Section Twenty-Six (SSU 26)
- Published in History
SECTION TWENTY-SIX left Paris on May 28, 1917, going by Montmirail to Souhesme. On June 17 it left for Camp Chiffour, east of Verdun, where it served at the front the postes of Ferme Bellevue, near Fort de Tavannes, Douaumont, and Chevretterie. The later cantonment was at Ancemont. It served hospitals at Souilly, Petit Monthairon, Rambluzin, Benoite Vaux, Dugny, and Vadelaincourt. The Section worked in this sector during the entire time before it was taken into the American Army. Its cars were then taken over by the personnel of Field Service Section Sixty-Nine which later became officially known to the U.S. Army as Section Six-Thirty-Eight.
'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)
Those who have stood for thy cause when the dark was around thee,
Those who have pierced through the shadows and shining have found thee,
Those who have held to their faith in thy courage and power,
Thy spirit, thy honor, thy strength for a terrible hour,
Now can rejoice that they see thee in light and in glory.
Under the leadership of Second Lieutenant Pierre Marchal and of Chef A. Musgrave Hyde, Section Twenty-Six was formed at Versailles on May 26, 1917. For two days the men were busy gathering equipment, getting the cars in shape, and saying good-bye to Paris. Then, on the evening of the 27th, with a camion section that was ready to start for Dommiers, they were given a farewell banquet at rue Raynouard by the Field Service authorities, and the next morning the Section pulled out of the park in convoy, and crept slowly through the streets, out into the country, bound at last for the front.
We passed over the battle-field of the Marne and, just at dusk, drew up in the Place de la Mairie at Montmirail. From that time on we progressed from village to village, sometimes stopping overnight, sometimes for several days, until at last we came to Souhesme, in the Verdun sector, and parked in a much-abused barnyard at the edge of the town, where we tarried for several days in the mud, impatient to be attached to our division. There was nothing to do, so we sought amusement in haunting the near-by aviation field, where the persistence of two or three of the boys was finally rewarded with rides; or by walking out over the hill where, far in the distance, the gray waste of Mort Homme could dimly be seen. Rat hunts filled the evenings.
During our stay in Souhesme every one had the colic from the water, and the cook, a silk-worker in time of peace, finally, to our infinite relief, had to be evacuated to the hospital. Two of our boys cooked the meals the next day and our spirits rose. Sardines and cheese are not the worst things in the world, but they do grow tiresome after a week or so of almost nothing else; and that is about all the old cook and the new boys were giving us. Gradually, however, things began to get better. A new cook arrived, the rain stopped, and we commenced to dry out. But best of all, we were now attached to the 19th Division and received orders to move into line close to Verdun. So, on the morning of June 17, after being reviewed by the Médecin Principal of this Division and by the Médecin Chef des Brancardiers, we left Souhesme for Camp Chiffour, the Divisional Headquarters, relieving an English section which had been there for four months.
CAMP CHIFFOUR --- FERME BELLEVUE
Our farthest poste was a ruined house called Ferme Bellevue, well named, for it stood on the top of a hill close to Fort de Tavannes and looked out over the valley of the Meuse and down into the town of Verdun. From it the two towers of the cathedral resembled twin monitors guarding the citadel and city, all of whose scars were hidden by a purple haze which hung over the entire valley.
The ungainly saucisses, swaying and tugging at their ropes, gave to the scene the only indication that there was war in our midst. But our own desolate ruin, with its sandbag-covered abri, and the knowledge that just over the hill were the Germans, was stimulus enough to the imagination and we were not long in getting more.
Standing there in the road, with our eyes never leaving the city that had even yet no touch of reality to us, we were suddenly startled by a crashing of guns behind us, and we raised our eyes in time to see a tiny wasplike machine darting out of the clouds in the midst of a rapidly increasing bunch of white puffs. Before we knew what was happening, we saw another spot of white below the saucisse as the observer's parachute opened. The great bag itself, after a burst of flame, began trailing downward in a dense cloud of black smoke, while the tiny assailant darted back into the cloud. In the meantime, all around us the French batteries, as if awakened from sleep, began one by one to roar until our ears rang, and the first moment of unrest gave place to one of immense security and interest. The Germans were replying by this time, and we could hear the shells, going in both directions, whistle over us, while we stood in safety under the arc, with our mouths open.
Though there were times like the foregoing when we had interesting experiences, the sector was in general comparatively quiet. From the postes the cars were sent, usually at night, but sometimes in the daytime, too, down the far side of the hill, the side that looked toward Metz into the lands of the Germans. Good luck was with us and never a man was injured. There were accidents to the cars, of course. One of them, for example, slipped off the road and turned completely over with all four wheels in the air. But as a rule neither man nor vehicle suffered much during this stay at the front.
Our postes were spread along the line to the right of Verdun, from Bellevue, from which we worked about the Forts de Tavannes and Douaumont, to Chevretterie, on the Verdun-Metz road. The triage was back at the foot of the hills on the road to Souilly, and the various hospitals were even farther back, at the Château of Petit Monthairon, Souilly, Rambluzin, Benoite Vaux, Dugny, and Vadelaincourt. Our cantonment was at Ancemont in the centre of the hospital district. Never perhaps did a Section have better quarters --- a large house on the edge of the village, with a smaller farmhouse a few yards up the road to serve as office, atelier, and living quarters for the Frenchmen of the Section. There was a large orchard behind for the cars --- an orchard of cherry, plum, and apple trees, which, ripening successively through the summer, provided fruit almost continuously. It was here that we held our track meet, which attracted such attention from the French soldiers that they challenged us and built a huge field with lanes for the sprints and pits for the jumping. Twice we beat them, but they got their revenge in beating us at soccer.
STATUS QUO FOR THE SECTION
In August during the Verdun attack, the 19th Division moved, and for some reason the Section was transferred to the division that came in, the 7th, and became more or less the property of the sector. For the five months from the time we came to that district until the Section was taken over by the United States Army, we kept the same postes, travelled the same roads, and did exactly the same work; and during all this period we were usually quiet enough at the cantonment, though from time to time the Boches would shell the town, never, however, with serious results.
It was not until the attack to the north of Verdun that we began to be interested in air raids. As reprisals, perhaps, for the loss that they had sustained, the Boches began to send nightly bombing parties aimed principally at the aviation fields of Souilly and at the hospitals at Dugny, Monthairon, and Vadelaincourt, often dropping a few "microbes," as the poilus call the bombs, on our village and firing with their machine guns on the cars in the road. The most violent bombardment that we had was on the night of October 2, when, with the help of a full moon, the enemy flew back and forth over the main street, throwing bombs into the cantonments of the troops. On this occasion all of the cars were called out at once and worked for several hours under fire. In fact the bombardment was so serious that the village was evacuated of all the automobiles and artillery sections, and the sanitaires alone were left. In this connection the Tenth Army Corps decorated with the Croix de Guerre the Section as a whole, and six of its members. On the afternoon of October 11 the Colonel of the Thirteenth Hussars, who was stationed in the château, held a ceremony and pinned the cross on these men, on the flag of the Section, and on some French soldiers who had been cited at the same time.
Soon after this the boys finishing their engagements began to leave the Section, and on the 24th, when Section Sixty-Nine came to relieve us and to take over the cars, the postes, the cantonment, and the work which we had grown to think of as intimately ours, the most of the personnel of old Twenty-Six scattered, some men going into aviation, others into artillery, and some into infantry and other services of the United States Army.
CHARLES E. BAYLY, JR.*
*Of Denver, Colorado; Princeton, '18; served with Section Twenty-Six until October, 1917; subsequently a Sous-Lieutenant in the French Artillery.