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Section Twenty-Nine (SSU 29)

SECTION TWENTY-NINE left Paris on June 30, 1917, and going by Châlons and Bar-le-Duc, reached Condé-en-Barrois on July 2. On July 23 it went to Ville-sur-Cousances (Meuse) and served the postes of Esnes, Dombasle, and Bois de Béthelainville. It evacuated to the hospitals of Brocourt and Fleury-sur-Aire. On August 22 it left Ville-sur-Cousances for repos at Menil-la-Horgne. On September 2 it went to Saint-Mihiel, serving postes at Belle-Vallée, Marcaulieu, Village Nègre, Pierrefitte, and Villotte. On October 17 it went en repos at Silmont-en-Barrois, and on October 26 it moved to a cantonment at Belrupt, Chaume Woods, and served at Carrière d'Haudromont, near Verdun. It was at this time that the Service was militarized and the cars of Section Twenty-Nine were taken over by members of old Section Seventy-One to be known thereafter as Section Six-Forty-One of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.

'The Ambulance Sections', History of the American Field Service in France, "Friends of France" 1914-1917, Told by Its Members, Volume II (Boston and New York: Houghton and Mifflin Company, 1920)



Again, again they come with shell and steel
To storm thee, and to crush thy ramparts down,
And trample over France with iron heel,
Burning and devastating field and town.
Yet, day by day, we see thy grim forts stand.
All hail, Verdun, defender of the land!




On the morning of June 30, 1917, Section Twenty-Nine rolled out of the lower gate of 21 rue Raynouard to begin its comparatively short but withal interesting career. We got out of Paris without mishap, although the movements and order of our convoy were not in every particular exactly according to Hoyle, and at noon all reached Meaux, where we stopped for a cold lunch of "monkey-meat" and bread. We arrived at Montmirail shortly before dark and, after another cold meal, set up our beds on the second floor of an abandoned school building. Châlons was our next official stop where we paused for lunch and essence, and then drove on to Bar-le-Duc, where we drew up about 7 P.M., placed our cars outside the automobile parc, and with the customary "monkey meat" and bread for dinner, took our beds into one of the barracks and bunked for the night. Next morning, July 2, we drove to Condé, where we found very comfortable quarters in a wooden barrack, formerly a hospital ward, located on the top of a high hill, above the town, overlooking in all directions miles of beautiful rolling farm lands.

On the morning of July 3, the General of our Division paid us the honor of a visit and reviewed us, and the next night we celebrated the Glorious Fourth in real style. Our cook outdid himself in producing a bountiful repast of many courses which the Colonel of our Service de Santé shared with us as our principal guest. After many songs, toasts, and speeches, the party broke up after the singing of the " Marseillaise" and the "Star-Spangled Banner" and shouting the customary "Vive la France!" "Vive l'Amérique!" July 14, the French national holiday, furnished a good excuse for a similar party, which possibly surpassed, as regards the menu, post-prandial oratory, and patriotic enthusiasm, the one given on the Fourth.

On the morning of July 23, we packed up and left Condé on short notice, and about noon reached. Ville-sur-Cousances, where we relieved Section Two, taking over their cantonment and their postes. Our front poste de secours was at Esnes, with a relay poste at Montzéville. We had a call poste at Dombasle, kept one car always on duty at a poste in the Bois de Béthelainville, and evacuated to Brocourt. On the night of the 23d four cars began the work, and from then on we had plenty to keep us busy, for the sector was not a quiet one.



All went well until the night of August 3, when a '77 fell only a few feet from the entrance to our abri at Montzéville, a piece of éclat striking Julian Allen in the knee and wounding him painfully, though not seriously, while another piece hit Newlin in the back, hurting him dangerously.

Newlin's and Ball's cars were smashed almost beyond. recognition, and Martin and Hughes narrowly escaped being hurt. Allen and Newlin were rushed to the hospital at Ville-sur-Cousances and from there taken to the hospital at Fleury. The wound of the former, though more serious than we thought at first, proved to be not dangerous. At noon on August 5 he was evacuated to Paris. But Newlin's condition was critical. He was so weak that he could not be operated upon until the evening of the 4th. The operation was apparently successful and he showed signs of such great improvement that the French Commander of the Section, Lieutenant Latruffe, with four of the fellows, called on him on the afternoon of August 5 to present him with his Croix de Guerre and the Division citation. But at midnight we received word from the hospital that poor Jack was dead. It was a great shock to all of us, for he was a wonderfully brave and nervy lad and we had all grown very fond of him.

It was a blow to the Section to lose our Chef, Allen, and one of our men, after such a short time out at the front, and we had to go on as best we could without any authorized leader, though Paxton and Walker, who had been left in charge, succeeded, by dividing the work and the responsibility, in bringing us creditably through a long spell of hard, gruelling work. Later, on September 10, Fletcher, from Section Fourteen, came over to take Allen's place as Chef until the latter returned from the hospital.



On August 21 we were relieved by a French ambulance section, and although we had seen enough of Esnes and Montzéville, we were sorry that we could not stay for the big attack which was imminent. We packed up our belongings and that afternoon moved, via Bar-le-Duc, to Menil-la-Horgne where we were en repos until September 2, when we followed our Division to the Saint-Mihiel sector, and made our headquarters at Rupt. After working near Hill 304 and Mort Homme, our new postes, at Belle Vallée, Marcaulieu, Village Nègre, Pierrefitte, and Villotte, seemed very tame.

At Rupt we had at our disposal only the cold, damp semi-cellars and draughty, leaky hay-lofts that the town boasted; so on September 20 we moved to Villotte, six kilometres from Rupt, with the expectation of finding better living quarters. But we had no luck, for we were ushered into a big hay-loft which, had it not been for the numerous and large holes in the roof, would have been very meagrely ventilated and lighted, as it had but two miniature windows. It rained hard the first night, and by morning our hoped-for appartement de luxe resembled a huge shower bath.

During all these long monotonous days and the longer and more monotonous evenings, the chief topic of conversation was the impending arrival of the U.S. recruiting officers and what the future status of the Ambulance Service would be. They finally arrived on September 29, but found rather slim picking in Section Twenty-Nine, for Ball, Alling, Smith, and Walker were the only men who signed up with the U.S. Army for the duration of the war.

Fletcher went to Paris on October 1 for forty-eight hours' permission, and almost as soon as he had stepped out of the train a taxicab knocked him down. He was taken in an ambulance to the hospital at Neuilly, where he was found to be so badly shaken up that he was unable to return to the Section, whereupon we all decided that the easiest and quickest way to get to a hospital was to be appointed Chef of Section Twenty-Nine.

On October 17 the glad tidings reached us that we were to be relieved by a French section, and the next day, shortly after noon, we were on our way, splashing and rattling through mud and rain, to Silmont for a short repos. Our new cantonment was much better than any we had seen for a long time, and we were near enough to Bar-le-Duc to be able to run in there for the day. So things in general began to take on a more rosy aspect.

General Mordac visited Silmont on October 22 in order to inspect the 38th Regiment of our Division --- the 120th. We were reviewed at the same time and were highly praised by the General for our work at Esnes and Montzéville during the month of August.



On October 26 we moved to Belrupt, near Verdun, and at once jumped into hard, active work. Our poste was at Haudromont, not far from Hill 344 and the Chaume Woods, and we evacuated to Bévaux, just outside the walls of Verdun. The roads were very rough and muddy, winding up and down steep hills and around sharp corners, thus making driving very difficult and hazardous. The shelling during the day was very light, but at night the Boches kept up an almost incessant fire while the artillery and ravitaillement were being brought up. On account of the heavy traffic on the roads and because of the prevalence of gas, the ambulances were not allowed to run at night; so all our work was done between the hours of 6 A.M. and 5 P. M.

Section Seventy-One arrived on the morning of November 3, to take over our cars, and the next morning ten cars went up to the poste, each taking one of the new men in order to show him the road. When we reached Haudromont, several big shells came in uncomfortably close to us, which was the first time we had seen any such activity in this vicinity; and it was hardly a cordial welcome for Seventy-One. In the midst of it all, the Section Twenty-Nine men piled into two ambulances and drove back to Belrupt, where it took us only a short time to pack up our belongings, so that by ten-thirty the big camion was ready to leave. We pulled into the automobile park at "Bar" about three-thirty and were imprisoned until dinner time, when, only by dint of heavy persuading and a few "non comprends," we got permission to go out to the meal. We spent the night --- that is, what there was of it --- in one of the park barracks, most of us sleeping in true-to-form poilu straw and chicken-wire bunks, and at 3 A.M. turned out to catch our train for Paris, where we arrived shortly after noon, and, except for a big farewell banquet at the café La Pérouse on the evening of November 6, old Section Twenty-Nine had no more entries to make in its diary.

* Of Brookline, Massachusetts; Brown, '13; served with Section Twenty. Nine of the Field Service and subsequently in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service with the French Army.



On November 3 Section Seventy-One arrived at Belrupt late in the afternoon to take over the cars of Section Twenty-Nine. The sector proved anything but quiet. During six weeks there we lost five cars at the abri, and Way Spaulding was severely wounded. Here the Section became officially renumbered Six-Forty-One.

On December 16 we convoyed to Andernay for repos. On December 27 the Section moved to Clermont-en-Argonne, where our Division went into line between Vauquois and the extreme left of the Bois d'Avocourt. Our hardest work in the Argonne came on the 16th of March, 1918, when one of our regiments went over in a grand coup de main, taking about one hundred prisoners and advancing as far as the German light artillery positions.

Later we were ordered to Rarécourt. We continued, however, to work the same postes as before. On May 16 we left the sector, going to Épense for a short repos. It was here that we became detached from the 120th Division, which was to move a long distance. We were not long detached, however, for after one day we were sent to Rambluzin and attached to the 17th Division, which was then in line at Saint-Mihiel. During the latter part of July, after a short repos at Vavincourt, the Division was ordered into the Tenth Army, and we followed in convoy. We were stationed at Vierzy, southwest of Soissons, and worked a poste from Ambrief. The work continued, and we followed up the German retreat. Evacuations were made to Villers-Cotterets --- a four hours' round trip. On August 11 we were moved back to Rétheuil, near Pierrefonds, for a week's repos. On August 19 we left Rétheuil for Cuise-Lamotte, from which place we expected to work postes. But the Boches were retreating so fast that, at two in the morning on August 20, we were routed out from under haystacks, cars, etc., to roll on up the Soissons-Compiègne highway, amid the heavy cannon thundering on every side, to cross the Aisne and pass through Attichy to the "farm" in question, where we waited until 2 P.M., when we proceeded. When we stopped our cars at the ordered point, we found ourselves --- cars, kitchen, and conducteurs --- at a reserve-line poste de secours, which, as a matter of fact, was still being used as Section Two's front poste! The battle was continuing, with the guns firing behind us, and now and then a battalion advancing in deployed order. A Moroccan officer stepped up to us and said, "What in hell are you young fools doing up here in convoy? Don't you know that a half-hour ago this was on the front, and a very unhealthy spot?" The smoke of a Boche barrage had hardly yet cleared away, and the occasional shells that fell in a field close by made us believe him unquestioningly. Prisoners were constantly filing back from the front. This spot was a few kilometers east of the famous village of Moulin-sous-Touvent, where such heavy fighting took place. But despite the warnings we were forced to stay here for two hours until new orders came sending us to a new and healthier destination. Our new destination was Sacy, where we spent one night, moving early the next morning to the outskirts of Vic-sur-Aisne.

About dark on August 21 we moved still farther up, this time to a point on the road about one kilometre from Morsain. We parked in a field, only to be driven out by a French artillery officer, who said he was going to use that position for his battery of "105's." It was the guerre de mouvement with a vengeance. Our Division went into line here, and we immediately received a call for all available cars. We worked here for seventy-two consecutive hours, the postes being Vassens, Bonnemaison, Saint-Liger, and La Croix Blanche. The work continued more or less steadily for two weeks, until Coucy-le-Château was reached, twenty-three kiIometres from Vic. Fearing was wounded painfully, but not seriously, at poste on the 26th. For our work on the 23d and 24th of August we received a sectional citation.

On the 10th of September we again moved up, this time to Vézaponin, and worked from there a relay poste at Vézaponin, and advanced postes at Leuilly and Blanc Pierre. The work was heavy and disagreeable, as it had been for the past two weeks, so it was with great relief and pleasure that we were sent back en repos on September 19. Repos took us clear back to Dammartin.

About the 10th of October we again moved to the front, this time to Acy, en réserve, with only the usual car or so on duty with the G.B.D. After a short time we moved farther up, going to Jouy, on the other side of the Aisne, where we spent ten days, living alongside the road and sleeping in our cars.

On October 24 we moved still farther on, going to Bucy-lès-Cerny, a short distance outside of Laon. From here the Section started working the postes of Verneuil and Maison Blanche. The work here was very active and unpleasant. It was at Verneuil that Way Spaulding received his second wound, a small piece of éclat piercing his hand. Swasey was also wounded these last few days of action, receiving a shell fragment through the calf of his leg. This was the beginning of the end. The Germans were holding on along the Serre River, but on November 4 the retreat started and we again commenced the tiresome following up.

The cars on duty had gone on with the G.B.D. and brancardiers, and no one knew where they were. How we ever moved over roads full of mine craters and with the flimsiest improvised bridges over the streams, no one will ever know. We did n't ourselves, but somehow we got there. We stopped at Marle eight hours after the victorious French infantry had taken it, and on seeing Americans for the first time the inhabitants, four years in German servitude, went wild. They were wretched specimens --- shadows of their former selves.

No one knew exactly where the Germans were. We could hear no guns, and the only news we could obtain was from the French civilians who had run back from their homes when the lines had passed eastward. Here for the first time in long months carelessness was shown as to lights. In two days we moved to Harcigny, near Vervins, not far from Hirson on the Belgian border. This was a move of thirty kilometres, and still there seemed to be no trace of the retreating Germans. Here we camped and lived with fires and lights as if we were a thousand miles from shells and bombing-planes. We started to work our postes from here, but the evacuations were 120 kilometres to the hospital and back, over terrible roads. Rumors of an armistice had floated about, but every one had taken them with the usual grain of salt. However, on the morning of November 11 a lieutenant from the French Staff stuck his head in the door of our shack at six in the morning and officially announced that the Armistice had been signed and hostilities would cease at eleven. There was not a sound except the moving of huddled forms under their blankets.... Finally some one said, "Is this a jam morning, or do we get only bread?" . . . Everything went on as before. Nothing seemed changed. What was it? Were we all too stunned by the news to feel any real emotion, or had we become immune to such things? We stayed in Harcigny until November 13, and then started our long convoy back into France, and on again into the armies of occupation. On the 12th, fifteen of us (the rest were still on duty taking care of their last blessés de la guerre) lined up as a guard of honor to our Divisional General, and watched our three French regiments, the 90th, the 355th, and 68th, march back from the lines --- their work completed forever. It was a moving sight. They filed by, dirty, lousy, with weeks' growth of beard, tired and weary to the point of exhaustion --- but never again to return to the hell of the trenches or the roaring, upturned fields of battle ... the fellows in blue with whom we had worked to the end, comrades every one. Every man's heart was with them, as they filed by, and always will be as long as the memory of that day remains.

*Of Boston, Massachusetts; served in Section Seventy-One of the Field Service and in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service during the war.