"Come down here and enlist in the United States army. You are not in the French army and you are not in the United States army. You are nothing but a lot of croix de guerre seekers---a bunch of outcasts."
With this the recruiting officer ended his speech and stepped down from the platform. We looked at one another in silence. So that is what we are, croix de guerre seekers---outcasts! Well. it always helps to see yourselves as others see you, but that reserve officer from the quartermaster's department of the United States army made statements that I deny and resent and when you know the facts I think you will agree with me.
You will read about us, perhaps, in Mr. Piatt Andrews' book, where you may find a brief chapter devoted to the camions in the motor transport service. Before our time of enlistment was up the army had taken over the volunteer organization so our branch of it lived and died, a short, scarcely heard of, existence. We were through. The army was enlisting all who wanted to join and the rest could soon leave. No one had any illusions about this service, but to be called "outcasts" and "croix de guerre seekers!" I think he was wrong there and when you hear my story you can judge for yourself.
To start 'way back, I will have to tell you how we came to be called the "Bastard Section." When we organized a section in the training camp we found there were fellows from all over the country in it. The units out ahead of us came, one from Cornell, one from Dartmouth and another from California. Each unit was from the same place, but ours was made up of men from every imaginable quarter. We could not call it the Yale unit because there were Harvard men in it, too. It was not a Williams unit because there were men from Columbia and Chicago in it; so we went all through the training camp without any name other than Section D. It was our last night in camp. Next day we were to be sent to active service at the front. That is how we came to be sitting around a long board table, after dinner, and how the Bastard Section came to be christened.
Ted was at the head of the table and the little, twinkling-eyed, old Frenchwoman who brought out the bottles always took them to him first. Naturally, everything came from him first---he was a born leader. Next to Ted, with his back to the old stone wall of the little fenced-in patio where we chanced to be, Eddie faced the table with a sparkling toast---the first. Bottoms up! We were still newcomers and very good champagne sold for an astonishingly small sum. Another toast went down, and another in the usual way. "Georgia" distinguished himself by his southern eloquence. When it came to "Nick' he told a funny story that was really funny. Nick was about to take orders in the Episcopal church when he decided to come over here to see the practical side of Christianity. He has a wonderful flow of anecdotes he tells in a way that will delight his future congregations. Steve topped Nick's story by one from his experiences as a missionary in Syria. Then Harry gave a toast. Was there ever a man from V. M. I. who did not know how to give a good toast?
Around it went. The long twilight was deepening its shadows when we progressed from one stage to another until we came to song. It was a rather rapid transition, as I remember it, for even in the short time we had been over here we had acquired the "ce la guerre" attitude. This may seem aimless, but I want you to know how we felt when Ted stood up for the last song. He had been saving it for the finish. It was called the "Bastard King."
As I look back on that time I wonder at the effect the song had upon us. I have heard it many, many times since, but that first time is the one I best remember. We shouted, and cheered Ted. We demanded an encore. Then we made him repeat it until every one was familiar with it. We sang it over and over again---all ten verses. We drank to him, we toasted him---and then, after that, things grew rather confused We finally found ourselves back in camp---every one was trying to sing the "Bastard King." Suddenly, some one had an inspiration (they come occasionally at times like that) we would be the Bastard Section---Ted would be the king! Three cheers were given for the king---I cheered---we all cheered---everybody cheered---and then there was a bugle calling reveille and I could not find my other shoe in time for roll call. . . .
Well, that is all I remember of the start of our section, but after getting to our station at the front we found we were called the Bastard Section. The duke was our first chef. He was a football captain before he came over here so he was an ideal leader for a gang like ours. The king was made sous-chef, being one of its from the start, and when the duke went to the officer's training school at Meaux, Ted was made chef.
Ted was a big, blonde-haired viking with humorous blue eyes and even, white teeth that were always glistening in a broad smile. He was very popular and we all swore by him and would back him against anyone, anywhere, for anything. He had the gift of leadership and made us all like our jobs. We had a real pride in doing better work than anyone else. He would run our convois with perfect spacing, in spite of dust or mud; we were never late in starting; we used to beg for all night drives; in fact, he infused us, somehow, with a spirit to do the very best that was in us. He was responsible for the good work we did and the record we grew so proud of.
For an example of how he obtained results, this happened soon after the duke had left us: One afternoon orders came in for a bad night ride with twelve cars. We had to carry shells to a battery, which meant careful driving over the muddy roads. We delivered the shells all right and were well on the return trip when one car broke down with magneto trouble. Somehow, all the other cars passed it in the dark and the two drivers were left there, about ten kilometers from camp. We were all new to the work and, perhaps, the two boys did not realize what they were doing when they left their camion and walked home in the rain and dark. They reached camp at about five in the morning and the sergeant had to go out and bring in the broken car. Ted heard of it, of course, but he only said, "I am sorry; I thought they would have been sports enough to stick it out until morning in spite of the cold and rain."
Can't you imagine how you would feel if that had been said of you? It worked better than a punishment would have done and tightened our sectional pride and our respect for Ted. In about two months we knew one another pretty well, after eating, sleeping, working and celebrating together. We would hear, once in a while, rumors of discontent in other sections; of orders carried out only with much grumbling and objection. We never had any of that; We knew one another, respected one another and what we lacked in discipline and obedience to our officers we made up in real love and respect for them. Ours was an ideal "esprit de corps."
What can I say of the friends we made there? Surely, there is not one of our old section who can ever forget the days and nights we passed together. Will any of them forget Ted? I do not think so. And Eddie? Who always used to say, "Gee! this is a bum war. I wish it would come to an end so I could go back home and be married." He is not home yet; he is in the artillery and may never get home, but he has a friend in every one of us who is left. There was a big celebration Fourth of July when Punk tried to climb a pointed haystack for a prize bottle of champagne. He had almost gained the top, but when he let go with one hand to grasp the bottle, he slipped off the edge and drew a complete shut eye when he landed.
Then there was Lucky Paul! He was the most fortunate crap shooter in the world when he was "in heat," as he called it. He could talk to the dice until they would come any way he wanted. A new section moved in near us one day, and Paul went over and cleaned them out. He couldn't lose! When he had gone through them he threw a big party down in the village. He had real butter, eggs galore, toast and French fried potatoes and coffee au lait. Doesn't sound like much of a party, but that was a feast for out here. There were forty of us in the section, and each one has thirty-nine friends which, really, is about all I can say . . .
Those were our days and our evenings of rest. The quartermaster's officer said: "You are not in the French army, you are not in the United States army---" He was right there; we were in the Bastard Section and inordinately proud of it. So proud of it that Fossy one day wrote a letter to a friend giving him all the verses of the Bastard King. Then he, absent-mindedly, enclosed it to his scandalized mother!
"Outcasts!" Steve, who had been three years in Syria as a missionary! He had come home to do his part and because of a blind eye was only eligible for service where the examination was most lenient. He had volunteered his services. Do you think he was an outcast or a croix de guerre seeker?
Tim had left Harvard with a weak heart. After being rejected by the army he had volunteered. Yes, he is an outcast, but if there were more with his spirit the army would never have had a chance to conscript men.
I mentioned Nick before. He was so small he could not crank the car in the morning; he used to stand on the crank and see-saw it up and down until he could turn it over. A five-ton truck engine is no plaything, anyway. There was Lou, who had just made his scholarship key at Harvard---driving a truck because he could not get into the army. These were only a few of the members of our Bastard Section but do they seem to you like a bunch of "croix de guerre seekers ?"
So far I have only told about the camp en repos. The work is the center around which all the other things revolved. We came prepared to work when we signed for camion service and that is what was given us. Many a time have we "rolled" from five in the morning till midnight through mud and rain, or if not that, through clouds of dust that were far worse, and be off at five the next morning for another all-day trip.
For reasons known only to the French, they prefer to work from earliest dawn till eleven and then have a long, snoozy siesta until about two o'clock. We used to get up before dawn and be at the loading place by daylight. Then from eleven on we would wait around for the workmen to come in and unload us. In those hours we used to wander around the batteries and down into the dugouts, or, perhaps, read. There was time for most anything.
One day we carried shells to a battery overlooking the bloody Chemin des Dames. The ground we were on was all honeycombed with old, abandoned trenches and barb-wire entanglements. We stood in a trench and looked over the top at the lines in full view ahead. The Boche observers are pretty sharp or else that battery was just due for a visit for we had been there scarcely five minutes when a big shell came whistling over and landed at one side. Another followed with the same range but swinging in an arc, and hit closer to us. We thought we were safe enough in our trench, but an officer came running up to us from a battery and ordered us inside the abri toute de suite! We went in and two minutes later a shell burst hardly twenty feet from our former resting place! No wonder the French raise their shoulders and say "Oh! les Americaines" in an uncomprehending shrug. They have had trois ans de guerre and know when to duck.
One spell of hard work was the cause, of a funny accident; funny, because it might have been so terribly tragic. We were out for three days from early dawn until all hours of the night carrying shells and trench bombs---and a few contact fuses. Dinney, who used to grace Princeton's walks, was carting a lot of fuses along with the bombs, which made rather a ticklish load. He had been out twenty hours the first day, fifteen the second and then had to stand guard half the next night. Orders came for an early roll the next day and Dinney had to go too. It was pleasantly warm, with a bright, sun shining and there was a good deal of traffic on the route guardee leading to the battery. The lead car suddenly stopped to let a speeding staff car go by and the sergeant jumped off to help the others. They all stopped but Dinney. He kept right on, heading for the deep drain ditch---sound asleep! Fortunately, he bumped the car ahead and so missed the ditch, but the radiator was smashed smack up against the engine. If he had hit the ditch there is no telling what those contact fuses might have been encouraged to do; but he did not turn over, he only woke up---rather suddenly.
Living outdoors like that, working and playing together, makes good friends, and we had lots of both, so we grew to he warm comrades. It was during a long and arduous grind that we had our first real excitement. We were carrying supplies to an artillery parc adjoining a battery when Mr. Fritz opened up. None of us in the Bastard Section will forget that night because it marks the time we lost Ted for a chef and when we did not get a citation.
Our convoi loaded about 5 o'clock and we crawled to a stop behind the lines just before dark. In half an hour we could run in and unload so we sat there and waited for dusk. At two long whistles from the sergeant we cranked up and were on the road once more, a road shielded on one side by clever camouflage which made it almost indistinguishable from the green hillside. At a gap in the hills we turned north and ran the cars in the parc and up to the bombproof ammunition dugouts of the battery. In we went and the corvée (workgang) jumped in to unload us---and jumped out again.
Zing-bang! a big shell exploded in the parc about a hundred yards from us. The corvée vanished like smoke and nothing could induce it to come out of the abri to finish the job. Zing---bang! Another shell struck within the parc and then they began arriving in disconcerting numbers. They did not always explode, and a few would whistle and thump, and we would hold our breath waiting for the explosion that never came. After the first flurry we discovered that the "arrivées" were on schedule. Seven came together, then none would reach us for four or five minutes. When they came the noise was like a big triphammer on hard duty, but the concussion was a new experience. It seemed as if an invisible blow had struck you, punching you in on all sides. I saw one Frenchman knocked down by the concussion of a shell that exploded near him.
It was sheer luck that he wasn't hit, but there was no luck in the miss of the second shell. He ran so fast to the abri that even a piece of exploded shell would not have been able to catch him. All the loaded trucks in the world would not have lured that man out again that night.
We soon saw that those cars would stay there until morning unless we unloaded them, so we started passing out shell cases as fast as ever we could. Each car carried fifty-four cases and had two drivers. Ted stood out there with a watch in his hand and when four minutes were up we all made a break for the abri. Sure enough, in a few seconds the shells would come in and as soon as seven had landed out we jumped and went at those shell boxes again. We did not stop to put them away; all we wanted was to unload the cars and get out. We set a record for a quick unloading and backed around and decamped from that parc just as fast as the good Lord would allow.
In backing around one car Ted did not see a tree, and in the dark the rear end of the camion struck his chest and forced him up against the tree trunk with a terrible jolt. It is a wonder he was not squashed, but he escaped with only a broken collarbone. That is all there was to it. We reached camp all right and Ted went to the hospital for a few days.
Perhaps that does not sound like much---taking a load of shells up under fire---but if you could see a shell explode, hear one whistle, then you would realize a little bit what war is like, as we do. One camion had eighty shell holes in it, another had forty-six. We counted them next day.
Ted never said anything about our little excitement to the captain, and we quickly forgot it in the press of work they kept giving us. Then, one day, a French lieutenant came up with a report written by the officer at the battery parc. Ted was a hero! We were all heroes! Our section was a credit to America, and the lieutenant gave us some more soft soap, which was all very flattering and gratifying to hear. He brought the report for Ted to sign (as chief of the section). He said we would be cited for bravery---and Ted would not sign the report!
You see, if we had been cited as a section, Ted, being the chef, would have been given the war cross. He knew that, and because we could not all get the croix de guerre he declined to sign.
There is no more Bastard Section now. I hardly think you will find this in Mr. Andrews' book, but you can easily ascertain if this is true or not by asking any one of the boys who was in the section from the start. They have all scattered and gone their several ways; the boys who sailed so long ago from New York have either returned or joined the army. You will find them in the artillery, in the aviation section, in the navy. You will not find any of them with the camions.
This is only one incident in the hundreds of similar ones that have happened out here. You will never hear of them; perhaps, you would not have heard of this if that recruiting officer had not said the things he did. But as for being "outcasts" and "croix de guerre seekers," I leave it to you.
France, November, 1917.
Here, in this gathering place of all nations, I run across many odd characters in the rounds. One original said to me the other day: "I seen I was drafted, 'cause my name was in the papers, so I hops on the first train for Allentown (Pa.) and gets in the ambulance. Eight days later I'm on a transport crossin' the briny. Threw up me job!---I had a fine job with the vocation people (N. Y.) in the credit department ---says good-by to 'my wife'---to-be---and here I am! We been out here two months, and the boss, lieutenant, that is, give me a 'pass' to Paris. I ain't never been there before. Say, is it the Tames river what goes through Paris? (He had never heard of the Seine and has a wonderful pronunciation for the Thames.)
"You don't know a good hotel where I can stay at, do you? What do you do when you can't speak French? Say, them fellows out in our bunch are a mixed crowd. There is a lot of these here college boys, and they want you to know it, too. Sit around all the time playing cards and gambling; talking a lot about theaters and books. You know, pulling a heavy line. Say, they made me sick, talking about what papa does and where they have been. Well, might run into you agin 'fore long. Say, when do you think it will be over, hey?"
We ran across that on the train coming into Paris. Then I met a Canadian artillery lieutenant. He had enlisted three years before and is the only man alive in his company; he is now a lieutenant. He was a nervous, very sad fellow, and quiet. Did not know anyone in Paris, had no friends (left alive) and did not care what was going to happen.
"I would give anything to be out of it all," he said. "I would give one eye to be back in Canada. I won't live through it; may get it the first day back. This permission' just rests me up a bit, but mine is coming."
Sounds pessimistic, but not when you remember this is his third year, and he alone is left of the original company. I am thinking that our army little imagines what is in store for it, but the boys will soon find out.
One hears an awful lot of verbal patriotism, loud declamations and speeches, and flag-waving and bands playing, but the quiet man who hikes off and enlists without getting his picture in the paper, over a column article, is the real patriot, to my notion.
Let me call this fellow Johnny Walker, because that isn't his name. I wish I could say he came from Yale, but he came from Harvard and is a credit to the place. You see, there are about six hundred men out here in this camion service, hauling ammunition and army material for the French government. They call it service aux armées, which sounds romantic and adventurous, but, after all, it is only driving a big truck loaded with explosives. Any poor simp who can drive a car and doesn't care about ever being clean will make a good camioneer. Considering the fact that practically every man here is a college chap, it is no wonder they are dissatisfied with their work.
When the brown coats of Uncle Sam's army showed along the boulevards, among the bright-colored, medal-spangled uniforms of the many allies, quite a stir went up at the front, where the camions were encamped. Men, returning from brief permissions, were full of patriotism and enthusiasm, and talked a great deal about what "our army" would do.
That started it! Every red-blooded man in the camion service began thinking about what branch of the army he would join. The dusty, dirty trips were no longer exciting, they became distasteful, and instead of being proud of helping the French army, men were ashamed of their jobs and wanted to join their own colors and be able to look any American in the face. You can't do that when you know your brothers or your friends will be in the trenches soon, risking their lives, while you are safe in the rear, hauling the shells they will use.
You may be able to fool some people with talk about, "Oh, they have more men than they can use now;" "You are needed in this branch of the army;" "It is harder to live for your country than to die for it," but you know, down in your heart, that you are in a comparatively soft, safe branch of service, and you are ashamed of yourself. If you are a real man, you quietly plan to enlist at the first opportunity. Johnny Walker was a real man.
About this time our original enlistment period of six months was half over and permissions were handed out right and left. There was a rush for Paris, and headquarters were pretty busy for several days. Such a stir was made and so many, men wanted to leave the camions before their time was up that the officials in charge sent out a paper to be signed by all who wanted to quit, and to find out what they wanted to do.
In our section there were only two men of the sixty who put down a desire to stay in the camion service. One admitted he had come here to escape the draft and the other---well, the less said about him the better. The infantry, the artillery and the aviation called every man in our section. Don't think they are just young and headstrong, foolish and full of the idea that war is a great adventure. We had been here four months and had had all that knocked out of us. The remnants of a troop marching for a repos after their stretch in the trenches helped put foolish ideas out of my head. So tired they could scarcely walk, covered up to the waist with a thick coat of slushy, slimy mud, and dirty! Oh, you can't imagine how filthy they were, full of trench lice and crawling with bugs! Can anyone have romantic notions about army life after a sight like that?
No, sir! Our boys did not want to join the army because they love to fight. It was a reason much deeper than that. I wouldn't try to put that reason into words. Every man has felt it and doesn't need to have it explained. Too much explaining has already been done since "preparedness" became the cry.
What I started out to tell you was about Johnny Walker, and how this situation affected him. Before leaving home, Johnny had been to the summer camp at Plattsburg. The medical examiner told him his heart was bad, but he stayed that summer and took the complete course. That fall he went back to Harvard and, in spite of a bad heart, left had by an early attack of rheumatism, he made the wrestling team! The doctor told him he was all right, only his heart had sprung a leak. It didn't seem to bother him a bit, as it has been that way for six years. That went on until spring.
You remember how the call came for volunteers? How officers' training camps were to be started, and then the rush to qualify? Johnny was among the first men there. Five feet eleven, one hundred and sixty-five pounds, eyesight good, hearing good, a leaky valve---and Johnny Walker was turned down by the examiner. He was in excellent health and knew he could do anything anyone else could do; but rules are rules and a bad heart is bad.
Failing in his chance to become an officer, as his education and personality qualified him, Johnny went home and tried to enlist in the regular army as a private. It took the doctor about five minutes to discover the bad heart and Johnny was told the army could not use him. Now, if a man was looking for a chance to get out of service, wouldn't that be excuse enough? So it would, but John Walker, of Harvard, was determined to do something, since he knew he was fully capable.
I have told you that we called our section the Bastard Section? Not a pretty name, but we were one of the first sections out here, and our boys came from almost every part of the country. You haven't heard much about us we don't figure in the Sunday editions as the 'First Fighting Unit at the Front," or as "Another Worry for the German War-Lord," because we left our press agent behind, but we are breaking up, as I said, and this is kind of in memoriam.
Our chef (he was one of us at the start) refused to let us be cited because he would have been the only one to get the croix de guerre. We were told to unload one day at a parc, and when we reached there the parc was being shelled by Fritz, and the workers refused to come out of the dugouts, so we went in, one at a time, and unloaded the trucks ourselves---there wasn't any real danger anyway---but our chef would not sign the report, so we were not cited and he did not get the croix.
That is the section Johnny Walker joined, and now let me finish my story about him. He signed up for the camion service because he thought it was more of a mans job than the ambulance (and so it is), but all the time his heart was at Plattsburg, training to he an officer. Along came "permissions." Johnny Walker went to Paris and tried the doctor again. No change in the leaky valve. No hope for Johnny.
There he was, unfit for active service when he knew he wasn't. All his friends were joining one or another branch of the army. I told you about the remainder of this section; there won't be any Bastard Section any more, but you can bet every man who was lucky enough to get in it, and then out of it, will never forget that chapter of his life. Friends? We are friends in a way, years and years of peaceful life would never---but there I go off the subject again!
Johnny was faced with the prospect of going back to a section made up of unfits, and men dodging conscription. Why was he so anxious to join the army? To my mind, he is the embodiment of the spirit of patriotism. But why was he so anxious to get into the foremost danger line when he was already doing good work in the rear? He, probably, couldn't answer that question if it was asked him, which I never did. Perhaps, you won't agree with me, but I think Johnny Walker was a real man, and that was his test.
Off the rue ----- there is a little chemist's shop where you can buy almost anything---if you can pay for it. A young man entered there one afternoon and asked the clerk for a heart stimulant. Finally, the chemist himself came and, learning that his client wanted a temporary stimulant only, gave him some bottled stuff and small pills, besides free advice and instructions. The dope took twenty-four hours to work, he said.
At about 4 o'clock of a warm August afternoon Johnny Walker walked up to the aviation office at the new headquarters on Avenue Montaigne and asked for a physical examination. There is no harder or more thorough exam., for eyes, teeth, lungs and heart are scrutinized most carefully. The doctor passed everything as normal and took the applicant into the dark room for the final eye test. The examination had lasted almost an hour and nothing had been discovered as yet. Johnny was tense with hope and expectation, but, alas, his eyes betrayed him. You can't hide anything from that little flashlight. The doctor suspected something and by following his suspicions, quickly discovered the weak, throbbing heart. He was curt in his dismissal, although he did not say much and Johnny did not volunteer anything. To be so near success and then to fail again!
Johnny was plodding back to his hotel ready to pack up and go back with the embusquées, resigned to his ill-luck, when he was spied by the little chemist of the day before. He inquired how the dope had worked and Johnny, disconsolate and morose, asked him if he had any other medicine which was stronger.
Not being too inquisitive to spoil business, the chemist asked the purpose of these stimulants and not caring any more who knew, since they had failed, Johnny told how he wanted something to get him by the medical board. Three weeks would be needed, the little doctor decided, but it could be done.
Three weeks later John Walker walked out of the United States army enlistment bureau at Rue St. Anne, a private in -----company, -----regiment, United States infantry. Which is what I started out to tell you. If I did not tell you, you would, probably, never hear of it, for no picture or article featured him, and he is a quiet man, who doesn't talk much.
France, December, 1917.
For three weeks the new troops had held the sector alone. Their instructor-allies, who had taught them all the tricks and foils so familiar to themselves, had withdrawn, and the responsibility for the frontage was now completely in the hands of the inexperienced Americans,
Major Preston pushed back his chair from the map table in front of him and ruse to his feet. "Captain Johns," he said, "I have decided to move the battalion headquarters to trench C-6," and he pointed to a spot on the photo map on the table. "Lieutenant Wilson can occupy this place if he wants to; it should make a good dressing station." So the major changed his billet and the doctor and his orderly moved into the vacated abri. After that the day went on quietly enough, as it had for three weeks. As dusk drew near the patrol was picked, and when night came on all was serene along the sector.
Corporal Severens settled his muffler a little closer around his neck and listened again. Just for a moment his thoughts had wandered from his immediate duty and had turned to the girl back home---she who had made the muffler. Just think too, a year ago she couldn't knit at all But he quickly brought his attention back to the job at hand---and that was to listen; to listen for a Fritz, to be exact, for Corporal Severens was in an advanced listening post and on his alertness much depended. How much he did not know, but he thought it was a great deal more than it really was; which was what the lieutenant wanted.
Suddenly, he stiffened, turned his head a bit to one side and peered intently ahead. He had heard a noise, and noises meant -----. Ahead, in the gloom, a cautious hiss sounded, and Corporal Severens trained his ever-ready rifle in that direction. To his surprise, a voice hailed him, speaking in perfect English, but with a French accent.
"Hey," whispered the voice. "I'm lost, where is your line?" Severens said nothing, but strained his eyes at the dusky shape which rose slowly. It was dressed in a French uniform, and the French were in the next sector, so it didn't seem suspicious to the corporal. He allowed the soldier to come forward and pointed back to the line to guide the lost patrol. Nearer and nearer came the stranger, and began a whispered explanation: "I went out with three others and somehow---" That was all Corporal Severens ever knew, for a cold, chill steel slit his muffled throat so smartly that he was spared the pain of knowing anything further in this world.
It was a neat piece of work, done in true, efficient style.--noiselessly and thoroughly. A few seconds later a gray-clad group slipped silently along, preceded by the "lost" Frenchman. The leader paused and looked back. He was wearing the coat and helmet of the listening post corporal now---the late Corporal Severens, of the ---infantry. He waited a signal, recognized it and suddenly sprang up rushing toward the front line shouting "gas," "gas," at the top of his voice. The few scattered defenders of the front line dropped their rifles, stepped down from the parapet and tugged feverishly at the canvas bags hanging from their shoulders. "Gas," the most feared, deadliest of enemies. In a flash the trench was full of men ; the few guards, utterly confused by the cry of gas, were shot n their tracks and the gray horde rushed silently ahead.
It developed into quite a scrap, for, though the ruse had succeeded at first, the shots ringing out had proclaimed a raid and the failure to sound the alarm showed the success of the surprise. Through the line dashed the gray coats, and the little opposition was crushed level and smooth---like a tank going over a barb-wire entanglement.
In a few minutes the party was at its destination---the abri in the rear trench Two men dove down the steps and came up with the doctor and his orderly. They thought they had the major and gloated over their capture.
Hurriedly, they turned; their mission was finished, so back they went. In the front line, where the advance had been so easy, an infuriated detail awaited them. As they closed in a volley of shots greeted them---it was another pretty little fight---in the dark, with an extra amount of quick bayonet work; a devilish good fight---if you like fights.
In the official account something was said about a raid being repulsed with slight loss. It was a slight loss for them, but for the new troops it was a gain in experience. True, they lost twenty-seven men killed or captured, but they learned in the only way that it seems possible to learn this game---by playing it. The Boches missed the major, mostly by luck, but they caught the doctor.
Back in Oskaloosa, Iowa, a sweet-faced girl keeps on knitting, but she is wearing a bit of crape in her heart for the soldier lover who was buried with her slit muffler. Corporal Severens paid the supreme price for the benefit of an army in the making.
France, December. 1917.
This writing will be a bit off form, as I smashed my thumb, and it isn't quite well yet. Aside from that, my pen is temperamental---like a reserve officer---and is prone to sputter and do tricks.
If the most high authorities ever should decide to pay me, I will have the money all spent before it is counted out. There is a joker somewhere, but you never saw a more helpless creature than an army man. If I ever do get my check, I would like to buy a Corona typewriter, too.
I see now why the men who make things go round hate criticism. They couldn't hope to explain little things. Secretary Baker is here (in France) now, and what he will know of actual conditions will be a joke. You ought to see how things perk up when any one On High is due. Then they come around and see the glossy side. Par exemple:
Inspection of quarters and person: Most High to "ragged-shirt cadet":
"Haven't you a better looking uniform than that?"
R. S. C---."No, sir,"
M. H.---"Why haven't you? Why don't you buy one?"
R. S. C.---"No money, sir."
M. H.---"No money! Why not?"
R. S. C.--- "Haven't been paid---can't get paid, sir."
M.H. Well, go borrow the money then! You men ought to be well dressed if you expect to become officers."
Oh, yes, just borrow the money!
There are a number of refugees in this town and not a few Belgians, too. They have all been forced to flee from the invaded districts. One little Belgian boy I met lately and started talking with him. He is about twelve years old and wears the brown tasseled "kepi" of his father's regiment.
I first noticed him because he was so exceptionally clean. What a discovery it is to find a genuinely clean person who doesn't look as though washing was a disagreeable occasional necessity. Even his hands were clean, which is rare for this town. His face, too, had an expression different from the ones seen here usually. His whole personality, in fact, stamped him out from the other children of his age, as a lad of better breeding. He respectfully saluted and was obviously embarrassed. Nine out of ten of the little urchins around here stick out a grimy hand and demand "un sou," "un sou." To meet one who was embarrassed was a novelty.
His name is not Jean, but we call him Jeanie, and every one of us likes him tremendously already. He came up to our mess hall, and his perfect manners delighted even the cook, and you know how unapproachable a cook is. Jeanie came here from Dixmude with a mother, three sisters and four brothers. His health is not good, and his misfortunes have made him rather sad. He is so pleasant, though, and so pathetic that every one likes him. He worked in a pastry shop for a while [censored]. After that he was in a barber shop for a time. His duty was to soap the faces that wanted to be shaved. Pay, one franc a week. Rather an unnecessary aid to a real barber, but as a shoe shiner is a thing of the dim future, and they don't brush clothes here, what else could he do?
With all his good looks and gentle disposition it is a shame he can't continue his schooling, but I guess this would be a happy country if his case was the worst. Just the same, my little Belge is the only one I have seen that I would like to send home.
Another refugee is a woman here who runs a little jam store. Her story is a sad one, too. She lived in Lille, with a husband, cousin and mother. They are of the better class. Lille looked like a cyclone-swept village or worse. In the mêlée their store was destroyed, the house burned and the husband killed. For a starter in misfortune that is about as heavy a blow as could be landed.
With her cousin and mother she came sway down here to live as best they could. The cousin tried her hand at manicuring, but the jealous neighbors thereupon made wry faces and lifted significant shoulders. Manicuring, indeed! What is that but a subterfuge, and as the young officers who patronized the newcomer left the house, heads would nod from behind neighboring blinds. Manicure!
After a time a little jam store was opened, but it fared rather badly. "Les étrangers" is what the refugees were called by their suspicious and spiteful neighbors. Then the Americans came to town.
Because it was so clean and madame was so nice the jam store took on a new lease of life, and when a room was opened upstairs, furnished with comfortable chairs, the little place became popular. Tea was served and is served better than any other place, so, perhaps, the jam store will keep alive after all. It is amazing how the older people---the storekeepers of the town---are set against "les étrangers," but, in truth, they are too good altogether for this place.
This town is the kind of a town that has a river running through the center of it, and yet has no electricity or power of any kind. They don't want changes---candles and lamps are good enough. There is only one man in town who is different and he has a house on the river's edge. He has the only electric light in town and it costs him practically nothing---yet no one else follows that example.
Not more than three kilometers from here is a "tres petite ville"---only one saloon (they aren't saloons at all, but they sell drinks). I went up there one afternoon and stayed until time to trot back to camp. The café has two rooms, one where one sits and another which is the live-in, sleep-in, eat-in room. There is no stove; only a big, wide fireplace with shining kettles hung at the side. At either end of the room is a big bed with tapestried curtains falling around it from the low ceiling. In the center is a long table with low, hand-made benches, worn shiny-smooth at each side. This room is where the family lives and where the few customers sit.
Something was slowly boiling in a big iron pot swung on a chain, and the grande mére was sitting motionless in a high backed wooden chair watching it, when I entered. She was an old woman, wrinkled and feeble, sitting there hour after hour, watching the fire. Her daughter, the lady of the house, came in from the garden and gave me what I wanted, then finding I did not want much, left me to go back to her garden.
After a time, I noticed the grande mére wiping away a tear and then cover her face with her brown and wrinkled hand, to weep silently. To say the least, I was uncomfortable, but pretty soon she stopped, put down the cat on her lap and, getting down from the high chair, reached for the bellows to stir up the fire. With that going to her satisfaction and her emotions under control, the old lady turned to me. Did I think the war would end soon? Were the Americans really here then? etc., etc.
Followed a silence and then the first words of despair I have heard from anyone. She said the Boche would never be beaten, and she bent her head to weep once more. I asked her why she was so despondent and she told me. For six years she had been a femme de chambre to an American family in Paris. Then they had hurriedly and suddenly left Paris to return to New York, and a month later the Germans had entered Paris. That was in 1871, and to her imagination ever since, that disastrous but brief invasion had left the idea of an enemy unbeatable. She was a pitiable figure---old, bent, care-worn and with a memory of a defeat so indelibly impressed on her mind. I cheered her up as best I could, but America as a power meant nothing to her and she only wept disconsolately.
Another day I went a few miles away from here to a little forest. It is anything but our idea of a primeval wood, as every stick and stone and leaf seems arranged by hand; nevertheless, comparatively speaking, it is a wild spot. We met picnicking soldiers carrying emptied lunch baskets and, as usual, with a permissionaire "toujours avec une femme!'
One girl was quite pretty---a very rare thing hereabouts. Waiting for a little, narrow-gauge train to go back, I talked to a Russian soldier. Naturally, I wondered what he was doing in this part of the country. Another soldier went by while we were talking, and I thought he must be an officer, for he was on a bicycle and had four or five medals on his coat. He was only a corporal.
It seems that with the revolution all the Russian officers were rather unreliable and would rather have some of that peace that was handed out than continue the strenuous war-life. The soldiers, thereupon, volunteered to "carry on" with the French. These that I saw were all wounded and convalescing, but expected to return to the fight as soon as possible. That made me stop to think a bit, for there are about forty in this neighborhood. They are more or less local heroes from what I could gather.
France. January, 1918.
"On dit" had it that a trainload of wounded was due at 7:30, so a little before that time I wandered down to the station to watch the shifting. Forty-eight blessés came in and six English wounded. Three gendarmes were there to keep the crowd back, so the other four and I stood behind the fence and looked through.
Most of the men could hobble, slowly and painfully, but still move their feet, so they gathered together to walk the half kilometer or so to the hospital. The others, the "couchés," were taken off in stretchers and put into waiting ambulances. Watching these, I saw a toothless, grinning face and was startled to see an Englishman. I knew right away where he came from and what branch he was in. Captain Bairnsfather has drawn him so many times and so true to life that it did not seem possible for him to come from any other place than London or to be in anything but the infantry. I went up to the hospital next day to see them and, sure enough, he was from London, a typical cockney---if they are the ones who call a horse "an 'orse" and an officer "a hofficer." He was perfectly cheerful; they all were, and could not understand why he had been shipped so far and then put in a French hospital.
These six were from the last drive. French, Canadian, English, Australian, were all mixed together in that sturdy defense, and when the wounded were sorted out for evacuation, these six---four of England's own, and two Canadians---were mixed up. One had blood poison in his arm. "A bit of steel plugged me arm an' got the cloth wi' it. There's a bit o' it in there now," he said. Another had a bad foot, another a bad knee, etc., but none was seriously hurt, and all as cheerful as could be. They were awfully reticent about where they had been and what they had been doing, but I finally wormed this much out of them: The toothless one, I discovered, was only minus in the upper front rank. A rifle butt had struck him in the mouth and knocked his teeth out. His loss had not affected his disposition in the least. If the six men I saw-and they were direct from the biggest battle of the war---are samples of the entire army, all I can say is: "Hurry up, America, or the war will be over without our help!" They have absolute confidence in their commander-in-chief, aren't in the least troubled as to the final outcome, and all the time are as contented and cheerful as if war was the third ward semi-annual picnic. Their morale is excellent. "Cheery-O" is an apt description, as well as toast.
By dint of careful questions I steered him around where I wanted---something about this drive and the methods used. They always speak of the Germans as "he." For instance: "He sent over a big wave, with four machine-guns to a platoon---we have one," and instead of calling him 'Fritz" they now call him "Jerry."
"They say he still uses the old-fashioned close formation attack," I said, finally.
"Oh, yes, he still comes shoulder to shoulder," was the reply, "but they have cut out the old goose-step."
"How many men are there in an attack like that?" I asked.
"Well," said he, "they say he has two hundred divisions up there now." One of the others broke in then, and I was glad of it, for between them they get a little discussion going and talk more.
"I landed at Zeebrugge," said this later one, "but he drove us out of there. My first big battle was Ypres, and there we gave it to him. They came over in solid formation---just a wave of gray uniforms, all lifting up their feet and settin' 'em down in that goose-step. It was a grand sight. They don't use the goose-step any more, they had enough sense to quit that, and they don't come in a solid mass, the way they did at first."
"Bill and me come from Montdidier," remarked my London friend, "and the other lads come from St. Quentin. They weren't no trenches there, just flat land and nothing for 'im to 'ide in at all. We 'ad our line spread out and then gets the order to advance a bit. It was each man for 'imself, so I flops and digs a little 'ole for me gun. It was some 'ot with all those machine-guns poppin' at ye, but there wasn't no 'oles set regular like so we 'ad to do it. 'E 'as four machine-guns to a platoon when 'e comes at us an' we've got but one, but each man 'as 'is rifle and, say, when I gets my 'ole dug I lies there and just pulls the trigger. You can't miss 'em! Why, when I looked up, there was Jerry everywhere. 'E springs up just like a bloody mushroom, and when 'e goes down there's some more just like 'im. They comes in waves now with their close order formation, maybe two thousand in a wave, and they're packed in twenty or thirty deep. We just shuts our h'eyes and keeps pulling on the ol' trigger. When the first wave is gone another comes after and they just keep comin' an' comin'."
"Have you ever had a hand-to-hand fight with a Boche?" I asked.
"Naw," was the reply. "'E ain't never come that close. 'E don't get to us, and when we're attackin' if we gets right up to 'im 'e yells 'kamarade' with both 'ands up. 'E don't like steel. 'E can't stand it."
Tommy had been up there with the French, so I ventured a dubious question "What do you think of the French fighters?"
"Well," said he, looking around cautiously "of course they can't stand up to our boys at all, though they're pretty good, but they don't like steel, same as Jerry," he added in a lower voice.
I did not tell him so, but that is just what a Canadian once told me about his English cousin, and a Frenchman had told me of the English in general---"yes, pretty good, but, of course, not so good as our boys," so, perhaps, that is what they all think, and it is best so, for if they all think they are the best they aren't jealous of one another.
It started to rain then, the big shining drops striking the window-pane by the head of the bed. The window looked out on a sea of moss-covered roofs, and the little hospital courtyard, three stories below.
'What kind of a town is this?" asked one---looking vainly for a pretty face from his vantage point. He was looking for something "interesting," but for a soldier en repos that is translated "girl."
I could not give a very cheerful response to that, as I knew it too well, so I replied, "Oh, just a typical little French provincial town, with a fine, big avenue, where they have the statues of all the famous men, and the market on Saturday, and where the people walk on Sunday, but stay away the rest of the time; and then the little, narrow, crooked street where all the business is done."
"But what do they do for amusement?" he queried. For two months I had been looking for the answer to that, so I gave him my thoughts. "They don't do a blamed thing," I said.
His eyes lighted up with that and leaning over to me he confided:
"Say, now, I've been in since the beginning and from what I've seen of this bloomin', bloody lan' I'd never a thought Id fight for it like this. Why, if Jerry ad a come out and said, 'I want it!' I'd a said Take it! the whole damn bit. It's no good.' Ain't that so?" laughingly.
"You been to England, ain't yeh ?" he asked a moment later. I had to say no.
"What? You ain't never seen London?" I expressed the hope of getting there on a permission.
'Well, now, you will like London. Where do you come from?"
"California," I said, to two blank countenances. One lighted up presently and then, pensively, "I never did care much for farming."
They did not know how long they would be in the French hospital, as their presence there at all seemed a mistake, but they weren't worrying a bit about it. They just smiled and talked cheerfully to one another, a natural cheerfulness, too. It is only a question of time, their attitude seemed to say, and I am sure they never for an instant doubted the final outcome
I am trying to get hold of a good story comprising the regimental log book of a regiment that was once in the Austrian army, taken prisoner by Italy and now is fighting for France! Hope to get the account from a lieutenant of the regiment They are Czechs. If you look up the Czechs, they never did like Germany and in the Austrian parliament they have been the Opposition for a long time. They are Bohemians.
France, February, 1918.
I was introduced to Camp Nowhere after a long, slow train ride. We marched up to the barracks through the town and the gates shut behind us---for three weeks. We had plenty of company, we found. The first "Don't" was six days at the Post---just at the edge of the village---within sight and sound of the numerous estaminets, but just as far away as a dream of peace. When those six days were over they ran a whizzer on us---quarantine---three weeks!
That was a blow, and all because one of the four or five hundred came down with a rash or case of indigestion. Although I and hundreds of others hadn't seen him, we were granted a nice quarantine. Just to play no favorites, after that one of the boys would catch "one of those things" every week or so until the C. O. had to take all quarantine off to placate the townsfolk. The merchants immediately noticed the slump in trade and sent up a deputation to ask the commandant to let us come down town again---the baby needed a new pair of shoes.
And, believe me, with what they get out of us they can buy shoes for six generations to come. It took them a long time to suppress their old habits, but presently they would ask double the old price for an article without a blush and, when you offered protest, they raised both shoulders, one eyebrow, and turned up their fingers and said, "Que voulez-vous---c'est la guerre!" and what could you reply to that?
Even then they would love to tack a few centimes on to a price just for the fun of short-changing you. It ended when one place was shut down for a week because of a flimflam like that---the French authorities did it, too. In consequence, they only charged a solid price and let the sous ride.
One week of army food, as given to us, finally came to an end and we organized a kitchen force. They let us have a kitchen of our own; each of the three detachments had one and we had a chance to cook the food. There were nine cooks in our shack, three a day, so the work was hard enough one day but nothing to do the following two. The K. P.'s (kitchen police) did all the dirty work of cleaning, scrubbing and peeling, so they had every other day off.
Those who weren't on a "gravy train" of any kind had to drill and stand guard or clean up, and of all jobs that last wins. If you can imagine a camp of one thousand men, you must know how dirty they can make a place. Well, the cleaning up, such as sweeping, digging, cleaning latrines, etc., was given to the cadets. Yes, sir, the mother who congratulated her son on being made a K. P. was not far wrong, only she needn't have said, "Don't be too hard on the men under you, dear; remember, you were only a cadet once."
"Only a cadet" reminds me of the story they tell out at T-----, a training camp. A cadet was returning to camp when accosted by an officer, who demanded why he was unshaven. "What do you think you are," he said, "a mechanic?" "No, sir," was the reply, "only a cadet."
It's where they don't know what a cadet is that he is not treated like one. I remember, with great secret joy, of the time an officer in a camp I was visiting asked me what time I was going to take up the "ship" that afternoon. I hated to tell him I was "only a cadet."
About a month after we reached Camp Nowhere they made a flying list, which purported to be the order men were to be sent away. That was a real test of how many votes your father could swing, I can tell you. Calling a general by his first name is worth anything, as it proved to one of my friends. He was sent immediately---has his wings now. Next to that is knowing a colonel or, rather, having one that knows you. Next in line comes having a brother or relative that went to West Point once---and so knows a "higher-up." After that comes your vote---if you have one.
I would have sworn mine away for all time to come once. It was like this: A certain man came to town---this was in the good old days. Gee! there are always good old days, aren't there, no matter what you thought when you were there? Well, he came to Paris and I, being a flying cadet, drove his car around Paris for a day. I finally found out he was Old Man Influence himself. He went up to The General and slapped him on the back, so I guess I can say there wasn't anything he couldn't have if he wanted it.
Well, this same ----- is a gladhander, besides being a mighty clever man; so he forgave my being a chauffeur and found out I was a cadet. He was mildly curious as to why I was driving a car instead of a ship, so I told him. He asked me where I came from and who my father was, and what did he do---the old fox. Then I found that next day he was going back to a flying school and that there were vacancies there.
What do you think the son of a gun said when he left?----"Too bad you are not a Republican! I might be able to help you." Take it from me, I felt like an anarchist for a few minutes. Just the same, that man is a wonder. Anyone who slaps The General on the back and gets what he wants is a wonder. He asked for machine-guns. After he got them, he wanted to take them on the train with him---freight is uncertain in every way, except slow---it's sure to be that.
Of course, such a hurry-up idea nearly made the chef de gare crazy, but ---- calmly waited until the fireworks died down and then said: "Monsieur, are we allies or aren't we?" That staggered the chef---why wouldn't it, it had nothing to do with the case? But it was a clever question and the two guns went with him.
Perhaps, that chef could excuse American ways if he knew them a little better. At -----, which is where I stayed for three weeks going through the machine gun school, there is a squadron of airplanes. They are not quite ready for fighting yet and so stay safely behind; but, without any orders, that squadron has brought down two Boches. They are not what is called "official," but the two lucky aviators were honored with the French croix de guerre. When a man is so anxious to get in he can't wait to be ordered, but voluntarily goes up and kills the enemy, you can't really blame him, can you?
That is what so many people don't or won't realize about the aviation---the mental attitude of a flyer. France and England accord their aviators much personal liberty and other branches are often jealous of the comfortable living quarters granted them, but they don't know and they can't realize what a pilot goes through when he climbs out of bed for that daylight patrol, gets in a machine and by dawn is on his beat, four or five thousand meters up.
He is shot at---"archied" incessantly---must be wary not to be surprised, and, of course, must be ready for the offensive if opportunity offers. Just go through that for a few months---if you live that long---and you wonder at gray-haired, twenty-three-year-old pilots! When they get back after two hours or so of patrol, is it surprising they relax? It is true they have more permissions and many other things, but figure a soldier going over the top every week and maybe you know what I mean. It's a mental bearing that is much more important than his physical well-being. You have to "feel right" to go up and do anything. Lieutenant Fonck, the French ace, is said to fly less often than most. He never goes up unless he feels "right." Result is, so far, forty-five victories.
At our school an exasperated infantry officer told a cadet, who was late for a formation, that the best thing that could happen to us would be to be stuck in the infantry for a month to learn discipline. Of course, he was partially right, but he didn't stop to consider that we had been waiting five months for a chance to go to an aviation school and had done nothing much other than infantry drill. We even went to hear a British colonel lecture on marching and found out a few points on marching a company of men. Pretty good for aviators, n'est-ce pas?
We had been waiting so long and had been disappointed so often that I think it has done us good. I know nothing fazes me any more---even a balling out. We were so low in the scale that everything happens for the better, no matter what it is. Why, after waiting five months for a place and being sent to the gunnery school, the chance came---it came while we were practically on the road back! But, because we weren't there, we lost out and men behind us were sent to the school. Even that---and you will have to admit that was some jolt---didn't distress us.
At the school I overheard a captain of artillery telling the "Chocolate Girl" (in the Y. M. C. A.) : "This bunch of cadets is the most unruly I have seen up here yet: even their commanding officer can't handle them." (Our lieutenant is a bon garçon, and we would do anything for him.) He was standing right beside the captain and remarked: "Say, captain, do you know that these cadets have all been to the front for six months or a year already?" And the chocolate girlie chimed in: "And, say, captain, do you know that Lieutenant -----is the C. O. of the cadets?" He was properly squelched.
That same infantry officer tried to make our lieutenant appear ridiculous by telling us how a certain aviation officer once came up to the major, and, instead of saluting stiffly and begging the honor to report, came over to the commandant's chair and putting one hand on it said: "There, major; there is the dope!" That was given us as an example of what not to do.
Next day, the lieutenant had the commandant's car at his disposal to make a visit to a neighboring flying field. Going down the road he met the infantry officer, better known as "Leaping Annie," and stopped to invite him along. It fairly floored him to find that it was the commandant's car. These other branches of the army don't know what a real esprit de corps is! If they think they can treat an aviator like a ground officer it only shows how much they yet have to learn.
We lived along from day to day for a while until finally things eased up. The first hundred men were sent away and a little more freedom was allowed the rest of us. There were reveille and retreat and at times these even were successfully missed. Those days we had the whole town to ourselves. I made a lot of acquaintances, even managed to get a glimpse of their point of view occasionally. We all had a favorite buvette.
Strange to say, each café has one specialty. Usually, never by any chance can you get two different things there of the same quality. One place will have excellent porto and poor wine, or good wine and nothing else. As a rule, in all the dozen or so places, there was just one that filled the bill. The lace store, tended by Madame, was a favorite resort for gossip. Madame is one of the nicest and best educated persons in this quaint town. She once lived in Paris---Oh, magical word!
Riding once on a narrow gauge local railway, a Frenchman asked me if we had many like that in America. I said, "No, mostly, they are electric now." He slowed up a minute at that, then said, "Well, in Paris we have electric lines all over the city."
If there is anything lacking like electric light, gas or anything of that nature, they always say, "Well, we have those in Paris."
Our Y. M. C. A. huts are the most tangible blessings we have. They have filled an absolute necessity in the camp life. A resting place, an amusement center, a writing room, and they have little things to eat.
I can't say enough in favor of them, and hope, sincerely hope, they will always have sufficient money supplied and never furnished by the army. Their huts are almost a sanctuary. The traveling companies of singers and entertainers are another good feature. It is like having sugar in the coffee, not necessary, you know, but makes life more enjoyable.
Just to show you that not all of our boys are unlucky, two came back last week from a permission in Nice. That is the Mecca at this time of the year. Everyone is there who can go, and they always seem to have a good time: Swimming, dancing, and the like. Tennis with the best of players. In other words, a real permission!
One of the boys brought back a right good story, too. There are a lot of English officers there and one rosy-checked colonel was having a small one on the terrace one afternoon with the two cadets. Finally, he said: 'Say, now, I wish you would explain this game of baseball to me."
So away they went explaining it, at length. The old boy beamed with satisfaction and nodded his head, following the ball. One strike, foul ball, two strikes, a single to right field. Can't you see it?
When it was over, both out of breath---you ought to watch a fan explain baseball---the colonel thanked them.
"Harry," he said---they were pretty good friends that is the best explanation I have ever heard of the bloomin' game---but I'm hanged if I understand it yet." Pas mal?
These days are the wonderful long ones of early summer. It is still light at ten o'clock, and to have to come in at nine is a terrible waste of daylight. They blow one of those everlasting and irritating bugle calls at nine, which means "get in the post;" then another at nine-thirty, which means "get under cover." Taps follow at ten, but as we still have plenty of daylight, no one pays much attention to it.
Nothing to do after that until six a m., when we hear that awful noise again and just have time to pile out to answer "Here!" This routine is over, thank goodness, for now we are in a real training camp.
France May, 1918.
We are privileged to name our station when it is as far back as this, so I can say I am at Tours. Except for the fact that Americans have brought a terrific increase in prices, the town is one of the best. The entrance from camp is down a long hill, across the river and directly down the main street, the rue Nationale.
Looking across the river, the Loire, toward Tours, is a wonderful sight. The bridge is of old, huge stone blocks, with numerous arches. A little island is in the middle of the stream and that broadens the river to quite majestic proportions.
All the streets are like others in France, cobbled and congested, with a sidewalk too narrow for use --so everyone walks in the street-and the houses built flush to the sidewalk and always with the first floor as low or lower than the street level. Doors cold and inhospitable-looking, with big iron hinges and locks and if there is a glass pane, heavily barred with round wrought iron bars. Windows, too, are closely shuttered, but that only shuts things in; it doesn't stop things from happening---only makes the mystery of them more fascinating.
Today, I was put on as corporal of the guard. Being new here and the post a large one, the job held quite a few details. No visitors are allowed on the field unless passed properly, and one French captain and his wife were granted permission to look things over, but I was detailed to accompany them around. The captain was utterly ignorant of airplanes and was only curious. His attractive wife, though, was delighted with the orderly line-up of planes, the neat hangars and the busy field.
She exclaimed immediately upon the beauty of the planes on the ground, with their clear paint and shining circles, against the background of blue sky.
Isn't that like them? The beauty of a thing never gets by a French woman. They certainly have an eye for the harmonious. Which reminds me of a bit I saw recently in the Cornell Widow:
She (admiring the grand canyon) "Oh, Henry, isn't the marvelous purple coloring seeping through the even terraces of those perfectly wonderful canyons just too gorgeous?"
He (reverently) "Gee, I could spit a mile."
We are bunked with a lot of our old friends. Several of them are all through and wear their wings. Others are only partly ready. This is a real camp. Reveille at 4 and formation for flying at 4:45. Sounds pretty real, doesn't it? The training here is excellent; it is easily the best camp, so I was lucky to be ordered to it.
Here is one they tell about a comical little fellow, a moniteur of the "solo" class. One pilot was making a bad turn and the moniteur, watching him, became excited; it seemed for a moment as if he would surely "wing slip" and break his neck. As the wing tipped the moniteur jumped up and clown yelling, "The devil's got one wing, God's got the other. Oh, God!" Then, as the "élève" made safe, "God won!"
He gave a low mark for a landing once and the "élèves" (students) asked him what a landing had to be to be marked good. He said, "Oh, if it's the first solo landing it's good if you can crawl out of the wreck and walk off alone."
One student landed all right, then struck something which tipped the machine over, spilling him out. He was given a "good" mark to everyone's surprise, but as a matter of fact it was a perfect landing---except for hard luck.
Nerve is developed as well as brought out in flying. I heard of a fellow at another school who was known for carelessness in guarding his life. I mean, he would fly any machine with a motor in it and would be a passenger with anyone---no matter how bum a pilot. One day, he was flying an antiquated "bus," with the neutral position of the joy-stick 'way over on one side and forward. He noticed that as he went up, but didn't care.
He rose to-two thousand meters, finally, and started a few tricks. Suddenly, he went into a "vrille" (they used to think that fatal) and started homeward as fast as he could drop. He didn't lose his nerve, but shut off the motor and put the controls in neutral (rule No. 1), but nothing happened. He didn't come out and continued dropping like a plummet. He was good and scared, but being cool-headed finally remembered the neutral position was 'way off, tried it (dropping about a mile a minute or more), and suddenly the ship struck even keel and he was safe. Coolness and quick thinking---he had dropped one thousand meters, which is some drop.
Reminds me of a story a British lieutenant colonel told us one day about a "non-com." He was speaking about brains and courage. "There are several instances," he said, "of men in the trenches who have thrown themselves on a bomb, letting it explode, but muffling it as much as possible with their bodies. Their heroism is an example to make anyone proud of Englishmen; but I know a sergeant who was in the trenches when a bomb was thrown in. Instantly, he snatched off his helmet, clapped it over the bomb and stood on it to hold it down. All he drew was a sprained ankle and the V. C."
We agreed with him that the sergeant showed the right stuff. All that balance testing they give in the exams, has its place, too, no doubt. One chap who has been with us lately was sent "there" from the flying school. He had had about four hours of flying before the moniteur discovered he had no sense of balance. If the machine was on one ear and peaking for a dive it was all the same to him. He is switched now and will be a bomber---which is second choice---a passenger who drops the bombs.
I read a magazine article lately (in Munsey's) on the "Making of An Airman." I am writing to ask a question. How do the glowing accounts get so twisted up with the facts? That article spoke of pay, of a twenty-five per cent increase in a flying status for aviators. Why and how is it that there is an army regulation which entitles an aviator to a twenty-five per cent increase and then there is another which keeps him from getting it? The only ones who get that increase (to which they are entitled) are the few who have come from the states and by influence or luck were put on a flying status.
These few are around the schools drawing their full pay, while the flyers who are at the front fighting can't get their twenty-five per cent increase. I have just come back from the gunnery school behind the lines and I met several flyers there. They are doing their work and can't get the increase in pay because they can't be put on a flying basis. They fly over the lines, yet are not on a flying status!
I know a certain fellow who is to be sent home whose only real trouble is an impatience to be fighting at the front. It is droll to think how opposite that works in other armies. In what other army would they refuse to let a man get to the front?
P. S.---I can censor my own mail now.
France, June, 1918.
All France planned to celebrate our "fête," so the evening of the third was like a Saturday night after the Eagle had loosened up. Everyone was out on the streets, and flags decorated almost every doorway. At the theaters especially, packed full, the actors interpolated lines in their patter that always brought a round of applause. Everyone here was feeling well toward us and, apparently, for the day, almost admired us.
Quite a program was in store for the Fourth, so we, like the French, secured a running start by beginning a little early. I was awakened, I know, from a wonderful sleep in a real bed, by the hum of motors and, going to the window, I saw twelve aeroplanes flying in formation over the city. They turned, circled, climbed and dove all to an audience of lace-capped heads peeping from shuttered windows, and to the thousands of upturned eyes of the more wide-awake, in the streets below.
After that came two small machines doing all sorts of acrobatics. One pilot slipped and spiraled almost down to the level of the trees in the square, to the open-mouthed horror of the spectators, who wondered if he was really falling or only feigning. When he leveled off and "zoomed," the breathlessness turned to a cheer and much handwaving.
After that I dressed, breakfasted and strutted around in the reflected glory of the acrobats. Just because of the wings, you know; but you can't because you don't realize what a place an officer in the French aviation has in the hearts of the people. He is just about the "beau reve" of half the romantic-minded, and nothing is too good for him---while he lives---which is the secret! They feel they can afford to endure him, for he won't be there to bother anyone very long. The English feel that, too, for never will I forget an opinion a Tommy gave once---in Paris. He had been telling inexperienced me certain of the incidents and adventures of the infantry. He didn't know I aspired to aviation, so I ventured to ask his opinion of the royal flying corps.
"Them fellows!" he said, and he looked at me as though I had suddenly asked him about Puck of Pook's Full or an equally mystical person. "Oh, them fellows." A light of incomprehension showed in his eyes and he waved his hands as though speaking of God, or a mug of cool beer in the morning. "Them's romantic sons o' guns; son, they only fly over the lines three-four-six or seven times---then they're through; they don't come back," and his hushed voice ended the subject of the R. F. C., literally, to come back to earth and talk about real things---about the damsel on a white horse who came out then and sung the closing song of the revue in English.
With all that good will to start with, the Americans from camp came in on "pass" to spend the day. They played baseball, had a track meet and celebrated generally. In the evening, I went to an American party by invitation---which was held in a large French theater here. All the notables of town were there to honor Our Day, and the party was a huge success.
First, there was a movie of Americans at the front ---thank heaven it wasn't a speech about what they were going to do. We sang songs---words flashed on a screen. This pleased the French guests immensely, for they seem to like our popular version of music. "When Yankee Doodle Learns to Parlez vous Français" is the favorite (all the "dearies" have long ago learned to say "Oh, la la, sweet papa!").
After that, with songs, by several well-known French singers, a dance was announced. This turned out to he quite an affair, including an American brew punch that pleased the palate of the French as another American 'thing," I guess. Music was by a cavalry band---a good one.
I will have to tell you now what happened to me, for it really shows how the French took the significance of our Fourth. Just after all the enthusiastic singing, and in the crush, while the crowd was clearing from the floor for the dance, I couldn't help but overhear a very well-dressed woman ask her husband, who were the rosette of the legion d'honneur in his buttonhole, where the punch was---he didn't know, and feeling excusably hospitable, I offered to be the guide---no trouble at all going that way anyway, etc.
After a few rounds of that the music struck for the dance and---and, oh, it did sound good to hear a brass band---playing for a dance. Madame, my friend, listened a moment and then turning, said "I have not danced for four years---since the war began, but tonight I am going to dance to America---with you." Around we went, and later I found out that her husband is the national deputy from here! That dance, my first real dance in---gee, what a time! was a good one, and showed the people another example of how America does things. It lasted until two in the morning, closing the Fourth and the "Fête Americaine."
Aviation, to my notion, is as safe as running a sewing machine. Machines break all to pieces and no one gets hurt, time after time. They tell me I am living on borrowed time already, for I have had quite an experience, but I enjoy flying more than anything I have ever tried. The mental stimulus, tension and keen pleasure in handling a machine are incomparable.
My former Stanford University fraternity brother, Dick Coleman, is over here flying, and this story on him was told me by my moniteur, who has since been bumped off, alas! It seems that Dick was flying a fifteen-meter Nieuport---the smallest and latest training ship. Just as he went up one wheel rolled off! How they did scurry around. About fifteen mechanics ran to get wheels to wave and the red flag to signal him---the ambulance cranked up---they brought out the stretchers---the doctor took off his coat and one mechanic seized an ax to clear the wreckage. Then they waited for him to land. Which tells better than I can do what a Nieuport is.
He came down, saw the signal and zoomed her up again and made the tour de piste; then he came down looking for a wheat field. The ambulance and troop followed him. Down he dropped, making the best flat (pancake) landing he could; at about seventy miles "per." The good wheel hit-lowered the other side and quick as a flash over she went, all to pieces. Before they could reach him Dick crawled out unhurt, with a sheepish grin as though apologizing for still being alive.
Our latest news, unwelcome as usual, is that we are to be sent back to Saint Maixent to wait. Wait, imagine that! Is there a war on or isn't there? Meanwhile, men from the states come over unceasingly and continue their training. Not only that, but the course here was so shortened that we do not get breveted here. Men from other schools who are sent here to learn real flying have their wings, but do just exactly what we are doing. They have had twenty to twenty-five hours and are breveted R. M. A's, but can't fly any better than we can, yet they are to get flying pay, dating from brevet. We get stung, have to wait again while they wait, too, but draw the bonus of twenty-five per cent.
Here is one on me. It happened one night when I had a room downtown at a good hotel planning to sleep late next day and try to catch up on dreams. That is the great game here---chercher le sleep. For, believe me, 4 a. m. every morning makes the hunt pretty desperate. We were not to fly next day, so it looked promising. Another lieutenant and I were sitting in the courtyard of the hotel about eight-thirty after a nice, quiet "diner," thinking how lucky we were to have found such a room, when in walked two young women. One was tall and homely enough to be safe anywhere, but the other one was small and quite easy on weak eyes. In fact, she was a beauty. They asked for rooms, but were told there was none to be had. [Exodus from Paris has filled up all these towns.] They looked around in a tired and disgusted way and then spotted us sitting on a bench. Not until then did I realize they were English, but they came over and poured out the story---glad to get it off on some one---they were so sore at the United States army.
It seems that the pair had answered the United States' call for two girls to work at the Hg. S. O. S. They had been told to come; that arrangements were made for them to be met, etc., etc. So they left London and came on; were not met in Paris and arrived here, mad, sore, disgusted, and then couldn't get a room anywhere. They went to ten hotels with no luck.
Alors, what could we do? We offered to find rooms if possible, not saying anything about the one we had. I went to the Y. M. C. A., Y. W C. A., and all the officers' hotels I could find. No rooms! I was given an address, but it proved filled, too. This took about an hour or more of walking all over with them, for they could not talk French---much. During this walk ---and they were pretty tired---the smaller of the two gave me the story. We did everything we could and, finally, found a woman who had rooms. We did not go up to see them, but told the young women if the accommodations were unsatisfactory they could come back to our hotel and have our room. They thanked us profusely, and we went in a fiacre for their luggage. Then we went out, "Gravy" and I, until about ten-thirty, when we came back to go to bed.
There they were! Installed and ready to retire; but what could we do? We had to come through, get another fiacre and go chercher the luggage again. We finally found a room full of biters, but fairly good, where we passed the night. Of course, the English girls were duly grateful---they should have been, bless 'em!
Here is the joke: After telling me about the difficulties they had in leaving England, arriving at Havre and Paris, then here, she added: "Goodness knows the French are bad enough, but these Americans are five times worse. I never saw such impolite people!" And there I was all tricked up in a Sam Browne et al. and wearing out good hobnails for her.
She did not seem to realize what a cold one she was handing me, but it was such a funny one I didn't say a word. She then insisted again that Americans were quite impossible. I forgot to say that several times in the course of that hunt I had to use my vocabulary in arguing with French women about rooms. A little later I was walking with the tall one and the other asked "Gravy" if I was French! She said I was so---but you know---she thought I was French! Wasn't that pretty good?
France, July, 1918.
[Written two days before his fatal plunge to earth, the following letter from Greayer to his mother is sit reflective if the lad's beautiful spirit that it were a pity to deny to those who have enjoyed his writings this, his final contribution, a sentiment in which his mother concurs.]
Dearest, Darling Mother: As usual, I come to my senses and find I have not written home for a long time. Please forget how long it has been. The weather has been very warm lately, so swimming is much in order. From camp a truck takes a load over to a town several miles away, where a river conveniently cuts the town in two. A bridge of several spans crosses the stream and it is underneath this that we swim in all the thickness of a typical French stream. At one side rushes grow thickly and on another a field comes down to the water's edge---a field all green and grassy, where we lie and dry off. The first time I went there with me strolled twelve or fifteen others---it was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. As we came into the town and drew up by the stream we discovered a man and "sa femme"---I guess she was---peacefully contemplating the floating, flowing river from comfortable seats on the bank.
Out we piled from the camionette and started undressing. A few had bathing suits---others union suits--one or two had birthday suits. The man was amused as we jumped out. I was embarrassed and looked questioningly at him and he seemed to understand for he shrugged and motioned us to go on and not mind them. The woman did not pay any attention to us.
So we undressed and went in swimming. Soon the bushes showed up more spectators and we realized we had an audience. They don't mind it a bit---enjoy it, in fact, and look with awe on our feats. After that we strolled uptown to look around and I stopped in at an old lady's café. She was curious and garrulous, so we got on famously. She told me that since all the Americans began coming there to swim they had named their town R------ les Bains, the les bains being added. Particularly of a Sunday, the place is full of troops and as many as eight hundred go swimming at one time. The old madame saw a button missing on my shirt. I haven't a shirt that doesn't lack for something---and she whipped out her workbag and sewed another on for me. Then we went back to camp.
Next time I came was a week later, and then I saw a sight that I will not soon forget. Mother, it showed, as nothing else can, what war is doing here. You hear and read about blood and thunder and mud and trenches and hunger and all, but this was different---yet part of the war game, too.
We had finished our swim and Phil and I were in a café waiting for the truck to leave. Someone came in and called the mademoiselle to the door. She turned quickly and ran back to the kitchen from where she reappeared with the old madame, her mother, and another woman. They all ran to the front door and looked out, talking excitedly. Naturally, after all that, we followed, and this is what we saw:
Down the street, the principal street of the little town, were a number of persons, dressed in their best, and, apparently, waiting for someone. They were grouped in the street, hemmed in on both sides by the white stone houses of the village which rose abruptly from the curb. As they stood there, shifting their positions and, evidently, forming a line, heads appeared from the opposite house windows, cries went up, and the quiet street was changed to a market hive of excited women, talking and laughing and waiting for the procession.
Eyes strained, heads craned over neighboring shoulders, and then all began talking at once as a white clad, long veiled figure descended into the street. A tall man, dressed in black, with a black derby and a starchy white collar and cravat, took his place by the newcomer's side---and the procession moved majestically up the street.
I saw then what a topic of conversation that wedding must have been, for each and every person of the group was explained to me by the excited little bar maid. The man leading with the bride-to-be was her uncle---he was giving her away. I didn't ask where her father was, for if men are absent over here you don't ask that question. Behind, came two maids of honor---I suppose that is what they were, for they were very happy and looked proudly around at the people lined up in the shadow of the houses, inviting eyes and not getting any, for all the glances were centered on the lowered face of the bride.
As she advanced, holding on to her uncle with one hand and clasping a bouquet of flowers in the other, she kept her eyes lowered; but every once in a while she would raise them and shoot a quick glance at the open-mouthed admirers by the wayside. Then she would blush with pleasure. Her white veil trailed after her and her two little white satin slippers trembled as they made the uncertain steps. This was her great day, and she knew it, loved it, drank in the admiration showered on her. Her costume, her manner would be talked about for many a day to come---and she lost nothing. Truly, she was a proud and happy little bride-to-be as she headed the marriage procession to the "mairie."
I am afraid she missed my unspoken admiration, but it was there, for she was well worth looking around for another eyeful. Pretty, if not beautiful, a clear complexion, fine silky hair and a well-knit figure. I looked for the lucky groom. A long file of relatives and friends followed---and then, finally, I saw him. He brought up the rear of the march with the bride's mother on his arm. His other sleeve was tucked in the pocket of his coat. He had only one arm.
As the last two went by, Madame turned to go in again, but the younger ones stayed to follow with their eyes the envied bride. Madame looked up at me with misty eyes and I realized she was struggling with tears. "Ah, monsieur, monsieur," she said, "he has but one arm---and she so fine." Again, she bent her head, then, "This morning there was another wedding, a man from Nice---but he had one bad leg." I saw again the healthy, sturdy little bride and, mother dear, I saw what made the old lady weep.
I read an excellent little poem in Collier's about war aims, perhaps, you saw it; it was the soldier's idea of what he was fighting for---not explained by fighting for democracy, etc., and by freedom of the seas---no, more like the vision of a ruined farmhouse, like a family outraged. I cut out the poem to save it This wedding at R----- was something like that to me---that and the Belgian family.
Andre sent me his picture, and, mother, I told him to ask me for something---did he ask for a fish pole or bicycle? He did not! He asked for a pair of shoes to go to work in.
Your loving son, dearest mother, now says good night [It was, alas, good-by.]
France, August 28, 1918.