaire, Darnieulles, and finally a week in Éloyes-sur-Moselle. During this tour the Section maintained a flying squadron of four to six cars which made the evacuations of sick and foot-weary soldiers. There was also "Hutchinson's Walking Club." A half-hour after arriving in a place the club would set out to see the sights, and in this way many kilometres were covered in the few spare hours before supper-time. As the country passed through was where Jeanne d'Arc spent her youth, it was doubly interesting.
WORK ABOUT NANCY
We moved on April 19, 1917, to Vandœuvre, near Nancy, and served as reserve for the Army. June 15 the Section became attached to the 11th Division of Infantry ---a welcome change after two months of repos, and we covered the evacuation of this Division, which held the Lorraine sector, and also the evacuations of the 67th Division, which held the Pont-à-Mousson sector.
On July 1 the Boches launched a gas attack on the region around Beaumont, when we hauled out over four hundred asphyxiated men in twenty-four hours, and on July 22 General Vuillemot, commanding the 11th Division, cited, to the Order of the Division, Jepson, our Chef, and the whole Section, for work done on July 1.
July 5 Chef Jepson went on permission, and while in Paris, he entered the French Aviation Service. On August 31, George R. Cogswell was officially made Chef to replace him. On September 1 the Section lost its French Commander, Lieutenant Binoche, who was called to special work at the Paris War Office. A tribute to him, which shows how well he was loved, is found in a remark of one of the men who said, "When Binoche went I felt as blue as when I left my family in the States, to come over to France."
On October 6 the Section changed once again. A slow convoy took us to Saint-Max, just outside, of Nancy, where we were cantoned in the chalet adjoining the château of M. Noël, where hardwood floors, open fireplaces, electric lights, fine wallpaper, and a landlord who spoke perfect English, helped to make our stay as pleasant as possible.
On October 16 and 17 Nancy suffered severely from a hail of aeroplane bombs, when the Section evacuated about a hundred people from the Hospital Bon Pasteur and at the same time searched out and evacuated many civilians who were wounded or killed by the bombardment. For this work, part of which was voluntary, the Section received the warm thanks of the officials of the Prefecture. This was our last work before being taken over by the American Army.
GEORGE R. COGSWELL*
*Of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Harvard, '18; entered the Service in June, 1916, and became, later, a Lieutenant in the Ambulance Service of the American Army in France.
LIFE AS A SECTION LEADER
August 18, 1916
Here we are, as a Section, in a beautiful little town in the Vosges Mountains. With a section of new cars and an eager, willing bunch of men, the life as a section leader for a while, at least, should not be a difficult one. Besides, as an officer, I have thus far been billeted in a private room with all the comforts of home. It has its distinct a advantages over sleeping in one's ambulance or in a filthy barn, I assure you!
We left the "parc" of this army, where we had remained eight days, on August 25, and took up our position and duties in this town of Alsace on the same day. A lovelier trip than this across the frontier pass could not have been sought for anywhere, especially in the clear, dewy light of that early morning. That same afternoon, accompanied by the Lieutenant of the French section which we were replacing, our Lieutenant and I sallied forth to visit as many as possible of the postes we were to serve. These are divided into six mountain and six valley postes, at each of which we must maintain one car all the time. To handle this work, therefore, we have divided the Section into three squads of six men each, maintaining, at the same time, a reserve of two cars here at the base, in case of break-down or as a relief if any one of the postes should be overworked. Every afternoon the squad which has been off duty for twenty-four hours replaces one of the other two, thus affording each individual forty-eight hours of duty and twenty-four hours off. Under this system the work becomes in no way monotonous.
The mountain postes are, of course, the more interesting, as they are situated just behind the first line trenches and one must surmount prodigious grades to reach them. In some places, especially along the crests of the mountains, the road is cut out of the cliff with nothing but open air between the outside edge and the valley bottom, several hundred feet below. I foresee that, with the advent of winter snows, driving Fords in the Vosges is going to become an amusing form of sport, to say the least! If no car goes over the edge during the winter on any of the bad corners which we encounter daily, I shall consider we are very lucky. It has been done several times by our predecessors with varying degrees of damage to car and driver. However, "c'est la guerre!"
We have been received wonderfully by every one since our arrival here in the valley, due largely to the excellent name Section Three made for itself here during the last December attacks. The sector is so quiet now, however, that even the men in the trenches (as I have already seen for myself) are enjoying a peaceful "vacation," which, unfortunately, is a cause of impatience among our men as they are naturally eager to prove themselves as worthy as our American predecessors. For me, at least, this life is a delightful contrast to that of Verdun. This country is teeming with tradition, and the associations now forming in Alsace Reconquise will lend themselves to many pleasant recollections in later years. Of course my opportunities are unlimited, as I am received by all French officers as a fellow-officer. Only to-day, for example, I lunched with a colonel, a captain, and two lieutenants who, collectively, form the group of "les Officiers de l'Administration" of French Alsace. You can imagine the interesting bits I gleaned from their conversation.
A good example of the Alsatian feelings toward Americans was shown to me the other day when visiting Richard Hall's grave. In the beautiful little military cemetery in which he is buried I found his grave with its simple wooden cross bearing his name and the legend, "mort pour la patrie." But also the touch of some devoted caretaker was present, for, on the grave itself, were growing some freshly watered little flowering plants. Upon questioning a doctor, of the near-by hospital, I found that ever since Section Three had left in January, two girls of the only café in town had voluntarily assumed the role of caretakers. Of course I paid them a call and found them just as nice as they were plain. They seemed to consider it only natural, in view of the fact that Hall, several times before his death, had taken his meals in their establishment and that he had left no immediate friends in this neighborhood, they should do this little bit in his behalf. This is typical of the sympathetic attention we encounter at every turn (not that we have selected our gravetenders as yet!), and which feeling, I am convinced, is mothered only by intense suffering. The peoples of Europe should, therefore, gain something, if only morally, out of this miserable war.
You would be amazed, I am sure, at the seeming ease in which war is carried on, which fact, however, is not so noticeable in busier sectors. Every one goes about his business in his own quiet way, the element of glamour being almost entirely lacking. Very little sentiment is manifested over either the wounded or the dead, for these are part of the day's routine. If you went into the trenches, you would find a group of normal, healthy men leading an apparently normal existence. You would notice much more confusion and annoyance if something went wrong with the cook's stove, than if a large German marmite suddenly wiped out two or three poilus. Man becomes accustomed to his surroundings so rapidly that even war loses many of its terrors for him after he has been thoroughly initiated. The phase which would trouble you most, as it does almost every participant in a quiet sector, is the seeming inactivity. Patience, in such times as these, is the hardest virtue to acquire. Both the sentinel at his loop-hole and the ambulance driver on his car wish that events could be produced more rapidly in order that something definite might be determined. To be held in constant suspense becomes almost unbearable. It is for this reason that the roles played by the British navy and the French cavalry at this time are not enviable ones. But, to pass the time more quickly we are lucky here in having many diversions. When not occupied by regular duty (which for me is the majority of time), there are many beautiful walks which always reveal something new of interest. Also we play association football and resort frequently to boxing gloves.
Luckily, nothing but solitary confinement can prevent the forming of friendships, and we have not reached that stage yet! These friendships and associations, welded together by a spirit of comradeship which could not be as strong if we were not all working for one common cause, are what make this life such an enviable one.
This sector remains as quiet as ever, but this does not mean that the maintenance of our service is always an easy task. The bitter cold and icy roads are two elements which, at times, are difficult to combat. The wounded men we carry are actually few, but the number of those with frozen feet is daily augmenting. In this sector, nature is man's greatest enemy, especially when campaigning settles down to trench warfare.
*Of Boston, Massachusetts; Harvard, '13; joined the Field Service in February, 1916, serving with Section Two, and as Chef of Section Nine until January, 1917; later a Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps; killed in action, July 29, 1918. These extracts are from home letters.
LEAVES FROM A SECTION NINE DIARY
The Bordeaux Station, December 6, 1916
The station platform and the trains were crowded with soldiers, either coming from the front on their seven days' leave or else starting out again after their brief week of rest was ended. Now and then in the crowd one could distinguish the uniform of a colonel or a captain. There were several lieutenants, and many sergeants and corporals. But the great majority were the plain, everyday soldiers, the mainstay and backbone of the army, les poilus. Most of them were short and stocky, all with mustaches. The gray-blue uniform of the soldier is almost invariably faded by reason of long and hard usage, his casque shows signs of age and wear; he bears a rather formidable number of little brown musettes, which are slung over his shoulders and hang at the hips and back, and which are always stuffed full and bulging out with odds and ends which he carries. Some militaires had their full equipment with them, rifles, knapsack, and all, while others who were just back for permission had evidently been allowed to leave their arms and packs with their divisions at the front. I watched them there on the station platform, as they stood about in groups talking, sometimes solemnly and gravely, sometimes smilingly and laughing. Here and there a soldier's wife, or mother, or fiancée would be standing talking with him. Most of the women were dressed in black, though now and then a touch of color would lend a pathetic note of gaiety to the scene. The officers on the platform usually walk up and down in twos or threes, their uniforms spick-and-span, the little gold bars on their sleeves and caps flashing in the light; but le pauvre poilu, with his faded uniform and his great collection of bags, knapsacks, and so on, usually selects some place on the platform and then stays there. He has too many things to carry to walk up and down for pleasure, and besides, when he gets to the muddy roads at the front, he has to do more than enough walking heavy-loaded with equipment. But, although the officers looked so formidable, I noticed that when they had occasion to speak to any soldier, or when the latter asked an officer any question, the officer always replied with the greatest kindness and spirit of comradeship. They seemed like brothers talking to each other.
HOSPITAL WORK AT VADELAINCOURT
December 22, 1916
The evening we arrived at Vadelaincourt, the Section began its work of helping in the evacuation of the wounded from the H.O.E. Throughout the evening and the night the wounded kept arriving in great numbers. French, British, and American ambulances brought them in. Railroad trains and American ambulances took them out. The wounded were all first classified as assis or couchés and they arrived at separate entrances. One does not easily forget the scenes at a large evacuation hospital as the wounded from a big attack come in. The sights, the sounds, the smells --- the never-ending stream of incoming ambulances, the mud everywhere. Each big ambulance that pulled up at the door brought with it a peculiar and ghastly odor --- rather hard to describe --- strange, sweetish, sickening, pungent, utterly revolting --- a combination of gasoline fumes, mud, unwashed filth, sweat, surgical dressings, and the hot, heavy air from the closely crowded ambulance cars; for the weather was cold, and while en route the doors and canvas flaps of the ambulances were closed. Throughout the evening and the night that stream of ambulances kept coming in. As each car arrived the tired brancardiers unloaded the wounded under the rays of light from one or two lanterns by the wooden portal of the entrance. The blood-soaked bandages gave ghastly testimony of the severity of the wounds. The blood often dripped upon the stretchers and the floor of the car. Many of the wounded were zouaves, Moroccans, and Algerians, being extensively used in forming attacking divisions. These Moroccan and Algerian troops wear yellowish khaki uniforms, their steel helmets are of the same color, and their fatigue caps are a sort of red fez, in marked contrast to the blue fatigue caps of various shapes which the native French soldiers wear while en repos.
Sad --- picturesque --- depressing --- inspiring --- that was Vadelaincourt. The general tone color of the place was brown--- muddy brown. The rain-washed earth in the fields, the rain-soaked board hospital buildings, the rain-drenched roads --- all brown and sad and dreary. The region around Vadelaincourt consists of low, gently sloping plains, for the most part unwooded, and, as I saw it in December, 1916, muddy and brown and forlorn. Wounded German prisoners were kept in hospital buildings close to the centre of the French group. Unwounded German prisoners were used for road repair work in and about the region. Within sight of the hospital buildings was the military cemetery. We were told that eight months before there were seven graves; now there were hundreds, and every day the cemetery was growing. Sometimes a procession of officers and soldiers would accompany the plain pine-box coffin to its last resting-place, indicating that an officer had died. Sometimes there would be no one but the priest and the grave-diggers. The graves of the Mohammedan troops were all at an angle facing Mecca, and strange Mohammedan crescents and signs were inscribed on the name boards over their graves. The French dead all received plain wooden coffins. Often, when several were buried at a time, a large trench would be dug, each coffin being placed practically touching the next one. The colored Mohammedans were wrapped in a white sheet --- the blood from the wounds of which they died sometimes darkening and clotting on the winding-sheet --- and were laid on their sides with their feet toward Mecca, so very far away.
NEW YEAR'S EVE ON THE ROADS ABOUT VERDUN
On one occasion my car was blocked by a long artillery convoy which got stuck in the mud on a narrow road near Vadelaincourt. The night was cloudy and misty and dark, and as the road was very narrow it was impossible to keep the two- and three-team guns and caissons from now and then getting one wheel over into the mud at the roadside. Whenever this happened it meant a long delay for the convoy.
From somewhere in the darkness ahead could be heard the shouts of men tugging and hauling at the wheels and helping the horses that strained at the traces, while the harness clanked and snapped and jingled. There were one or two lanterns up ahead where the soldiers were grouped about the mud-embedded wheels. As the convoy did not seem to be making any progress, I decided to walk up ahead and investigate the situation. Perhaps I could see the officer in charge and find out from him how long the delay would last. I accordingly took a lantern and set out on foot through the deep mud toward the head of the convoy. As I went forward, I passed several heavily loaded wagons and then came upon two or three cannon, and then more artillery, and again some more. The tired French soldiers, standing beside the trucks and wagons and gun caissons, looked curiously at me as I hurried forward. I stopped now and then to ask for the officer in charge. The answer was always the same, "En avant"; and they pointed up ahead to where one or two lanterns and the struggling horses told of the efforts to free the big guns from the grip of the mud. The soldiers, as always, were anxious to do all they could to help the Americans with their ambulances, and after I had gone about halfway down the line one of them, when I had explained my difficulties, came with me to find the officer in charge. Hot and tired, and troubled as I was, I could not help seeing the picturesque side of it all as I and my friend hurried forward, and the glow of my lantern lit up the muddy, rain-soaked men and horses and guns. At last I came to the officer who was directing the work of extricating the wheels of a large gun from the mud. Eight or ten horses, hitched two abreast, were straining at the traces, while scores of men tugged at the wheels to move them forward. What delayed them was the fact that no sooner had they got one gun or wagon onto the road than another, a little way in front or behind, would get into the ditch, and they would have to take the extra horses and men forward or back to their new job. And so it went. The officer in charge was very courteous and kindly, and said that the convoy was destined for Deux Nouds, where they were to spend the night, but that from the looks of things he did not expect they would cover the remaining three kilometres till dawn! There was only one thing for me to do, so I hurried back in the direction of my ambulance. It seemed to take forever to get back to the point in the convoy where my car was stationed. When I had first come to the convoy it was moving forward a little --- stopping and then starting again. The road was at that point broad enough to pass, and not knowing the road, I had hoped that it would continue so. Accordingly I went forward, now and then --- where there was a vacant place in the convoy taking it, especially if there was a narrow place on the road. The convoy, as I have said, was at that time making slight headway. After holding my place in the convoy for a little while, as we went ahead foot by foot, I noticed that the road had become so narrow that it was impossible to turn out of the line. Then the convoy got stopped --- unable to move forward a single step. That was when I went forward on foot, as I have described, and, upon learning that there was no hope of moving forward before morning, I came back and, with the aid of ten or a dozen soldiers from the artillery train, got my ambulance turned around and managed to get it back through the mud at the sides of the road till I reached the rear of the convoy again. But by this time the low-speed clutch band on my car had been worn out by the friction, and so I was stalled. I ran back to the nearest village and telephoned to S.S.U. Nine for another car. This arrived soon with Johnson at the wheel. The wounded were transferred to his car and I went with him by another and a somewhat longer road to Deux Nouds, where we left the wounded. In the morning I and the mechanics came back and towed my car to Vadelaincourt.
Whenever I think of that convoy, in addition to the above-described scenes there comes to my mind the picture of an old mounted artilleryman. He and his horse were muddy, and rain-soaked, and tired out. He was just in front of my car when I got in the jam and I asked him whether he thought there would be a long delay. He did not know. He added that the convoy had left Verdun that morning at 4 A.M. and was scheduled to reach Deux Nouds by late afternoon. They had had only a bite to eat during the whole day. I afterwards heard that owing to the difficulties with the mud, they did not reach Deux Nouds till the following dawn. When he learned that I was of the Field Service he asked how long I had been at the front. I told him I had only just arrived a week before. He seemed half asleep as he sat there on his tired horse. His head was bent forward. He roused himself, and, indicating with a gesture of his hand himself and his comrades in the convoy, said, "Pour nous, trente mois de la guerre, trente mois. Quelle existence, quelle existence!"
As I came to our canal boat by the banks of the Meuse canal, on my return, a company or two of French soldiers in single file were silently moving along the towpath on their way to the front-line trenches. In the cold night mist they looked like shadowy, muffled ghosts moving slowly onward to some strange doom. Possibly some of them were thinking at that time, "What an existence, what an existence!" Perhaps in the early hours of the night, before they had been ordered to the lines, they had been sleeping --- fully dressed, with guns and bayonets close by --- below some shattered caserne near the front. Let us hope that they slept well. And if they dreamt, let us trust they dreamt of home and rest and peacefulness. But more than likely their sleep was troubled by weird and ghastly dreams. Perhaps now and again they were awakened by the crash of a shell in the great deserted barracks above-ground --- for the guns are always restless at Verdun. At all events, like tired ghosts in blue-gray shrouds, now they moved onward in silence to disappear into the shadows of the night. Perhaps the following night some of them, clothes muddy and torn, and covered with blood, would be carried back in American ambulances to the under-ground operating-rooms in the city of Verdun or to the distant hospital at Fontaine Routon. And others would find that quiet and untroubled rest which had so long been denied them, and their soul-refreshing sleep would be untroubled by the fitfulness and wakefulness of the night before. For the tumult of the shells above their heads would be no tumult, and their torn and tired bodies would feel no pain.
One night, while sleeping in the big attic hay-loft, I gradually became aware of a far-away sound as though a deep-toned bell were ringing. As I awoke, the sound seemed nearer and nearer until at last I realized it was the church bell of Villotte. The church was not a hundred yards away. The sound was not the ordinary slow peals of a church bell on Sunday, but was as though some giant with a large hammer was striking a quick succession of blows on the bell, making it sound almost like the ringing of a great gong. The hammer blows would continue for about half a minute and then stop for a few seconds, and then commence again. I also heard in the distance the roll of a drum. The other ambulance men in the loft were waking up. "Le tocsin et le tambour!" It was the signal for gas. We had our orders, and id a moment were dressed, gas-masks slung about our necks in the position of readiness. We were soon out, each in front of his car. We cranked our cars and let the engines run for a little to see that they were warmed up and working properly. We adjusted our masks and then put them in readiness, awaiting orders. As yet no gas-clouds had reached Villotte. I shall never forget the weirdness of the scene that night. The wild church bell clanged out its notes of warning into the darkness, and up and down the village street walked a French soldier with drum and gas-mask. His warning drumbeats rolled out and echoed back from the stone and plaster walls of the little houses along the way. The streets were deserted. Doors and windows were shut and except for the Americans, the French drummer, and some French sentries at the crossroads, not a soul was in sight. Suddenly out of the darkness down the street came a woman dressed in black. She wore a gas-mask. In her arms she carried a baby, with a mask over its face, and a little child about five years old, also with a mask, ran along beside her crying and clinging to her skirts as she half-walked, half-ran up the street. They were going to the schoolhouse or to the home of some friend who had a room specially arranged for just such an emergency. The little group were soon lost to view in the gloomy shadows. As we stood there by our ambulances, we wondered if even at that moment the deadly gas-clouds were drifting slowly across the dreary plain and would soon reach Villotte and the neighboring towns. In the intervals when the Villotte bell was not ringing we could hear the warning bell in one of the near-by towns. There was a light wind blowing from the direction of the German lines. For about half or three quarters of an hour the warning bells continued to ring; then they stopped as suddenly as they had begun. After a time we were given orders to return to quarters. We learned afterwards that there had been a small gas attack somewhere along the lines in the general region of Saint-Mihiel, but that the wind had not carried the deadly fumes to Rupt or Villotte.
In my imagination I often go back again into the past. Again I think of those tumultuous times when the soldiers of France fought to save their country and all civilization from the tyranny of autocracy and militarism which the German hordes were striving to impose upon the world. During the war the splendid valor and courage of the French people has been gloriously proved to all, and especially to those of us who were privileged to serve with the French Army in the field; for we can fully appreciate the hardships and agony which France has undergone, and can bear witness to her indomitable courage and her heroic sacrifices in the cause of world liberty and freedom. But in addition to her superb fighting qualities, France's character is richly endowed with love, and with a sympathetic kindliness and a gentleness and tenderness which endear her to all who come to know her. As I have said my thoughts often turn back again into the past. I see them yet, those armies of the French Republic, marching forward in the mist and snow at Verdun. How many of those brave soldiers are now at rest, and those who live ---what weird and troubled scenes their memories can conjure up before them --- they who have passed through the horror and agony of those long and bitter years!
WILLIAM CAREY SANGER, JR.*
*Of Sangerfield, New York; Harvard, 1916; joined Section Nine in December, 1916; he left the Service in May to become a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Infantry. These are excerpts from Mr. Sanger's new book, With the Soldiers of the French Republic.
SUMMARY OF THE SECTION'S HISTORY
UNDER THE UNITED STATES ARMY
It was at Ménil-la-Tour, in the Woevre sector, that the recruiting officers first came to Section Nine. Chef Cogswell, John Machado, Alexander Greene, and Harvey Evans enlisted on September 29, 1917, the others deciding to enter other services. The first contingent of army ambulance men as replacements came late in October, followed a few days later by ten members of old Section Seventy-Two, which had been broken up.
The Section entered the Lorraine front, north of Lunéville, January 1, 1918 and moved out on April 20, after having won a second divisional citation for its part in a raid on Washington's birthday. The Section carried 2428 évacués there.
From Toul, the Section embarked on trains and went up behind the Amiens front in Picardy and then up to Belgium, where it entered the lines in front of Mont Kemmel on May 5, 1918. There seventeen nights without much sleep or rest from continuous work were spent, and 3367 wounded were carried in that time.
After a short repos, we entered the lines again, in Belgium this time, for twelve days' easy work, leaving on July 9, bound south in convoy, after handling only ninety-eight blessés. The Delage repair car was lost on this trip, the White and kitchen trailer having been lost coming up.
Following a speedy convoy of two days, the Section pulled into Betz, near Villers-Cotterets to assist Section 585, which was in dire need of assistance, and then entered the lines on the night of July 17, 1918, at Faverolles. The Section continued steadily forward for twenty-one days without relief, and made very long evacuations. We had passed through Chouy, Oulchy-le-Château, Arcy, and up to Jouaignes before relief came. The Section did exceptionally good work in this sector and was awarded an army citation.
Repos, beginning August 8, followed. August 23, the Section entered the lines left of Soissons, remaining until September 6, and then went to the Chemin des Dames, on the other side of Soissons, from September 9 until the 15th; then once again the convoy was headed north, after carrying a total of 1221 wounded.
This was "some" convoy to Bergues, Flanders, and meant second-line duty back of Ypres, at Woesten, for us, before going into the swamps of Flanders at Langemarck. On October 2 We pushed ahead with the Division until firm ground was reached at Roulers, and repos was declared on October 17. The final attack of the war in Belgium began on October 30, and the Section was heavily at work at Spriete, Desselghem, and Audenarde on the Scheldt River until the Armistice was signed. Then came the fun, the triumphal march to the Rhine through Belgium, up through Aix-la-Chapelle, Germany, and then to the Rhine at Grevenbroich, arriving there on December 12.
The happy day came on January 29, 1919, when orders came to move south. This was the best of all --- down the Rhine to Belfort, France, and up to Remiremont, where relief came the middle of February. After that, Brest --- and home.
HARVEY CASS EVANS*
*Of Joplin, Missouri; University of Missouri; served two months in the Field Service, and continued under the Army in Section Nine until the Armistice.