LOCATED all along the front are batteries, which consist principally of French cannon that we have heard so much about, known to the world as 75's. While this type is most frequently used, there are some aircraft batteries of larger caliber, known as the 105's. The reason that these two types of guns are used exclusively is due to their flexibility. They can be changed to different angles and elevations and be fired with the rapidity so necessary in following an aeroplane in flight.
Aircraft batteries are always located where protection is necessary from aviators in the rear of the lines, also in the event of the enemy aviator being able to get by the batteries up front.
The guns are mounted over a pit on a revolving platform that can complete a circle. Counterweights are attached to the gun for elevation so that it can be changed quickly from the horizontal to very near a 90-degree angle, the direction, of course, being obtained by the shifting of the revolving platform.
Some very novel contrivances have been developed for computing ranges, and each aircraft battery uses every available device that is likely to assist them in making flying uncomfortable for the Boches. Where there are two or more of these batteries they are connected up with each other by telephone, and, as an enemy flyer comes within range of their guns, the angles are phoned back and forth, and with this knowledge they can make the location untenable, even if they do not bring the flyer down. I have seen many an enemy flyer get into these pockets and rejoice at the moment he discovered the trap that there were some clouds close by into which he could dodge and get away with his skin intact.
These planes are, in most instances, observation planes, either to see what is transpiring behind the lines or to take photographs of enemy positions. The bombing planes work mostly under cover of darkness, which enables them to come down much closer to earth.
To meet this condition there is located at each aircraft battery a device known as an audiphone. It is a large box-shaped affair, made of sheet metal about thirty-six inches square. Inside are fastened four small cones, in appearance much like victrola horns. These are in turn connected with a vibrator similar to that in an ordinary telephone receiver. To this are attached two rubber tubes, identical with the instrument used by doctors called a stethoscope, for listening to the heart.
This equipment is fastened to a post, and can be turned in any direction. The box-shaped device, working on a common axle, can be elevated or lowered at will. When an aviator is in the air a lookout places the two hard rubber tubes to his ears and turns the equipment in the general direction of the supposed location.
He then elevates and lowers the box-shaped device until he arrives at a position where the clearest motor vibrations are received, the post being marked off in degrees, like the revolving gun-platform. The arrow on the audiphone points to the degree indicated on the post, and thus the direction is obtained and the gun trained at the same degree.
Then there is a second arrow with a scale corresponding to the one upon which the gun is elevated. When the clearest vibrations come in, the angle at which the box rests is indicated, and this in turn is copied by the gun. The distance is estimated by the strength of the vibrations coming in on the receiving instrument. The general location is phoned to the searchlight stations and the light is projected to afford the batteries observation in the event that the aviator changes the direction of his flight after the first shot is fired.
These projectors in many instances depend, of course, upon the locations where the greatest aerial activities take place, run up as high as four and a half feet in size, and with three or four searchlights playing into the heavens it is very easy to discern an aeroplane, unless it is flying very high.
The French 75's make a wonderful anti-aircraft gun that, with the remarkable perfection that gunners have attained, insures an enemy aeroplane quite a warm reception. But, at best, machines brought down by either side by anti-aircraft guns are very few, for no matter how good the marksmanship the aeroplane always has the advantage. He can take to higher levels quickly and the higher his elevation the greater his security.
When a shot is fired at him in a certain position he knows that it will be from eight to eighteen seconds before the projectile will reach his elevation. By merely changing his course in a fast machine, four or five seconds will take him three or four hundred feet away from the bursting shell. But the frequency of direct hits in lower altitudes does not warrant aviators taking chances. They'd better be on their way.
THERE are two kinds of hand grenades, offensive and defensive. The first is employed in all offensive operations and to explain its use more clearly it is well to start with the bombers, popularly known as the suicide club.
Before an attack is made, in most instances, a barrage fire is put over on the enemy trenches and the length of this preparation depends on the extent of the offensive and on the area over which it spreads. The purpose of this barrage fire is to blast out of existence all of the enemy machine guns on the parapet of the trenches that are to be attacked.
It must be understood that with a heavy barrage fire on their front-line positions the enemy would be unable to keep many men in readiness at the guns, and the machine guns themselves would be endangered if they were left exposed. Therefore they take to the dugouts with guns and all other equipment.
Chosen from the regiments, there are certain men known as bombers, who are ready, at a specified time, with another kind of equipment---a large basket-shaped pocket swinging at their waists filled with hand grenades. They are always ready in the front-line trench to go over at the time set by the command. The barrage fire still plays on the enemy lines when the bombers charge across "No Man's Land." It is their task to keep the enemy and their machine guns in their dug-outs so that they cannot drag them to the parapets of the trenches for use against the infantry, which invariably follows the bombers "over the top."
The grenade used by the bombers in an offensive of this kind is a trifle larger than a good-sized lemon; projecting from one end is a pin, on which there is a touch button.
Touch the button and the pin does the rest. It ignites a fuse on the end of which is an explosive cap, similar in design to the caps we use in this country for dynamite blasting. The cap sets off the charge which is supposed to be one of the most powerful and deadliest of explosives.
The shell of the grenade is corrugated into little squares that break up and fly in all directions when the charge is exploded, and covers a large area on its mission of destruction. Much care and skill is required of the bomber, since he must be able to throw a grenade with great accuracy and always far enough to keep himself from being injured.
There is a common notion abroad that bombs are thrown like baseballs, but this idea is erroneous. The method employed is radically different. Grenades are timed so that they go off quickly after reaching their objective and within five seconds of the time when the first throwing motion is made and the time fuse is going.
During the early part of the war the moment a grenade was started fusing it was the desire of the bomber to get it on its way as quickly as possible. The Germans noticed that the grenades did not go off for several seconds after they landed, and, in many instances, picked them up and hurled them back. Many of our men were killed in this way before they learned to measure the time accurately.
All along the front, in back of the lines, are fields where one may see companies of men practicing daily with grenades. Their work is a most important factor in modern warfare, as the defenders of a trench rely chiefly on their machine guns to resist infantry attacks. Should the bombers contrive to hold the enemy in their dug-outs, their own infantry can cross over without having to face a death-dealing stream of bullets that would be poured into them by three or four machine guns.
Strange to say, of all the men making up the different branches of service around base and army hospitals one rarely ever sees a maimed bomber. It is one thing or the other with these fellows. They come back whole or not at all.. A most dangerous work is that of the bomber, as he is always the first to go over, and, of course, offers a tempting mark for whatever machine guns are not in the dug-outs but remain on the parapets of an enemy trench.
Defensive grenades have a different classification and are employed in a distinctive way. Any or all infantrymen of an army may be equipped with this form of grenade. They are made on a principle diametrically opposite to that of the offensive grenade. The best of these are manufactured by an English concern and are very reliable. The element of danger in its operation is very slight. They are used principally for the destruction of barbed-wire entanglements, in order that infantrymen may make a quick passage over "No Man's Land."
Should one of these grenades land alongside of a post supporting the enemy barbed wire, the explosion which follows is so tremendous that it will shatter that post into bits, causing all of the wire to drop to the ground. This will afford enough gaps to make passage free and easy.
The defensive grenade is vastly different in structure and function, as the jacket containing the charge is a tin composition, very light in construction, so that every particle of force will be effective at a given point, without the necessity of having to break through a heavy iron shell. just enough weight is used in the body of this type; it is devoid of the pin and the button, but has a handle held in place by a cotter pin on the end of which is a ring. When the ring is pulled it draws the cotter pin from the locking device on the body of the .grenade, which holds the handle in a safe position.
Before the pin is pulled the bomber must have the handle clamped down securely in the palm of his hand with the grenade, for the moment the handle is allowed to fly up the grenade begins fusing and must be thrown. As long as the handle is held securely in its original position, even though the pin be drawn, it is harmless. It is, however, ready for service in the fraction of a second, and makes an ideal defensive weapon for instant use. It can be thrown directly in front of a man rushing at you with a bayonet, and it will blow him into fragments. At the same time there will be perfect security to the one who launches it, but, at five times the distance, an offensive grenade would prove a boomerang. For cutting down enemy barbed wire, there is nothing so effective, except heavy artillery, which can compare with this high explosive hand grenade for terrific power of destruction.
There is a newer form of grenade now in use, which is fired from a regular rifle. An attachment like a cylinder is fastened to the barrel of the rifle and a regulation cartridge inserted into the cartridge chamber, as when it is to be ordinarily fired. Then a grenade is placed in the cylinder and the gun is discharged while held at the height of the waist line, the muzzle being elevated or lowered according to the distance the grenade is to be thrown. There is a gauge showing where the grenades will approximately strike at different elevations of the muzzle, and it is surprising with what accuracy they will reach their objective. This method is used where the distance is too great for throwing by hand. The ball, when fired, passes down the rifle barrel and through the grenade, striking a contact spring, which starts it fusing. The gas from the explosion of the powder in the chamber forms the propelling power.
A great many other contrivances are used for the launching of grenades, such as various forms of spring traps. The French have a pneumatic device,---a cylinder in which the grenade is placed, and the pressure for launching it is produced by means of a pump, not unlike in design that of the automobile tire pump. All these different devices, while serving a purpose, do not meet all requirements as effectively as does the grenade which is launched by hand. It is a most dangerous missile and hard to get away from.
One serious danger to which consideration must be given and into which Americans are apt to be tempted is the collection of souvenirs of war. All along the front one sees many things that are of interest,---unexploded shells, hand grenades, and the like. The inexperienced, unsuspecting the danger of such things, are tempted to pick them up and examine them.
This has caused many a death. It is a risk that should never be taken, for it is only another way of courting death. Not every shell or grenade that is sent over explodes, and many actually lie intact for days only to explode at some slight disturbance. One only needs to observe the French, who are familiar with all angles of the game through their three and a half years' experience, to learn what they think about tampering with shell heads.
A regular corps of men, appointed generally from some artillery battery, make it their duty to look after unexploded shells, either by setting them off, or by carting them away and burying them,---likewise unexploded hand grenades. These are collected and buried, but many an experienced man has come to his death while clearing up roads and fields of these unexploded missiles.
There have been instances known on different fronts where the Germans have "fixed" everything they leave on the field, allowing shells and grenades to lie there for someone to pick them up. An attractive officer's helmet might catch one's eye and appear to be just about the most harmless thing in the world. But to touch it more than likely means death.
AN honest confession is said to be good for what ails you, mentally and physically, so here goes with reference to my erstwhile ignorance concerning that great and growing organization known to all the world as the Young Men's Christian Association. I'll admit my prejudice. It goes back to the days when I invented every possible excuse to keep from going to Sunday-school, and so when I arrived at maturity I found myself shying toward the outer curbing every time. I used to pass quickly these quiet, orderly buildings, fearful that someone would rush out and thrust a lesson leaflet into my hand.
Once I bad a friend who, when in earnest conversation, would halt occasionally to point his long forefinger and say, "Listen to the truth!"---and that's the kind of a gesture and the exact words that I would use now if I should find it necessary to raise my voice in defense of the Y. M. C. A.
I'll never forget the first one I visited. I was in Paris on leave of absence, along with another young man in the same service as myself. He suggested a visit to the Y. M. C. A., and, so far as my pleasure was concerned, he might just as well have suggested the morgue. The motion was carried, however, and I found myself being jostled along, speechless with disgust for having come all the way from the front-line trenches to waste my time at such a tame sort of a place. Visions of being met at the door with a bundle of "tracts" and a pocket Bible came into my mind's eye, but, on the theory that it never pays to be a joy-killer, I said nothing. In less time than it takes to tell it I found myself the worst fooled mortal of my age and weight among all my numerous friends and acquaintances.
Our taxicab drew up in front of a palatial building, which I recognized as our destination, for I did know the triangular flag of the Y. M. C. A. We entered a large open court, where were several small tables and chairs, reasons for which we learned afterwards. Ascending a grand stairway we arrived at the second floor, or Club Room. At once two gentlemen stepped forward with a cheerful "Hello, Boys," and invited us to make ourselves "quite at home." Almost immediately thereafter we were taken in tow and escorted around the place.
At this moment I glanced at the peculiar expression on my friend's face. We had been there five minutes, and no one had handed either of us a Bible---which seemed most surprising to me. There were spacious lounging rooms, with big easy chairs, and tables heaped with books and magazines, also writing rooms, smoking rooms, victrolas, pianos, billiard and pool tables, just as you find them in a genuine American club. It reminded me of good old New York with all its comforts and ease. The atmosphere was that of wholesome refinement with a welcome in every face that beamed our way.
Our escorts informed us that things were not exactly in shape as yet, but would be in full running order very shortly. For a place that was not in working trim I wondered what could be done to make it more complete. I was soon to learn that its growth since the war began had been phenomenal. It had become the principal rendezvous for the army boys, a home, indeed, to which they could come at any time, day or night, and get good hot baths and clean up. I was completely surprised, for in Paris, at the finest hotels, such a thing was impossible, except on Saturdays and Sundays, because of the conservation of fuel.
Then, too, the Y. M. C. A. had established a Bureau of Tobacco, where the boys could obtain American cigarettes and cigars at a cost which was much less than they could be bought even at home. The French Government would not allow cigarettes to be sent to the boys in service, unless the duty, which was prohibitive, was paid on them. One has to have but a single experience with "army issue," the name applied by the boys to the tobacco passed out to soldiers, to know what a big satisfaction it is to be able to walk up to the counter of the Y. M. C. A. with the feeling of ease one feels in going into one's home-town favorite cigar store or club.
After showing us everything about the premises, our escort finally capped the climax by announcing, "It's four o'clock. Ice cream is ready to be served."
Now, say, gentle reader, suppose you had been driving an ambulance for several months, practically day and night for weeks at a time, and that all you had known in the way of " eats" was the same old stuff day in and day out? And, I ask you again, what would you say if suddenly you were invited to sit down beside a daintily covered table in a delightful courtyard and found yourself confronted with a heaping big dish of real ice cream. Never mind your answer. You'd be found "a-hanging around" the place at four o'clock every afternoon of your stay in Paris. That's what we did, and we were welcomed each time in that same cordial way.
In the colder season, when it becomes too chilly for ice cream, the Volunteer Canteen Workers of the Y. M. C. A. established a tea room, where at four p. m. hot coffee, chocolate and such things as home-made doughnuts, cakes and pies were served. This place did not go a-begging for popularity, as may well be surmised, for it was filled to capacity every day.
It would be unjust to create the impression that the popularity of the American Y. M. C. A. is due to the fact that it serves good ice cream. That was only one of the many things that hit the right spot.
The biggest attraction, to my mind, was the spirit of sterling good fellowship which permeated the institution. The welcome was sincere. There was no snobbishness, no attitude of "look what we're doing for these fellows---shouldn't they be most awfully thankful." There wasn't a bit of that. On the other hand there was plenty of "there's nothing too good for you boys who are doing the job out there; we're going to serve you!" That is the attitude of the big-minded business men who have thrown open the doors of this institution in order that the boys from "out there" might have comfort when on furlough in Paris. It was a big thought and it has kept many a youngster from going to the devil in that same big city.
Before I left France, the Y. M. C. A. was making big strides in the establishment of Huts and Canteens along the front; also around the villages where the divisions of the army go for rest. Here the men at the front can have an opportunity to purchase food and supplies. This in itself is a wonderful blessing for, in the devastated towns along the front, it is impossible to buy anything.
Imagine the undying impression a man will retain of this wonderful organization when he recalls the day he was sent to the rear, drilled by a Boche bullet and dragging one foot after the other through the mud and water of the trenches, chilled to the bone, as he turned a corner and found tucked away in a hole in a wall a man who handed him a cup of steaming hot coffee; or, when that same man lies on a hospital cot in the rear, recovering, there comes a representative of this same wonderful institution with words of cheer and consolation. Such is the work that these men are doing and such the wonderful contribution to humanity it has proved to be!
While in London I spent most of my time at the Y. M. C. A. huts. There they serve regular meals at a maximum cost of fourteen cents, which consist of soup, meat, potatoes, vegetables, bread, butter, dessert and coffee. It is open to any of the men of the Allied armies.
I was particularly attracted one day to a group of boys sitting around a piano in the recreation room, singing and playing. An American soldier played the piano, an American sailor played a violin, a Canadian a banjo, and an Englishman a mandolin.
The "choir" was composed of a Belgian, a Scotch Highlander, an Irishman, a New Zealander, an Australian and a Frenchman---with a dozen Americans thrown in. I inquired of one of our sailors how he liked London? He replied, "Well, as much as I have seen of it, it's fine, but we boys spend most of the time right here at this piano."
I found this to be true, for, no matter what time I would go there, the same crowd was always present, and the room filled with blue smoke thick enough to choke a Chinaman.
The facts set forth are my only experiences with the Y. M. C. A., but let me commend to everyone the wonderful work that this organization is doing, for if anything can hearten a man when he is away from all that is near and dear to him it is the attention paid him by big-minded, big-hearted men who carry on the field work of the Y. M. C. A. No one preaches to you when you are under its roof, but there creeps into one's heart a new feeling that one longs to hold on to. I'm for the Y. M. C. A. strong.
DURING their leisure hours it is quite necessary for men to have something of interest to divert their minds; the French military authorities have been quick to realize the value of the old saying that all work and no play makes Jack a poor fighter.
There is with each army corps a regularly established department devoted to the entertainment of the soldiers. They have also with them official kinematographers of the French Army, who take pictures of everything interesting that transpires in the sector. The films of one army, through a bureau, are exchanged with those of an army operating in another sector, for the benefit of the men so that they can see what is going on at the fronts. The shows are generally given in some little village at the rear, where the men who are not in the trenches are quartered. The program is changed each day and a sprinkling of comedies are worked in to give the entertainment the proper flavor.
Commencing at seven-thirty to eight p. m. the little streets are generally packed, long before the time the doors are to open, and when they are thrown back you are generally lifted off your feet by the mad rush and scramble for seats. After being jostled about like a rubber ball, you may finally end up inside the theater-and occasionally outside. It's a case of come early or you don't see the show, because there are no places large enough in these small villages to afford accommodation for all the men that are quartered there.
On these occasions there is always music furnished by the regimental bands, and this is one of the features of the show. Many of these bands have men who are celebrities known internationally. We had in our division two grand opera singers and a violinist, who, before the war, was the leader of the orchestra at Monte Carlo.
As soon as the performance began the doors were closed to exclude all light, and the windows covered with heavy drapery. The minute the soldiers get inside, they light their pipes and cigarettes and settle down for an evening's entertainment. In ten minutes the place is filled with smoke, and an hour after the performance commenced it would seem impossible that a picture could be thrown on the screen. But no one seems to mind the smoke barrage so long as they are afforded amusements to divert their minds.
Other evenings, at scheduled times, big events would come off in the form of a drama or a comedy, produced entirely by the soldiers. Some sketch was always presented where the largest men in the regiments took the parts of angels or some fellow with a beard portrayed the part of the ardent young lover. Of course, to complete the performance, it was necessary to have a few women, and these not being available, someone had to make-up for the part.
These were usually picked from among the mule drivers and cooks of the regiment (or somebody in similar positions, where daintiness in the execution of their regular work best suited them, in the judgment of the impresario, for the part). There was always a king who was a very stern ruler, likewise a fearless warrior. The smallest man with the squeakiest voice generally fell heir to this rôle. All in all, the cast was usually very well selected, and it invariably produced just the effect that the entertainment committee desired.
But the concerts given by the military bands were the real entertainments, after all. They were sure to exceed one's expectation, for they were classical and sublime. Selections from all of the leading operas were rendered in a most creditable way, and it was really a great pleasure to attend them.
UPON my return to this country, after having lived as I did abroad, the billboards with the caption, "Food Will Win the War," was one of the first things that caught my eye, and I was deeply impressed with its significance, but a few days after arriving I was also destined to learn very soon how little these words seemed to mean to the average American. I visited, of course, several of the leading cafès and hotels, and from the menus one could hardly believe that this country is at war and allied with people and armies that are badly in need of food.
No army can fight efficiently, laborers cannot toil in the manufacture of equipment and supplies for the armies in the field, unless they have the proper and sufficient food.
America little realizes what France has accomplished along lines of conservation. Reflect, for the moment, on the following facts. Before the war, France depended largely on this country for many foodstuffs, even when all of her tillers of the soil were following their agricultural work daily. Upon the outbreak of war, all her able-bodied men of a military age were called to the colors. There was no one left to work the farms but women, old men and young boys, and naturally their domestic production fell off, though the demand for food was ever greater. Moreover, one must consider the territory that has been devastated into regions of barren wastes, for, in August, 1914, when the German armies swept through northern France to the very gates of Paris, all the stock on farms were driven off and confiscated for their troops. Then in the retreat everything that was productive was destroyed.
It is not difficult to understand why the internal production of France has suffered a material decrease, and she must now lean just that much more on our assistance in the providing of foodstuffs. With conservation working in this country we can give them that which is really unnecessary to us, but vital to them. An order has just been issued to the French Army from Headquarters to cut down the daily bread ration of each soldier, and I want to say that I know what this means, for I have lived on it, and for nourishment, at the best, it is nothing to brag about.
Some people think they are making a supreme sacrifice in submitting to our wheatless day regulation, but they should dwell a moment on the thought that for over three years the soldiers, to say nothing of the women and children of France, have not seen a loaf of white bread. Their wheatless day is seven days a week and fifty-two weeks a year.
I think I know the American people well enough to feel that they would not stand aside and selfishly see men, women and children go without food, especially when they can give it without any great inconvenience to themselves. I feel it is the lack of a proper understanding that is the basic cause of food wasting in this country, and not a disregard for the suffering of others.
Every time we sit down to a meal, either in the home or in a restaurant, and order more food than we can consume or need, we are taking from the reserve which does not morally belong to us and thereby depriving the man at the front of sufficient food. I think everyone will agree with me when I say that if there is anyone entitled to a decent meal once in a while it's the fellow who is ready to give up his life for his country---and all we are asked to do is to give up those habits which are unnecessary and wasteful.
The great problem of winning this war rests with the American people, and if each one does his and her part, that will prove the deciding factor in defeating the Germans.
A noted statesman of Germany is credited with saying that Germany has not the slightest fear of the American Army or Navy, But when the hundred million people rise up as a unit with undivided aim---that day will be the undoing of Germany. Now, this simply means that it is the American people that Germany is afraid of.
It is very difficult to bring the nearness of the war home to each and every one of us. It is difficult, indeed, for each to realize that we are just as much a part of this war as the boys who wear the uniform abroad. The only difference is that they have given everything they have to give and we can only approach their one hundred per cent liberality by conserving and rendering every assistance that is within our power to do by word, deed, and particularly money.
Everyone should do his part as an individual patriot, so that when our hundred million are working as a unit, the sledge hammer blows of our nation will be the undoing of a monster that will be swept from this earth with such force that it will never again menace liberty and freedom.
IT is said to be something of a job to run over to Europe during these war times, with so many restrictions in the way of ocean travel, but if anyone ever found it hard to get there they should try leaving there. The day we were given our discharge from the French Army we started to leave. We soon found that if it had not been for taxicabs we would all be there to-day, for when the offices that control the routine and formality that one has to go through were finally located, the only person that was considered was the taxi driver, seemingly in order that he might come in for his share of your roll before you go out of the country.
First it is necessary to go to the American Ambassador's office with your passport, and establish the fact that you really are yourself.
Application must be made in writing for your return passage and all facts about yourself established. After this is done you get your stamp of approval, which makes you feel that you are fairly well started.
The next in order, however, is a visit to the United States Consulate's office, and while this is not such a great distance away you feel that it is far enough. Here you get a second stamp of approval and are directed to the French Bureau of Military Control. This office is located out of town, possibly in order to afford the employees the fresh country air, and while you're getting there the taximeter does its share toward making the trip interesting and exciting, and causes one to lose all interest in the passing scenery no matter how beautiful.
At the French Bureau you surrender your release from the Army and are given a third stamp of approval, this time with a paper, which must be taken to the Prefecture of Police. So again you sit and watch the centimes turn into francs, until you're tempted to get out and walk. But where is this Prefecture of Police Bureau? Well, it's about the same distance on the other side of town as was the Bureau of Military Control on this side. On the theory that nothing from nothing leaves nothing, it would seem that for a weary soldier the only thing to do was to curl up on the rear seat and sink into dreamland. It might have turned out only a bad dream. I have heard shells flying by at a fast clip, but never did anything go so fast as the figures on that taximeter.
From the looks of the records kept at the Police Bureau I am sure they would know if there was anything in the world to your discredit , but if you have a clean bill you are quickly O. K.'d and are again on your way. When I got out of there I glanced at my driver, who was a young fellow when we started out, but having been gone so long I felt sure by now he had a beard that he could trip in.
On going back to America by way of England it is now necessary to pay a call upon the English Consul in Paris, who will look over the stamps the various offices have put on your passport in order to determine whether or not he would care to have you go back that way. This was my last taxi ride by way of kicking off the shackles that held me on foreign soil. Much as I loved France I was hungry for home and glad to feel that I was free to go there.
The following morning found our crowd on the train bound for Havre. As we sped along we passed just back of the front held by the English and, after an eight-hour trip, arrived at our destination. After transferring our baggage we were greeted with the pleasant information that there had been a storm on the Channel and many mines had broken loose. Until the trawlers succeeded in sweeping them back into harness no boat would leave that port.
Now the sad part of this news was that if this boat did not leave during the night we would miss our steamer for America---and the boat did not leave. So we slept on board, and the next day was spent in the town. That night we got under way, the storm kept us company and our steamer did everything but run upside down. It was a messy-looking crowd that arrived in Southampton the next morning, but we stayed only long enough to attend a meeting of the customs officials, then we were off for London. We had missed our boat and must wait four days for a sailing on another line.
That night I went to the theater, and after enjoying a good play for two hours the curtain descended abruptly and a gentleman stepped out on the stage to announce that there was an air raid on, and anyone choosing to leave could do so. There were a great many people who got up and left for the shelters that are provided throughout the city. In less than five minutes the curtain went up again and the performance was resumed. When we left the theater autos and police bicycles plastered with signs, "Take to Cover," were speeding up and down the street. Most people went down into the underground railway stations, but the Boche did not penetrate the outer defenses and were only able to drop a few bombs on the outskirts of the city. During the four nights we spent in London there were three air raids.
A great many American sailors were in London, and it happened that the Church of Saint Martin held services while we were there. We couldn't miss that chance. The King and Queen and Princess were in attendance, as well as Field Marshall French and Admiral Jellicoe, with other celebrities.
After four days in London we left for Liverpool to catch our boat, and sailed for dear old America on the evening we arrived. Hard luck seemed to pursue us, for the next morning we found ourselves at anchor at the mouth of the river with the consoling news that two German submarines were lying outside the bar awaiting our departure. So we stayed there all day in a dense fog and also that night, with about twelve other vessels of various sizes.
The following morning we slipped anchor and in a few hours were well out into the Irish Sea, the heart of the infested area. If there is any place where U-boats are thick it is off the Irish coast. Nothing eventful happened that first day but our boat was heavily armed and all the men were at their posts every minute. Meals were served to the gun crews at their posts.
About seven-thirty that night, after we had come on deck from dinner, there was a report of a cannon behind us---a U-boat had come up fifteen hundred yards astern, and, not having a chance to launch a torpedo, took a shot at us with a small deck gun. It was so dark that the U-boat could not be seen, but our gunners at the stern could see the flash of their gun and took that for a target. Of course, we could not see a hit if one was made, but the U-boat did not fire any more. Probably its officer did not care to try conclusions with so watchful a foe.
We did not wait to investigate. Full steam ahead soon put distance between us. All went well the rest of the night and the following day, each minute making our travel safer, and soon we were well out to sea with chances of being attacked growing less all the while.
On her trip previous the same thing had happened to this vessel, only their opponent was a little more persistent than ours had been. The U-boat fired fifty-four shots at her.
When three days at sea a fire broke out in one of the holds and spread to the dynamo room. All hands turned out to fight the flames, and, considering that they were coming out of the upper deck hatches for a while, things looked pretty bad. But at last, with good work on the part of the crew, it was under control. It is not very easy to sleep on a boat in midocean when you know that a fire is smouldering and likely to break through and spread at any moment.
Four days later we fell in with the American patrol and the sight of two American warships was at once a comfort and a delight.
The only disappointment in store for us was our failure to arrive at New York early enough to get up the river and land. We missed it by half an hour and had to lie in the Narrows in sight of home all night long! Rotten luck. However, bad luck is sometimes good luck, for next morning as we came on deck there was the Statue of Liberty! I had seen it hundreds of times but never as I saw it that beautiful morning. And then, an hour later, wasn't it fine to scramble up the gangplank to see who would be first to put foot on good old American soil! Home again---home again.
What a wonderful feeling!