History of the
"FRIENDS OF FRANCE", 1914-1917,
||ROBERT A. DONALDSON|
||ARTHUR J. PUTNAM|
||ROBERT A. DONALDSON|
SECTION SEVENTY left Paris for May-en-Multien on July 8, 1917, and on July 14 came back to Paris to take over its section of Fiat cars, then at Versailles. On July 16 it left Versailles en convoi for Noyon. After a week here it went to Rollot, near Montdidier, en repos with the 53d Division. On August 9 it returned to Noyon, and on August 13 was attached to the 38th Colonial Division at Bas-Beaurains. On August 20 it moved with the Division to the Aisne front, being cantoned at Missy-aux-Bois. On August 28 it moved to Sermoise, on the Aisne, and its Division went into line directly in front of Fort Malmaison. The Section served postes at Jouy, Aizy, and the Ferme Hameret, just under the Chemin des Dames Plateau. Vailly was the reserve poste, and Chassemy, and later Cerseuil were the evacuation hospitals. On September 23 it went en repos for a week at Écuiry, near Septmonts, back of the Aisne, returning to its old sector and cantonment on October 1. It worked there through the Fort Malmaison attack of October 23 until November 1, when the Fiats were abandoned and the men enlisted in the U.S. Army and took over the Fords of S.S.U. Eighteen, becoming Section Six-Thirty-Six.
Des terres d'Alsace aux plaines de la Flandre,
SECTION SEVENTY was officially formed at May-en-Multien on July 13, 1917, composed at that time of thirty-six men, the larger part of whom were from a Leland Stanford unit which went over in June on the Rochambeau. We left Crouy on the morning of July 14, going first to Paris, where we were joined by nine men who had come over on La Touraine, and going the next day to Versailles, took over a section of Fiat cars. The Section was under the leadership of Arthur J. Putnam, formerly of Section Nineteen.
On July 16 we left Versailles, and, making a détour of Paris, went out, through Senlis and Compiègne to Noyon. After waiting a week in Noyon we were attached to the 53d Division, then back en repos at Rollot, near Montdidier. We stayed with the 53d until August 3, when it left for the front --- and left us behind. We were very indignant until the French Automobile Service informed us that under the new "économiser 1'essence" régime, it was forbidden for an ambulance section to follow its division over a distance of more than two armies --- unless some other army had crying need for more ambulances. As the Division was going to Craonne, we were detached. So we again went back to Noyon to wait, and on August 13 were attached to the famous 38th French Colonial Division, then en repos near by. We were justly proud of this Division, which comprised the 4th Zouaves, the Colonial Régiment du Maroc, the 4th Mixte, the 8th Tirailleurs, and a detachment of Somalis --- regiments already wearing the fourragères of the Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire, and to whose famed standards many more decorations were to be added before the war was ended.
On August 20 the Division moved to the Aisne, and shortly thereafter took up positions on the Chemin des Dames. We were cantoned at Sermoise, about ten kilometres east of Soissons, which city we were able to visit often; and when the Division went into line, our postes were in Vailly, Aizy, Jouy, and the Ferme Hameret.
On September 7 we were visited by United States recruiting officers, who were full of promises. Thirty-six out of the forty-five in the Section enlisted in the newly created U.S. Army Ambulance Service with the French Army, while most of those who did not enlist left, in the latter part of October, for Paris or America, and many of them entered, later, various other branches of the French or American armies.
On September 17 the Section moved back with the Division to Écuiry for a short rest. To Écuiry, too, some of us came back, still conducteurs pour la France, after Foch's counter-attack of July 18, 1918 had driven the Germans from the Aisne-Marne salient.
On October 1, 1918, our Division again went into line in its old sector. We gave up the Ferme Hameret poste as our Division now occupied a shorter front. One interesting change was the moving of the hospital from Chassemy, about seven kilometres from, the lines, to Cerseuils on the hill above Braisne, about eighteen kilometres from the line. German airmen had dropped notes in which it was stated that the Germans intended to shell the district around there and would shell the hospital if it were not moved. The French agreeably moved the hospital farther back and installed in its place a barbed-wire pen for German prisoners! Needless to say, the Germans did not carry out their threat.
On October 17 the artillery bombardment preparatory to the attack began, when it was estimated that 3800 guns were used covering a front of eleven kilometres. At five-fifteen on the morning of the 23d, the infantry advanced, at seven all the ambulances were called out, and the postes were soon crowded to overflowing. Most of the wounded who were able to walk went down to a point slightly below Vailly, where they were taken en masse by camions to the hospital.
The 38th Division came out of line during the night of October 30, and the following morning a decoration of various members of the Service de Santé was held at Vailly, in which seven of our members received the Croix de Guerre. Then on October 31, Section Seventy was broken up. The Fiats were turned in at the parc at Vierzy, and the following day we left for Paris, twenty-four of us to go out and take over old Section Eighteen, eleven to fill in Section Sixteen, and the rest to scatter.
ROBERT A. DONALDSON*
*Of Denver, Colorado; Leland Stanford, '17; served in Section Seventy of the Field Service, and continued in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service until the Armistice. Author of Turmoil, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919, and with Lansing Warren, En Repos and Elsewhere, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918.
Sermoise, September 3
WE have been doing front work now for about a week and have had a good try-out in a very interesting sector. It is a great satisfaction to be doing something at last and our morale has gone up several points since we started in. The fellows take to front work like ducks to water, and if the Fiats only hold out, I am sure that we shall come through with flying colors.
Lieutenant Prévost has been replaced by Lieutenant Gibily, the officer in charge of the French Ambulance section we relieved when we joined the 38th Division. Lieutenant Gibily has been with this Division for over two years and seems to be very well liked by every one who has known him. The fellows like him as much as I do, and, despite the fact that he can hardly speak a word of English, he always manages to have a pleasant word for everybody, and when he can't make himself understood in either French or English, he acts out whatever he has to say in pantomime, which is enough to bring down the house; and best of all, his sense of humor never fails him. Although in civilian life he is connected with a wholesale chemical company, his chief interest in life seems to be nineteenth-century French poetry, and his most vicious boast is that be knows ten thousand lines of verse by heart including all of Cyrano de Bergerac. His present aim is to learn English, and before coming to the Section he supplied himself with two second-hand textbooks. The one which he prefers and from which he studies constantly must have been written about the time of Shakespeare or shortly after, and to hear him read off this obsolete English in the most serious way and with an accent all his own, is funny enough. I have been doing my best to help him out, but it is a rather hard job. In order that you won't get a very one-sided impression of the man, I ought to add that he is a fine-looking chap with a very military manner, has served in both the infantry and artillery early in the war and has been badly wounded in the leg. Also he has been decorated four times.
Sermoise is not a village, but only the remains of one, and lies on the main road between Soissons and Reims. All of the houses have suffered and many have been razed to the ground. Of the church only a part is left standing, and that, with its whitewashed interior laid bare, looks like a great, pale, ruined monument of desolation. The men are quartered, as at Rollot, in barracks just outside the town, and we have two near-by houses, or rather hovels, one for a workshop and another for a kitchen. Gibily and I occupy a little dugout near by, a remnant of the days when Sermoise was much nearer the front than it is now.
ARTHUR J. PUTNAM*
*Of Deposit, New York; Cornell; served in Section Nineteen of the Field Service; Chef of S.S.U. Seventy; Lieutenant of Section Eighteen, and of Section Six-Thirty-Six, U.S.A. Ambulance Service, under the Army; later Captain commanding a parc.
Noyon, July 19, 1917
THIS town, about ten miles back of the front in a part of France which the French call "la France reconquise," was regained last spring during Hindenburg's "strategic retreat." It was in German hands for a long time. Some of the population who did not get away in 1914 remained. A good part of them, however, fled before the German invasion, and only now, in 1917, are they getting back to their homes, their shops, and their little pieces of land. When the Germans left, they took all the gold ornaments out of the cathedral, along with everything else of value they could lay hands on. They had started to take the chimes, but had so much trouble in trying to get the bells down out of the spires that they had to leave them. They had begun, too, boring holes for powder charges in order to blow the place up. But the French cavalry got in here much sooner than the Boches expected; so the latter left in an immense hurry, and had to abandon, just outside the town, a number of cumbersome wagonloads of stuff which they had stolen. They carried off, however, all men and boys between the ages of sixteen and fifty. What household goods they couldn't take with them, they smashed up with axes. All edibles were taken, and the peasants had all their chickens, cows, rabbits, etc., stolen. But the most wanton act of all was the cutting down or encircling of all the orchards. Many of the shade trees, the poplars which line the roads, and the, like, were similarly destroyed --- a thing which could have no possible military value, particularly when the trees were only encircled and not cut down. All the water was poisoned, and much of it is still unfit to drink. Many of the houses, especially those along the banks of the small stream which runs through the place, were blown up. Innumerable traps were set to kill or maim unsuspecting soldiers or civilians --- grenades which exploded when the door was opened, and the like. The worst thing they did was to take off numbers of young girls and women with them when they retreated.
The thing that astounds one the most is the vast amount of underground tunnelling done. Everything from the front-line trenches back seems to be connected by tunnels. In the front lines there are deep dugouts every little way, which go down some twenty feet underground, and are protected by alternate layers of timber and earth on top. There are also very deep special cement dugouts for the storing of munitions. The lines of communication toward the rear are quite as remarkable. The whole network becomes a vast maze, burrowed and tunnelled under, until I should think it would be utterly incomprehensible. Scattered all around between the front lines and the town are very cleverly concealed machine-gun positions, with tunnels leading from them to the trench positions, so that one could go into them without being observed by the enemy.
Lassigny itself is literally burrowed like a prairie-dog town with its labyrinths of abris and tunnels. Every cellar has been deepened and reinforced from the top --- usually with timbers and rocks of the fallen walls.
One of the most tragic things I have seen in France was a little shop in Lassigny. Although the house had received no direct hit, the roof had been blown open in many places by the force of near-by concussions and the tiles ripped off, while the interior had pretty much disappeared --- probably for firewood, and there was left only a crude earth floor. The place had formerly been a little café, and now that the Germans had gone, the woman, who, with her husband, had once run it, had come back to find almost nothing left, not even doors or windows, for long ago they had been smashed out. Her husband and sons were fighting in the army. But, with the fortitude that is French, she had started out to set up her shop again, even in these miserable surroundings. A few rough army tables and some benches had been procured from somewhere and were set on the bare ground just inside the door. In what was left of one of the rooms Madame had set up a stove. Her barrels of wine and her supplies were placed around inside. She and her sister did the cooking and serving for whoever happened to come that way ---ourselves among them. And the remarkable thing was that she could turn out a very good meal. Somehow one would expect persons in this sort of situation to be more or less gloomy or morose. But these poor people, driven from their homes so long ago, are not. They are happy, are glad to be back --- satisfied, I suppose, even to be alive. This endurance and bravery of the French women in the face of the most terrible hardships is something splendid. This improvised café, with its rusted, battered sign of a walking rabbit, well punctured with holes, and these women who had come back with willingness and a smile to try to get together and rebuild the work of a lifetime, will always represent to me the essence of the spirit of France.
In the village we met a couple of old poilus who insisted on showing us the town, particularly the graveyard, which was on a rise in back of the place. The Germans had strung barbed wire through it, and it being a commanding position, had placed a nest of machine guns there. A number of French shells had also lit there, smashing up a number of the graves. The exhibit, however, was the fact that the Germans had dug into about half the graves and removed the lead linings from the coffins, as they are in great need of lead. Some time just before the war, the Mayor of Lassigny had died and been buried in a vault. The Germans broke into it, chiselled a small hole, about four inches wide and a foot and a half long, in the side of the steel casket, and then reached in and removed the rings from the dead man's fingers. There was no doubt. The telltale hole above the hand spoke louder than words. Kultur is a great thing.
These same Germans took the statues of all the saints from the church and had put them in a graveyard for German dead, just on the edge of the town back of a large wall. When they left they blew up the church.
Later --- Sermoise
LANCE went over to visit the old castle at Septmonts a couple of days ago, and while in that town he met a bent, old peasant woman who was a refugee from Craonne, where she had continued living, close as it was to the lines, after the German occupation. When the French attacked so terribly there this spring, the Boches were forced to retire, but not until they had rounded up the civilians and herded them out of the place. But somehow in the scramble this old woman got lost and took refuge in a cellar, where she stayed during the bombardment by both sides, being afraid to come out. Finally, the French found her in a deplorable state, and took her back to the État-Mqjor of the Corps d'Armée, where, she said, the General asked her various facts about the Germans. "And then, monsieur," she said to Lance as the tears streamed down her face, "the General himself took me beside him in his big automobile, drove me all the way down here, and installed me in the home of some of his, friends --- moi, I rode beside the great General all the way!" It was the proudest moment of her life; and it shows, too, the fineness and inherent kindness, even in the littlest things, that is continually encountered in the French, from the most lowly poilu up to the highest officer.
Sermoise, October 9
THIS sector is livening up considerably. The other night a camion convoy came up as far as the road between Aizy and Jouy --- a very bad spot, and was engaged in unloading some munitions when a shell came in and wounded two of their fellows, Lamont and Thompson. They apparently did n't know about our poste, a few hundred metres away in Aizy, for they sent clear down to the reserve poste in Vailly for a car. There was an awful lot of excitement for a while, for about all the news we got was that two Americans, supposedly of our Section, had been wounded. One of the cars went up and brought them back. Lamont was very badly hurt, having had his hand cut off, and was suffering greatly.
New cannon, machine guns, and trench mortars come into the sector every night. The roads are jammed and packed from dark until one and two in the morning with convoys, and driving is terribly hard. At every moment we get held up on the road, and usually at some of the worst spots, such as "Suicide Corner" at Aizy, or the gendarme poste at the cross-roads on the hill or down by the railroad track between these two places in the valley. In addition, there is always a fog toward morning, which makes it next to impossible to see anything, and we just have to go groping along yelling, "à droite !" hoping we won't bump anything. Artillery caissons often appear very suddenly out of the fog. If we hear anything definitely, which is seldom (for the guns are never entirely still), we give a quick flash with a pocket-light on the left side of the car to show our position.
Sermoise, Wednesday, October 17
IT is wonderfully fine October weather, with a tinge of cold in the air. The sunshine has broken through and dispelled, little by little, the crisp haze that lay over the land. The sky is intensely blue with great fleecy clouds floating high, and the mud that we have been wallowing in for the past week is fast drying. So we have been living a very enjoyable life ---when not on duty at poste! Nearly every one has made a purchase of a gasoline vapor stove. At night, in groups of four or five, we take our grub to our cars and eat there, and afterwards toast bread over the stove, get out the jam to go on it, and make chocolate. It is quite warm and comfortable inside with all the doors closed and the stove going; but outside during the past week it has been miserable. We were up to our necks in mud, slippery, without bottom, and ever-present. Nearly every car had to have some aid in pushing when it left, as our parking ground under these trees has become a veritable sea of boue. Nobody is sleeping in his car now because of the cold at night, and we only have half a barrack, which makes us very crowded.
This evening the fire of the artillery has greatly increased. The big railway guns and those on the canal boats are all in position. The thunder of the cannon this evening sounded like waves in a high sea running against a rocky shore --- long intervals of low, rushing sound, and then heavy, reverberating crashes. All day our barrack has been vibrating and shaking from the rush of sound and volume of air. One is lulled to sleep by the monotonous beating, just as if he were on the seashore.
Sermoise, October 18
WOKE up early this morning to hear it raining! More mud, more gloom. The weather cleared a little after noon, and while the low clouds were still wavering, the "sausage balloons" went up, and soon countless aeroplanes appeared. The sky was soon clear and the sun bright, though a fine October haze still rendered indistinct the distant hills. Then, indeed, with the planes to spot for them, did the guns cut loose, filling the air with a continual set of reverberations --- punctuated by the medium-sized guns, which boomed dully with a rush of wind, such as one experiences when going through a tunnel on a fast train, and split every now and then by the crashing of the great marine or railway artillery.
About a quarter past five, just after the sun had set behind the hills on this side of the Aisne ---although it was still shining with long, slanting rays on the high plain beyond --- we went out on the heights to view the spectacle. The day was indescribably wonderful --- the October haze mingling blue with the smoke of a thousand guns and streaking into the dim distance to the wooded hills up beyond the Aisne. At our feet was spread out the ruined village of Sermoise, picturesque and beautiful, the spire of its ruined church rising above it, its gray walls and battered buildings standing out in cameo-like distinctness, and its red roofs --- where there were still roofs! --- seeming redder than ever in this light. The poplars that line the Grande Route were splotched with the yellow of the falling leaves.
Down in the valley of the Aisne and on up the ravines toward the lines the guns flashed everywhere to the accompaniment of the rumble, rising or falling, increasing or subsiding. We could see the great railway guns between Missy-sur-Aisne and Condé firing --- first a long red flash, then a great burst of gray smoke, and finally, three or four seconds later, a deafening, thunderous boom that seemed to tear asunder the whole air.
We walked up on the hill with a good pair of field-glasses, in hopes of seeing again the shell-bursts about Fort Malmaison. But it was too dark. However, the bird's-eye view of the whole attack was marvellous --- a sea of red flashes below us, red signal rockets occasionally sailing up over the lines, and the interminable pageant of star-shells commencing at dusk. Back of us in the west was the last vestige of a red sunset, with purple clouds above that shaded off into the fading blue sky. In front of us the "sausages" hung with a haze about them that made them look even larger --- huge, porpoise-like, calm, their sides bright in high air in the last vestige of sunlight. Then darkness came and still they hung there ---huge, monstrous bats above the scene of battle.
It is now late at night, and the artillery still continues its rolling, rushing, surging noise, and the sky is ever lit with the lightning-like, merging flashes of the guns, the flicker of the star-shells.
Sermoise, October 25
AM back at camp again after fifty-two hours of service at postes, with probably not more than twelve or fourteen hours of sleep, snatched at odd intervals, during the whole attack. For the first twenty-four hours the whole Section was "rolling"; then the cars which were on duty the night before the attack were sent back to camp, and as they came up again the rest were relieved. I have just got up this evening after sleeping all afternoon, and feel in fairly good shape.
At eight on the morning of the 23d --- the attack began at five --- the wounded began to stream down the roads to the postes --- zouaves, bleeding beneath their hasty bandages, but the proud fire of victory still in their eyes; childish, black, wounded Somalis with uncomprehending pain written in their faces; men with arm wounds helping men with foot wounds; and wounded Frenchmen supporting still more badly wounded Germans, and vice versa. There is a camaraderie of suffering that knows no law and no country. All, all came down the roads leading from the front --- human wrecks, the jetsam of the battle. The postes were crowded to overflowing, and still they came. They staggered in and sat on the fallen stones about the poste, their heads in their hands, waiting to be tended and ticketed and sent back; they came in wheel-stretchers from the front, and they came in horse ambulances from the spots where they had fallen in the lines. Frequently they were dead when taken out at the poste, and were carried aside to a yard that was used for a morgue. All those who could walk had to do so; had to go farther down until they were picked up by the camions. During the morning we could only take couchés inside the cars. The assis had to crowd outside, on the fenders, on the hoods, anywhere. Several times we took as many as twelve in one car. German and Frenchman went alike --- all according to the seriousness of the wounds.
In addition to this the roads were frequently packed with lines of gray, haggard prisoners--- hundreds of them. The first bunch that came down the doctors grabbed and put to work to help the tired brancardiers, and from then on they loaded all our cars. They soon "caught on," and worked willingly and well. The postes overflowed and the doctors were tired and overworked and half-sick from the strain of the days before the attack. The ambulances were backed up, filled, and immediately left, and others soon rolled up to take their places. The road to the hospital was like a section convoy. You passed countless ambulances coming and going in an almost steady line. The hospital at Cerseuil was soon overcrowded. The traffic got jammed; there was a line of ambulances half a mile long waiting to unload; and often you had to wait an hour before you could get through the mess. It was a struggle to get stretchers, and all of them were bloody and uncleaned.
The first day we kept going without tiring at all, sustained by the excitement of the affair, the wounded streaming back on the roads, the prisoners, and the continual roar of the guns about us. Such excitement keys you up to such a point that you don't care what happens; somehow your fear is lost; you scarcely duck when shells come over --- a thing that is almost involuntary in ordinary times. If I should be killed, I would want to be killed at a time like this, when your heart is full to the overflowing, your nerves keyed up to the limit, when victory and excitement are in the air, when the suffering of others would make you count your own as nothing, and sacrifice would seem a privilege.
Toward the end of the second day we were about all in, and all the fellows who were on duty before the attack began were sent back for rest. The principal reason we had been kept going was because Pierre, our cook, came up to the front with a camp stove, a coffee boiler, and the canned food, and worked day and night, with the aid of the cognac supply, and served us something hot every time we rolled in. He fell asleep against his stove once, but was shortly awakened when the wood under him smouldered and caught fire. " Bluebeard," the mechanic, put him out with the water bucket. He has been quite funny the whole time, and continually called out to himself: "En avant toujours, Pierre!"
By the way, toward the end of the attack the Médecin Chef at Jouy got disgusted with the French ambulances, and sent down word for them to send up no more as long as there were any American ones --- which we considered quite a compliment.
Sermoise, October 27
YESTERDAY was my birthday, and I celebrated by going up to Fort Malmaison. It was a gray day. The ground around the lines and in No Man's Land is nothing but a series of overlapping shell-holes --- a waste. It looks, as far as the eye can see, as if it had been turned over time and again by a giant plough. The German first lines are so battered that it is almost impossible to tell them from the surrounding terrain. Nothing is left of the barbed wire save torn and buried tangles here and there. There is not a vestige of the Chemin des Dames. In fact to walk at all you have to pick your way along the ridges of overturned earth between the overlapping shell-holes. The world on this plateau, as far as the eye can reach, is nothing but chaos. The marvel is how the attacking troops themselves ever advanced over it.
An amusing incident occurred to-day with Davis as principal actor. He was going up to Fort Malmaison for a visit when he ran into the General of the Army, General Maistre, who was in charge of the attack, and his staff. One of the staff came over to him and asked him the inevitable "Anglais?" "Américain," he replied. At this General Maistre burst forth in praise and rushed over and shook Davis by the hand, saying something which had the general trend of "Américain---conducteur d'ambulance --- très bon --- bon service --- toujours au front, " --- I suppose adding the usual line about "méfiance de danger --- beaucoup de bombardement --- sang-froid --- admiration de tous ---postes avancées très encombrées."
Vierzy, October 30
THIS has been a day of full hearts! In the first place, the Section is disbanded, and we have moved up here to Vierzy to the parc, where we have turned in our Fiat voitures. To-morrow we are to go to Paris, where the Section will be broken up, part of us taking over Section Eighteen, the rest going to Section Sixteen, and the others who did not join the Army scattering to the four winds.
ROBERT A. DONALDSON*
*The above are extracts from an unpublished diary.
NOTE. --- When the U.S.A. Ambulance Service took over the Field Service sections, Section Seventy, which up to this time had used ambulances loaned by the French Army, was disintegrated. The officers and twenty-four men of the Section were transferred to the Field Service cars of old Section Eighteen, which a little later was renumbered Six-Thirty-Six. Eleven members of the original Section Seventy were attached to Field Service Section Sixteen, which became, under the U.S. Army, Section Six-Thirty-Four.
||KENT DUNLAP HAGLER|
||C. C. BATTERSHELL|
||GORDON F. L. ROGERS|
SECTION THIRTY-ONE left the training-camp at May-en-Multien July 24,1917, and after getting their cars in Paris, proceeded via Vitry-le-François to Bar-le-Duc. After a few days it left there for the little village of Erize-la-Petite on the road to Verdun. Here the Section was attached to a division, and on August 10 left for Récicourt, which village was its base during the Verdun attack. Postes were served in the sector of the Bois d'Avocourt and Hill 304. The Section was relieved on August 18, and went back to Erize. On September 13 it was attached to the 14th Division, and shortly afterward enlisted in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service, becoming Section Six-Forty-Three.
What calls to the heart, and the heart has heard,
SECTION THIRTY-ONE began unceremoniously on July 24, 1917, with the publication of the list of drivers who had been receiving instruction at the old mill of May-en-Multien. The following morning the Section left the mill for Paris, to take out the Ford ambulances which had been donated to the Service by generous members of the New York Cotton Exchange. Here we first met Chef C. C. Battershell, an old Section Thirteen man. Another day was spent in adding final equipment to the cars, and on the morning of July 27 the Section left for Bar-le-Duc and "points north." Finally, on July 31, we left Bar-le-Duc for Erize-la-Petite to await assignment to a Division.
ERIZE-LA-PETITE is a little village of some thirty ex-houses strung out along the "Sacred Way" to Verdun, about twenty kilometres north of Bar-le-Duc, and which received its share of "strafing" during the Battle of the Marne. Here the fellows found quarters in one of the less damaged barns, which proved to be an entomologist's paradise. Here we waited for twelve days, bathing, playing ball, putting a final polish on the cars, and watching the "Broadway and 34th Street " traffic flow through the little town.
This traffic in itself deserves a word in passing. just north of Erize the great highway begins to branch out into the various roads leading to the Verdun front. Through the town runs the main road from Bar over which the greater part of the troops and supplies going to Verdun passed. It was the privilege of the Section to observe this road for many days before the fall attack of 1917, when cannon of every calibre, from the tiny trench "37's" to the huge eight-wheeled "220" mortars, cavalry, engineers, pontoons, artillery, ambulances, ravitaillement, mitrailleuses, passed by, singly or in convoy a steady stream of every conceivable means of conveyance from Rolls-Royces to donkeys. But these were only incidental to the real traffic of the road --- the endless lines of troop-laden camions pressing forward or coming back. And "endless" is no idle figure, for during days after days they passed in double line, a camion. every fifteen yards, twenty-five men to the machine, hour in, hour out, soldiers all gray with mud or dust, sometimes singing and sometimes grave, but with an ever-ready greeting for "les américains," if any of our fellows were in sight.
At first this greeting was returned as regularly as it was given; but after a few hours one's very arm became tired, and finally we only watched the trains with half-indifference, on the lookout for refugees, "75's" or whatnot, that might be sandwiched in between the trucks. Lessening of interest in the camions or their contents, however, was somewhat replaced by the sobering --- rather, even depressing --- effect of watching what seemed like half the men of the world on their way to battle, or of being awakened for a moment late at night or in the early dawn and to hear still the swish and rush of the passing camion trains, regular as the waves on a lonely shore. It gave one for the first time some appreciation of the immensity of the war.
A little later was confirmed the rumor, to which the immense traffic lent weight, that a general attack was forthcoming on the whole Verdun front. It was with the greatest delight that the Section learned of its attachment to the 25th Division to do front work during this event. So on the evening of August 10 the men were put through a rigid gas-mask inspection, received final instructions, and early the following morning we started to join the troops holding the trenches in the Verdun sector in front of Avocourt and to the left of Hill 304.
Quarters were first found in a military barracks at Ville-sur-Cousances well beyond the range of fire; but that the postes might be more accessible, it was deemed advisable later in the day to move forward to Récicourt where the fellows were housed in an abri --- an old wine cellar --- protection necessitated by the daily shelling which the Germans accorded the town. Here the Section remained as long as it was with the 25th Division.
THE postes which were served during the preparation for the attack were all in the Bois d'Avocourt which covered the rolling ground before Récicourt and served to conceal the largest part of the artillery of both the Avocourt and Hill 304 sectors of the line. As far out in these woods as it was possible for a car to remain with reasonable safety was "Poste 2," where two cars waited for blessés, the greater part of whom were carried from here, or, on a call, from the other forward postes. These were "P. J. Gauche," forward and to the left of "P. 2," and "P. J. Droit" and "P. 3" to the right, which were too "warm" and too scantily protected at that time to warrant a car remaining longer than was just necessary for loading the wounded. These four postes spread out fanlike in front of a fifth, "P. 4," which, though somewhat to the rear and primarily intended as a station for the relief cars of the outposts, nevertheless furnished an appreciable number of wounded engineers and artillerymen. All of these blessés were evacuated to the triage at Brocourt.
The roads connecting the various postes, despite the constant reparation of shell-holes and clearance of fallen trees and wagon debris, were very bad, and, what was worse, were quite black at night. If there was any moon, it was always hidden by clouds --- and overhanging trees, which lined almost the whole of the way, and shrouded the major part of any illumination furnished by the starshells or constant cannonading. Furthermore, during the first few days, through lack of familiarity with both the French language and the route, there was an epidemic of lost roads. One car spent a heated two hours wandering through the Bois-de-Hesse, while another, in broad daylight, ran past the poste at "P. J. Gauche" and almost succeeded in reaching the trenches before it was stopped by some astonished officers. Nor did our troubles stop here; for later, even when the men became better acquainted with the route, the cars, as soon as it was dark, seemed to develop an uncanny magnetic attraction for ditches or ammunition wagons, of which there were legions.
THE cars served the postes without serious misfortune until the French bombardment reached its height on the evening of August 13. Until then the German reply had been rather haphazard and desultory, but at about seven o'clock the Boches began a more concerted attack inaugurated by an extremely heavy general high-explosive fire which continued until about ten-thirty. Then came a rain of gas-shells, which did not abate until well past midnight and which was followed in turn by a second salvo of high explosives. The night was rainless and fairly calm, so that the heavy, poisonous gases, "mustard," "chocolate," chlorine, and a new gas which burned the flesh, clung close to the trees and underbrush and settled in dense fogs in the little valleys between the low hills over the whole of the Bois d'Avocourt. The French cannon were almost silenced that night; but morning brought some relief in the form of a light breeze, and the batteries gradually reopened fire, to continue the preparation for the attack which turned out so successfully.
But that gas attack spelt the nemesis of the service of Section Thirty-One with the 25th Division. Mills and Loomis had been on call at the outpost during the evening and at eleven o'clock were both sent to "P. J. Droit" for some wounded engineers. When the blessés had been found, both of our men started for the triage; but in the meantime, at a crossroads in one of the little valleys between the outposts and "P. 4," an ammunition wagon train had been smashed during the high-explosive fire earlier in the evening, blocking the road with débris, and before the way could be cleared, the gas attack began, when the drivers of the ravitaillement and ammunition wagons, forced to cut loose their horses and find what shelter they could, blocked the road until daylight. Into this mess ran Mills and Loomis with their blessés, Mills badly damaging his car in the dark before he could discover the heaped-up wagons and dead animals. As soon as they had determined the extent of the blockade and being unacquainted with any road by which it might be circumvented, they decided to find shelter for their blessés and if possible send for relief. They discovered an artillery abri for the wounded, but could find no means of communication either to "P. 4" or to Récicourt and so remained until morning with their men. After waiting until past midnight without word, the Chef had a presentiment that the outpost drivers might be in difficulty, and so decided to investigate with the aid of the relief cars at "P. 4." But it proving impossible to find a way about in the heavy gas fog, to say nothing of assisting a possible damaged car beyond, the squad returned to "P. 4" to await daylight.
Meanwhile at Récicourt a call for special cars came by telephone from the outposts. Bingham had returned earlier in the evening from a call a little beyond "P. 4" with a report of the extent of the gas, and so, uninformed of the seriousness of the obstruction, though cognizant of the general condition of the road, Sous-Chef Mueller organized a squad of five cars, to answer this special call. When, however, this squad reached the blockade, they too realized the hopelessness of the situation, and while the men did finally succeed in climbing over the dead horses and wagon débris, leaving the cars behind, the gas was so bad that they, too, before they could return, were forced to seek shelter in an abri. At daybreak the squad, by using an artillery road to circumvent the obstruction, succeeded in bringing all of the wounded, unharmed, to the triage. By nine o'clock that morning the engineers had cleared a way, regular runs were reëstablished, and we were congratulating ourselves on our singular good fortune, for apparently the drivers on service the previous night had escaped unharmed, when during the afternoon they began to suffer extreme nausea, cramps, and flesh burns, and by evening were quite ill. In fact, over half the Section was thrown out of service, and despite the assistance of Section Seventeen and lessening of the work the following day, the men were too exhausted or ill to carry on much longer; so on August 17 Lieutenant Maillard asked that the Section be relieved.
The following morning another section arrived as relief and Section Thirty-One returned to Erize-la-Petite for an indefinite repos. During the afternoon Dr. Gluge very kindly came down from the hospital at Chaumont to give the men an examination, and while he pronounced their condition serious, he said that with attention all would successfully recover without harmful aftereffects. Six men were ordered to the hospital, while the remaining sick, who were not so badly affected, reported for daily treatment only; and at the end of two weeks all but two were on their feet again.
IN the meantime we learned of the fall to the French of Avocourt, Hill 394, Hill 344, and the resistance of the impregnable Mort Homme, and during the following week the "Sacred Way" was again crowded with traffic; but now the camions were full of prisoners and the returning victorious French, ever joyous, and loaded with souvenirs of the attack.
Time dragged in Erize for a while, but the men recuperating in a splendid manner, soon the old ball games, trips to Bar or Rembercourt, or lazy observances of the traffic, became the order of the day. Twice Boche avions attempted to bomb Bar-le-Duc, and on August 26 did bomb a near-by camp of Bulgarian road-menders and even honored little Erize with a machine-gun fusillade. But aside from these diversions, little disturbed the calm until September 13, when the Section learned that it had been attached to the 14th Division, which it was later to serve at Mort Homme. The following day we moved to Condé to join this Division, which was en repos there and in adjacent villages. Splendid quarters were found in an old hospital barracks, and here the men stayed until October 4, evacuating malades to Bar-le-Duc, which was later so successfully bombed. Life there was very pleasant, indeed, as the Division was most hospitable and courteous in its reception of us. The men off service were frequently invited to participate in the hand-grenade or machine-gun practice of the various companies or to give a Rugby game for the Division team or to take part in the variety theatricals played in a near-by barracks. But before the piece under way could be given, Section Thirty-One was relegated to history, for on September 22, 1917, the United States recruiting officers arrived to take over the Service.
KENT DUNLAP HAGLER*
*Of Springfield, Illinois; Harvard, '18; served in Section Thirty-One and in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service with the French Army during the war.
Erize-la-Petite, August 19, 1917
WE went into the sector near Hill 304 on August 11 and were cantoned in a village, Récicourt, that was under shell-fire all the time. In fact there was never a night when there was more than a two hours' interval between shells, and part of the time we were shelled continually. We had no abris, except a couple of makeshift affairs, which, besides being unsafe, were so wet and muddy that it was impossible for the men to sleep in them. On two occasions when gas-shells were used, one was compelled to use a gas-mask even in the village. I felt pretty anxious about this, and tried to get our cantonment farther back, for when men are working under fire it is only fair that, between times on duty, they be allowed rest at some place where they may feel reasonably safe. However, they got along all right with the work in spite of the fact that the shell-fire was so hot that driving would have tried the nerves of even an experienced Section.
On the night of August 13, we had a call for four cars, and though I heard the enemy was using gas, I took the cars up, only to find the road so blockaded that I left them at the poste de secours and came back to telephone that we were unable to reach the farther postes, but would keep cars near the, blockade to bring back any blessés whom they could fetch to us there. In the meantime I found that Mueller had taken five cars out to meet a guide, sent by the Médecin Divisionnaire, who was to show him where the cars were needed. Mueller got as far as the blockade, where the gas was so thick that he took the five men and walked through to try to find the guide. But when he saw that the guide was not there to meet him, he waited until the gas cleared a little, then got about thirty-five blessés who had been injured by the gas at a near-by artillery poste, and brought them back. I would like to say a word commending Mueller for his work that night, for he had charge of those five new men and it was due to his efforts that they ever came out alive.
Well, there was the usual number of narrow escapes, for the fire was exceptionally heavy that night. We had two cars slightly damaged by shells and Lieutenant Maillard's staff car was ruined by one. Luckily we did not have a man hurt, except by gas, and yet in all the time I have been at the front I don't believe I have seen a more strenuous night. All the soldiers say that it is the worst gas attack they have ever experienced, and it was estimated that about ten thousand gas-shells were thrown into our sector. It was the new gas they used that did the harm, for besides being an asphyxiant, this gas has a nauseating effect which causes a man, who may get only a little of it, to vomit for several days after. It also makes the body break out with small sores. The next day I found we had suffered from the gas to the extent of having eleven drivers too ill to work.
I doubt if we have a section in the Service which has had a more severe test on its initial work at the front, and I am proud of the boys and the effort they made.
C. C. BATTERSHELL*
*Of Milton, Illinois; born 1890; Whipple Academy, '10; American Field Service, Sections Thirteen and Thirty-One; First Lieutenant U.S.A. Ambulance Service in France during the war. The above report was written to Field Service Headquarters and is a fair sample of the scores of letters of this kind found in the archives.
SEPTEMBER 23, 1917, Section Thirty-One, while in Condé-en-Barrois, signed with the American Army and became S.S.U. Six-Forty-Three. October 2 it relieved S.S.U. Fifteen at Jouy-en-Argonne, serving on the left bank of the Meuse with the 14th French Division. Line postes at Hills 232, 239, Montzéville, Marre, and Chattancourt. During November five cars were detached to assist S.S.U. Thirty during the attack on Hill 344. January 4, 1918, the Section was relieved by S.S.A. Four, and Six-Forty-Three conveyed to Velaines, where it was detached from the 14th Division which continued its way to the Vosges, two armies distant. Two weeks were spent at Savonnières en repos, and then the Section proceeded to Souilly, where it did evacuation work for the Second Army for a period of three weeks.
February 2 the Section went en repos at the Bois de Ravigny. On account of the Section being quarantined for diphtheria, it was six weeks before moving to the casernes at Bévaux. Two months were spent on the right bank of the Meuse doing line work for the 20th French Division at the following postes: Carrière d'Haudromont, Berges, Nice, and several call postes. From March, 1918, until March, 1919. the Section was attached to the 20th Division. In April, 1918, Lieutenant Battershell was replaced by Samuel S. Seward. The middle of May found the Section en repos at Ligny-en-Barrois, where it stayed for six days. May 28 the 20th Division and Section Six-Forty-Three were ordered post-haste northward to stop the gap made by the Boches on Chemin des Dames. The first Division to arrive on the scene on May 29 was the 20th and it got almost as far as Ville-en-Tardenois when it had to fall back.
For two days, though resisting stiffly, they were obliged to drop back until, on the night of the 30th, they crossed the Marne just to the right of Château-Thierry. The battles of Villers-Agron and of Jaulgonne are given high significance in the history of this German drive and here the Section did good work sticking with the line units and being obliged to evacuate its blessés sixty kilometres.
During the retreat Section cantonments were at Varennes, Baulne, and Celle-les-Condé. The month of June was spent working postes along the Marne from Celle-les-Condé as a headquarters. While here the 3d American Division joined the 20th French, and Six-Forty-Three did the line work for both Divisions, in the so-called halt of the German armies at Château-Thierry.
Leaving Celle-les-Condé, June 28, the Section proceeded to Dammartin, where it stayed for seven days with its Division in reserve for an expected drive at Villers-Cotterets. On the 5th of July it returned to the Marne, taking positions in the second line of defence between Château-Thierry and Dormans, the Section camping at la ferme "Les Anglais."
After driving the Germans across the Marne the 20th Division and Section Six-Forty-Three followed in active combat the ensuing retreat to the river Vesle. The advance was made through Châtillon, Ville-en-Tardenois, and finally stopped at the river, the Division holding from Fismes to Jonchery. Here the Section worked postes along the river Vesle from a cantonment at Lagery until September 1. Then the Division went en repos and the Section, making a cantonment at Châtillon, worked twenty cars a day evacuating for the Corps d'Armée. September 20, Division and Section went to the Vosges, making headquarters at Saint-Dié and Raon l'Étape. While here Section Six-Forty-Three worked for the 82d American Division as well as their own French Division.
Taking position early in November behind Baccarat for the expected drive against Metz, Armistice Day found the Section at Thaon-les-Vosges. The 20th Division made a triumphal procession on the heels of the Boches, and were the first Allies, and the men of Section Six-Forty-Three were the first Americans to reach the Rhine, arriving at Strasbourg on the dot of the permitted hour. After two weeks at Strasbourg the Section and Division moved south to Schlestadt, taking over the Rhine line, and remained here until Section Six-Forty-Three was called into Paris for demobilization on March 13, 1919. A Section Citation to the Order of the Division was received at Strasbourg, November, 1918, for work on the Marne and Vesle.
GORDON F. L. ROGERS*
*Of Dedham, Massachusetts; Harvard; with Section Thirty-One in the Field Service; in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service for the remainder of the war.
||EDWARD A. WEEKS, JR.|
SECTION SEVENTY-ONE took over a section of Fiat cars in Noyon on July 31, 1917, and on August 2 was attached to the 158th Division, en repos at Nesle, on the Somme. On August 19 it moved to Lanchy on the Saint-Quentin front, with front postes at Holnon, Maissemy, a relay station at Marteville, and evacuation work at Ham, Cugny, and Noyon. The recruiting officers visited the Section on August 29, but the Section continued under the old régime until November, when the Fiats were abandoned; then the men transferred to a Ford Section at Belrupt, outside of Verdun, becoming, with what remained of Old Twenty-Nine, Section Six-Forty-One of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
Some pledge I could but dimly understand,
ON July 31, 1917, Section Seventy-One was formed, with Roland R. Speers as Chef, and James S. Brown as Sous-Chef. At Noyon we were assigned to Fiat ambulances, and on August 2 we joined the 158th Division, which was then en repos at Nesle, where we remained for nearly three weeks, passing the time with such diversions as chatting with the fair sex of the village, frequenting the café, and getting beaten 7 to 0 by the French divisional soccer team. As we were all craving action, being new to the game, the news that we were to leave for the front came as a welcome relief. In fact, on August 19 the Section moved to Lanchy on the Saint-Quentin front, where our Division had taken over the lines.
Of all the forsaken, desolate spots we had ever seen, Lanchy won first prize. Cold, rain, and mud added to the dismalness of our surroundings and tended to make existence pretty unpleasant, living as we did in tents and cellars.
The work in this sector was not very strenuous. We had two front postes, one at Holnon, the other at Maissemy, of one car each, with a two-car relay station at Marteville. Two cars daily were on evacuation. This latter work was very popular, as it took us to Ham and Cugny, the home of some American Red Cross nurses, and sometimes as far as Noyon, with its ice-cream parlor and cafés. As we were working in a repos sector we did not see much action, except for a gas attack, during which all the Section was called out. Of course, there were the usual wild rumors of big coups de main and attacks that were to come off "next week," but which never materialized.
Gloom descended upon us on August 31, when the United States recruiting officers appeared to enlist men for the army; but Seventy-One enlisted a larger proportion of its men than any other Field Service section. Toward the end of October rumors spread that we were to be relieved, and on November 1 an Allentown section, fresh from America, appeared with little pasteboard-walled cars. After two days, during which we showed them the postes, we were ordered to leave for Noyon and turn in our cars. So glad were we to leave Lanchy that the convoy out to Noyon, once beyond the limits of Ham, developed into a whirlwind at which the gendarmes could only throw up their hands in despair.
After two days of bliss in Paris, the Section was cut to twenty-five members, who moved to Belrupt just outside of Verdun, where we relieved the members of Section Twenty-Nine, taking over their cars and equipment, and where we became attached to the 120th Division and worked the poste de secours at the Carrière d'Haudromont between Bras and Douaumont. Here, on November 22, Way Spaulding was severely wounded in front of the abri. During the thirty-five days at Belrupt, five of our cars were smashed by shells and all but two cars were hit by éclats. On December 8 we were relieved by a French Section of Fiats and moved to Andernay en repos. On Christmas Day, with much "crape-hanging," we donned the "choker uniforms" and became S.S.U. Six-Forty-One of the United States Army Ambulance Service.
*Of Brookline, Massachusetts; Harvard, '20; served in the Field Service with Section Seventy-One, and subsequently in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
Nesle, August 6
GAS-MASKS and "tin derbies" were given out to-day, and, with both of them on, I look like some prehistoric fish. We were also warned by our Lieutenant regarding the new German gas-shells. It appears that they are filled with a combination gas, make very little noise when exploding --something on the order of a defective giant firecracker --- and make their presence first known by a faint smell of garlic or mustard. Now we all run like fiends when some imaginative soul thinks he smells garlic. At the conclusion of his speech, the Lieutenant added that the present gas-masks were no protection against the new shells. I wonder what we're going to use them for.
AT last we've carried our first wounded, and if the war were to stop to-morrow, which it won't, I could at least say that I've seen some service, even though not actually under shot and shell. Early this morning Harry and I answered a call at Masy and transferred two couchés from the first-aid station there to the base hospital at Ham. The roads were terrible, and I, riding in the back, had a chance to witness the tortures endured by the poor devils who were bounced about in a very gruesome manner.
THIS afternoon Dick, Harry, and I visited Herly, Curchy, and Manicourt, ruined villages to the west of the château. They were in utter ruins, and were uninhabited save for a company or so of our Division, who were living in the old German dugouts. Everything was in perfect order, as the Boches were forced to evacuate in such a hurry that they had little time for their usual "strafing." .The dugouts, which were about eight feet long by six feet wide and six feet deep, were lined with thick sheet iron, on top of which were placed sandbags, then logs, and finally a thick layer of sod, the final product being perfectly disguised, and for a distance up to a third of a mile practically indistinguishable from the landscape. Many of them bore upon their walls somewhat pointed and impolite messages from the retiring Germans to the entering Canadians. The dirty Boches had time, however before their departure, to chop down every fruit tree that lay anywhere near their path of retreat. I remember seeing a photograph of this atrocity in the pictorial supplement of the "Times" --- a devastated orchard of which, out of a total of one hundred trees, but two remained standing. You can imagine my interest upon finding that the original of the picture was one of the ruined orchards at Manicourt.
Nesle, August 16
RATHER a humdrum day. The only outstanding event was the Lieutenant's leaving for his permission. He made us a little speech, during which he read us an official communication from the Division Commander in which the latter complimented the Section upon its general behavior and its quickness in responding to calls. When he had finished, we were purring like so many cats!
Lanchy, August 20
PROMPTLY at eight o'clock we left our quarters and set out for the front, destination unknown. Arrived at this town shortly after ten and parked behind S.S. Fifty-Eight, a French section, decorated with the Croix de Guerre for splendid work at Verdun. As soon as the French cars leave we should get our chance to do some of the real work for which we have been waiting.
S.S. FIFTY-EIGHT left at eight o'clock this morning. I might say that until to-day we have been sleeping in our cars, secretly envying the Frenchmen who had provided themselves with tents made with poilu ground sheets. "Sandy," "Stew," and I had an opportunity, fortunately, to buy one, and very promptly did so. It is one of the larger type, about ten feet square, well entrenched and very sturdily put up. "Castle Cootie" is richly luxurious compared with our cramped and somewhat scented ambulances. We paid only fifty francs for the compartments, including an extra roof, and though tents have been ordered for the entire Section, I feel sure that we shall be greatly advanced in years before they arrive. Meanwhile our purchase is the admiration of the Section. We carried out our business transaction last evening, and I therefore felt it my duty to be present at the departure lest our newly acquired home were to take it into its head to leave with them. My appearance, shivering in my B.V.D.'s, was the signal for untold merriment. I accepted the tribute in stern silence.
LAST night the wind did blow; also the rain pattered, dripped, and drizzled through every possible crack and crevice in our most esteemed tent until "Castle Cootie" was one damp puddle of floating possessions. And yet the merry(?) patter of raindrops is a cheery sound under even the most discouraging conditions, and the three of us were soon wrapped in noisy but peaceful slumber. At 2.45 A.M., by actual observation of our wrist watches, tent number 2, owned by Messrs. Crosby, Fox, Salinger, and Spaulding, collapsed with a piteous sigh. Muffled curses, groans, and wails. At three, Crosby, a most heart-rending sight, indeed, crawls under the flap of our swaying mansion, dragging behind him two wet, muddy, and exceedingly tired blankets. His entrance was greeted with suppressed snickers from our three cots, but he haughtily rolled himself up in the blankets, on the muddy floor, and, no sympathy forthcoming, silence followed. In the morning Harry presented a never-to-be-forgotten appearance: one belly-band, a pink pajama top, a heavy woollen undershirt, a white St. Mark's sweater, a raveled blue sweater constructed by "Her," and, as an outer shell, a goatskin coat; while his props were encased in a damp, mud-bespattered pair of pajama trousers, around which were wound, in a most uncertain manner, a pair of roll puttees!
BLUE MONDAY! It's raining as consistently as it did all day yesterday. The tent maintains its reputation as a sieve. And a huge mail from the States arrived, my share of which may be represented by the latter half of the number 10. Gloom!
WONDER of wonders!! Last night's rumors were verified this morning. Shortly before eleven, two United States officers and a very young-looking Army doctor drove up. After lunch the Section was addressed by Lieutenant Webster, and told that the Government had decided to take over every independent American organization on this side of the water. Then followed the necessary recruiting officer's "line," telling of the advantages, joys, and untold privileges to be derived from "signing up." We were given an hour to make up our minds, at the end of which time seventy per cent of the Section signed. "I'm in the army now," rendered by Private Weeks.
STILL recovering from yesterday's dismal prospect. Suppose this damnable war lasts for some seven years. I return, a rheumatic, crabby old bachelor, losing my hair in bunches, to be greeted by strange faces on all sides and the consoling news that the object of my tenderest affections married some slacker five years before.
WE had our first real work last night. It appears that the Boche artillery had a holiday and spent the greater part of the evening throwing gas-shells into the second and third lines near Holnon. Their range was good --- it always is --- and they successfully cracked a few abris and threw things about in a most unpleasant manner. We got a call for "several ambulances" a little after ten, and I believe we made a record time to the poste. When we got there a rather unpleasant sight greeted us. All about the abri and in the forepart of the trench the ground was covered with gasping, prostrate figures of men, their faces a livid green, their foreheads shining with sweat, mumbling incoherently, twisting and turning in agony. It was our first experience with gas and one that did not tend to heighten our respect for the Hun. The curé was among those gassed, but he refused to accept any aid until all his men had been attended to, lapsing into unconsciousness just as the doctor bent over him. just two-score men gassed, an incident too trivial to be mentioned in the daily communiqué; just one of the million unrecorded sacrifices for which the Boches will have to pay some day.
EDWARD A. WEEKS, JR.*
*Of Elizabeth, New Jersey; Cornell, '19; served as a driver in Section Seventy-One of the Field Service and, subsequently, with the U.S.A. Ambulance Service. The above are extracts from his unpublished diary.
NOTE. Early in November most of the American personnel of Section Seventy-One, including the American Officers, were transferred from the borrowed French cars to the Field Service Fords of old Section Twenty-Nine. Shortly thereafter this latter Section was renumbered by the U.S. Army, and became Section Six-Forty-One. Under this title it continued to function until after the Armistice.
||GURNEE HINMAN BARRETT|
||JOHN S. CLAPP|
ON July 31, 1917, Section Thirty-Two left the camp at May-en-Multien and came to Paris to get its cars. It left the city on August 2, en convoi, arriving two days later at Ablois Saint-Martin. On August 16 it was attached to an attacking division, and moved with the Division to Romigny, near Verdun, on August 28. The Division remained here until October 2, when it went into line on the Verdun front, in a sector on the Meuse River. The cantonment of the Section was at Houdainville. It came back en repos on November 4, and was relieved by the men who were to take over the Section under the Army régime. Thereafter the Section number was Six-Forty-Four of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
And, conquering by her happiness alone,
WE of the New York City Club Unit cheered with no little envy Sections Thirty-One and Seventy-One as they left camp for active service. But we had to wait our turn. It came on July 31, 1917. Early that morning Ives lined us up in the courtyard before the office of Chef Fisher, at the old grist-mill camp, May-en-Multien. We gave three rousing cheers for Fisher and some more for Sous- Chef Magnus and the French Maréchal des Logis, our drillmaster. To everybody's surprise and extreme delight the latter then walked up to Ives and kissed him on both cheeks. The next two days were spent in Paris struggling with our cars. They started hard and did not run too well; however, with several cylinders still missing we were officially designated Section Thirty-Two of the American Field Service, Keith Vosburg, Chef in charge, Lieutenant Miossec, of the French Army, in command, and at 8 A.M., on August 2, we passed through the lower garden gate at 21 rue Raynouard in convoy on our way to the front.
Two days' driving brought us to a little village, Ablois Saint-Martin, where we parked our cars in a chestnut grove and awaited further orders. We were now in that indefinitely exclusive region --- "somewhere in France." It rained incessantly and the mud was deep. Not until Verdun, however, were we to know what mud could be. The good housewives in whose homes we were cantoned showed great interest in "les américains," in many cases calling us their adopted sons.
Orders were slow in coming. For a while three meals a day were our principal concern. These meals were drawn from the regular French ravitaillement, and prepared under the supervision of our Brigadier d'Ordinance, a French attaché whom we called "Gabby." Now Gabby was an old hand at catering, but the American palate puzzled him. "What would the boys like me to bring them for dessert?" he asked one day. Some one shouted, "Lemons." Gabby looked doubtful, but the suggestion was loudly confirmed. Sure enough that night a basket of lemons appeared on the table. The laugh was on us --- there was no doubt about that; but Gabby's feelings were at stake, so the basket of lemons went slowly up and down the table, each man solemnly taking one and stuffing it into his pocket with the explanation that "he'd save his until he got outside ... .. Well, you zee, my dear," said Gabby, "these américains, they are a funny lot, you zee!"
To keep us out of mischief, Chef Vosburg ordered the red crosses on our ambulances enlarged. This required red and white paint and about four days' work. After that, no German, no matter how near-sighted, could possibly have mistaken our identity. Lieutenant Miossec was impressed and later inspired. He ordered a French flag to be painted beside each red cross, the measurements to be the same --- about two feet square. Less enthusiasm was shown in this latter job, and when an order appeared to place in the last remaining panel an emblem characterized by the Lieutenant as a "Horse Sea," a shout of protest arose, but to no avail. Some one suggested that before any more orders were issued we had better enlarge the cars. So some of the men painted on their radiators the trademarks of the Mercer, the Rolls-Royce, and the Simplex. If the war had ended that week we could have sold out to Barnum and Bailey!
Not long after this we were officially attached to an attacking division, one that had several citations and much regained territory to its credit. The men in it were for the most part a hard-looking, light-hearted lot --- sons of a tropical clime.
General Pétain paid the Division a visit at about this time. In his address he made much of its record and held out great hopes for the future. There was much talk among the men that night about a pending attack, in which case they all had their eyes on the yellow fourragère. The General had spoken well. But one little zouave, perhaps more sentimental than the rest, said, "I guess it's time to write home." A fifty per cent casualty list was not unusual for this Division. Soon we packed up and moved; then, after a few days, we moved again. Our convoys improved --- the men were beginning to know their cars. This was fortunate because it became quite apparent that our destination was Verdun.
Then for a while, from August 28 on, we paused --- a peaceful interlude. We were cantoned on an old farm at Romigny abounding in fruit trees and comprising several well-cleared fields. We promptly laid out a diamond and organized ball teams. After playing a minor series, we started what promised to be a spell-binding contest. But poor old Carl Schweinler broke his leg sliding to home plate and all bets were off.
It was while we were on this farm that the recruiting officers called. We had long realized that our volunteer days were numbered; that all the privately subscribed ambulances would eventually be taken over by the United States; and that in order to continue our work we should have to enlist as privates in the National Army. Sixteen men enlisted, the rest of the Section remaining as volunteers until new recruits could fill the ranks. There was no immediate change in the organization, however.
OUR Division went into the line on October 2 and we established ourselves in a little village, Houdainville, directly on the river Meuse. In order to learn the roads six of us were detailed to the English section that we were to relieve the following day. Starting from the hospital we proceeded by a tree-lined boulevard past one of the gates of Verdun. There we turned to the right up the side of one of the surrounding hills, and just before reaching the crest, at a point about seven kilometres from the hospital, we came upon a series of bomb-proofs that we were to use as a relay poste, or "cab stand," as we called it. Less than a year before, this poste had been the most advanced in the sector, the German lines being only a few hundred yards away. But when we were there the distance to the lines was measured in kilometres and we drove to our advanced postes through this recently regained territory.
The road from the "cab stand" to the farthest poste was terrific. For a kilometre it was broad enough, straight and partly camouflaged, but after that it became narrow, crooked, and very rough. The surrounding country had once been wooded, with here and there a town, but now it was the symbol of desolation, a few upturned stumps and shattered logs being all that remained of a forest. As for the town sites, they were impossible to find, the terrain resembling the moon --- a mass of overlapping crater holes. After a rain these holes became partly filled with stagnant water and a stench arose that was horrible in its suggestiveness. Officially thousands upon thousands of soldiers have been reported "missing" on these fields. But, more literally, they have returned to clay. Such was the regained territory we traversed. The last stretch of road ran down a jagged gulch and terminated in a pool of filthy water. There being no room to turn around in the gulch, we always backed our cars down. This would be quite a feat under any circumstances because of the ever-present mud, stones, and débris, but we usually had to do it in total darkness, frequently in the midst of bursting shells.
The poste itself lay in a hollow at the foot of a limestone outcrop, which had been a quarry before the Germans converted it into a bomb-proof. It was said to be thirty feet underground, and hence safe. That was its only virtue. Water trickled perpetually down the walls, keeping the mean high level on the floor about ankle-deep. Ventilation was out of the question. Acetylene gas, chloride of lime, and the odors given out by dirty wet clothes formed the principal constituents of the atmosphere. Three hours in this place, particularly when it was filled with wounded, was enough to create a splitting headache. In addition to this poste were two others which paled by comparison. They were smaller, cleaner, and at less distance from the "cab stand."
During the first weeks that we worked this sector we experienced rain, snow, and fog, and we drove in nights of utter blackness, so black in fact that it was frequently necessary to feel one's way on foot just ahead of the car in order to find the road. Four hours for the round trip of fourteen kilometres was not uncommon, and there were places along the way where a miscalculation of two feet would mean the total loss of a car. Accidents were inevitable. Artillery caissons passing at the gallop robbed us of tool-boxes, and mud-guards crumbled when brought in contact with trucks, all of which was particularly trying to the sensitive souls of those fastidious drivers who two weeks before had tenderly removed mud from headlights and polished scratches on hoods. No wonder, therefore, that one night within an hour four cars were put out of commission; the most picturesque of these turning over like a turtle on his back in the mouth of a huge shell-hole. Several front ends were replaced on the road and many a car was towed into the repair shop. Radiators fell particularly easy prey to exploding shells, and during the first ten days fourteen of our cars were pierced by éclats; but fortunately, no one was hurt. Twenty-four hours on and twenty-four hours off is a strenuous schedule when it lasts over a month, and when one hundred and fifty kilometres is the average run per man per shift; such was our existence at this time. Little wonder, therefore, that we began to think of repos, which came on November 4, together with the men sent to replace those who had not enlisted.
Following quickly on the heels of this period of rest came the welcome news of a section citation and five individual Croix de Guerre. At the ceremony attendant on the conferring of these honors the General of the Division made a very gracious speech in which he said:
Some months ago, you came to us as strangers, but now the men of my Division regard you as brothers and I look upon you as my children. You have recently been called upon to perform a difficult and dangerous task. Your performance has been above criticism. In a word, you have shown yourselves to be as brave as the men who fight in the trenches. I therefore take great pleasure in presenting you with the highest honor that is within my power to bestow.
GURNEE HINMAN BARRETT*
*Of New York City; Columbia, '10; served with Section Thirty-Two of the Field Service; subsequently a First Lieutenant in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
NOVEMBER 3, 1917, the Section, now relabeled Six-Forty-Four, took part in its first engagement under American régime, at Verdun, in the Bezonvaux sector between Forts Douaumont and Vaux. It was in the line during a period of thirty-five days, and evacuated 3040 blessés. Although we had no casualties we lost two of our cars. The Section here received its first citation.
After a ten-day repos at Combles, the Division went into the lines, again at Verdun, and captured Hill 344. We carried 4210 wounded during the ten days the Division was in the lines. On December 3 the Section went en convoi to Bar-sur-Aube, where it remained en repos for a period of two weeks. At Darney we settled down for a long cold winter. On January 21 of the new year we quit Darney, going to Custines, a small town on the Nancy front. From here we operated postes in and around Nomény.
The Section left this sector about the first of March for the front near Amiens. The Division went into the lines at Villers-Bretonneux, and the Section was cantoned directly in back of the troops, at Petit Blangy, later at Patte d'Oie, where we camped alongside of the main road between Amiens and Saint-Quentin. We again were forced to move, and this time went to the Bois de Fort Manon, where we stayed until August 2, operating postes in front of Villers-Bretonneux and to the left of that town. We then went to Wailly, and from there, after a few days' wait, to Cottenchy where the Division made a joint attack with the British on their right. The Germans were forced back to the general line of Ham, Nesle, Roye, etc. During this attack the Section took its first part in open warfare, as well as occupying reconquered territory for the first time. The Division by forced marches through Maignelay, Jonquières, and Ribécourt, went into the lines at Chiry-Ours-camp, and, attacking, captured Noyon, then advancing to La Fère. During this time the Section made their evacuations in such a manner as to receive another citation.
From there the Division advanced through the towns of Chevresis, Monceau, Parpeville, Puisieux, and thence to Hirson, in a continuation of the Aisne-Oise offensive. The Armistice was signed the day after the Section reached Hirson.
Returning to La Fère, we remained there until the latter part of December, when we started en convoi for the Vosges, preparatory to taking part in the French occupation of Germany. We stayed in Rambervillers two weeks, and then went into reconquered Alsace on February 14, 1919, stopping for a few days in the town of Sarrebourg. From there the Section convoyed to Einöd, in the Palatinate, and thence to Alsie (Hesse), Bierstadt, in Rhenish Prussia, near Wiesbaden, and to Niederhausen, where the Section was cantoned for two weeks or so; moving from there to Ober Losbach. From that place started the final convoy of the Section for Paris.
JOHN S. CLAPP*
*Of Auburndale, Massachusetts; in T.M.U. 397 during his time with the Field Service, and in Section Six-Forty-Four of the U.S. Ambulance Service with the French Army during the remainder of the war.
||RICHARD C. PAINE|
SECTION THIRTY-THREE left for the front on August 16, 1917, the last Field Service Section to go out. It went via Bar-le-Duc to Issoncourt, and on September 6 to Triaucourt to join the 26th Division. The Section was enlisted on September 25, and the next day went to Grange-le-Comte, and shortly afterward to Clermont-en-Argonne. Early in November it became Section Six-Forty-Five in the U.S. Army Ambulance Service.
The land of sunshine and of song!
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
A NARRATIVE Of the brief career of Section Thirty-Three has little to offer the reader in the way of high-explosive thrills, shell-swept roads, or hair-breadth escapes; yet the last ambulance unit to leave rue Raynouard driving Fords must not be left "unwept, unhonored, and unsung."
On August 16, 1917, twenty-one spick-and-span new Ford ambulances, a staff car, and camionnette formed in hollow square in the lower garden, and after an inspection by Mr. Andrew and some officers of the United States Army, rolled out of the gates in obedience to a series of unrehearsed and complicated whistle signals, concocted by our Chef to meet the emergency. Despite the signals and the ill-advised attempt of a car in the hands of a green driver to climb over the car ahead and wreck the stately trees of the garden, we passed out into the street and history, and toward the distant battle-line.
At Montmirail we parked our cars the first night and proceeded to get acquainted. The personnel included as our French Lieutenant, Henry Laurent, Gordon Ware as Chef, and Bruce H. McClure, Sous-Chef.
On the following day we reached Bar-le-Duc, where we had our first view of an air raid, new to us, but an old story to the inhabitants, and also our first experience with troop barracks and army beds, with the compensation of a refreshing swim in the canal outside of town. On August 19 we pulled out of Bar, leaving most of our available cash in the hands of the local shopkeepers, and rolled on to Issoncourt, where we went into camp in what was left of a farm. A cow-stable offered quarters to those of us who did not bunk in our cars, and here we were introduced to several varieties of insect life that were destined to form lasting attachments for us in the days to follow.
At Issoncourt we remained in mud and melancholy until September 6, employing our leisure in the manufacture of camp furniture, perfecting our French, enjoying an occasional tramp over portions of the Marne battlefield near by, and filling ourselves with several delicious varieties of plums growing in profusion about us.
On the night of the 6th, in the midst of a howling rainstorm, we packed up at an hour's notice and were off to join the 26th Division of the Second Army at Triaucourt, where we arrived the same night. Visions of immediate action stirred us, but our hopes of high adventure received another jolt, for here we parked our cars on either side of a main thoroughfare and remained quiescent for eighteen long days. Some of us slept in our cars and others found quarters in a hay-loft whose sole means of entry was a rickety ladder, an inducement to sobriety if nothing else.
On September 25 we departed from Triaucourt with no regrets, and after a night at Grange-le-Comte, the Section moved to Clermont-en-Argonne, where we were soon comfortably established in one of the few comparatively whole houses in town. The advanced postes which we served at Neuvilly and Dervin kept us busy, and offered enough in the way of thrills, but the fates that seem to watch over the destinies of ambulance drivers were good to us, for despite frequent close calls, we suffered no casualties in the Clermont sector.
On the 4th day of November, S.S.U. Thirty-Three officially passed into history and became Section Six-Forty-Five of the United States Army Ambulance Service. Brief though its existence as a volunteer unit may have been, Thirty-Three was thoroughly imbued with the sentiments of the units that preceded it in the field, and the high standards and splendid traditions of the American Field Service in France.
*Of Hoboken, New Jersey; Columbia; served with the American Field Service for three months, 1917; subsequently with the Red Cross in Italy and later an Aspirant, French Artillery.
AT the time of its militarization, the Section was in Clermont-en-Argonne, where it remained, getting accustomed to the army life, until Christmas Day, 1917. The month of January, 1918, was spent en repos at Andernay, and on February 6 the Section was sent to Houdainville, below Verdun. For six weeks or more we were extremely busy and had many exciting moments, serving the famous postes east of the city.
Early in April we were ordered to Sommedieue in the Woevre, where the entire spring was passed with not an overdose of thrills. On the 10th of August we started for Soissons, arriving after numberless one-night stands on the 25th. Quarters were taken up in the lowlands of the Aisne near Fontenoy. For four days and nights our infantry attacked, and we were overwhelmed with strenuous work. Our cars were on the road continuously, serving postes which constantly shifted their position, and lent a nervous uncertainty that added to the strain.
On August 29 Hess, a very fine chap, was killed by a bomb, and Naslund and Mackie were wounded. For the work done at this time the Section received a citation.
A ten-day rest and we were returned to the same sector to take part in the Aisne-Oise offensive, which was only halted by the Armistice. Descending then in convoy, we spent the winter at Forbach, in Lorraine, where our troops were on garrison duty. The Section left in March for Base Camp.
RICHARD C. PAINE*
*Of Boston, Massachusetts; Harvard, '17; served with Section Thirty-Three from September, 1917, and after its militarization with the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
||JOHN H. WOOLVERTON|
SECTION SEVENTY-TWO arrived at May-en-Multien on August 6, 1917. It left for the front, driving French ambulances, on August 18, 1917. After repos of two weeks at Noyon, it was sent to the front at Saint-Quentin. En route for this place, it was enlisted, at Flavy-le-Martel, by the American recruiting officers, being the first section of the Service taken over by the U.S. Army. It continued work under the old régime until November, when it filled in Old Section Twenty-Seven's vacancies and took over their Fords, becoming Section Six-Thirty-Nine of the U.S.A. Ambulance Service.
SEVENTY-TWO was the youngest son of a large family. When only one day weaned from a dusty preliminary repos of two weeks at Noyon, the Section undertook its first service at Saint-Quentin. Immediately thereafter came the United States recruiting officers offering every man the opportunity to become a private in the American Army, but to remain with the Section in the Sanitary Service of the French Army. One of the first groups to be visited by these officers, we have the distinction of enlisting every man able to meet the physical requirements, except one. Four of the original number were rejected on physical grounds.
The last complete section sent out from the Field Service Headquarters in Paris, we found ourselves, September 5, 1917, just emerging from the embryo of war in the abstract into active service and the American Army. Our personnel, with the exception of our Chef, was composed of the young men who sailed from the docks of the French line in New York City on two steamers, the Chicago, leaving July 23, and the Rochambeau, leaving August 3, 1917.
Those of us who came over on the Chicago arrived in Paris from Bordeaux on the morning of August 4, and on the afternoon of the 6th we were transferred to May-en-Multien. The fortnight spent at this camp will always be remembered by us as a real midsummer idyll; for, although May was located in the now famous Marne district, scarcely thirty-five kilometres from the Soissons front, the sound of the cannon was only dimly heard. Here the enemy in hasty retreat had been unable to commit his customary acts of vandalism, and the beautiful country was practically untouched. So we received our first taste of rural France in a lazy courtyard, surrounded by buildings which had once been the possession of a rich miller, trying in vain to realize that we were so near the scene of gruesome war.
The majority of the Chicago's Field Service passengers quartered at May preferred to drive Ford cars, and out of these a new section, Thirty-Three, was immediately formed. When this group left the camp for the front, the rest of us, who had spoken for gear-shift cars, were compelled to wait until our personnel could be increased by new men. Nine days after our arrival the ambulance recruits from the Rochambeau came out from Paris, and from this group we were able to fill out a complete section of forty-nine men, and on August 18, after two days of intensive driving on May's historic voitures, we were transported back to Paris.
Again our stay in Paris was brief. The day after our arrival we were lined up at rue Raynouard and informed that we would henceforth be known as S.S.U. Seventy-Two and that we would take over a former French section of twenty Fiats, two men to be placed on each car.
We were then introduced to our Section Commander, Chef William Westbrook. In the early morning of the following day, August 19, we were routed out of bed and despatched to the military town of Noyon, in the Oise, where we were to await instructions for joining a French division, and where our twenty cars were lined up on the main highway to Saint-Quentin, in the heart of the town. They were seasoned veterans, these cars, and were scarred and battered by great campaigns. Each one, however, had been carefully repaired at the Noyon parc before our arrival, and could be counted on for years more of active service. Owing to the lack of quarters, most of us had to sleep on the stretchers in these very cars; so they became near and dear to us from the very start.
For precisely two weeks we led an absolutely useless existence, which was principally spent in inhaling dust and exhaling epithets; and somehow the veteran cars seemed as impatient as we were at this forced idleness. During the first week Lieutenant Gibily, our French commanding officer, to whom we became greatly attached, was transferred elsewhere. He was followed by two other French officers who came and went for reasons known to the inner circles only. This did not tend to remove our impatience. It seemed at times as though we were to remain without the extremely valuable surveillance of French authority.
Saturday evening, September 1, we received orders to move forward toward Saint-Quentin, and the next morning the staff car, camionnette, and twenty ambulances, with our complete equipment, moved slowly over the road in convoy, and stopped at about noon on the outskirts of Flavy-le-Martel, where late in the afternoon of the same day the American recruiting officers followed us out from Noyon and formally enlisted the entire Section, with the several justifiable exceptions mentioned earlier. So what we at first thought meant active work at the front, really ended only in our incorporation into the American army, which was well enough as far as it went, but which did not go far enough for most of us.
Our camp, which had been a prosperous stock and poultry farm surrounding a spacious court, was cleaned up until it was made quite comfortable. The shacks used for houses were reënforced. Useless acetylene gas-tanks were stripped from the cars and served as generators for truly modern lighting systems. Stoves for winter we found among deserted ruins. Daily the cantonment and court were swept and cleaned furiously. But none of us lost in weight, thanks to work enough for appetite and good food. The historian is compelled to be truthful and admit that Section Seventy-Two's story ends where most others begin. Our work came after Section Seventy-Two of the Field Service was combined with S.S.U. Twenty-Seven, and had become Section Six-Thirty-Nine of the United States Army Ambulance Service.
JOHN H. WOOLVERTON*
*Of Trenton, New Jersey; Dartmouth; served with Section Seventy-Two from August, 1917, and continued in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service during the war.