Section Nineteen (SSU 19)
- Published in History
SECTION NINETEEN left Paris on May 16,1917, going by way of Saint-Dizier and Bar-le-Duc to La Grange-aux-Bois, arriving on May 19. It served the postes of La Chalade and Chardon in the wooded Argonne. The Section remained in this sector for some time, going at last, on September 25, to Montereux, and thence to Semoigne when it was taken into the U.S. Army as Section Six-Thirty-Seven.
'The Ambulance Sections', History of the American Field Service in France, "Friends of France" 1914-1917, Told by Its Members, Volume II (Boston and New York: Houghton and Mifflin Company, 1920)
Give us a name to move the heart
With the strength that noble gifts impart,
A name that speaks of the blood outpoured
To save mankind from the sway of the sword, --
A name that calls on the world to share
In the burden of sacrificial strife
When the cause at stake is the world's free life
And the rule of the people everywhere, --
A name like a vow, a name like a prayer, --
I give you France!
HENRY VAN DYKE
La Grange-aux-Bois, May 22, 1917
We pulled out of Paris May 16, after a gay farewell dinner at "21" the night before, and wound along up the Marne Valley in a pouring rain to La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, where we camped the first night. The next two nights we spent in Saint-Dizier and Bar-le-Duc, and on the 19th the convoy circled back through the more or less devastated district southwest of Verdun to this village, where we are to relieve Section Two and make our permanent quarters.
We have unloaded our beds and bags in a large barn, with holes in the roof and walls, and a really dirty dirt floor, over which the rats and fleas frolic nightly. In the middle of the place are a wooden table and benches, and here we take our meals.
The sanitary arrangements are the following: In the morning when we are up and partly dressed, we take our towels and other implements of toilet and wade through a yard full of manure and mud to another manure-pile and mud-heap, in another yard, where is a well, from which can be extracted dark-brown water, with which we "ablute" our hands and faces, and, once in a while, our teeth.
We have two front postes, La Chalade and Chardon, two men being assigned to each poste, and relieved every twenty-four hours. To-day I am on poste duty at La Chalade, which is an old abbey partly destroyed by shellfire, and located in a little open valley between wooded hills, with the ruins of a tiny village in the rear of it toward the lines. The ground rises gradually from the abbey, and the crest of the slope must mark the frontline trenches, as the ground in the distance near the summit assumes that white, barren look one associates with the idea of No Man's Land, and the only trees which break the skyline are the torn and leafless trunks of what was certainly at one time a flourishing forest. The building itself, except for the chapel, which is partially destroyed, is used as a dressing-station. Of the chapel, one side-altar alone remains, and there mass is said every morning by one of the brancardiers who is a priest. The main part of the abbey, which must have served originally as quarters for the monks and was later remodelled to serve as a private home, is a large, barnlike construction. The interior is bare except for the cots and rough tables of the brancardiers. It is impossible to describe the charm and picturesqueness this old abbey has for us, but I'm wondering if perhaps it is n't partly because it marks the scene of our first work at the front. For when the realization comes that it is the dreamed-of moment, that one is actually serving France, actually in the war at last, the surroundings of that moment, however ordinary, are for. ever after colored with romance.
CHARDON --- LA CHALADE
We are never very much exposed to direct fire, but we have to pass over a road that is occasionally shelled. For instance, after the bombardment of the roads and neigh boring fields this afternoon, there was only one blessé. I flipped a coin with the other fellow on duty to see who would take him back to town. I won, and as there had been no shell for about ten minutes, I went out in front of the abbey to crank my car, when, just as I was in the very act of cranking, another shell fell too close to me for comfort. I almost had a fit at the explosion; however, outside of earth fragments, nothing hit me. But no sooner had I got out on the road, driving like mad to get out of the danger zone, than another shell came down just alongside the highway, and I was again given something of a fright. When we hear them whistle, we just duck into the abri and await developments, after which we go out and walk around until we hear the next one coming. It is all untranslatable in letters.
To-morrow I go on duty at Chardon, and we drove up there this morning to learn the roads. Although the poste there is only a little distance from La Chalade, it is an entirely different sort of place. The road to it leads up a steep hill through the thick Argonne woods, and the poste itself is a little underground dugout with dirt and logs piled on top, the entrance alone being visible. We left our car before the door, descended a few steps, and passed through a little passageway into a small, roughly furnished room which looked for all the world like the cabin of a ship. The room was lighted by a small window, dug out from the outside, and was furnished with a table littered with books and papers, one or two rough chairs, a field telephone in the corner, and on the inside wall a curtained berth where the doctor in charge of the poste slept. In the rear of this room was the kitchen, with sleeping-quarters for some of the brancardiers and a rear exit leading out into the communication trenches.
At Chardon we are provided with rough cots and straw mattresses and we take with us only our blankets, of which I am glad I have four, because I sleep with one folded below me. We are also much better fed at the postes than at the cantonment, because we eat with the officers. In fact, our coffee is usually brought to us in bed. The entire neighboring trench system is worked out like a miniature city, with sidewalks, sewers, and steps leading in and out, with everything about as comfortable as it can be made.
Sunday morning I went out to the poste and had a very quiet day, sitting in the woods writing letters. After lunch, served in a sheltered summer-house, with the two doctors, there was a little bombarding about a quarter of a mile away, but nothing serious. At supper we had a half-dozen young and jovial aide-majors and the Bishop of La Réunion, near Madagascar, who is a good sport. After supper we telephoned to an old Artillery Captain, at his battery near by, and invited ourselves for the evening. We walked through boyaux and barbed wire until we came to the old boy's dugout, where we were received in style and entertained right jovially until about ten o'clock. Unfortunately and unavoidably, I am forced to drink pinard, or whatever else is offered, and, although I dislike it intensely, it has absolutely no effect upon me. If I had refused the sherry of the old captain, he would have been mortally offended; so I was compelled to imbibe it in small gulps.
Last night, Willcox, Putnam, Johnson, and I walked through the back streets of our village, which is quite pretty once you get off the main road, and reached the church just in time to hear mass, which we sat through to the end. The service was rather gruesome. The acolyte was in regular soldier's uniform, with his gas-mask hanging from his belt, and all the prayers had a military bearing --- for peace, for the wounded and dead, for camarades in peril, and for the widows and orphans. Of course there were only soldiers present, all busy interceding for Divine grace.
Sainte-Ménehould, June 10
This afternoon I had to drive three blessés to this place, and afterwards Jimmy and I stopped to visit the military cemetery, where are over four thousand little crosses, squeezed side by side with small tricolored cocardes on them. It was one of the most depressing sights I have seen, because the majority of the graves were quite bare, without any wreath or sign of remembrance on them. Once in a while we saw a dirty little bead crown or wreath, inscribed "A mon mari" or "A notre fils," which made the grave even more tragic because it helped us to imagine still more fully the misery thrust upon that particular family. Then I thought of the man who held the contract for the coffins, those who manufactured the flowers and cockades, and who were coining money out of everybody's misery --- all of which caused still more unpleasant thoughts. After the visit to the cemetery, we drove to the hospital and took some fruit to Dougherty, who is in bed there with some kind of malarial fever.
A NIGHT'S WORK
Wednesday, June 13
Yesterday afternoon, after writing some letters and cards at the poste, I went out in the rain and changed a flat tire on my car. As I have only a very hazy notion of the technique of tire-changing, I made a considerable mess of the job, but finally got the old thing fixed somehow. Then I went in and played an excellent game of chess with Belcher, a fellow twenty-four years old, a chemist from Boston, and a shark at chess. Result ---a draw. Next we had supper, and after supper Belcher and I sat in our cars talking religion and socialism. About 9. 15, just as it was growing dark, we heard a tremendous crash near by, followed by various minor explosions. Immediately afterwards the mitrailleuses began a terrific rattle that sounded like a boy grating a stick along an iron railing. We began to prick up our ears and make all sorts of conjectures; but pretty soon we knew all about it, because we heard a cheery hissing all around us and the branches breaking in the trees too close to us to be agreeable and safe. So deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, we slid out in a hurry and rushed for the boyau, from which we had a splendid worm's-eye view of the bombardment that followed. There was nothing to see, but altogether too much to hear, and for a full half-hour the place shook and the air was full of a tremendous noise.
There was a battery of "75's" very close to us, and their sharp, whiplike crack drowned almost everything else. Once in a while, though, we could make out the trolley-car sound of the "150's" as they trundled through the air, and, when there was a second's interruption in the French fire, we heard the German shells exploding in our trenches, and the unceasing rattle of the mitrailleuses. Once there was a hiss, a sizzle, and a thud quite close to us, and we knew a German shell had hit and missed fire. This performance continued unabated for a full half-hour, and then everything relapsed into dead silence and pitch darkness.
We knew then that we must get some business from all that firing, and so we did not go to bed at all, but played solitaire until 11 P.M., when we received our first 'phone call informing us that a German coup de main had been brilliantly repulsed and that the wounded Frenchmen were beginning to be sent to the postes de secours. About midnight the advanced poste 'phoned us for one car, and I went up there in the pitch blackness and ran a trifle beyond the place before I noticed my error. However, a friendly star-shell loomed gracefully up over the top of the woods and I righted myself very soon, then I was given a couché shot in the thigh, but not suffering much. I ran slowly back with him to the main poste where I took on a brancardier for company as a lookout, because the night was dark and a lone couché is mighty poor comfort. We made the trip to La Grange in good time and returned de même. As I was going along a part of the road where I could use lights, a hare sprang up in front of us and ran several hundred yards in the stupid zigzag peculiar to its kind, finally disappearing into the ditch. I only wish I could have got him, as he would have been a fine addition to our next meal.
On the return trip, after I had éteint tous les feux, I was going along fairly well when all of a sudden my brancardier yelled, "Attention! Attention! Il y a quelque chose"; and sure enough, coming the other way was Belcher and his car. We had neither of us seen the other approach and we escaped a collision by about an inch. The result was that we both stopped dead still; Belcher, his brancardier and three couchés in the middle of the road; I and my brancardier, who was on the front seat, with the Ford crouching on the top of a pile of paving-stones poised for a spring, with its motor still going and no tires punctured. After congratulating ourselves on the lucky escape, we all climbed out and, grasping my car by the four corners, placed her gently back on the road again, following which I went on back to the poste, where I was told to keep right on going to the advanced poste in order to collect three couchés. This I did, and ran them back most of the way without trouble. Unfortunately, however, we struck a dense fog, in the midst of which I narrowly escaped running down another one of our cars that had been summoned to the rescue. Finally, au beau milieu, the same tire that I had changed in the afternoon gave an agonized gasp and passed peacefully away. Fortunately. this happened in a place where lights could be used, and after looking for a nice spot, I stopped, unloaded the blessés on the road, and went to work in the mud. The blessés all complained of the damp, so I immediately pulled out my little whiskey flask, and the brancardier and the three blessés soon drained it very gratefully. As I was in the midst of the tire-changing, Belcher came back; so I stopped him and gave him the three fellows to hustle through to La Grange. Then I returned to the poste in the very early dawn, about 4 A.M., only to find two more couchés at the advanced poste. I got those into La Grange about 4.45, and that early damp dawn was the coldest part of the night. Then I took my heavy overcoat at the cantonment and a cup of tea at the hospital and drove back like a lunatic. It was 5.45 and broad daylight when I lay me down to sleep, just removing my coat and shoes. But I was awakened about 9 by the old Bishop poking his head into our dungeon and condoling cheerfully with us for our hard work. Finally, about 10 A.M., we got up, and Belcher went down with a couple of malades, while I was invited to a special luncheon with the Bishop, an artillery captain, and several doctors. It was a great and wonderful meal --- three meat courses, besides the other trifles, and a pie of wild strawberries picked in the woods. We were at table from 12 to 2.30, and after lunch I drove down to La Grange with the Bishop.
By the way, this morning when I was putting my bundle in my car, I found a German mitrailleuse bullet on the ground just alongside; so I am glad I went indoors when I did. Furthermore, the unexploded "77" was also found a few yards away, where I saw it lying innocently on the ground before the artillery authorities removed it.
To-day I was on hospital duty and was called upon to take a Boche prisoner to Souilly. The poor devil was paralyzed and in plaster from the hips down and was as thin as a rail, having been two and a half months in bed and having had three operations performed on him. He was a decent youngster, and Bert Willcox, who came along for the ride, clubbed together with me to get him a couple of oranges to suck on the way. When we had got rid of him, we drove to Fleury-sur-Aire, where there is an immense hospital and evacuation centre, splendidly organized, and seemingly well managed.
We were there to fetch some ice for our hospital, but we also succeeded in begging a goodly lump for ourselves, so that when we returned in the evening we had cold drinks for supper and a wonderful macédoine glacée of peaches, oranges, and cherries. By the way, we are in the heart of the cherry country, where we can buy them for seventy centimes per kilogramme, and they are delicious. We have also managed to get beer for the boys, instead of pinard, and we are living very economically, saving quite a lot of money. Out of our 4 francs 45 allowance, we probably spend at the very most 3 francs 50 per day. For that, we have everything that is going, including salmon and lobster and fine Bordeaux wines, ordered specially from the central coöperative store in Paris.
A COUP DE MAIN
Day before yesterday, after a Boche coup de main at four o'clock in the morning, I had to go to one of the advanced postes for two couchés. One of them was literally squashed flat, and almost dead when they put him aboard. The other had his leg crushed very badly, and was suffering terribly from the tourniquet that bound his thigh. We lost no time in reaching the hospital, but one of the men had died in the car, and was already cold when we took him out. The old white-bearded priest had come down with me through the ice-cold morning mist, and when we reached the hospital and found our man dead, he pulled a little vial of holy oil from some hidden recess about his person, and proceeded to anoint the poor fellow's forehead with it. The soldier with the crushed leg had it amputated at once, but died during the afternoon from loss of blood.
After a cup of comforting hot coffee, I went back to the abbey and watched the priest in full robes say his early morning mass at 6.30 in the sunny chapel. I was the whole congregation --- I and some sparrows and two dead poilus on stretchers, the most horribly mutilated objects I ever expect to see, both hit in the head and blown to pieces. The old priest --- Father Cléret is his name --- wiggled his long white beard, mumbled his prayers, drank his sacred pinard, bowed the knee the regulation number of times, and finally turned, blessed the congregation, and then walked out after shedding his decorations.
This old priest, by the way, is far less urbane and pleasant than the Bishop, but rather better fitted for the job. For instance, this morning, after a coup de main he went out between the lines, picked up a wounded soldier and carried him a considerable distance on his back --- which for an old boy of sixty-odd years is a lot of work. For his trouble, he will be able to add a palm leaf to his Croix de Guerre.
This evening, after a big supper, we went to the Division Headquarters to a concert, sang some songs, and then gave a burlesque boxing match --- "Shorty " Loughlin against one of the tallest men in the Section, with myself as umpire, in my best line of comic French. Of course, "Shorty" knocked out the big fellow, and we rushed on a team of comedy brancardiers and hauled off the victim on a stretcher, to the great amusement of the onlookers.
Last night, after a bombardment of one of the batteries, about twenty-five wounded were brought in. From 10.30 until 1 A.M. they kept rolling in, and Mac and I stayed at the hospital and watched the operations. The first one I saw was performed under X-rays, and what with the smell and the horror of it all, I was as near fainting as I ever expect to be. After that I felt better and watched three or four other operations in all parts of the body, with considerable interest. We have a couple of excellent surgeons, and they worked like beavers all through the night, operating at two tables in the main operating-room and at another table in the radio chamber. They just ran from one operation to another with the alertness and skill of specialized mechanics turning out their work in batches. At one time there were fifteen men around one table, all working at once on the same wretched patient. Once in a while one of us would have to hold a leg or an arm, or raise the head, or help in any way we could. It was altogether unpleasant, and I am glad I never took seriously to surgery, although I admire surgeons' work intensely.
PAUL A. RIE*
*Of Neuilly-sur-Seine, France; Rugby (England), '14; served in Section Nineteen from its formation, and later as Sergeant, first class, U.S.A. Ambulance Service. The above are extracts from home letters.
NOTES FROM THE FRONT
Decoration Day, 1917
In the afternoon some of the Section went up in the cemetery above La Grange-aux-Bois and decorated the grave of Howard Lines, who died of pneumonia in Section One last winter. A delegation of six were also sent to Blercourt, near Verdun, for the purpose of decorating the grave of Edward Kelley, of Section Two, who was killed by a shell during the Verdun attack of last year. Car 630 of this Section was given as a memorial to him.
Loughlin and Alexander paid a visit to one of the French observation postes. While there, a bombardment on the part of the Germans commenced. Not long after a report became current that some French officers were threatening to arrest them as spies. So one of the officers of the Section hurried to the poste to prevent the two from being sent to Paris as spies, when it was learned that the French officers were looking for them in order to invite them to dinner!
Sunday, July 22
La Chalade, our outpost, has been bombarded. A number of "150's " have been firing with ruinous effect upon the old monastery, as well as playing havoc with the roads. There are no Sabbaths in war-time. Here the booming of the guns answers for a church bell, the trenches are the pews and the preacher is --- hope.
A delightful addition to the evening's repast in the form of a good cake, the handiwork of Pecqueux, and some champagne, in honor of Lieutenant Lory's birthday. Chef MacPherson, in a few brief words, toasted him, and the Lieutenant thanked the men in a well-chosen reply.
Just now the night calls are by far the most exciting. Four men are always ready to respond. Up and down hill, dark with the overhanging trees and sable night-brightened, sometimes, for a moment by the flash of lightning, or star-shells --- they go forth to the needy with some such feeling as Ichabod Crane must have had on his midnight ride.
Last night the Germans attempted a coup de main near our poste at Lac and eight of our ambulances were needed to carry the wounded. To-day a Section library was started in a room near the office and Chef MacPherson has promised two lamps. All the books, newspapers, and magazines possessed by individuals are to be handed over to the library for the use of all.
Pastor Kuntzel, Protestant chaplain to one of the neighboring regiments, held, in the tent adjoining the mess-tent, a service for the men of the Section. The novelty of the service to us was the singing of the hymns in French.
To-night the men made use of the new library. The weather was damp and cold, so a roaring fire was started in the fireplace, and we gathered round while Taliaferro led in the singing. Mac played the mandolin, while Lieutenant Lory entered into the spirit of the evening and furnished the treats. A French soldier with a not unpleasant voice sang several opera selections. Hot roasted potatoes, war bread, and pinard were served during the intermissions.
This afternoon Captain Tucker and Lieutenant Webster arrived to enrol the men in the United States Army service. Seventeen men enlisted.
Ordered to move this morning, we rose at 6.30. The day was sunny, but not too warm. By 10 most of the cars were ready and men restless. We started at 12.10, and passed through Sainte-Ménehould, leaving behind us both pleasant and unpleasant memories, traversing three miles of level, cultivated fields now brown with autumn color, then up a few not too tedious hills, by patches of green still peeking from amid the brown, interrupted now and then by a small wooden cross, the grave of some comrade of the Marne. The long white roads stretched as far as the eye could reach. The kitchen trailer had the saddest misfortune of the journey, for it never showed up till the day following, being left forsaken, "somewhere in France," while we arrived at the little lazy village where we are now camped.
Life at the new encampment started with a trip to the rescue of the kitchen trailer, which was discovered about three kilometres down the road, supported on one wheel, the opposite end of the axle, and, more or less, by three of its four legs. The rescue party, after energetic efforts with a couple of jacks and some hammers and wrenches, finally had the wreck ready to roll, and drawn by the White camion it arrived at the village in time to give us lunch only a half-hour late.
Montereux, September 28
Word came from the Médecin Chef to move to this village where we are now en repos in a large château with a fireplace in every room and lots of pine boughs to keep the fires replenished. Good Old Montereux!
With everything in readiness to move, the men were awakened at 5.30. In groups of three we set forth to our respective positions. Each group had been assigned to a certain contingent on the march to pick up all who fell out, and our cars were kept busy all the time. Every road is burdened with soldiers, pack-trains, gun carriages, baggage-animals, wagons, smoking kitchens, trailers, and ambulances. The day was cold and gray. A mist hugged the ground, which was so thick that the marching soldiers looked like a phantom army appearing for a minute only to be lost to view again. In and out of the mist one could see the busy little ambulances, darting, dodging, and snarling up and down hills, through dirty, ruined towns carrying the sick and footsore. We put up for the night in an old, deserted house, cold and uninviting, where it was dark when the cars began to arrive.
Up at 5.30. Like ants on a loaf of bread the cars climbed the neighboring hills for another day's hard work. Another town to sleep in, with thirty-five in the garret of an inn.
Reims, November 21
The guns are roaring. Hardly a house but has a scar. In one park of the city is an arch --- erected by Caesar to Mars, the God of War. What a grim joke to the shell-torn city! This evening there was a coup de main. Many shells were sent in. It is raining. Think of the soldiers in the trenches!
Reims, November 30
Wish I could adequately describe my first impressions on beholding this city. Imagine yourself suddenly thrust into a deserted town, where all the marks of former beauty and prosperity remain even in the midst of ruins. The church bells are silent. The car tracks no longer rattle to the moving tram. The shops which had formerly echoed to the merry laughter, the gossip and confusion of bargain days, are silent, deserted, and many are crumbled heaps of plaster and bricks. Piles of débris fill all the streets. Broken glass lies everywhere. Whole blocks have been burned or shell-torn to mere skeletons of chimneys and walls. Over all, the spires of the cathedral still cast their holy shadow, like a mother determined to defend her home and her children from all wrong. Silently we steered our cars along the paved way --- no traffic or busy shoppers to be dodged, no traffic policemen to stop us; only a wounded city and a few shells to tell us our mission.
One week half the men under Sergeant Shaw take up their work at Reims, while the rest of the men, under Sergeant Bigelow, do evacuation work at Soissons. The two groups change places every other week. At Reims the quarters are comfortable, some of the men being lodged in a house formerly occupied by a prosperous wine merchant. A garage close by furnishes a protection for the cars. Some men live at the hospital, a large affair where the great rooms for the sick and wounded are twenty-five feet underground. At Soissons we have a barn and a dark, dirty house to live in. The barn is much the worse of the two. At Reims there is some activity, but not so much as advertised. Every fair day sees many aeroplane battles. The shells come in frequently. We have been occupied lately in carrying gassed men.
CHARLES CONRAD JATHO*
*Of Albany, New York; Cambridge Episcopal Theological School; joined Section Nineteen in June of 1917, served in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service during the remainder of the war. These quotations are from an unpublished record of events.
"REDPANTS" AND A REPAST
Fleury, 11 a.m., June 18,1917
At 6.30, just as we were going to eat, I had to go out again, on to this village about twenty miles away, this time with a fellow who had been hurt in an accident. We got over here around 7.30. The fellow who waited on us --- " Redpants" we nicknamed him --- tended to the telephone. He asked the French non-commissioned officer who had come with me, and who was formerly the Liverpool agent of the French steamer line, if he had ever used a telephone. "Redpants" had to leave his poste to attend to us and thought maybe the brigadier could ask people to wait till "Redpants" returned if they called him at central. The brigadier said he had seen a telephone used once or twice; but "Redpants" would not trust him. By this time we were getting a little hungry, and asked "Redpants" if it were possible to get something to eat from one of the kitchens. "Redpants," who evidently stands in awe of all authority, said he would ask the Médecin Chef, and see. We politely told him to go to the Dickens, as we thought, under the circumstances, the cook was the person to be seen, not the doctor. Then we tackled the men's and officers' kitchens; but both were closed. However, in the meantime, we had seen some nurses in white eating, and I told the brigadier I thought we could count on them to get us what we wanted. So I finally got up my nerve and, in my beautiful French, tried to ask for a little bread, whereupon I was immediately invited to come in and have a regular meal. The lady in charge, who had the Croix de Guerre with the palm leaf, went to a lot of trouble for us and we had quite a feast --- beef, ham, bread and butter (a luxury), jelly, nuts, cheese, and figs. We were informed later that what was done for us was quite irregular, "though done for us with pleasure." The lady, who spoke English, said her mother was an American. When "Redpants" came up for us, he was overawed and must have thought us very, very big guns, for afterwards we learned that the lady with the Croix de Guerre, who had so kindly entertained us, was no other than the daughter of M. Clemenceau, the former Prime Minister of France!
"PINARD ET CANON"
11 a.m., June 25
Last night a few of us went with the French Lieutenant and MacPherson, the American Sous-Chef, to a very interesting concert where songs of all kinds were given. There was one which the poilus and we ourselves liked especially about the "embusqués," who "proudly and patriotically" proclaim that "we must fight to the end" and then take a back seat. Another was to the effect that the poilus had had their fill of "pinard et canon," the former being the rank wine of which we all have allowances, and the latter guns---of which we also have a fair allowance! The former is terrible stuff, and I do not drink it except at postes where the water is bad. There was also a song in English. The really impressive ones, however, were two of a far different sort --- one a flag song with chorus and band, very moving, and a tenor solo about "those sweet and happiest moments when we rest while on the march, close our eyes and see a white house and the family there, and the birds swinging in the trees --- every one happy." That was the gist of the French words. It was sung wonderfully well and was not too sentimental, even for an American.
It is fine to be with such a splendid bunch of men. For instance, at this concert we could look around and see fellows who had been wounded two or three times and have returned to the trenches. Then there was a very snappy and likable lieutenant who knew a little English, and was generous with his cigarettes, and whose men hung around him as though they rather worshipped him.
We pick cherries, now, and live a life of ease. There are lots of huckleberries, too, and we eat not a few, but it is too bad to have so many of them without any pie or cake.
We have just had a very good dinner to celebrate the return of Father Cléret, a fine old Catholic priest, with the Croix de Guerre, who must be between sixty and seventy, but in good physical condition. He has worked as stretcher-bearer --- no child's play --- although that is not part of his prescribed task at all. A couple of months ago he carried in, all by himself, a wounded soldier from the front-line trenches. All in all he is a very fine old man. He was telling us to-night of a friend of his, a major, who had had two sons killed in the war, who had four other sons in dangerous work, and who, because too old to go to the front without special permission, had asked the priest to help him get transferred. The doctor asked if it would not trouble the priest's conscience to help send a friend to the firing-line. The old priest was a little aroused, and replied somewhat to this effect: "No, it would not make my conscience prick. If it be the best for France, it ought to be done, and my conscience would prick if I did n't do it." This may sound rather flat and melodramatic as I tell it, but if you had been there to see and hear the aged ecclesiastic, the whole scene would have impressed you as it did me.
The other day, when one of the attacking divisions went through our village, one of our fellows spoke with a soldier, not a commissioned officer either, about how he felt concerning the war. "Well," said the private, "I have seen three years of this fight and, if necessary, I am ready for three years more." And in that division this fellow had seen more than the average man of the hellish side of this struggle. It is the spirit of the major, of the old priest, and of this soldier, which cheers one up when one hears so much of France being ready to stop.
STRAWBERRIES --- A CHURCH --- OBSERVATION
Clermont-en-Argonne, July 10
This village, up to which we have climbed, is on the top of a very high, partially wooded hill. We went up onto the roof of the church, which has been shot to pieces very badly and is not very solid, much of the roof being missing, though some parts are fairly safe. We got a beautiful view from there. Some wild strawberries were growing in the earth and débris on the roof. No novelist would ever have had the courage to suggest that his hero was picking wild strawberries on an old church roof in sight of enemy observation postes, five or six miles away; for we were in sight and were told to go down. The reason for this order was not that the people who are in sight will get hurt, because in spite of the "modernity " of instruments of war, hitting two people at five or six miles' range cannot be done very easily, to say the least. The reason is that the Germans, seeing somebody "observing" from a certain point, conclude that there must be something happening or going to happen soon at that village. So the batteries are ordered to bombard the place, and then there is apt to be "hell to pay " in said village. However, nothing of the kind occurred to-day. Perhaps the enemy did not see us, or more likely they felt that no one who knew his business would be observing them from where we were.
3 P.M., July 23
Last night the Bishop, the dentist, and I indulged in a sort of game of dominoes with cards, where we had to pay the large sum of a penny when we could not play a card. Gambling with a Bishop in an abri on a Sunday evening with shells sailing overhead --- it's a great life!
3.30 p.m., August 2
The poor fellow whom I last brought down was in terrible agony and plainly dying. On account of the nature of the wound, or rather one of his wounds, he was unable to talk even if he was conscious, which perhaps he was not; but he could not help groaning. If you want something nice to do some day, take a Ford, attach to it a heavy ambulance body, put inside the ambulance a young fellow twenty-three years of age who has been grievously hurt and is passing away in great pain, then drive him eight miles to a hospital, over a road with bumps which jolt the car despite all that you can do, mix in a hill more than a half-mile long to climb, and finally arrive at your destination with the man still alive, though groaning. And, at the end, you feel so good at having that eight-mile ride over that you want to throw a stone through a window, or dance, or punch somebody or something. What soothes you a little is to have the brancardier, who has accompanied the dying man, say, "You have driven well." It is not the many words the French usually employ when they are being pleasant, but the manner of saying them and the circumstances under which they are said which make them eloquent.
PREDICTION AND FULFILMENT
4.45 P.M., August 7
A peculiar coincidence has just occurred. When the soldiers are going back and forth, they frequently say a few joking words to us about saving a place in the ambulance for them, and our favorite reply is that they are going to get a slight wound and that we will take them down in the morning. To-day, about an hour ago, a rather jolly bunch came along and I joked with one to this effect. Well, just this minute Bigelow had a call and brought back a couché with a bullet in his hip, the bullet having evidently broken the bone. It was my friend for whom I said I would save a place. He was conscious, joked a good deal about his wound, and when I said he was early and that the place had been saved for to-morrow morning, he thought it was a great joke. His hip pained him, of course; but these poilus never make much of a fuss about pain, and he evidently thought it was fine to see me again and remind me of his reservation.
8.15 p.m., August 22
Well, we have said our real good-byes to the Bishop. To-night he was here, shook hands all around, and kissed the Frenchman on both cheeks, and he is gone. He is a man whom we all have liked. "Gentil, spirituel, et aimable, il avait aussi un savoir-faire très agréable." That is what they say, anyhow, and my English will not express it any better.
Montereux, September 29
Yesterday we moved again on short notice, and we are now located in an old château at this place, and still en repos. At 10 we received orders to get out by 12, which was, of course, impossible; but by 2 o'clock all our personal belongings were in the cars, our office was packed, two tents were down and ready to go, the machine shop on wheels, we had eaten our noon meal, and the last cars were on the road. At quarter to 7 that night our new bureau was established, our stretchers and beds were placed, kitchen set going, and a tent pitched, in which we ate. Quite a day's work.
FRANK G. ROYCE*
*Of Fulton, New York; Cornell, '19; entered the Field Service and Section Nineteen in April, 1917; U.S.A. Ambulance Service in France during the remainder of the war. The above are excerpts from a private diary.
Christmas Day, 1917
The morning of the day before Christmas we spent in getting a Christmas tree and decorating the dining-room with evergreens and holly. Shaw and Smith were responsible for the artistic manipulation of the evergreens, and if you had seen the room you would have said it was cleverly done. That afternoon some of the boys were sitting around our "salamandre" trying to melt some of the snow off their shoes, when some one spoke up: " Say, fellows, what do you say if we chip in and buy the kids of the school some toys and candy? I think we would all be happy to do them a good turn." Everybody seconded the motion and collections were in order. Within a half-hour two hundred francs were brought together and Sergeant Shaw and myself were on the way to the nearest big city to get the gifts.
Our cantonment is in a typical French town of about three hundred inhabitants, where the fangs of the war demon have sunk deep and hurt. Yet the villagers have the characteristic peasant optimism, and if you could have seen those people you would have contributed yourself.
When the "committee" arrived in the big city, we went to a little store, in the front window of which were displayed some Christmas toys, and bought nearly all of them. The fact is we bought seventy-three toys and some cakes and candy, as there were thirty-six boys and thirty-seven girls in the school.
This morning Smith again exercised his artistic talent and arranged the toys on and around the bottom of the tree, so that when three o'clock rolled around the tree was all ready for the children, whom the teachers marched down to the dining-room, in double file, regardless of a heavy snow then falling. When the procession arrived, we pulled down the curtains and lit the candles on the tree. Then the children were invited in and they surely were a surprised bunch of kids.
We did n't keep them waiting long, but relieved their anxiety by giving out the presents at once. Jatho, who in the States had had much experience in this useful service, lent valuable assistance, while Shaw, Hope, and Smith distributed the toys, cake, and candy, As soon as this was done, the children passed out, and soon, from the street, through the open door, came the sound of the beating of drums, the blowing of trumpets, the shouts of admiration for their toys, and requests for more candy. Then back to their homes, through the falling snow, the children plodded, each bearing, beside a little gift, a gladdened heart.
In the evening we had our own good time, a Christmas supper --- and it was "some" supper, too. We started off with soup, beefsteak and mushrooms, turkey and mashed potatoes, green peas, salad, plum pudding and rum, candied fruit, marshmallows and nuts, winding up with black coffee. During the courses white and red wine and champagne were served. And thus ended a memorable day in the life of Section Nineteen.
JOHN D. LOUGHLIN*
*Of Brooklyn, New York; Cornell, '17; served with Section Nineteen of the Field Service and later in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service. The above is from a home letter.
SUMMARY OF THE SECTION'S HISTORY
UNDER THE UNITED STATES ARMY
Section Nineteen was visited by recruiting officers September 24, 1917, while working in the sector of the Argonne between the Four-de-Paris and the Avocourt Woods. Men were enlisted on that day, although the Section did not become part of the American army until later.
On September 26, 1917, the Section went en repos at Semoigne, south of Châlons-sur-Marne, the following day moving to Montereux close by. At the commencement of the Austrian rush into Italy, our Division, the 65th, was at Camp Mailly, and it at once started for Dormans on foot, the Section following. This march took three days. Then the Division entrained for Italy and we were detached, going to Troissy en repos.
We stayed there until the middle of November, when we became attached to the 58th Division of Infantry, with whom we stayed the rest of the war. The liaison took place at Reims, where we served Clos Saint-Remy, the Fromagerie, etc., until the Division was relieved on January 17, 1918. The 58th passed through Épernay toward Châlons-sur-Marne again, the Section having one-night stands until it finally reached Noirlieu. Later it moved to Sainte-Ménehould.
On March 19, 1918, the Division and Section moved into the Butte de Mesnil sector of Champagne, where several cars were hit and the men had enough work for once.
Later the Division was relieved and sent through Châlons, through Épernay, Pierrefonds, Compiègne, to Moyenneville, where it was holding the line on both sides of Cuvilly on June 9, 1918.
The Boche attacked here on June 9, and captured among other things eight of our cars and three of our men. The Section, under orders with the whole Division, retired to Estrées-Saint-Denis, that night moving to Eraine, Saint-Remy-en-l'Eau, and finally to Valescourt on June 14
The Infantry of the 58th had been all shot to pieces, so we were given three new regiments and made an attacking division --- something we had always wanted.
On the 17th of July, we moved over to Vivières, and on the 18th the Aisne-Marne battle started. On the 19th, our G.B.D. was moved to Vertes Feuilles with postes de secours in Vierzy. Here we worked between the United States 1st and 2d Divisions.
After our Division had taken all its objectives, we were relieved on the 25th of July, returning to Saint-Remy again.
The Division went into line opposite Chevincourt, cleaned the famous Thiescourt Plateau, and took part of Noyon. We came out on September 1, going again to Estrées-Saint-Denis.
On September 24 the Section moved to La Croix Ricard, Genvry, and on to Chauny on the 27th. The Division went into line in front of Tergnier, and when our men came out en repos, several days after the Armistice, the front postes were in Belgium. The Section moved up behind the troops as follows: To Le Mont de Faux December 7; Montcornet, December 14; Aubenton, January 25, 1919; and later to Rimogne, where on March 15, 1919, we were relieved by S.S.U. 547, and proceeded to Base Camp, en route for the United States.
Our three prisoners were all returned alive, one returning to the Section December 25, 1918. The Section received a divisional citation for its work on June 9.
E. P. SHAW*
*Of Brookline, Massachusetts; Dartmouth, with Section Nineteen from June, 1917; and in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service for the rest of the war.
- When: WWI
- Where: France, Western Front
- Section (WWI): S.S.U. 19