Headquarters of the First Division were established at Menil-la-Tour and that of the First Brigade at Ansauville. Information came on leaving the Gondrecourt Area, that the district would be abandoned to the French, so the wooden hut at Montiers was moved and set up again at Sanzey, which then became the Headquarters of the First Ammunition Train. Huts were established at Menil-la-Tour and other points in the Toul Sector.
It took three days to erect the hut at Sanzey, but within an hour the field range was set up, and a piece of tarpaulin stretched over it to keep the rain off the girls and the doughnuts.
Hour after hour the girls stood there making doughnuts, and hour after hour the line moved slowly along waiting patiently for doughnuts. The Adjutant went away a little while and returned to find some of the same boys standing in line as when he left. Some had been standing five hours! It was the only pastime they had, just as soon as they were off duty, to line up again for doughnuts.
The hut at Sanzey was used mostly by men of an Ammunition Train. As in other places where the Salvation Army huts catered to the American troops, an all-night service of hot coffee or chocolate and doughnuts or cookies was provided for the men as they returned from their dangerous nightly trips to the front. When men were killed their comrades usually brought them back and laid them in this hut until they could be buried. One night a man was killed and brought back in this fashion. The chaplain was holding a service over his body in the hut. The Salvation Army man was talking to the man who had been the dead lad's "buddie." "I wish it was me instead of him, Cap," said this soldier, "he was his mother's oldest son and she will take it hard."
The Salvation Army was told that Ansauville was too far front for any women to be allowed to go. They felt, however, that it was advisable for women to be there and determined to bring it about if possible. On scouting the town there was found no suitable place in any of the buildings except one that was occupied as the General's garage. The Salvation Army was not permitted to erect any additional buildings as it was feared they would attract the fire of the Germans, for Ansauville was well within the range of the German guns.
After deciding that the General's garage was the only logical place for them the Salvation Army representative called upon the General, who asked him where he would propose establishing a hut. The Salvationist told him the only suitable place in the town was that used by him as a garage. He immediately gave most gracious and courteous consent and ordered his aide to find another garage.
The place in question was an old frame barn with a lofty roof which had already been partly shot away and was open to the sky. They were not permitted to repair the roof because the German airplane observers would notice it and know that some activity was going on there which would call for renewed shell fire. However, the top of one of the circus tents was easily run up in the barn so as to form a ceiling.
Ansauville was between Mandres and Menil-la-Tour, not far from advanced positions in the Toul Sector. Five hundred French soldiers had been severely gassed there the night before the Staff-Captain and his helper arrived, and every day people were killed on the streets by falling shells. There was not a house in the village that had not suffered in some way from shell fire; very few had a door or a window left, and many were utterly demolished.
Approaching the town the roads were camouflaged with burlap curtains hanging on wires every little way, so that it was impossible to see down the streets very far in either direction. There were signs here and there: "Attention! The enemy sees you!"
About midnight the Staff-Captain and his officer arrived and after some difficulty found the old barn that the Colonel had told them was to be their hut, but to their dismay there were half a dozen cars parked inside, including the Commanding General's, and it looked as if it were being used for the Staff Garage. Looking up they could see the stars peeping through the shell holes in the tiled roof. It was the first time either of them had been in a shelled town and the experience was somewhat awe-inspiring. Moreover they were both hungry and sleepy and the situation was by no means a cheerful one. They had a large tent and a load of supplies with them and were at a loss where to bestow them.
In the midst of their perturbation a courier arrived with a side car and dismounted. He stumbled in on them and peered at them through the darkness.
"As I live, it's the Salvation Army!" he cried joyfully, shaking hands with both of them at once. "All of the boys have been asking when you were coming. Are you looking for a place to chow and sleep? There's no place in town for a billet, but we have a kitchen down the street. We can give you some chow, and it's warm there. You can roll up in your blankets and sleep by the stove till morning. Come with me."
The cook awakened them in the morning with his clatter of pots and pans in preparation for breakfast. They arose and began to roll up their blanket packs.
"Don't worry about getting up yet," said the chief cook kindly. "Sleep a little longer. You are not in my way." But the two men thanked him and declined to rest longer.
"Where are you going to chow?" asked the chief cook.
The Salvationists allowed that they didn't know.
"Well, you boys line up with this outfit, see?" insisted the chief cook. "We eat three times a day and you're welcome to everything we have!"
This settled the question of board, and after a good breakfast the two started out to report to the General in command.
He greeted them most kindly and made them feel welcome at once.
When they asked about the barn he smiled pleasantly:
"That Colonel of yours is a fine fellow," he said. "He told me that there was only one place in this town that would do for your hut and that was my garage. He said he was afraid he would have to ask me to move my car. Just as though my car were of more importance than the souls of my men! Gentlemen, you can have anything you want that is mine to give. The barn is yours! And if there's anything I can do, command me!"
It was a very dirty stable and needed a deal of cleaning, but the strong workers bent to their task with willing hands, and soon had it in fine order. There was no possibility of mending the roof, but they camouflaged the old tent top and ran it up inside, and it kept the rain and snow off beautifully. Of course, it was no protection against shells, but when they commenced to arrive everybody departed in a hurry to the nearby dugouts, returning quietly when the firing had ceased. The nights were so cold that they had to sleep with all their clothes on, even their overcoats. Often in the mornings their shoes were frozen too stiff to put on until they were thawed over a candle. One soldier broke his shoe in two trying to bend it one morning. Sometimes the men would sleep with their shoes inside their shirts to keep the damp leather from freezing. Two yards from the stove the milk froze!
A field range had been secured and the chimney extended up from the roof for a distance of forty or fifty feet. It smoked terribly, but on this range was cooked many a savory meal and tens of thousands of doughnuts.
Among the doughboys who loved to help around the Salvation Army hut was a quiet fellow who never talked much about himself, yet everybody liked him and trusted him. No one knew much about him, or where he came from, and he never told about his folks at home as some did. But he used to come in from the trenches during the day and do anything he could to be useful around the hut, which was run by two sisters. Even when he had to stand watch at night he would come back in the daytime and help. They could not persuade him to sleep when he ought. Other fellows came and went, talked about their troubles and their joys, got their bit of sympathy or cheer and went their way, but this fellow came every day and worked silently, always on the job. They made him their chief doughnut dipper and he seemed to love the work and did it well.
Then one day his company moved, and he came no more. The girls often asked if anyone knew anything about him, but no one did. Once in a while a brief note would come from him up at the front in the trenches a few miles to the north, but never more than a word of greeting.
One morning the girls were making doughnuts, hard at work, and suddenly the former chief doughnut dipper stumbled into the hut. He looked tired and dusty and it was evident by the way he walked that he was footsore.
"Gee! It's good to see you," he said, sinking down in his old place by the stove.
They gave him a cup of steaming coffee and all the doughnuts he could eat and waited for his story, but he did not begin.
"Well, how are you?" asked one of the girls, hoping to start him.
"Oh, all right, thanks," he said meekly.
"Where is your company?"
"Up the line in some woods."
"How far is it?"
"About ten miles."
The girls felt they were not getting on very fast in acquiring information.
"Did you walk all that way in the dust and sun?"
"Most of it. Sometimes I was in the fields."
"Were you on watch last night?"
"Then you didn't have any sleep?"
"Why did you come over here then?"
"I wanted to see you." There was a sound of a deep hunger in his voice.
"Well, we're awfully glad to see you, surely. Is there anything we can do for you?"
"No, Just let me look at you"-there was frank honesty in his eyes, a deep undertone of reverence in his voice, not even a hint of gallantry or flattery, only a loyal homage.
"Just let me look at you--and----" he hesitated.
"And what?" "And cook some doughnuts."
"Why, of course!" said the girls cheerily, "but you must lie down and sleep awhile first. We'll fix a place for you."
"I don't want to lie down," said the soldier determinedly, "I don't want to waste the time."
"But it wouldn't be wasted. You need the sleep."
"No, that isn't what I need. I want to look at you," he reiterated. "I've got a wife and a little baby at home, and I love them. I like to be here because seeing you takes me back to them. This morning I knew I ought to sleep, but I just couldn't go over the top tonight without seeing you again. That's why I want to see you and fry a few doughnuts for you. It takes me back to them."
He finished with a far-away look in his eyes. He was not thinking what impression his words would make, his thoughts were with his wife and little baby.
He worked around for a couple of hours, saying very little, but seeming quite content. Then he looked at his watch and said it was time to go, as it was quite a walk back to his company. Just so quietly he took his leave and went out to take his chance with Death.
The two girls thought much about him that night as they went about their work, and later lay down and tried to sleep, and their prayers went up for the faithful soul who was doing his duty out there under fire, and for the anxious wife and little one who waited to know the outcome. Sleep did not come soon to their eyes, as they lay in the darkness and prayed.
"The next day about noon as the girls were dipping doughnuts the chief doughnut dipper stumbled once more into the hut, tired, dirty, dusty and worn, but with his eyes sparkling:
"Just thought I ought to come back and tell you I'm all right," he said. "I was afraid you'd be worried. My wife and baby would, anyway."
The girls received him with exultant smiles. "You go out there under the trees and go to sleep!" they ordered him.
"All right, I will," he said. "I feel like sleeping now. Say, you don't think I'm crazy, do you? I just had to see you! It took me back to them!"
It was one of those chill rainy nights which have caused the winter of 1917-1918 to be remembered with shudders by the men of the earlier American Expeditionary Forces. A large part of the American forces were billeted in the weathered, age-old little villages of the Gondrecourt area. They slept in barns, haylofts, cowsheds and even in pig sties. The roads were mere ditches running knee deep in sticky, clogging mud. Shoes, soaked through from the muddy road, froze as the men slept and in the morning had to be thawed out over a candle before they could be drawn on. Frequently men were late at roll-call simply because their shoes were frozen so stiff that they were unable to don them, and their leggings so icy that they could not be wound. After sundown there were no lights, because lights invited air-raids and might well expose the position of troops to the enemy observers. Only in towns where there were Salvation Army or Y.M.C.A. huts could men find any artificial warmth, during the day or night, and only in these places were there any lights after nightfall. Such huts afforded absolutely the only available recreation facilities. But in countless villages where Americans were billeted there was not even this small comfort to be had.
On this particular night, in such a village, an eighteen-year-old boy sat in the orderly room of a regimental headquarters, which was housed in a once pretentious but now sadly decrepit house. Rain leaked through the tiled roof and dribbled down into the room. Windows were long ago shattered and through cracks in the rude board barricades which had replaced the glass a rising wind was driving the rain. The boy sat at a rough wooden table waiting orders. Two weeks previously a letter had come, saying that his mother was seriously ill. Since that he had had no further word. He was desperately homesick. There had been as yet none of the danger and none of the thrill which seems to settle a man down, to the serious business of war.
A passing soldier had just told him that in a village some twelve kilometers distant two Salvation Army women were operating a hut. He longed desperately for the comfort of a woman of his own people and, sitting in the drafty, damp room, he wished that these two Salvationists were not so far away--that he could talk with them and confide in them. At last the wish grew so strong that he could no longer resist it.
He got up quietly, and silently slipped out into the rainy night. The darkness was so thick that he could not see objects six feet away. Walking through the mud was out of the question. He stumbled down, the street, once falling headlong into a muddy puddle, finally reaching the horse-lines, where, saying that he had an errand for the Colonel, he saddled a horse and slopped off into the night.
For a while he kept to the road, his horse occasionally taking fright, as a truck passed clanking slowly in the opposite direction, or a staff car turned out to pass him like a fleeting, ghostly shadow. By following the trees which lined the road at regular intervals he was fairly sure to keep the road. He was very tired and soon began to feel sleepy, but the driving storm, which by this time had assumed the proportions of a tempest, stung him to wakefulness. Once, at a cross-roads a Military Police stopped and questioned him and gave him directions upon his saying that he was carrying dispatches.
He went on. He dozed, only to be sharply awakened by a truck which almost ran him down. He must be more careful, he thought to himself, feeling utterly alone and miserable. But in spite of his resolution his eyes soon closed again. He was awakened, this time by his horse stumbling over some unseen obstacle. He could see nothing in any direction. The blackness and rain shut him in like a fog. He turned at right angles to find the trees which lined the road, but there were no trees. He swung his horse around and went in the other direction, but he found no trees--only an impenetrable darkness which pressed in upon him with a heaviness which might almost have been weighed. He was lost--utterly lost.
He guided his steed in futile circles, hoping to regain the road, but all to no avail. Fear of the night fell upon him. He was wet to the skin and chilled to the bone. He shivered with cold and with fright. Dropping from his horse he pulled from his pocket an electric flashlight and began throwing its slender beam in widening arcs over the ground. The light revealed a stubble field. Surely there must be a path which would lead to the road, thought the boy. Backward and forward over the field he waved the light. His hands trembled so that he could not hold the switch steady, and the lamp blinked on and off.
On the storm-swept, night-hidden hillside which overhung the field was established an anti-aircraft battery.
The sound detectors had just registered the intermittent hum of an enemy plane. It was unusual that an enemy aviator should fight his way over the lines in the face of such a storm, but such things had occurred before and the Captain in charge of the battery searched the tempestuous skies for the intruder, waiting for the sound to grow until he should know that the searchlights had at least a chance of locating the venturesome plane instead of merely giving away their position.
Suddenly, cutting the night in the field below, a tiny ray of light cut the darkness, sweeping back and forward, flashing on and off. For a moment the officer watched it, then, with a muttered curse, he raced down the hillside followed by one of his men. The noise of the storm hid their approach. The boy collapsed into a trembling heap, as the officer grasped him and wrested the flash-light from his chilled fingers. He made no protest as they led him down into a dark, deserted village. He followed his captors into a candle-lighted room where sat a staff officer.
Briefly the Captain explained the situation.
"Caught him in the act of signaling to an enemy plane, sir," he said.
The boy was too cold to venture a protest.
"Bring him to me again in the morning," said the Colonel, shrugging his shoulders. "Hold on, though! What are you going to do with him? He will die unless you get him warmed up."
"Don't know what to do with him, sir, unless I take him down to the Salvation Army... they have a fire there."
"Very good, Captain, see that he is properly guarded and if they will have him, leave him there for the night." And so it came to pass that the boy reached his destination. It was past closing time--long past; but the motherly Salvationist in charge knew just what to do. Within ten minutes, wrapped in a warm blanket, the boy sat with his feet in a pan of hot water, with the Salvation Army woman feeding him steaming lemonade. Between gulps, he told his story and was comforted. Soon he was snugly tucked into an army cot, and still grasping the Salvationist's hand, was sleeping peacefully.
The next day a little investigation assured the Colonel that the boy's story was a true one, and with a reprimand for leaving his post without orders he was allowed to return. The delay, however, had absented him, of course, from morning roll-call, and he was sentenced to thirty days repairing wire on the front-line trenches, which was often equivalent to a death sentence, for as many men were shot during the performance of this duty as came in safely.
He had done fifteen days of his time at this sentence when the Salvation Army woman from the Ansauville hut which the boy had visited that rainy night happened over to his Officers' Headquarters, and by chance learned of his unhappy fate. It took but a few words from her to his commanding officer to set matters right; his sentence was revoked, and he was pardoned.
Ansauville was a point of peculiar importance in that all the troops passing into or out from the sector stopped there. It was here that cocoa and coffee were first provided for the troops. Afterwards it came to be the habit to serve them with the doughnuts and pie. It was when the Twenty-sixth Division came into the line. They had marched for hours and had been without any warm meal for a long time. Detachments of them reached Ansauville at night, wet and cold, too late to secure supper that night, and hearing they were coming, the lassies put on great boilers of coffee and cocoa, and as the men arrived they were given to them freely.
A hut was established at Mandres. This was some distance in advance of Ansauville and lay in the valley. At first a wooden building was secured. It had nothing but a dirt floor but lumber was hauled from Newchateau by truck--a distance of sixty miles, and the place was made comfortable.
For some little time the boys enjoyed this hut, but on one occasion the Germans sent over a heavy barrage; they hit the hut, destroying one end of it, scattering the supplies, ruining the victrola, and after that the military authorities ordered that the men should not assemble in such numbers.
When this order was given, the Salvation Army had no intention of discontinuing work at Mandres and so found a cellar under a partially destroyed building. This cellar was vaulted and had been used for storing wine. It was wet and in bad condition, but with some labor it was made fit to receive the men; and tables and benches were placed there, the canteen established and a range set up. It was at this place that a very wonderful work was carried on. The Salvation Army Ensign who had charge, for a time, scoured the country for miles around to purchase eggs, which he transferred to his hut in an old baby carriage. The eggs were supplied to the men at cost and they fried them themselves on the range, which was close at hand. This was considered by the military authorities too far front for women to come and only men were allowed here.
The Ensign also mixed batter for pan cakes and established quite a reputation as a pan-cake maker. Here was a place where the soldiers felt at home. They could come in at any time and on the fire cook what they pleased.
They could purchase at the canteen such articles as were for sale and it was home to them. Very wonderful meetings were held in this spot and many men found Christ at the penitent-form, which was an old bench placed in front of the canteen.
On the wharf in New York when the soldiers were returning home some soldiers were talking about the Salvation Army. "Did you ever go to one of their meetings?" asked one. "I sure did!" answered a big fine fellow--a college man, by the way, from one of the well known New England universities. "I sure did!--and it was the most impressive service I ever attended. It was down in an old wine cellar, and the house over it wasn't because it had been blown away. The meeting was led by a little Swede, and he gave a very impressive address, and followed it by a wonderful prayer. And it wasn't because it was so learned either, for the man was no college chap, but it stirred me deeply. I used to be a good deal of a barbarian before I went to France, but that meeting made a big change in me. Things are going to be different now.
"The place was lit by a candle or two and the guns were roaring overhead, but the room was packed and a great many men stood up for prayers. Oh, I'll never forget that meeting!"
That meeting was in the old wine cellar in Mandres.
The town of Mandres was shelled daily and it was an exceptional day that passed without from one to ten men being killed as a result of this shelling.
Here are some extracts from letters written by the Ensign from the old wine cellar in Mandres:
"Somewhere in France,"
May 15, 1918.
I am still busy in my old wine-cellar in France. I must give you an idea of my daily routine: Get up early and, go to my cellar. Get wood and make fire; go for some water to put on stove. Take my mess kit, helmet, gas mask and cane, walk about one block to the part of the church standing by the artillery kitchen and get my hand-out mess, go back to my cellar and have my breakfast, see to the fire, fuel, clean and light the lamps, dip and carry out some water and mud (but have now found a place to drain off the water by cutting through the heavy stone wall and digging a ditch underneath). I dig whenever I have time. Then the boys begin to come in-some right from the trenches, others who are resting up after a siege in the trenches. They are all covered with mud when they come in and have to talk, stand and even sleep in mud. Then I must have the cocoa and coffee ready and serve also the candy, figs, nuts, gum, chocolate, shaving-sticks, razors, watches, knives, gun oil, paper, envelopes, etc. I mostly wear my rubber boots and stand in a little boot "slouched" down so I can stand straight. Almost every evening we have a little "sing-song" or regular service, and on Sunday two or three services.
Our wine-cellar is supposed to be bomb-proof. First the roof, the ceiling, the floor, then the three-feet stone and concrete under the floor and along the wine-cellar. I am all alone for all this business. Sometimes the boys help me to cut wood and keep the fire and carry water, but the companies are changed so often that they go and come every five days, and when they come from the trenches they are so tired and sleepy they need all the rest they can get. Yesterday I had to change the stove and stovepipes because it smoked so bad that it almost smoked us out. So I had to run through the ruins and find old stovepipes. I could not find enough elbows, so I had to make some with the help of an old knife. We ran the pipes through the low window bars and up the side of the house to the top, and plastered up poor joints with mud, but it burns better and does not smoke. The boys claim I make the best coffee they have had in France, and also cocoa. I am glad I know something of cooking. You see, they don't permit girls so near the trenches and in the shell fire.
My dear Major:
Grace, love and peace unto you! Many thanks for the beautiful letter I received from you full of love, Christian admonition and encouragement. Such letters are much Appreciated over here.
I have been very busy. The last week, in addition to running the ordinary business, I have used the pick and shovel and wheelbarrow in lowering our wine-cellar floor (now used as a Salvation Army rest room), so we can walk straight in. I have also done some white-washing to brighten things up and have some flowers in bowls, large French wine bottles and big brass shells, which makes a great improvement. I now expect to pick up pieces and erect a range, so we can cook and make things faster. I secured two hams and am having them cooked, and expect to serve ham sandwiches by Decoration Day, two days hence, when there is to be a great time in decorating the graves of our heroes. I am also trying to get some lemons so that I can make lemonade for the boys besides the coffee and cocoa. You can get an idea of the immensity of our business when I tell you I got 999.25 francs worth of butter-scotch candy alone with the last lot of goods, besides a dozen other kinds of candy, nuts, toilet articles, etc., and this will be sold and given out in a very few days.
We had very good meetings last Sunday. I spoke at night. A glorious time we had, indeed. Praise God for the opportunity of working among the New England braves!
At Menil-la-Tours the French forbade any huts at all to be put up at first, but finally they gave permission for one hut. The Staff-Captain wanted to put up two, but as that wasn't allowed he got around the order by building five rooms on each side of the one big hut and so had plenty of room. It is pretty hard to get ahead of a Salvation Army worker when he has a purpose in view. Not that they are stubborn, simply that they know how to accomplish their purpose in the nicest way possible and please everybody.
There were some American railroad engineers here, working all night taking stuff to the front. They came over and asked if they could help out, and so instead of taking their day for sleep they spent most of it putting tar paper on the roof of the Salvation Army hut.
It was in this place that there seemed to be a strong prejudice among some of the soldiers against the Salvation Army for some reason. The soldiers stood about swearing at the Staff-Captain and his helper as they worked, and saying the most abusive and contemptible things to them. At last the Staff-Captain turned about and, looking at them, in the kindliest way said:
"See here, boys, did you ever know anything about the Salvation Army before?"
They admitted that they had not.
"Well, now, just wait a little while. Give us fair play and see if we are like what you say we are. Wait until we get our hut done and get started, and then if you don't like us you can say so."
"Well, that's fair, Dad," spoke up one soldier, and after that there was no more trouble, and it wasn't long before the soldiers were giving the most generous praise to the Salvation Army on every side.
L'Hermitage, nestled in the heart of a deep woods, was no quiet refuge from the noise of battle and the troubles of a war-weary world, as one might suppose. It was surrounded by swamps everywhere. And it had been raining, of course. It always seems to have been raining in France during this war. There were duck boards over the swampy ground, and a single mis-step might send one prone in the ooze up to the elbows.
It was a very dangerous place, also.
There was a large ammunition dump in the town, and besides that there was a great balloon located there which the Boche planes were always trying to get. It was the nearest to the front of any of our balloons and, of course, was a great target for the enemy. There was a lot of heavy coast artillery there, also, and there were monster shell holes big enough to hold a good audience.
At last one day the enemy did get the ammunition dump, and report after report rent the air as first one shell and then another would burst and go up in flame. It was fourteen hours going off and the military officer ordered the girls to their billets until it should be over. It was like this: First a couple of shells would explode, then there would be a second's quiet and a keg of powder would flare; then some boxes of ammunition would go off; then some more shells. It was a terrible pandemonium of sound. Thirty miles away in Gondrecourt they saw the fire and heard the terrific explosions.
The Zone Major and one of his helpers had been to Nancy for a truck load of eggs and were just unloading when the explosions began. Together they were carefully lifting out a crate containing a hundred dozen eggs when the mammoth détonations began that rocked the earth beneath them and threatened to shake them from their feet. They staggered and tottered but they held onto the eggs. One of the sayings of Commander Eva Booth is, "Choose your purpose and let no whirlwind that sweeps, no enemy that confronts you, no wave that engulfs you, no peril that affrights you, turn you from it." The Zone Major and his helper had chosen the purpose of landing those eggs safely, and eggs at five francs a dozen are not to be lightly dropped, so they staggered but they held onto the eggs.
The girls in the canteen went quietly about their work until ordered to safety; but over in Sanzey and Menil-la-Tour their friends watched and waited anxiously to hear what had been their fate.
The General who was in charge of the Twenty-sixth Division was exceedingly kind to the Salvation Army girls. He acted like a father toward them: giving up his own billet for their use; sending an escort to take them to it through the woods and swamps and dangers when their work at the canteen was over for a brief respite; setting a sentry to guard them and to give a gas alarm when it became necessary; and doing everything in his power for their comfort and safety.