To one who visited Paris before the war, Paris of to-day presents a strikingly different aspect---and why shouldn't it? When we stop to think that there is hardly a family which has not been deprived of some member in the terrible toll of death. The courage of the women has been marvelous through it all. To some it has meant the loss of a husband and to others, sons, while to countless it has meant both, and yet, with this sorrow to bear, they are ever ready to make further sacrifices in order that the outcome might be as the dear ones they have lost would have had it. Is it any wonder there is sadness in their faces? And such a calm sadness it is, too. No hysteria whatsoever, never a demonstration, but the look on their faces portrays very vividly what is in their hearts. Even the children, who are too small to appreciate what their loss has been, absorb from their mothers this characteristic composure that is appalling.
In little villages still within reach of the big German guns, one grows familiar with the night bombing raids of the Huns. They know that the bombs are for the women and children that are left, and at any moment may come the knock on the door, the gathering of what few earthly belongings they have, and escape into the night before an attack.
I have never seen children like these before, and I never want to see any again. Some little tots seven and eight years of age truly look like old men and women. They reminded me of the little men of the mountains in the story of Rip Van Winkle. They never smile, but wear the same emotionless expression at all times. Games seem to be unknown to them as they sit around on the doorsteps of their homes (where there are homes), and sad is their lot if anything happens to their mothers, for no one else in the community has anything for them. Everyone has his own to look out for, and it's hard enough to do that. This is why there are so many urchins following the armies. There is no one to provide for them. They have to shift for themselves.
The Mont Martre, the artists' quarters, are familiar to all for the frivolity which has always characterized this section of Paris. It now bears a close resemblance to a graveyard and it would be very hard for anyone to imagine that La Vie Boheme (the life bohemian) ever existed here.
The Boulevard Exterior, which before the war was a blaze of white lights that seemed to come to life about the time Paris was retiring, has taken on the appearance of a main street in one of our country towns at 2 a. m. Such places as the Moulin Rouge (Red Mill), Rat-Mort (Dead Rat), have long since ceased to operate as centers of life. Other familiar places to people who knew Paris before the war and had a world-wide reputation are the Latin Quarters and all along the Boulevard St. Michel, where the students held forth and where one could find almost any form of excitement, all have passed into oblivion like a dream. The boys are all with the colors and thousands of them had already paid the price.
Paris is very sad. The mailed fist has fallen and left its mark everywhere.
To-day the theaters are still running; such places as the Follies Bergere, Olympia, Café Ambassadeurs have their evening performances, but it is more for the diversion of the men on leave from the front than for any other reason. Long will these performances be remembered by the men gathered there nights to throw off the thoughts of war. I have seen almost every uniform of the Allied armies at these places in an evening, the men fraternizing, and absorbing what gaiety there was, trying to forget what they had left behind at the front, enjoying their leisure as best they could.
But the show is over each night at eleven and once outside the doors in the dark streets of cold, sad Paris you find no place to go. With dancing unheard of and all cafés closed at that hour, Paris has locked itself within doors to brood quietly over the happiness that seems forever lost.
Never fear that the French will forget America after this war,---no more than America has forgotten the French. I was in Paris on that memorable Fourth day of July, 1917, when the first contingent of American Oversea forces marched through the city to the music of great military bands, which played the martial airs of both France and America. The whole population was mad with joy. Persons of all ages, from tiny children to men and women old and bent, singing and shouting, surged back and forth.
Every nook and corner along the line of march was occupied. Balconies, windows, and even roof s were filled to capacity, and the words, "The Americans have come to help us," were shouted over and over again. Boys and girls, carrying small American flags, waved them continuously, while their elders looked on through tears of appreciation.
The procession under way, women along the line of march showered our boys with roses, and almost immediately a long-stemmed American Beauty rose protruded from the muzzle of every Springfield rifle in the parade. Some of the men had wreaths around their necks, flowers on their broad-brimmed hats and in their belts, while they fairly marched upon a bed of roses. No words can express the full significance of this parade as it affected the hearts and minds of the war-stricken people along the line of march. It will go down in history as the feature of a glorious day for two glorious nations.
Here was to be seen the real test of friendship, the concrete proof that the greatest of Republics had finally cast its lot with those who had helped to make that Republic possible. The whole affair was wonderfully inspiring, and the blood rushed through my veins in burning gratitude, for those boys marching out there were our boys and I was an American like them.
THE average person in this country has a different idea of what the term "Front" means to those who have been "Over there." "The Front" from this point of view consists of a series of long trenches, filled with infantry, and their personal equipment, such as barbed-wire, for they know that exists, and back of the trenches some cannon; but little does the layman know about the component parts necessary to make up a "front" and all the branches of service that are utilized, each an individual cog in an efficient fighting machine. I shall enumerate some of the departments that are not only necessary but vitally essential.
In addition to the countless thousands who labor in the mills, factories, foundries and machine shops, there must be supply depots, where all this equipment goes for storage when it is completed. These are not unlike our warehouses. From the warehouses, supplies are requisitioned for the different portions or sectors of the front where they may be needed. There are what we might term sub-warehouse stations, generally located back of the front near a railroad siding, where supplies remain until needed by the army. Here a great number of men are required for the clerical work, stock-keeping, loading and unloading. After this the material and equipment must be delivered to different parts of the battle front. This constitutes another big branch of service in which countless auto-trucks and men are used, known in the French Army as the Camion Service, and most of the success of an army in either offensive or defensive operations depends largely on this organization and its ability to "deliver the goods."
Then there are the supply departments for food; for the army has to have meals regularly. It is difficult to realize what it means in the way of supplies to feed an army. Each section of the front has its base of supplies from which the transportation department obtains them. This is where the meat is prepared and weighed out to the different departments of the army.
Other supplies in food stuff are measured out the same way. After this is done, the supplies are transported to the front, or near the front, where the field kitchens are located. Here it is again apportioned and distributed, for the cooks have just so much with which to feed so many. The cooking and serving requires still more men.
Next comes the bakery department. The raw materials are delivered to the bakery and the finished product taken away. One can appreciate the size of some of these army bakeries when you know that their capacity is 180,000 loaves of bread a day. This was the capacity of the one from which our bread came, which I visited. When you consider the output of such a bakery you realize that a great number of men are necessary who don't fire a shot and yet are a vital factor in a military organization.
The telegraphic and telephone departments constitute still another important element in the system. They employ a great many men, who are continually putting up new equipment and repairing the old, for the lines of communication must be ready at any instant, as they control the movements of the troops and the fire of the artillery.
Then there are the Dressing Stations with their corps, who attend the injured; the brancardiers (stretcher-bearers) and, somewhat removed from the first lines are the Post du Succors, with their attendants and doctors. Still farther to the rear are the base hospitals, and after that the Army hospitals, each with its Corp of doctors, nurses and attendants, to say nothing of the ambulances, drivers, laboratories and attendants.
There are the auto parks along different sections of the front, where there are hundreds of mechanics busy on cars of every description undergoing repairs of all sorts, for without these what would become of the camion service when new parts were needed for the auto truck? What would become of the supplies that they convey, and what of the army that needed the supplies?
Think of the number of men necessary for the ground work only around the hangars to serve, say, 3,000 planes (between 30 and 40 thousand men). What a part, for. instance, of our soldiers concentrated at the Mexican border two years ago would be used up for just this one seemingly small branch of the army of to-day.
There are other departments, such as Observation, Dispatch Riders, Blacksmiths, Mechanical, Camouflage, Road Gangs, Clerical Forces for each division, Horseshoers, Artillery Supply Caissons, which must be utilized; for many times guns are located off the roads and the auto trucks cannot get through the fields and mud, and so the caissons have to be used, as they are horse-drawn.
Last but not least is the very large and important department-that of the engineers who make and repair the bridges, railroads, gun placements, roadways, and new buildings.
All are most necessary for the success of the army for each has just as an important part as the other, and without the thousand upon thousand of non-combatant men behind the lines the ones at the front would count for naught.
IN the month of February, 1916, the German Army initiated a drive against the fortress city of Verdun, which in time developed into the greatest battle that the world has ever known. The Crown Prince was given command of the huge forces concentrated here, and offered the opportunity to vindicate himself in the eyes of the people, after having signally failed to occupy Paris eighteen months before.
Men, guns, equipment, and every possible aid were at his disposal and service, with which to make victory certain. The cost in men killed was not to be considered. Vindication after his tremendous blunders was a paramount necessity, and to be purchased at any cost. This policy became manifest at the very outset by the way he hurled great masses of men forward to certain death. It is all now a matter of history.
It has been held by many reliable military authorities that this battle was the turning point of the war, for, with everything in his favor, the Crown Prince had been unable to win. In the first days of the attack on Verdun the success of the Germans was very marked. The reason for this partial success is no secret now---France was not prepared. Regarding the condition of affairs at Verdun on the day of the attack, I have most reliable information from two officers of high rank in the French Army.
The Germans had been massing supplies and men before this city for weeks, in systematic preparation for the attack. They had artillery and shells in plenty. It was not for some time after this concentration had been under way that it attracted the attention of the French---so busy were they on other fronts adjusting the army as a whole to prevailing conditions. When it was discovered that there was undue enemy concentration in front of Verdun, steps were at once taken to combat it, but it was too late for extensive preparations.
That is why Verdun, supposedly the most formidable fortress in France, was gutted and its brave defenders forced back. They were unprepared for the onslaughts and masses of a trained and brutal foe. Under the conditions it is not surprising that the German Army made such great progress.
One of my informants, who is a thoroughly capable military authority, told me just in a few words how he viewed the situation at the time and how most French officers felt when the German attack was in full swing. It was impossible for the French to take the offensive. In the wake of their superior artillery fire, vast waves of German infantry came on. They arrived in droves and congregated in swarms. As far as could be seen in front of the French position the ground was covered with men in German uniforms.
They came so fast and so thick it was impossible for the French to kill them all, though the slaughter was terrible. Yet on they came, and so it was that the French retirement began. Even during the retreat, the rear guard continued raking the German masses with machine guns and tearing holes in the lines of the oncoming infantry. The French fell back to safer ground. These tactics continued throughout the first day, the defenders in each instance holding out just as long as it was safe, but always having to give ground.
Late in the afternoon my informant, who had been from one point to another along the line, reached the town of Verdun itself. There he received orders from the General Staff to take all money from the bank and proceed with it to Bar Le Duc, far away in the rear. This order, so he told me, confirmed his expectations as to what was about to happen. Apparently the city was doomed. The Germans were fast closing in on the city and defeat was in the air. The injured were pouring in so fast it was impossible to attend them or give them quarters. They were laid out in cellars, barns, wherever room could be found, until they could get attention and be carried to the rear.
In leaving town after obtaining the money the officer started to the rear on the main road, but the oncoming traffic was so heavy that the road had to be abandoned. Camions, artillery, trucks, wagons and men filled the road---all bound for Verdun. As they went by he said to himself, "They have come too late." Unending was this stream of supplies, and the order was that nothing was to stop them. If a motor refused to run, camion and all were toppled over into the roadside ditch and the procession continued uninterrupted. After a few days of this unending stream, ever moving up, the ditches on either side were filled for miles with every sort of conveyance and all kinds of supplies.
Arriving at Bar Le Duc that night he delivered the money and securities safely. At dawn orders came to return to Verdun. He and his companion officer were more than surprised, for it seemed impossible that the city had not fallen, and even then he felt that it would be only a question of time and long before they could arrive. But they started back as ordered. As they proceeded they expected momentarily to be stopped by word that Verdun had fallen---but that word never came.
Much to their joy, upon arriving, they learned that the French had delivered a terrific counter attack and that great numbers of reinforcements had arrived and had been hurled against the enemy. For the immediate present they were holding their own against the Boche. Prospects brightened. News came that further reinforcements would arrive before night, with supplies in plenty. Things began to look more "rosey." The Germans had captured one position after another, but after being checked for a moment the necessary breathing spell was afforded to the French.
Although the enemy did continue to hammer away there came a time after a while when conditions became equalized between the offense and defense. The French forced the Boche to settle down into siege warfare. If Verdun was to be taken at all it would have to be by a siege and not by storm. Thus did the French wrest victory from defeat, for as each day went by without Verdun falling one more dagger was driven into the heart of the German campaign.
Each day the French held on brought renewed vigor and determination to hold on forever. Every known trick was applied to the situation by the enemy. The "nibbling" process netted the Germans a gain here and there but always the French exacted heavy toll for such advances. Under ordinary conditions the Germans would have given up the Verdun job as hopeless, but it is not an ordinary thing to vindicate a Crown Prince. The House of Hohenzollern cared not how many men were sent to unnecessary death so long as absolute defeat could be obviated.
The great siege of Verdun was well upon its second year when I struck French soil, and it was on its scarred front that my work began, and where I saw my first battle. It was one of the battles that completed the final rolling back that I shall describe, and it was the most spectacular event I ever hope to see. The action was on the front between Ft. Vaux and Ft. Douaumont, which no doubt all are familiar with, on account of the terrific fighting that has never ceased along these particular points. Both sides captured and recaptured each other's positions many times, as has been told in detail by the press from the viewpoint of many special writers.
When I arrived at Verdun I was immediately ordered up to Flurey. The only thing left to mark the remains of this town was a bell tower, which had been tumbled over, but some fifteen feet of it still stood above the ground. The bell had tumbled into the debris.
We were quartered in an abri about twenty feet underground. I was at once attracted by the unusual aerial activity, there being a large number of French and German planes in the air most of the time. These I watched with great interest, particularly one Frenchman who was jockeying for a position of advantage, from which to attack a two-man Boche plane. Finally he dove for it, but missed. At this instant a fighting plane came to the aid of the Boches, but the Frenchman, by clever manipulation, looped the loop, and soon was on the tail of the newcomer. With his machine gun he soon got in the shot that sent the Boche plane tumbling to earth.
Then began a battle royal with the two-man machine. The French plane was smaller and a great deal faster. It could dodge up and down and sideways so quickly that it avoided the machine-gun fire of the big flyer. Discouraged, the two-man machine turned tail for home; the Frenchman followed. The Germans dived toward their own lines, but a well-directed shot hit their gas tank, and to earth they went in a cloud of flame and smoke.
The victory was complete for the moment, but disaster came quickly on its heels, for when the French plane was almost back in our lines, there came swooping down from a cloud another Boche. My heart fluttered at the sight, for it was plain that the Frenchman was unaware of the new danger. He had slowed up and was leisurely picking his way home. There was no way to warn him of his danger. At the last second he must have discovered his plight for he seemed to turn, but it was too late. The German gun was singing and the next instant saw this brilliant aviator tumbling earthward. I shut my eyes and gasped for breath.
IT was now six p.m. and, although the German shells had been coming in at regular intervals all day, they increased the intensity of their fire now and things were pretty hot, for they were putting lots of big ones over. We felt quite secure in our abri, and after an hour the bombardment ceased.
That night we got little sleep, for the French preparatory fire, in view of the big offensive planned for the next day, had increased to such violence it sounded like Hell let loose and running wild.
We were up at three a.m., ready to start at break of day. If possible, the French fire seemed to increase each moment. So fast were the big guns discharging their deadly missiles that it was impossible to distinguish one report from another. It was one vast rumble. However, we did not get away, as word came that the Boches were putting over gas along the road on which we were to travel, and so orders came for us to wait. That gave us time to get a good meal tucked away. It is always good judgment to eat when one has an opportunity, for the chances are that during an attack the rarest thing that one will experience is an opportunity to eat.
It was nearly eight o'clock before we got under way. The road over which we were going was controlled by Boche batteries back of Pepper Hill, and even now we were noticing the shells landing in the roadside ahead and behind us. Camions, dead horses and soup kitchens were in evidence, toppled over into the ditches, but we were not hampered and kept right on going.
In a few minutes we were stopped by a French sentry and warned not to try to go ahead as the Boches were shelling the road in advance quite heavily. We could hear the shells breaking about half a kilometer further on, so we pulled up and stopped here for about thirty minutes. There seemed to be a lull at the end of this time, when we again started forward, but had not proceeded very far when we came to an artillery caisson turned over in a ditch and three horses lying dead in the road. Two of the men attached to the caisson had been killed by the same shell and were lying at the roadside, partly covered with canvas.
We were held up here for a couple of moments until the Frenchmen pulled the last horse that blocked the road out of the way. Five minutes more travel brought us to a sharp turn in the road, but just before we reached it a shell exploded near us with a sound that convulsed us. A quick application of the brakes was necessary, for we found that the shell had landed in the road just in front of a camion. The three men who were on the camion heard it coming and jumped to safety, but the explosion had torn their motor and the front of their car into bits.
It so happened that this truck occupied the very middle of the road and it was impossible for us to pass on either side of it. Bang! a shell broke at this moment on the hillside about one hundred feet away. Hasty examination and inquiry soon convinced us that we would be held up here for some time. It appeared like a most uncomfortable place to be stuck in, and the developments of the next few moments justified the impression. Bang! Bang! two shells exploded one on one side of the road and the other just ahead. We decided to turn our car around and get away from this spot until the damaged truck was removed. This was finally accomplished, but no sooner had we turned than the shells began bursting in and around the road in the direction we were traveling.
A Frenchman at this moment pointed out the location of an abri by the roadside where we were and into which we could crawl until the shelling stopped. Ahead of us some two hundred feet the road passed through a sort of a cut, where the banks came up on both sides high enough partially to protect the car from being damaged, except by a direct hit.
The abri was a very welcome place and as long as we had started for it we lost no time in getting there. We had hardly descended the stairs when two Frenchmen came down supporting a third between them. I recognized him as one of the men who had been on the camion. His trousers were red and the blood was trickling to the floor. His clothing was removed at once and a gaping wound was found in his stomach. He screamed with agony.
A doctor, who was present, stepped forward at this moment to examine the man, but quickly shook his head. We knew that meant the wounded soldier did not have a chance. At this instant a shell landed about twenty feet from the entrance to our retreat, and the vibration was so violent that it almost shook our teeth out. A great deal of loose dirt between the beams above our heads fell---some of it into the gaping wound of the unfortunate man lying on the floor. I was horrified and called the doctor's attention to the matter, but he said that it was of no consequence; the man was doomed.
Naturally I began to feel very nervous, for the place in which we were quartered did not impress me as any too safe, being only about fifteen feet below the surface, and should a shell land on it I felt that we would stay there a long, long time.
And the shells did come, one after another. It appeared that they were shooting at the dug-out instead of the road now. The place fairly trembled. The doctor fell to his knees and started praying a sort of chant---"My God, my God. I have always tried to serve thee well," etc. I must confess that I was not enjoying myself any too well, for I remember having picked up an old newspaper which I tried to read, but merely turned the pages over and over and whistled nervously, wondering where the next one would land.
The doctor turned sharply and addressed me. "You fool, have you no reverence, to whistle while a man is praying?" He upbraided me severely. Such experiences, together with the agonized cries from wounded men screaming with pain, were not pleasant. I expected momentarily to see the nose of a Boche 105 come poking through the roof and bury us like rats, but Dame Fortune smiled with favor upon us, for the expected never came. But the cries of the man who had been so badly wounded had now ceased. He had passed away.
After the bombardment lifted we ventured forth, expecting the worst. But there was our car, untouched, just where we had left it. A few moments' work by some Frenchmen got the auto truck off to the side of the road far enough to enable us to pass. I do not ever remember experiencing such profound relief at leaving a place as I was to get away from this bend of the road.
Soon we came to where the French cannon were putting over the usual preparatory fire before the attack. We parked our car in a sort of a gravel pit, which afforded good protection. By this time we had passed several large Howitzer batteries, also some large Marine pieces, and when these guns would fire we could hear their big shells go screaming over our heads on their way to the front. One cannot help wondering how any living thing could exist within the confines of such an inferno.
After about ten minutes we came up before a field telegraphic headquarters, and adjoining was the telephone exchange for this sector of the front. Needless to say, this was a busy place. Here all impending movements shaped themselves, and communications from the General Staff were relayed to the army. both by wire and 'phone. All the big guns throwing shells over our heads were controlled by this bureau.
A captain informed us that an attack was to be launched at twelve noon sharp. During the time that we were here I noticed undue aerial activity on the part of the Germans, for there were some twelve or fifteen of their machines in the air over the French lines, and at the same time I noticed six observation balloons floating behind their lines with lookouts alert. It impressed me as rather irregular that the French had not sent up machines to drive the Boche planes back over their own lines in such times as these, for it was now ten-thirty, and, with an attack coming off at noon, they might gather a lot of information regarding the concentrations of the French and take steps to counter the move.
Almost at the moment that these thoughts were running through my mind the captain was called to the telephone, and after a short time returned with the information that the call was an order for the French aviators to proceed against the German observation balloons, regardless of cost, and to destroy them.
I asked if they were going after the planes, too, to which he replied:
"No---they are instructed to pay no attention to the aeroplanes until they have completed the destruction of the observation balloons. The planes are to be left entirely to our anti-aircraft batteries."
Turning toward the rear, I noticed the result of the orders just issued, for one after another of the French planes ascended, until I had counted nineteen. All started to maneuver for positions of advantage. The battle-planes ascended to elevations where they could protect the planes that were going after the balloons. Over to the right of our position, within two minutes of each other, the anti-aircraft batteries scored direct hits, and brought two Boche planes tumbling to earth, while overhead a German attacked a French plane and forced it to descend behind our lines.
Time was drawing closer now when we must go forward to take up the position we would occupy during the attack. Already the French fire was deafening, mingled with the terrible roar of German shells. In about twenty minutes we gained the summit of an elevation from which we could see the German trenches that were to be attacked, about twelve hundred yards in front of us, but considerably lower, excepting one slope on the left, where there was a steep incline leading to the top of a small hill, on which was located the second line defense of the Germans, the first being at the bottom.
We could see very plainly the effect of the French fire, for there were shells of all sizes breaking over the German positions---a mass of shrapnel explosives. With the aid of powerful glasses I could distinguish that while there was some barbed wire standing before the German trenches the accuracy, of the French artillery had resulted in reducing it so much that there would be easy access for the infantry.
At eleven-forty-five exactly there was not a German observation balloon in the sky. French aviators were now free to engage the Boche planes. In the next few moments two German machines were brought to earth and with them one French plane in combat. Immediately thereafter a German machine fell in flames, brought down by the aircraft batteries. I could not help but think how wonderfully accurate the calculations of the Headquarters Staff had been in planning the aerial operations.
Located in pits on the hill on which I stood were the French 75's, about forty pieces all told, that bad been placed there the night before. Not a single shot had been fired from them. Afterwards I learned more in detail the part these guns were to play and the reason for their temporary inactivity.
At twelve sharp, as if by magic, out of the ground arose wave upon wave of French infantry. So spectacular, and so inspiring, was the sight that we stood motionless, our eyes fixed upon the advancing lines of blue. For several minutes I did not see a man fall.
This was due to the fact that the Germans were still in their dug-outs on account of the intensity of the French preparatory fire, still falling on their position.
This did not last long, however. The curtain fire raised quickly and we could observe the shells breaking in the rear of the German front-line trenches, instead of on them, as they had been a moment before. The same instant German machine-gun fire opened, and, just as the French reached the wire in front of the enemy position, I could see blue figures falling all along the front, and while the buzz of the machine guns was inaudible, due to the terrible din of the cannon, I knew by the way the men dropped that the machine guns were doing the mischief.
Notwithstanding the slaughter, more men jumped into the gaps and on they swept. They had now reached the parapet of the German front-line trench and we could see them fighting with grenades and hand to hand. A short while thereafter the supporting columns of the French surged on over the first line in an attack upon the secondary defense. Supporting columns still filed out of the French trenches below. How so many could come from that source was enough to mystify one, but here they were before our eyes, streaming forward in surging waves. I noticed now that the French fire had again been lifted and was being thrown even farther to the rear than heretofore.
The shells, as we now observed them, broke in a clearing that seemed about five hundred yards wide, back of the secondary defense of the Germans. It was on this stretch of ground that all the French artillery on our hill was trained, but as yet not a shell had been fired from them. We could see very clearly that the first line had been captured, for even now the French had started back with groups of prisoners taken from it. We could discern quite clearly at times that they were making good progress against the secondary defense, although the smoke and bursting shells in the area between were very heavy and obscured the view. I glanced toward my left and saw caissons going up on the run with cartridges and hand grenades to repel the counter attack.
The Germans must have anticipated this move, for they put over a terrific fire on the road over which these supplies had to be transported. Just about this time word came back that all objectives had been captured and consolidation started. Instantaneously another rush of caissons went forward with additional supplies, and every gun behind us seemed to be throwing a barrage fire back of the positions captured. There was no lull. The French infantry had captured all that they bad started out for,---in fact, all that there was.
An under officer of the battery beside me exclaimed, "Hurrah!" and I turned my head in the direction in which he was looking, to see three regiments of "Blue Devils" charging with bayonets fixed up the steep slope that bad until now defied all thrusts. The casualties seemed to be remarkably few for such an exposed position, and before we could realize what had happened the French had gained the crest, and, in the next few moments, had thrown the Boches off the hill.
Orders were now given for every man to take his position. At first I could not understand why these orders caused such activity among the batteries that, up to now, had shown no signs of being in the fight at all---but I was soon to learn. Everyone seemed breathless with impatience, but stood cool and rigid. Finally I heard a shout, "Here they come!"
I shall never be able adequately to describe the sight. Masses of Boches surge forward in counter attack; closer and closer they drew toward the French positions until there was an earth-rending crash and forty sheets of flame burst from the mouths of the cannon beside me.
I was too stupefied to realize what had taken place for the moment, but soon regained control of myself. The guns never stopped a second. Each piece was throwing shrapnel at the rate of twenty-two to twenty-five shots a minute into the oncoming ranks. We could observe quite clearly the shells landing among them and over them, and with each explosion could see gaps torn in their lines and men mowed down like so many weeds. Finally they faltered, and the next instant fell back in disorder to the positions they had left. The ground was literally strewn with their dead when the cannon ceased.
It was not long that we enjoyed this lull for the German batteries started shelling our positions furiously. Hitherto we had not come in for much attention, a shell every now and then was our lot, but now their fire was directed straight at us, and from what we received I imagined that every gun made in Germany was trained on this hill.
Five French guns were completely destroyed, while eight more had to re-locate positions so that they would not be wiped out. Shells of all sizes broke around us, but after a few minutes the shelling subsided.
Notice was now transmitted along the position that the Boches were forming for a second counter attack. Everyone was again in place and in a couple of moments again I heard, "Here they come!" And they did come, and also with them came a renewal of shellfire on our position, when two more guns were, hit. But they were paying a terrible toll for their advance, for their ranks were torn to bits by the French machine guns.
Nor did this stop them---they came on and on until they gained the parapet of the French position, and here fought hand-to-hand for it. But the defenders were the most tenacious. They refused to budge an inch, until, due to superior numbers, they had to give ground. But the Headquarters Staff had been watching for these very conditions, so, like a flash, two attacks were started simultaneously from the right and left, and before the Germans knew what had happened both bodies of the French converged in their rear, and all Germans not killed were taken prisoners.
It is difficult to analyze and describe one's feelings in going through such an attack, and what surprised me most, after it was all over, was the way in which I had lost all consciousness of what was taking place right around me, so intense was my desire to see everything that was transpiring out in front of our position. Even when the shells were coming in close, and particularly during the time when the batteries beside me were being shelled, and even hit, I do not remember paying much attention to what might happen to me, for I felt that all was in the hands of fate.
On our way to the rear we came across batches of prisoners. There appeared to be two distinct classes of soldiers, the first not one of whom seemed to be over twenty, while some here were mere boys and wore looks of terror and dread. I saw one youngster, surely not over seventeen, with his hand tied up, evidently wounded, the tears streaming down his cheeks. I was informed later that these boys were told by their officers that in the event of their being captured they would be tortured, and all manner of things would be done to them by the French. From their expressions one could see that they believed this to be a fact.
The other class consisted of men who appeared to be over forty years of age. Some of them had beards in which gray hairs were largely in evidence. All of them looked very poor and the rations that they had been given surely did not nourish them to any marked degree. The class that was lacking was the strapping young fellow of twenty-two to twenty-eight, the connecting link between mere boys and middle-aged men.
After all these came the wounded. Brancardiers and soldiers were now assisting at the dressing stations. All kinds and shapes of humanity lay in rows, one after another, awaiting the attention of the doctors who pass along the line examining and administering to those who have a chance for life. To one who is not used to such sights it would appear that the doctors are a hard-hearted lot, as they make their rounds, passing by those who have. no chance. But here one must realize that the time and attention that a vitally injured man requires, should he have died on the way to the hospital, might have been the means of saving the life of the one who had a chance. Never shall I forget the expression on the faces of men when the doctors passed on to the next. They realized that it was only a question of moments before they made their supreme sacrifice. What must that feeling be? Of course, there are some that lose control of themselves because of intense pain from wounds, but on the whole the patience of these unfortunates is most remarkable.
After a heavy action all such men as can possibly get to the rear by themselves, or with the assistance of comrades, are forced to make the struggle, for the ambulance is taxed to its utmost in bringing back those who are unable to help themselves.
After the lull came, with the French holding all of their gains, I had the opportunity of going over the whole area of the Verdun battlefield, and the only expression that I can use to fit the scene is that it was a mess. Where, before the attack, there were beautiful trees, nothing now remained. It was impossible to tell or distinguish one shell hole from another, so raked and torn was the ground, now turned into chalk dust. First a shell lands here and throws the ground one way, then a shell lands there and throws it back---a continual churning process-and when the heavy rains come .it turns it all into a quagmire of so much mud. There have been any number of instances where French soldiers had gotten into such places and gradually sunk almost out of ,sight before their comrades came to their rescue. In some cases they were too late to pull the victims out without pulling their arms from their sockets. All that could be done under such circumstances was to shake hands with the unfortunate---before he was swallowed up and sank from view in the lake of mud.
This has happened to horses and even to the light field batteries. It is impossible for one who has not witnessed these scenes to have even a vague conception of such conditions.
Following is an interesting letter portraying an action at Verdun:
To-night I am sitting in the small underground cellar of one of the public buildings of the town, acting as a sort of timekeeper or starter for the cars going up to our most dangerous post, and handling the reserve cars for the wounded in the town itself. I wish I could describe the scene as I see it,---for a strange world is passing before me Frenchmen, living, wounded and dying.
A long, heavily arched corridor, with stone steps leading down to it; two compartments off to one side lined with wine bins, where our reserve men and a few French brancardiers (stretcher-bearers) are lying on their stained stretchers, some snoring; beyond, a door that leads to a small operating room, and to the left another door that admits to a little sick ward with four beds of different sizes and make on one side and six on the other, taken evidently from the ruined houses nearby-and one tired infirmier (hospital attendant) to tend and soothe the wounded and dying.
In the bed nearest the door, a French priest, shot through the lungs---with pneumonia setting in---his black beard pointing straight up, whispers for water. Next to him, a little German lad, hardly nineteen, with about six hours to live, calling, sometimes screaming, for his mother, and then for water. Next to him, a French captain of infantry, with his arm shot off at the shoulder and his head lacerated, weak, dying, but smiling; and next to him a tirailleur in delirium calling on his colonel to charge the Germans. The Infirmier is going from one to the other, soothing one and waiting on another, each in turn. He asks me what the German is saying, and I tell him he is calling for his mother. "Ah, this is a sad war," he says, as he goes over to hold the poor lad's hand.
A brancardier comes in with a telephone message,---"a blessé (wounded man), at Belleville---very serious." This is a reserve car call. So one slides out and is gone like a gray ghost down the ruined street, making all the speed its driver can---no easy matter,---with no lights. In twenty minutes he is back. The brancardiers go out---they come in again, bearing the wounded man on a stretcher and place it on the floor beside the little stove. One of them, who is a priest, leans over him and asks him his name and town;---then, in answer to what his wife's name is, he murmurs: "Alice;" while on the other side another brancardier is slitting the clothes from his body and I shiver with pity at the sight.
The surgeon comes out of his little operating room. Weary with the night's tragic work after so many, many other tragic nights, he doused his head in a bucket of water, then turned to the wounded man. He looked long at him, gently felt his nose and lifted up his closed eyelid. Then, at his nod, the stretcher is again lifted and the wounded man carried into the operating room, and soon after that, into the little room of sorrows.
In answer to my eager question the surgeon shakes his head. Not a chance!
A brancardier and I gather the soldier's belongings from his clothes to be sent to his wife, but even we have to stop for a few moments after we see the photograph of his wife and their two little children.
An hour later, as our night's work was slacking down and several cars had driven up and been unloaded, the infirmier came in from the little room and said something to the brancardiers. Two of them got a stretcher and in a moment "The blessé from Belleville" came past us with a sheet over him. They laid him down at the other end of the room and another brancardier commenced rolling and tying him in burlap for burial. As you looked he changed to a shapeless log. Then out to the dead wagon.
Shortly after I went into the little ward again to see how the others were coming through the night, and was glad to see them all quieted down; even the little German seemed less in pain, though his breathing still shook the heavy little bed he lay on.
Through a window I saw that day was beginning to break, and, as I noticed it, I heard the Chief's car coming in from the "Sap," and knew the night's work was over.
ONE day I went into a little general store in Baccarat to make a few purchases. Having just arrived at this sector, and not knowing anything about the place, I engaged the woman who owned the store in conversation regarding the occupation of the town by the Germans. My interest was due chiefly to the fact that this particular store, while located in a devastated village, had, from all outward appearances, escaped damage.
It seems that just after the Boches occupied the town word was given out that Paris had fallen and was then in the hands of the Germans. The telephone and telegraph stations were all controlled by the enemy, and, of course, the statement was accepted as a fact, for no information could be obtained other than that which the Germans wished to give.
On the fifth day of the occupation a German captain, speaking perfect French, entered the store and inquired for the proprietor. When informed that he was speaking to her, he demanded:
"Madam, do you speak German?"
"No," replied the woman. "I do not speak German, but I understand it quite well." The officer then asked if she spoke English, to which she answered "No."
"Well, if you do not speak it, you surely understand it?" he persisted, but she replied in the negative. The officer thanked her, and, without further comment, turned and left the place. The woman thought this a most unusual occurrence, especially as, without explanation, he left as abruptly as he had entered. Later she learned that he did the same thing all through this district, asking people precisely the same questions and leaving without comment, no matter what their answers were. In due course the reason for the officer's visit came to light. The German command had learned that on the day of their defeat in the battle of the Marne, one of the causes therefor had been the flanking movement of the English. This information produced such an intense feeling of hatred that this officer was sent around town to find out if there were any people who spoke English or even understood it. If such were found their location was set down and reported to the German command.
The pressure on the town, however, soon took on such proportions that it was seen that it would have to be given up by the Germans. So the compiled information of the officer's investigation was reviewed and those people who spoke or understood English were visited by the Torch Squad and everything they owned was burned.
Baccarat was by no means the only place that received this sort of treatment, for one has only to take a trip along the eastern front of France to see a great many similar instances of just what took place at Baccarat. Wanton destruction seemed to be the idea of the German command. Fruit trees were cut down because it would be years before France could grow them again.
Houses were blown to pieces by the artillery when the civil population had left Baccarat. The churches seemed always to be the first thing razed to the ground by enemy fire. Of what military advantage this could be, I have never been able to see, but I have heard a theory advanced that seems plausible. The German command knew that the peasants of France were a hard-working people, occupied with their farms constantly; that they are also a home people and know very little of the outside world. Sunday they believed should be set aside for worship and rest. Brought up in this religious way, men, women and children attend church on Sunday with unfailing regularity.
I saw the church in the village of H------- completely demolished by shell fire, with the exception of the altar and the three life-size statues behind it on the wall. The figures of the Mother Mary and Joseph and that of the Christ in the center were intact with the exception that some German Hun had decapitated the figure of Christ. The destruction of houses of worship was intended to produce in the minds of these peasants the thought---"God is not with us,"---for if He were, they reasoned, "He surely would not permit the Germans to raze our homes and devastate our farms." This would cause unrest and dissatisfaction in general with the Government, perhaps produce a cry for peace at any price, and that. is what the Germans had hoped for. But what a mistake they have made, for the French peasant will make every sacrifice, even to death, for their country.