Spring came on even in shell-torn France, lovely like the miracle it always is. Bare trees in a day were arrayed in wondrous green. A camouflage of beauty spread itself upon the valleys and over the hillsides like a garment sewn with colored broidery of blossoms. Great scarlet poppies flamed from ruined homes as if the blood that had been spilt were resurrected in a glorious color that would seek to hide the misery and sorrow and touch with new loveliness the war-scarred place. Little birds sent forth their flutey voices where mortals must be hushed for fear of enemies.
The British had been driven back by the Huns until they admitted that their backs were against the wall, and it was an anxious time. Daily the enemy drew nearer to Paris.
When the great offensive was started by the Germans in March, 1918, and American troops were sent up to help the British and French, the Division was located at Montdidier. Under the rules for the conduct of war, they were not permitted to know where they were destined to go, and so the Salvation Army could not secure that information. They knew it was to be north of Paris, but where, was the problem.
The French were opposed to any relief organizations going into the Sector, and rules and regulations were made which were calculated to discourage or to keep them out altogether.
It was urgent that the Salvation Army should be there at the earliest possible moment and as they could not secure permits, especially for the women, they decided to get there without permits,
The first contingent was put into a big Army truck, the cover was put down and they were started on the road, to a point from which they hoped to secure information of the movements of their outfit. From place to place this truck proceeded until, finally, detachments of the troops were located in the vicinity of Gisors. Contact was immediately established. The girls were received with the greatest joy and portable tents were set up. It seemed as if every man in the Division must come to say how glad he was to see them back. The men decided that if it was in their power they would never again allow the Salvation Army to be separated from them. A few days later when the Division was ordered to move they took these same lassies with them riding in army trucks. The troops were on their way to the front and seldom remained more than three days in one place, and frequently only one day. On arrival at the stopping-place, fifteen or twenty of the boys would immediately proceed to erect the tent and within an hour or two a comfortable place would be in operation, a field range set up, the phonograph going, and the boys had a home.
At Courcelles the Salvation Army set up a tent, started a canteen, and had it going four days in charge of two sisters just come from the States. Then one morning they woke up and found their outfit gone, they knew not where, and they had to pick up and go after them. An all-day journey took them to Froissy, where they found their special outfit.
There was no place for a tent at Froissy, but there was an old dance hall, where they had their canteen. The Division stayed there five weeks-under a roar of guns. But in spite of this there were wonderful meetings every night in Froissy.
This work was exceedingly trying on the girls. Permits were never secured for any of the Salvation Army workers in this Sector. They were applied for regularly through the French Army. About three months after application was made, they were all received back with the statement from the French that, seeing the workers were already there, it was not now necessary that permits should be issued. It must be reported that the French Army was opposed to the presence of women in any of the camps of the soldiers. This prejudice existed for a long time, but it was finally broken down because of the good work done by Salvation Army women, which came to be fully recognized by the French Army.
The work in the Montdidier Sector was particularly hard. Permanent buildings could not be established. The best that could be done was to erect portable tents, which were about twenty feet wide and fifty-seven feet long. Huts were established in partially destroyed buildings or houses or stores that had been vacated by their owners, and on the extreme front canteens were established in dugouts and cellars and the entire district was under bombardment from the German guns as well as from the airplane bombs. The Salvation Army had no place there that was not under bombardment continually. The huts were frequently shelled and there was imminent danger for a long time that the German Army would break through, which, of course, added to the strain.
The Zone Major went back and forth bringing more men and more lassies and more supplies from the Base at Paris to the front, and many a new worker almost lost his life in a baptism of fire on his way to his post of duty for the first time. But all these men and women, as a soldier said, were made of some fine high stuff that never faltered at danger or fatigue or hardship.
They rode over shell-gashed roads in the blackest midnight in a little dilapidated Ford; made wild dashes when they came to a road upon which the enemy's fire was concentrated, looking back sometimes to see a geyser of flame leap up from a bend around which they had just whirled. Shells would rain in the fields on either side of them; cars would leap by them in the dark, coming perilously close and swerving away just in time; and still they went bravely on to their posts.
Everything would be blackest darkness and they would think they were stealing along finely, when all of a sudden an incendiary bomb would burst and flare up like a house-on-fire lighting up the whole country for miles about, and there you were in plain sight of the enemy! And you couldn't turn back nor hesitate a second or you would be caught by the ever watchful foe! You had to go straight ahead in all that blare of light!
The S. A. Adjutant's headquarters were fifty feet below the ground; sometimes the earth would rock with the explosives. Two of the dugouts were burrowed almost beneath the trenches and S. A. Officers here looked after the needs of the men who were actually engaged in fighting. Every night the shattered villages were raked and torn above them. Such dugouts could only be left at night or when the firing ceased. The two men who operated these lived a nerve-racking existence. Of course, all pies and doughnuts for these places had to be prepared far to the rear, and no fire could be built as near to the front as this. It was no easy task to bring the supplies back and forth. It was almost always done at the risk of life.
The Staff-Captain and the Adjutant were speeding over a shell-swept road one cold, black, wet night at reckless speed without a light, their hearts filled with anxiety, for a rumor had reached them that two Salvation Army lassies had been killed by shell fire. The night was full of the sound of war, the distant rumble of the heavy guns, the nervous stutter of machine guns, the tearing screech of a barrage high above the road.
Suddenly in front of them yawned a black gulf. The Adjutant jammed on his brakes, but it was too late. The game little Ford sailed right into a big shell hole, and settled down three feet below the road right side up but tightly wedged in. The two travelers climbed out and reconnoitered but found the situation hopeless. There had been many sleepless nights before this one, and the men, weary beyond endurance, rolled up in their blankets, climbed into the car, and went to sleep, regardless of the guns that thundered all about them.
They were just lost to the land of reality when a soldier roused them summarily, saying:
"This is a heck of a place for the Salvation Army to go to sleep! If you don't mind I'll just pick your old bus out of here and send you on your way before it's light enough for Fritzy to spot you and send a calling card."
He was grinning at them cheerfully and they roused to the occasion.
"How are you going to do it?" asked the Adjutant, who, by the way, was Smiling Billy, the same one the soldiers called "one game little guy." "It will take a three-ton truck to get us out of this hole!"
"I haven't got a truck but I guess we can turn the trick all right!" said the soldier.
He disappeared into the darkness above the crater and in a moment reappeared with ten more dark forms following him, and another soldier who patrolled the rim of the crater on horseback.
"How do you like 'em?" he chuckled to the Salvation Army men, as he turned his flashlight on the ten and showed them to be big German prisoners of war. Under his direction they soon had the little Ford pushed and shouldered into the road once more. In a little while the Salvationists reached their destination and found to their relief that the rumor about the lassies was untrue.
At Mesnil-St.-Firmin one of the lassies, a young woman well known in New York society circles, but a loyal Salvationist and in France from the start, drove a little flivver carrying supplies for several nights, accompanied only by a young boy detailed from the Army. Every mile of the way was dark and perilous, but there was no one else to do the work, so she did it.
Here they were under shell fire every night. The girls slept in an old wine cellar, the only comparatively safe place to be found. It was damp, with a fearful odor they will never forget--moreover, it was already inhabited by rats. They frequently had to retire to the cellar during gas attacks, and stay for hours, sometimes having only time to seize an overcoat and throw it over their night-clothes. They were here through ten counter-attacks and when Cantigny was taken.
There seemed to be big movements among the Germans one day. They were bringing up reinforcements, and a large attack was expected. The airplanes were dropping bombs freely everywhere and it looked as if there would not be one brick left on the top of another in a few hours. Then the military authorities ordered the two girls to leave town. When the boys heard that the hut was being shelled and the girls were ordered to leave they poured in to tell them how much they would miss them. They well knew from experience that their staunch hardworking little friends would not have left them if they could have helped it. Also, they dreaded to lose these consecrated young women from their midst. They had a feeling that their presence brought the presence of the great God, with His protection, and in this they had come to trust in their hour of danger. Often the boys would openly speak of this, owning that they attributed their safety to the presence of their Christian friends.
One young officer from the officers' mess where the girls had dined once at their invitation, brought them boxes of candy, and in presenting them said:
"Gee! We shall miss you like the devil!"
The lassie twinkled up in a merry smile and answered: "That sure is some comparison!" The officer blushed as red as a peony and tried to apologize:
"Well, now, you know what I mean. I don't know just how to say how much we shall miss you!"
They left at midnight on foot accompanied by one of the Salvation Army men workers who had been badly gassed and needed to get back of the lines and have some treatment. It was brilliant moonlight as they hiked it down the road, the airplanes were whizzing over their heads and the anti-aircraft guns piling into them. They started for La Folie, the Headquarters of the Staff-Captain of that zone, but they lost their way and got far out of the track, arriving at last at Breteuil. Coming to the woods a Military Police stationed at the crossroads told them:
"You can't go into Breteuil because they have been shelling it for twenty minutes. Right over there beyond where you are standing a bomb dropped a few minutes ago and killed or wounded seven fellows. The ambulance just took them away."
However, as they did not know where else to go they went into Breteuil, and found the village deserted of all but French and American Military Police. They tried to get directions, and at last found a French mule team to take them to La Folie, where they finally arrived at four o'clock in the morning.
The next day they went on to Tartigny, where they were to be located for a time.
One of the lassies left her sister with the canteen one day and started out with another Officer to the Divisional Gas Officer to get a new gas mask, for something had happened to hers. As they reached a crossroads a boy on a wheel called out: "Oh, they're shelling the road! Pull into the village quick!"
When they arrived in the village there was a great shell just fallen in the very centre of the town. The girl thought of her sister all alone in the canteen, for the shells were falling everywhere now, and they started to take a short cut back to Tartigny, but the Military Police stopped them, saying they couldn't go on that road in the daytime as it was under observation, so they had to go back by the road they had come. The canteen was at the gateway of a chateau, and when they reached there they saw the shells falling in the chateau yard and through the glass roof of the canteen. It was a trying time for the two brave girls.
They had been invited out to dinner that evening at the Officers' Mess. As a rule, they did not go much among the officers, but this was a special invitation. The shells had been falling all the afternoon, but they were quite accustomed to shells and that did not stop the festivities. During the dinner the soldier boys sang and played on guitars and banjos. But when the dinner was over they asked the girls to sing.
It was very still in the mess hall as the two lovely lassies took their guitars and began to sing. There was something so strong and sweet and pure in the glance of their blue eyes, the set of their firm little chins, so pleasant and wholesome and merry in the very curve of their lips, that the men were hushed with respect and admiration before this highest of all types of womanhood.
It was a song written by their Commander that the girls had chosen, with a sweet, touching melody, and the singers made every word clear and distinct:
Bowed beneath the garden shades,
Where the Eastern--sunlight fades,
Through a sea of griefs He wades,
And prays in agony.
His sweat is of blood,
His tears like a flood
For a lost world flow down.
I never knew such tears could be--
Those tears He wept for me!
Hung upon a rugged tree
On the hill of Calvary,
Jesus suffered, death, to be
The Saviour of mankind.
His brow pierced by thorn,
His hands and feet torn,
With broken heart He died.
I never knew such pain could be,
This pain He bore for me!
Suddenly crashing into the midst of the melody came a great shell, exploding just outside the door and causing everyone at the table to spring to his feet. The singers stopped for a second, wavered, as the reverberation of the shock died away, and then went on with their song; and the officers, abashed, wondering, dropped back into their seats marvelling at the calmness of these frail women in the face of death. Surely they had something that other women did not have to enable them to sing so unconcernedly in such a time as this!
Love which conquered o'er death's sting,
Love which has immortal wing,
Love which is the only thing
My broken heart to heal.
It burst through the grave,
It brought grace to save,
It opened Heaven's gate.
I never knew such love could be--
This love He gave to me!
It needs some special experience to appreciate what Salvation Army lassies really are, and what they have done. They are not just any good sort of girl picked up here and there who are willing to go and like the excitement of the experience; neither are they common illiterate girls who merely have ordinary good sense and a will to work. The majority of them in France are fine, well-bred, carefully reared daughters of Christian fathers and mothers who have taught them that the home is a little bit of heaven on earth, and a woman God's means of drawing man nearer to Him. They have been especially trained from childhood to forget self and to live for others. The great slogan of the Salvation Army is "Others." Did you ever stop to think how that would take the coquetry out of a girl's eyes, and leave the sweet simplicity of the natural unspoiled soul? We have come to associate such a look with a plain, homely face, a dull complexion, careless, severe hair-dressing and unbeautiful clothes. Why?
Righteousness from babyhood has given to these girls delicate beautiful features, clear complexions that neither faded nor had to be renewed in the thick of battle, eyes that seemed flecked with divine lights and could dance with mirth on occasion or soften exquisitely in sympathy, furtive dimples that twinkled out now and then; hands that were shapely and did not seem made for toil. Yet for all that they toiled night and day for the soldiers. They were educated, refined, cultured, could talk easily and well on almost any subject you would mention. They never appeared to force their religious views to the front, yet all the while it was perfectly evident that their religion was the main object of their lives; that this was the secret source of strength, the great reason for their deep joy, and abiding calm in the face of calamities; that this was the one great purpose in life which overtopped and conquered all other desires. And if you would break through their sweet reserve and ask them they would tell you that Jesus and the winning of souls to Him was their one and only ambition.
And yet they have not let these great things keep them from the pleasant little details of life. Even in the olive drab flannel shirt and serge skirt of their uniform, or in their trim serge coats, the exact counterpart of the soldier boy's, except for its scarlet epaulets, and the little close trench hat with its scarlet shield and silver lettering, they are beautiful and womanly. Catch them with the coat off and a great khaki apron enveloping the rest of their uniform, and you never saw lovelier women. No wonder the boys loved to see them working about the hut, loved to carry water and pick up the dishes for washing, and peel apples, and scrape out the bowl after the cake batter had been turned into the pans. No wonder they came to these girls with their troubles, or a button that needed sewing on, and rushed to them first with the glad news that a letter had come from home even before they had opened it. These girls were real women, the kind of woman God meant us all to be when He made the first one; the kind of woman who is a real helpmeet for all the men with whom she comes in contact, whether father, brother, friend or lover, or merely an acquaintance. There is a fragrance of spirit that breathes in the very being, the curve of the cheek, the glance of the eye, the grace of a movement, the floating of a sunny strand of hair in the light, the curve of the firm red lips that one knows at a glance will have no compromise with evil. This is what these girls have.
You may call it what you will, but as I think of them I am again reminded of that verse in the Bible about those brave and wonderful disciples: "And they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus."
Two of the Salvation Army men went back to Mesnil-St.-Firmin the day after the lassies had been obliged to leave, to get some of their belongings which they had not been able to take with them, and one of them, a Salvation Army Major, stayed to keep the place open for the boys. He was the only Salvation Army man who is entitled to wear a wound stripe. By his devotion to duty, self-sacrifice, and contempt of danger, he won the confidence of the men wherever he was. He chiefly worked alone and operated a canteen usually in a dugout at the front.
On one occasion a soldier was badly wounded at the door of a hut, by an exploding gas-shell. He fell into the dugout and while the Major worked over him, the Major himself was gassed and had to be removed to the rear and undergo hospital treatment. For this service he was awarded a wound stripe. During the St. Mihiel offensive he was appointed in the Toul Sector and followed up the advancing soldiers, and later was active in the Argonne. He is essentially a front-line man and always takes the greatest satisfaction in being in the place of most danger.
The following is a brief excerpt from his diary when he manned the dugout hut in Coullemelle:
May 12 "Arrived in Coullemelle Sunday night, May 12. Was busy with my work by mid-day, Monday, 13. After cleaning our dugout, gave medicine to sick man, who refused to sleep in my bed because he was not fit. However, I made him feel fine, helped. I had a long talk with the boys.
Tuesday, 14: Shell struck opposite to dugout and sent tiles down steps. The Captain of E Battery visited me to-day, and then I visited the Battery and had chow with them. Airplane fight: while batteries were roaring, the Germans came down in flames.
Wednesday, 15: No coming to dugout in the day-time on account of shelling. I did good business in the evening and also had long services by request of the boys. Received a letter from B---- here to-day, I slept good.
Thursday, 16: I visited army, the officers and men of F Battery. Their chow kitchen is in a bad place, all men coming down sick. I had an arrangement with the doughboys that they might come in my dugout any hour in the night, whenever they wanted. I visited infantry officers to-day, Capt. Cribbs and Capt. Crisp. I had a lovely talk with them. I offered to go to the trenches with my goods, but Capt. Cribbs said I would just be killed without doing what he knew I wanted to do, namely, serve the boys with food and encourage them.
Friday, 17: I was startled by a fearful barrage at four o'clock when I got up, washed my clothes: was visited by the Y.M.C.A. Secretary: was shelled from five o'clock till ten o'clock. I went for chow and found shell ball gone through kitchen. High explosive, black smoke shells bursting intermittently, tiles fell into my dugout. I took pick shovel in with me; my kitten ran away but came back. A three-legged cat came to the ruined home where I am; its leg evidently had been cut off by shrapnel. Great air fight all day. Incendiary shells were fired into the town and burnt for a long time. I visited Battery F, and gave the fellows medicine. To-day both officers and men were in the gun pits and I with them, while they were deviling with Fritzy. Big business in evening with long service, gave out Testaments and held service in dugout; got a Frenchman to interpret the scripture to his comrades. Bequests for prayer. Doughboys came in 12:30, through a barrage, and got sixty-five bars of chocolate, others got biscuits. I am very, very tired; artillery is roaring as I go to sleep.
Saturday, 18: Capt. Cribbs came down to dugout and said he was worried to death over me (thought I was killed). I assured him I was all 0. K., and that it was their end of the town that needed looking after. He laughed and enjoyed it. My supplies are kept up by the courage and devotion of the Staff-Captain and Billy, who, taking their lives in their hands, bring the Ford with supplies along the shell-torn road at great peril. Capt. Corliss also came.
During the day, the officer of Battery F wanted the Victrola and got the use of it in their dugout for three days. In the meantime I had furnished Battery D the use of the Victrola and the day I made the promise, I found the boys without chow for twelve hours. When about to serve it, the town was gassed and their food with it and no one was permitted to touch a thing, they were blessing the Kaiser as only soldiers can under such circumstances. When I arrived among them, after finding out the way of things, I suggested to the officers that I should be permitted to supply them with such food as I had. They assured me it would be a mighty good thing for them if I would, and I took four boxes of biscuits and six pots of jam and other things to their trench in the rear of their batteries-- they surely thought I was an angel and I left them pretty happy. This was all done under fire and at great risk. I chowed with Battery E and saw shell hole through building which was new since my last visit--boys offer to teach me how to work gun, their spirit is wonderful under the terrific strain which they labor. I visited ruined church and went inside; here were some graves of the French soldiers, some of the bodies being exposed. Could not stay very long. Overtook soldier-boy limping, got him to stay awhile and gave him hot chocolate; persuaded him to let his limb be seen to, which he did, and was sent to hospital. I visited hospital corps-fellows and arranged that in case of gas, they would visit and rouse me at night. They are fine fellows. Doughboys bought lots of goods and blessed the Salvation Army a thousand times. These lads come in from the trenches and have some hair-raising stories to tell.
Sunday, 19: Quiet till the afternoon when a gas barrage started. I was driven out of my dugout. I had a narrow escape, while reaching the hospital corps dugout. Lieut. Roolan (since promoted), of the Fifth Field Artillery, was there for two hours and half. 480 shells, I was informed, came down, averaging up three and four per minute. All night, from 6 o'clock to 3 A.M., 3000 shells are sent into the town. I slept in the Headquarters Signal Corps dugout with my gas mask on all night.
Monday, 20: Visited Y.M.C.A. and found their dugout had been struck and the Secretary's eyes were gassed after a man took his place. I saw Colonel Crane to try and get out of my dugout and get the one he had left. He gave me permission, assuring me that it was not a very good one at that. I took my Victrola with two of the battery boys from F Battery. I carried the records and they the Victrola. We dodged the shelling all the way and I had the pleasure of hearing the "Swanee River" song at the same time as the firing of the big guns much to the enjoyment of the boys. I understand that General Summerall visited and heard the Victrola soon after I had taken it to the boys. I placed about fifty books among officers of the Hospital Corps, Infantry officers, Battery officers. They were highly appreciated. I slept with Signal Corps boys again as Fritzy decided to continue the bombardment of the town which he did from 5.30 P.M. to 5.30 A.M. I slept with mask on and had no ill effects of the gas at all so far; but about five o'clock a terrific crash just outside of my dugout followed by a man shouting as he rushed down the dugout steps, "Oh, God, get me to the doctor right away." That shell nearly got me. I was only eight feet from it. I sprung up and rushed him from the dugout over to the hospital. I had to chase around from one dugout to another and finally landed my man (his name was Harry), who was taken to the hospital.
Tuesday, 21: After taking the man to the doctor, I went to my own place and found a nine-inch gas shrapnel shell had burst 15 or 20 feet from my dugout, about fifteen holes were torn through the door, the top of the shell lay six feet from the top of the steps, pieces of the shell were scattered down the steps, and my dugout to the gas curtain, was full of gas. If Staff-Captain and Billy had been visiting me that night, the shell would have hit the Ford right in the center. Fierce bombardment all the day. Houses were struck on the entire street from end to end. Shells fell in the yard, one struck the corner of the house. The soldiers next door have gone, and my place can only be opened in the evenings. Things are pretty hot, I started out visiting the batteries to-day, but was driven back and could get out only by the back entrance to the yard. I am told by a soldier of the Intelligence Dept., that their bombardment is what is known as a "Million-Dollar Barrage," and that all were fortunate to have passed through it, he also told me the number and nature of the shells. I served hot chocolate this Tuesday night and noticed that my hands were very red.
Wednesday, 22: I visited the Battery in their trenches again and took them food. My eyes are affected by the gas, and I got treatment at the Evacuating Hospital. Some shells come very close to my dugout--to-day thirty feet, fifty feet and twenty feet. I gather up a box full of remnants. I find I am gassed by a contact with the poor fellow coming in whom I took to the doctor. I get treatment two or three times for my eyes and throat. My hands begin to crack and smart. The flesh comes off from my neck and other parts of my body. I had a fine meeting with boys in dugout and am again visited by the doughboys and officers. I visit the ruined church area again and get a few relics.
Thursday, 23: My eyes are very red and becoming painful and also my throat and nose, etc. I plan to move my dugout and pack up accordingly. Things are quieter today; had services again in the evening. French schoolmaster among the number, six requests for prayer.
Friday, 24: Am all ready to move to a new dugout when Staff-Captain arrives and tells me I am ordered out by the military."
Here is the Military Order received by the Staff-Captain:
"To Major Coe,
"(1) Major Wilson, Chief G1, directs that the Salvation Army evacuate 'Coullemelle' as soon as possible.
"(2) He desires that they leave to-night if possible.
"(3) This message was received by me from the office of G1.
"1st Lieut., F. A."
Orders also arrived soon for the removal of the Salvation Army workers in Broyes:
"Headquarters, 1st Division, G-1.
"American Expeditionary Forces,
" June 3, 1919.
"Memorandum: To Mr. L. A. Coe, Salvation Army, La Folie.
"The hut, which it is understood the Salvation Army is operating in Broyes, will, for military reasons, be removed from there as soon as practicable.
"It is contrary to the desire of the Commanding General that women workers be employed in huts or canteens east of the line Mory-Chepoix-Tartigny, and if any are now so located they are to 'be removed.
"The operations of technical services, Red Cross, Y.M.C.A., and other similar agencies is a function of this section of the General Staff and all questions pertaining to your movements and location of huts should in the future be referred to G.-1.
"By command of Major General Bullard.
"G. K Wilson,
"Major, General Staff,
"A. C. of S., G.-1."
In Tartigny they found a house with five rooms, one of them very large. The billeting officer turned this over to the Salvation Army.
There was plenty of space and the girls might have a room to themselves here, instead of just curtaining off a corner of a tent or making a partition of supply boxes in one end of the hut as they often had to do. There was also plenty of furniture in the house, and they were allowed to go around the village and get chairs and tables or anything they wanted to fix up their canteen. The girls had great fun selecting easy-chairs and desks and anything they desired from the deserted houses, and before long the result was a wonderfully comfortable, cozy, home-like room.
"Gee! This is just like heaven, coming in here!" one of the boys said when he first saw it.
Just outside Tartigny there was a large ammunition dump, piles of shells and boxes of other ammunition. It was under the trees and well camouflaged, but night after night the enemy airplanes kept trying to get it. The girls used to sit in the windows and watch the airplane battles. They would stay until an airplane got over the house and then they would run to the cellar. They came so close one night that pieces of shell from the anti-aircraft guns fell over the house.
Sometimes the airplanes would come in the daytime, and the girls got into the habit of running out into the street to watch them. But at this the boys protested.
"Don't do that, you will get hit!" they begged. And one day the nose of an unexploded shell fell in the street just outside the door. After that they were more careful.
In this town one afternoon a whole truck-load of oranges arrived, being three hundred crates, four hundred oranges to a crate, for the canteen, and they were all gone by four o'clock!
The Headquarters of the Division Commander were in a beautiful old stone chateau of a peculiar color that seemed to be invisible to the airplanes. There were woods all around it and the house was never shelled. It was filled with rare old tapestries and beautiful furniture.
The Count who owned the chateau asked the Major General to get some furniture that belonged to him out of the village that was being shelled. Later the Count asked the General if he ever got that furniture. The General asked his Colonel, "What did you do with that furniture?" "Oh," the Colonel said, "it's down there all right!" "And where is the piano?" "Oh, I gave that to the Salvation Army."
In this area it was one lassie's first bombardment; it came suddenly and without warning. The soldiers in the hut decamped without ceremony for the safety of their dugouts. One soldier who had been detailed to help the lassie, shouted: "Come on! Follow me to your dugout!" Without further talk he turned and started for cover. The girl had been baking. A tray full of luscious lemon cream pies stood on the table. She did not want to leave those pies to the tender mercies of a shell. Also she had some new boots standing beneath the table, and she was not going to lose those. Without stopping to think, she seized the shoes in one hand and the tray in the other and rushed after the soldier. A little gully had to be crossed on the way to the dugout and the only bridge was a twelve-inch plank. The soldier crossed in safety and turned to look after the girl. Just as she reached the middle of the plank a shell burst not far away. The lassie was so startled that she nearly lost her balance, swaying first one way and then the other. In an attempt to stop the tray of pies from slipping, she almost lost the shoes, and in recovering the shoes, the pies just escaped sliding overboard into the thick mud below.
The soldier registered deep agitation.
"Drop the shoes!" he shouted. "I can clean the shoes, but for heaven's sake don't drop them pies!" And the lassie obeyed meekly.
In the little town of Bonnet where the rest room was located in an old barn connected with a Catholic convent, one Salvation Army Envoy and his wife from Texas began their work. They soon became known to the soldiers familiarly as "Pa" and "Ma."
It was in this old barn that the tent top, later made famous at Ansauville, was first used. Stoves were almost impossible to obtain at that time, but "Ma" was determined that she would bake pies for the men, so the Envoy constructed an oven out of two tin cake boxes and using a small two-burner gasoline stove, "Ma" baked biscuits and pies that made her name famous. Through her great motherly heart and her willingness to serve the boys at all times, under all circumstances, she won their confidence and love. One soldier said he would walk five miles any day to look into "Ma's" gray eyes.
From Bonnet they were transferred to command a hut at Ansauville, but "Ma" could never rest so long as there was a soldier to be served in any way. She worked early and late, and she made each individual soldier who came to the hut her special charge as if he were her own son. She could not sleep when they were going over the top unless she prayed with each one before he went.
The meetings which she and her husband held were full of life and power and were never neglected, no matter how hard the strain might be from other lines of service.
It was not long before "Ma's" strength gave out and it was necessary to move her to a quieter place. She was transferred to Houdelainecourt. She would not go until they carried her away.
Houdelainecourt at this time was on the main road travelled by trucks, taking supplies by train from the railroad at Gondrecourt to the front. Truck drivers invariably made it a point to stop at "Ma's" hut and here they were always sure to receive a welcome and the most delicious doughnuts and pies and hot biscuit which loving hands could make.
Not satisfied with this service alone, she undertook to fry pancakes for the officers' breakfast. It was through these kindly services, ungrudgingly done, at any time of the day or night, that her name was established as one of the most potent factors in contributing to the comfort and welfare of the men, and there was no hole or tear of the men's clothes that "Ma" could not mend.
A short time after the pie contest over at Gondrecourt, "Ma" and one of her lassie helpers set out to break the record of 316 pies as a day's work. Their oven would hold but six pies at a time; their hut had but just been opened and all their equipment had not yet arrived, so they were short a rolling pin, which had to be carved from a broken wagon-shaft with a jack-knife before they could begin; but they achieved the baking of 324 pies between 6 A.M. and 6 P.M. that day. It is fair to state for the sake of the doubter, however, that the pie fillers, both pumpkin and apple, were all prepared and piping hot on the stove ready to be poured into the pastry as it was put into the oven, which, of course, helped a good deal.
A sign was put out announcing that pie would be served at seven o'clock, but the lines formed long before that.
---the renowned "Aunt Mary" in the right-hand corner
The pies were unusually large and cut into fifths, but even at that they were much larger pieces than are usually served at the ordinary restaurant.
By half-past eight some men were falling in for a second helping, but "Ma" had been watching long a little company of men off to one side who hovered about yet never dropped into line themselves, and made up her mind that these were some of those who perhaps sent much of their money home and found it a long time between pay-days. Casting her kindly eye comprehendingly toward these men she mounted a chair and requested:
"All of the men who have already had pie, please step out of the line; and all of those boys who want coffee and pie but have no money, step into line and get some, anyhow!"
She gave the boys one of her beautiful motherly smiles and that made them feel they had all got home, and they hesitated no longer. "Ma," however, was more deeply interested in her meetings than in mere pie. The Sunday before this contest over five hundred soldiers had attended the evening meeting, and almost as many had been present at the morning service. Also, there had been twenty-eight members added to her Bible class. Though the hut was a large one it had been crowded to its utmost capacity in the evening, with men packed into the open doorways and windows on either side, and forty of the men who announced their determination to follow Christ that night could not get inside to come forward. More than a dozen gave personal testimony of what Christ had done for them. One notable testimony was as follows:
"I used to be a hard guy fellers," he said, "and maybe I had some good reasons when I used to say that nothing was ever going to scare me, but when we lay out there with a six-hour barrage busting right in front of us and 'arrivals' busting all around us, I did a whole lot of thinking. It seemed as though every shell had my number on it! And when we went over and ran square into their barrage, I'll admit I was scared yellow and was darned afraid I was going to show it! We were under a barrage for ten hours. A shell buried me under about a foot of earth, and for the first time I can remember, while my bunkie was digging me out, I prayed to God. And I want to say that I believe He answered my prayer, and that is the only reason I came out uninjured. I promised if I got out I'd call for a new deal, and I want to say that I'm going to keep that promise!"
A boy who had been converted in one of the meetings a few nights before came into the hut and sought her out. He told her he was going over the top that night, and he had something he wanted to confess before he went. He had told a lie and he had felt terrible remorse about it ever since he was converted. He had treated his mother badly, and gone and enlisted, saying he was eighteen when he was only sixteen. "Now," said he with relief after he had told the story, "that's all clear. And say, if I'm killed, will you go through my pockets and find my Testament and send it to mother? And will you tell my mother all about it and tell her it is all right with me now? Tell mother I went over the top a Christian. You'll know what to say to her to help her bear up."
She promised and the boy went away content. That night he was killed, and, true to her promise, she went through his pockets when he was brought back, and found the little Testament close over his heart; and in it a verse was marked for his mother:
"The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin."
During the early days of the Salvation Army work in France, while the work was still under inspection as to its influence on the men, and one Colonel had sent a Captain around to the meetings to report upon them to him, "Ma's" was one of the meetings to which the Captain came.
She did not know that she was under suspicion, but that night she spoke on obedience and discipline, taking as her text: "Take heed to the law," and urging the men to obey both moral and military laws so that they might be better men and better soldiers. The Captain reported on her sermon and said that he wished the regiment had a Salvation Army chaplain for every company.
The hospital visitation work was started by "Ma" in the Paris hospitals while she was in that city for several months regaining her strength after a physical break-down at the front. She was idolized by the wounded. If she walked along any hospital passageway or through any ward, a crowd of men were sure to call her by name. They knew her as "Ma," and frequently, overworked nurses have called up the Paris Salvation Army Headquarters asking if Ma could not find time to come down and sit with a dying boy who was calling for her. She observed their birthdays with books and other small presents, wrote to their mothers, wives and sweethearts, and performed a multitude of invaluable, precious little services of love. For weeks after she left Paris, returning to the front, the wounded called for her. She is one of the outstanding figures of the Salvation Army's work with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. She is indelibly enshrined in the hearts of hundreds of American soldiers.
A Salvation Army lassie bent over the bed of a wounded boy recently arrived in the Paris hospital from the front, and gave him an orange and a little sack of candy.
"I know the Salvation Army," he said with a faint smile, "I knew I should find you here."
She asked him his division and he told her he belonged to one that had been coöperating with the French.
"But how can that be?" she asked in surprise, "we have never worked with your division. How do you know about us?"
"I only saw the Salvation Army once," he replied, "but I'll never forget it. It was when I came back to consciousness in the Dressing Station at Cheppy, and the first thing I saw was a Salvation Army girl bending over me washing the blood and dirt off my face with cold water. She looked like an angel and she was that to me. She gave me a drink of cold lemonade when I was burning up with fever, and she lifted my head to pour it between my lips when I had not strength to move myself. No, I shall not forget!"
One bright young fellow with a bandaged eye turned a cheerful grin toward the Salvation Army visitor as she said with compassion: "Son, I'm sorry you've lost your eye."
"Oh, that's nothing," was the gay reply, "I can see everything out of the other eye. I've got seven holes in me, too, but believe me I'm not going home for the loss of an eye and seven holes! I'll get out yet and get into the fight!"
The Salvation Army officer and his wife who were stationed at Bonvillers visited every man in the local hospital every day, sleeping every night in the open fields. As they are quite elderly, this was no little hardship, especially in rainy weather.
Five lassies stationed at Noyers St. Martin were for several weeks forced by the nightly shelling and air-raids to take their blankets out into the fields at night and sleep under the stars. One of these girls was called "Sunshine" because of her smile.
On the eve of Decoration Day a military Colonel visited her in the hut. He seemed rather depressed, perhaps by the ceremonies of the day, and said that he had come to be cheered up. In parting he said, "Little girl, you had better get out of town early to-night; I feel as though something is going to happen." Less than an hour later, while the girls were just preparing for the night in a field half a mile distant, an aerial bomb dropped by an aviator on the house in which he was billeted killed him and two other Captains who were sitting with him at the time. He had been a great friend of the Salvation Army.
Out in a little village in Indiana there grew a fair young flower of a girl. Her mother was a dear Christian woman and she was brought up in her mother's church, which she loved. When she was only twelve years old she had a remarkable and thorough old-fashioned conversion, giving herself with all her childish heart to the Saviour. She feels that she had a kind of vision at that time of what the Lord wanted her to be, a call to do some special work for Christ out in the world, helping people who did not know Him, people who were sick and poor and sorrowful. She did not tell her vision to anyone. She did not even know that anywhere in the world were any people doing the kind of work she felt she would like to do, and God had called her to do. She was shy about it and kept her thoughts much to herself. She loved her own church, and its services, but somehow that did not quite satisfy her.
One day when she was about fourteen years old the Salvation Army came to the town where she lived and opened work, holding its meetings in a large hall or armory. With her young companions she attended these meetings and was filled with a longing to be one of these earnest Christian workers.
Her mother, accustomed to a quiet conventional church and its way of doing Christian work, was horrified; and in alarm sent her away to visit her uncle, who was a Baptist minister. The daughter, dutiful and sweet, went willingly away, although she had many a longing for these new friends of hers who seemed to her to have found the way of working for God that had been her own heart's desire for so long.
Meantime her gay young brother, curious to know what had so stirred his bright sister, went to the Salvation Army meetings to find out, and was attracted himself. He went again and found Jesus Christ, and himself joined the Salvation Army. The mother in this case did not object, perhaps because she felt that a boy needed more safeguards than a girl, perhaps because the life of publicity would not trouble her so much in connection with her son as with her daughter.
The daughter after several months away from home returned, only to find her longing to join the Salvation Army stronger. But quietly and sweetly she submitted to her mother's wish and remained at home for some years, like her Master before her, who went down to His home in Nazareth and was subject to His father and mother; showing by her gentle submission and her lovely life that she really had the spirit of God in her heart and was not merely led away by her enthusiasm for something new and strange.
When she was twenty her mother withdrew her objections, and the daughter became a Salvationist, her mother coming to feel thoroughly in sympathy with her during the remaining years she lived.
This is the story of one of the Salvation Army lassies who has been giving herself to the work in the huts over in France. She is still young and lovely, and there is something about her delicate features and slender grace that makes one think of a young saint. No wonder the soldiers almost worshipped her! No wonder these lassies were as safe over there ten miles from any other woman or any other civilian alone among ten thousand soldiers, as if they had been in their own homes. They breathed the spirit of God as they worked, as well as when they sang and prayed. To such a girl a man may open his heart and find true help and strength.
went to sleep in his truck in a shell hole under fire
It was no uncommon thing for our boys who were so afraid of anything like religion or anything personal over here, to talk to these lassies about their souls, to ask them what certain verses in the Bible meant, and to kneel with them in some quiet corner behind the chocolate boxes and be prayed with, yes, and pray! It is because these girls have let the Christ into their lives so completely that He lives and speaks through them, and the boys cannot help but recognize it.
Not every boy who was in a Salvation hut meeting has given himself to Christ, of course, but every one of them recognizes this wonderful something in these girls. Ask them. They will tell you "She is the real thing!" They won't tell you more than that, perhaps, unless they have really grown in the Christian life, but they mean that they have recognized in her spirit a likeness to the spirit of Christ.
Now and then, of course, there was a thick-headed one who took some minutes to recognize holiness. Such would enter a hut with an oath upon his lips, or an unclean story, and straightway all the men who were sitting at the tables writing or standing about the room would come to attention with one of those little noisy silences that mean, so much; pencils would click down on the table like a challenge, and the newcomer would look up to find the cold glances of his fellows upon him.
The boys who frequented the huts broke the habit of swearing and telling unclean stories, and officers began to realize that their men were better in their work because of this holy influence that was being thrown about them. One officer said his men worked better, and kept their engines oiled up so they wouldn't be delayed on the road, that they might get back to the hut early in the evening. The picture of a girl stirring chocolate kept the light of hope going in the heart of many a homesick lad.
One ignorant and exceedingly "fresh" youth, once walked boldly into a hut, it is said, and jauntily addressed the lassie behind the counter as "Dearie." The sweet blue eyes of the lassie grew suddenly cold with aloofness, and she looked up at the newcomer without her usual smile, saying distinctly: "What did you say?"
The soldier stared, and grew red and unhappy:
"Oh! I beg your pardon!" he said, and got himself out of the way as soon as possible. These lassies needed no chaperon. They were young saints to the boys they served, and they had a cordon of ten thousand faithful soldiers drawn about them night and day. As a military Colonel said, the Salvation Army lassie was the only woman in France who was safe unchaperoned.
When this lassie from Indiana came back on a short furlough after fifteen months in France with the troops, and went to her home for a brief visit, the Mayor gave the home town a holiday, had out the band and waited at the depot in his own limousine for four hours that he might not miss greeting her and doing her honor.
Here is the poem which Pte. Joseph T. Lopes wrote about "Those Salvation Army Folks" after the Montdidier attack:
Somewhere in France, not far from the foe,
There's a body of workers whose name we all know;
Who not only at home give their lives to make right,
But are now here beside us, fighting our fight.
What care they for rest when our boys at the front,
Who, fighting for freedom, are bearing the brunt,
And so, just at dawn, when the caissons come home,
With the boys tired out and chilled to the bone,
The Salvation Army with its brave little crew,
Are waiting with doughnuts and hot coffee, too.
When dangers and toiling are o'er for awhile,
In their dugouts we find comfort and welcome their smile.
There's a spirit of home, so we go there each night,
And the thinking of home makes us sit down and write,
So we tell of these folks to our loved ones with pride,
And are thanking the Lord to have them on our side.