When the German offensive was definitely checked in the Montdidier Sector, the First Division was transferred back to the Toul Sector and the Salvation Army moved with it. They had in the meantime maintained all the huts which had been established originally, and with the return of the First Division, they established additional huts between Font and Nancy. When the St. Mihiel drive came off, they followed the advancing troops, establishing huts in the devastated villages, keeping in as close contact with the extreme front as was possible, serving the troops day and night, always aiming to be at the point where the need was the greatest, and where they could be of the greatest service.
The first Americans to pay the supreme sacrifice in the cause of liberty were buried in the Toul Sector.
As it drew near to Decoration Day there came a message from over the sea from the Commander to her faithful band of workers, saying that she was sending American flags, one for every American soldier's grave, and that she wanted the graves cared for and decorated; and at all the various locations of Salvation Army workers they prepared to do her bidding.
The day before the thirtieth of May they took time from their other duties to clear away the mud, dead grass and fallen leaves from the graves, and heap up the mounds where they had been washed flat by the rains, making each one smooth, regular and tidy. At the head of each grave was a simple wooden cross bearing the name of the soldier who lay there, his rank, his regiment and the date of his death. Into the back of each cross they drove a staple for a flag, and they swept and garnished the place as best they could.
One Salvation Army woman writing home told of the plans they had made in Treveray for Decoration Day; how Commander Booth was sending enough American flags to decorate every American grave in France, and how they meant to gather flowers and put with the flags, and have a little service of prayer over the graves.
In the gray old French cemetery of Treveray five American boys lay buried. The flowers upon their graves were dry and dead, for their regiments had moved on and left them. The graves had been neglected and only the guarding wooden crosses remained above the rough earth to show that someone had cared and had stopped to put a mark above the places where they lay. It was these graves the Salvation Army woman now proposed to decorate on Memorial Day.
The letter went to the Captain for censorship, and soon the Salvation Army woman had a call from him.
"I understand by one of your letters that you are thinking of decorating the American graves," he said. "We would like to help in that, if you don't mind. I would like the company all to be present."
The day before Memorial Day this woman with two of the lassies from the hut went to the cemetery and prepared for the morrow.
In the morning they gathered great armfuls of crimson poppies from the fields, creamy snowballs from neglected gardens, and blue bachelor buttons from the hillsides, which they arranged in bouquets of red, white and blue for the graves. They had no vases in which to place the flowers but they used the apple tins in which the apples for their pies had been canned.
The centuries-old gray cemetery nestled in a curve of the road between wheat fields on every side. A gray, moss-covered, lichen-hung wall surrounded it. The five American graves were under the shadow of the Western wall, and the sun was slowly sinking in his glory as the company of soldiers escorted the women into the cemetery. They passed between the ponderous old gray stones, and beaded wreaths of the French graves; and the officers and men lined up facing the five graves. The women placed the tricolored flowers in the cans prepared for them, and planted the flags beside them. Then the elder woman, who had sons of her own, stepped out and saluted the military commanding officer: "Colonel" said she, "with your permission we would like to follow our custom and offer a prayer for the bereaved." Instantly permission was given and every head was uncovered as the Salvationist poured out her heart in prayer to the Everlasting Father, commending the dead into His tender Keeping, and pleading for the sorrow-stricken friends across the sea, until the soldiers' tears fell unchecked as they stood with rifles stiffly in front of them listening to the quiet voice of the woman as she prayed. God seemed Himself to come down, and the living boys standing over their five dead comrades could not help but be enfolded in His love, and feel the sense of His presence. They knew that they, too, might soon be sleeping even as these at their feet. It seemed but a step to the other life. When the prayer was finished a firing squad fired five volleys over the graves, and then the bugler played the taps and the little service was over. The lassies lingered to take pictures of the graves and that night they wrote letters describing the ceremony, to be sent with the photographs to the War Department at Washington with the request that they be forwarded to the nearest relatives of the five men buried at Treveray.
Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt's grave
There were exercises at Menil-la-Tour and here they had built a simple platform in the centre of the ground and erected a flagpole at one corner.
When the morning came two regimental bands took up their positions in opposite corners of the cemetery and began to play. The French populace had turned out en masse. They took up their stand just outside the little cemetery, next to them the soldiers were lined up, then the Red Cross, then the Y.M.C.A. Beyond, a little hill rose sloping gently to the sky line, and over it a mile away was the German front, with the shells coming over all the time.
It was an impressive scene as all stood with bared heads just outside the little enclosure where eighty-one wooden crosses marked the going of as many brave spirits who had walked so blithely into the crisis and given their young lives.
Some French officers had brought a large, beautiful wreath to do honor to the American heroes, and this was placed at the foot of the great central flagpole.
The bands played, and they all sang. It was announced that but for the thoughtfulness and kindness of Commander Evangeline Booth in sending over flags those graves would have gone undecorated that day.
The Commanding General then came to the front and behind him walked the Salvation Army lassies bearing the flags in their arms.
Down the long row of graves he passed. He would take a flag from one of the girls, slip it in the staple back of the cross, stand a moment at salute, then pass on to the next. It was very still that May morning, broken only by the awesome boom of battle just over the hill, but to that sound all had grown accustomed. The people stood with that hush of sorrow over them which only the majesty of death can bring to the hearts of a crowd, and there were tears in many eyes and on the faces of rough soldiers standing there to honor their comrades who had been called upon to give their lives to the great cause of freedom.
A little breeze was blowing and into the solemn stillness there stole a new sound, the silken ripple of the flags as one by one they were set fluttering from the crosses, like a soft, growing, triumphant chorus of those to come whose lives were to be made safe because these had died. As if the flag would waft back to the Homeland, and the stricken mothers and fathers, sisters and sweethearts, some idea of the greatness of the cause in which they died to comfort them in their sorrow.
Out through each line the General passed, placing the flags and solemnly saluting, till eighty graves had been decorated and there was only one left; but there was no flag for the eighty-first grave! Somehow, although they thought they had brought several more than were needed, they were one short. But the General stood and saluted the grave as he had the others, and later the flag was brought and put in place, so that every American grave in the Toul Sector that day had its flag fluttering from its cross.
Then the General and the soldiers saluted the large flag. It was an impressive moment with the deep thunder of the guns just over the hill reminding of more battle and more lives to be laid down.
The General then addressed the soldiers, and facing toward the West and pointing he said:
"Out there in that direction is Washington and the President, and all the people of the United States, who are looking to you to set the world free from tyranny. Over there are the mothers who have bade you good-bye with tears and sent you forth, and are waiting at home and praying for you, trusting in you. Out there are the fathers and the sisters and the sweethearts you have left behind, all depending on you to do your best for the Right. Now," said he in a clear ringing voice, "turn and salute America!" And they all turned and saluted toward the West, while the band played softly "My Country 'Tis of Thee!"
It was a wonderful, beautiful, solemn sight, every man standing and saluting while the flags fluttered softly on the breeze.
Behind the little French Catholic church in the village of Bonvilliers there was quite a large field which had been turned over to the Americans for a cemetery. The Military Major had caused an arch to be made over the gateway inscribed with the words: "National Cemetery of the American Expeditionary Forces." There were over two hundred graves inside the cemetery.
On Decoration Day the Regimental Band led a parade through the village streets to the graveyard, the French women in black and little French children, with wreaths made of wonderful beaded flowers cunningly constructed from beads strung on fine wires, marching in the parade. Arrived at the cemetery they all stood drawn up in line while the Military Major gave a beautiful address, first in French and then in English. He then told the French children and women to take their places one at each grave, and lay down their tributes of flowers for the Americans. Following this the Salvation Army placed flags on each on behalf of the mothers of the boys who were lying there.
It was noon-day. The sun was very bright and every white cross bearing the name of the fallen glittered in the sun. Even the worst little hovel over in France is smothered in a garden and bright with myriads of flowers, so everything was gay with blossoms and everybody had brought as many as could be carried.
Over in one corner of the cemetery were two German graves, and one of the lassies of that organization which proclaims salvation for all men went and laid some blossoms there also.
At La Folie one of the Salvation Army lassies going across the fields on some errand of mercy found three American graves undecorated and bare on Memorial Day, and turning aside from the road she gathered great armfuls of scarlet poppies from the fields and came and laid them on the three mounds, then knelt and prayed for the friends of the boys whose bodies were lying there.
The whole world was startled and saddened when the news came that Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt had been shot down in his airplane in action and fallen within the enemy's lines.
He was crudely buried by the Germans where he fell, near Chambray, and a rude cross set up to mark the place. All around were pieces of his airplane shattered on the ground and left as they had fallen.
When the spot fell into the hands of the Allies, the grave was cared for by the Salvation Army; a new white cross set up beside the old one, and gentle hands smoothed the mound and made it shapely. On Decoration Day Colonel Barker placed upon this grave the beautiful flowers arranged for by cable by Commander Booth.
The girls went down to decorate the two hundred American graves at Mandres, and even while they bent over the flaming blossoms and laid them on the mounds an air battle was going on over their heads. Close at hand was the American artillery being moved to the front on a little narrow-gauge railroad that ran near to the graveyard, and the Germans were firing and trying to get them.
But the girls went steadily on with their work, scattering flowers and setting flags until their service of love was over. Then they stood aside for the prayer and a song. One of the Salvation Army Captains with a fine voice began to sing:
My loved ones in the Homeland
Are waiting me to come,
Where neither death nor sorrow
Invades their holy home;
O dear, dear native country!
O rest and peace above!
Christ, bring us all to the Homeland
Of Thy redeeming love.
Into the midst of the song came the engine on the little narrow track straight toward where he stood, and he had to step aside onto a pile of dirt to finish his song.
That same Captain went on ahead to the Home Land not long after when the epidemic of influenza swept over the world; and he was given the honor of a military funeral.
Baccarat was the Zone Headquarters for that Sector.
Down the Main street there hung a sign on an old house labeled "Modern Bar."
Inside everything was all torn up. It had never been opened since the battles of 1914. The Germans had lived there and everything was in an awful condition. One wonders how they endured themselves. The Military detailed two men for two days to spade up and carry away the filth from the bedrooms, and it took two women an entire week all but one day, scrubbing all day long until their shoulders ached, to scrub the place clean. But they got it clean. They were the kind of women that did not give up even when a thing seemed an impossibility. This was the sort of thing they were up against continually. They could have no meetings that week because they had to scrub and make the place fit for a Salvation Army hut.
Two of the lassies were awakened early one bright morning by the sound of an axe ringing rhythmically on wood, just back of their canteen. It was a cheerful sound to wake to, for the girls had been through a long wearing day and night, and they knew when they went to sleep that the wood was almost gone. It was always so pleasant to have someone offer to cut it for them, for they never liked to have to ask help of the soldiers if they could possibly avoid it. But there was so much else to be done besides cutting wood. Not that they could not do that, too, when the need offered. The sisters looked sleepily at one another, thinking simultaneously of the poor homesick doughboy who had told them the day before that chopping wood for them made him think of home and mother and that was why he liked to do it. Of course, it was he hard at work for them before they were up, and they smiled contentedly, with a lifted prayer for the poor fellow. They knew he had received no mail for four months and that only a few days before he had read in a paper sent to one of his pals of the death of his sister. Of course, his heart was breaking, for he knew what his widowed mother was suffering. They knew that his salvation from homesickness just now lay in giving him something to do, so they lingered a little just to give him the chance, and planned how they would let him help with the doughnuts, and fix the benches, later, when the wood was cut.
In a few minutes the girls were ready for the day's work and went around to the kitchen, where the sound of the ringing axe was still heard in steady strokes. But when they rounded the corner of the kitchen and greeted the wood-chopper cheerily, he looked up, and lo! it was not the homesick doughboy as they had supposed, but the Colonel of the regiment himself who smiled half apologetically at them, saying he liked his new job; and when they invited him to breakfast he accepted the invitation with alacrity.
After breakfast the girls went to work making pies. There had been no oven in the little French town in which they were stationed, and so baking had been impossible, but the boys kept talking and talking about pies until one day a Lieutenant found an old French stove in some ruins. They had to half bury it in the earth to make it strong enough for use, but managed to make it work at last, and though much hampered by the limitations of the small oven, they baked enough to give all the boys a taste of pie once a week or so. Pie day was so welcomed that it almost made a riot, so many boys wanted a slice.
They were having a meeting one night at Baccarat. There was a great deal of noise going on outside the dugout. The shells were falling around rather indiscriminately, but it takes more than shell fire to stop a Salvation Army meeting at the front. There is only one thing that will stop it, and that is a sudden troop movement. It is the same way with baseball, for the week before this meeting two regimental baseball teams played seven innings of air-tight ball while the shells were falling not three hundred yards away at the roadside edge of their ball-ground. During the seven innings only eight hits were allowed by the two pitchers. The score was close and when at the end of the seventh a shell exploded within fifty yards of the diamond and an officer shouted: "Game called on account of shell fire!" there was considerable dissatisfaction expressed because the game was not allowed to continue. It is with the same spirit that the men attend their religious meetings. They come because they want-to and they won't let anything interfere with it.
But on this particular night the meeting was in full force, and so were the shells. It had been a meeting in which the men had taken part, led by one of the women whose leadership was unquestioned among them, a personal testimony meeting in which several soldiers and an officer had spoken of what Christ had done for them. Then there was a solo by one of the lassies, and the Adjutant opened his Bible and began to read. He took as his text Isaiah 55:1. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat."
Those boys knew what it was to be thirsty, terrible thirst! They had come back from the lines sometimes their tongues parched and their whole bodies feverish with thirst and there was nothing to be had to drink until the Salvation Army people had appeared with good cold lemonade; and when they had no money they had given it to them just the same. Oh, they knew what that verse meant and their attention was held at once as the speaker went on to show plainly how Jesus Christ would give the water of life just as freely to those who were thirsty for it. And they were thirsty! They did not wish to conceal how thirsty they were for the living water.
Just in the midst of the talk the lights went out. Many a church under like conditions would have had a panic in no time, but this crowded audience sat perfectly quiet, listening as the speaker went on, quoting his Bible from memory where he could not read.
Over there in the corner on a bench sat the lassies, the women who had been serving them all through the hard days, as quiet and calm in the darkness as though they sat in a cushioned pew in some well-lit church in New York. It was as if the guns were like annoying little insects that were outside a screen, and now and then slipped in, so little attention did the audience pay to them. When all those who wished to accept this wonderful invitation were asked to come forward, seven men arose and stumbled through the darkness. The light from a bursting shell revealed for an instant the forms of these men as they knelt at the rough bench in front, one of them with his steel helmet hanging from his arm as he prayed aloud for his own salvation. No one who was in that meeting that night could doubt but that Jesus Christ Himself was there, and that those men all felt His presence.
In Bertrichamps the Salvation Army was given a large glass factory for a canteen. It made a beautiful place, and there was room to take care of eight hundred men at a time. This building was also used by the Y. M. C. A. as well as the Jews and the Catholics for their services, there being no other suitable place in town. But everybody worked together, and got along harmoniously.
Here there were some wonderful meetings, and it was great to hear the boys singing "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder, I'll Be There." Perhaps if some of the half-hearted Christians at home could have caught the echo of that song sung with such earnestness by those boyish voices they would have had a revelation. It seemed as if the earth-film were more than half torn away from their young, wise eyes over there; and they found that earthly standards and earthly false-whisperings did not fit. They felt the spirit of the hour, they felt the spirit of the place, and of the people who were serving them patiently day by day; who didn't have to stay there and work; who might have kept in back of the lines and worked and sent things up now and then; but who chose to stay close with them and share their hardships. They felt that something more than just love to their fellow-men had instigated such unselfishness. They knew it was something they needed to help them through what was before them. They reached hungrily after the Christ and they found Him.
Then they testified in the meetings. Often as many as twelve or more before an audience of five hundred would get up and tell what Jesus had become to them. In one meeting in this glass factory two hundred soldiers pledged to serve the Lord, to read their Bibles, and to pray.
There were in this place some Christian boys who came from families where they had been accustomed to family worship, and who now that they were far away from it, looked back with longing to the days when it had been a part of every day. Things look different over there with the sound of battle close at hand, and customs that had been, a part of every-day life at home became very dear, perhaps dearer than they had ever seemed before. They found out that the Salvation Army people had prayers every night after they closed the canteen at half-past nine and went to their rooms in a house not far away, and so they begged that they might share the worship with them. So every night they took home fifteen or twenty men to the living-room of the house where they stayed just as many as they could crowd in, and there they would have a little Bible reading and prayer together. The Father only knows how many souls were strengthened and how many feet kept from falling because of those brief moments of worship with these faithful men and women of God.
"Oh, if you only knew what it means to us!" one of the men tried to tell them one day.
Sometimes men who said they hadn't prayed nor read their Bibles for years would be found in little groups openly reading a testament to each other.
When the girls opened their shutters in the morning they could look out over the spot in No Man's Land which was the scene of such frightful German atrocities in 1914.
Our field artillery, stationed in the woods, sent over to the Salvation Army to know if they wouldn't come over and cook something for them, they were starving for some home cooking. So two of the women put on their steel helmets and their gas masks, for the Boche planes were flying everywhere, and went over across No Man's Land to see if there was a place where they could open up a hut. They were walking along quietly, talking, and had not noticed the German plane that approached. They were so accustomed to seeing them by twos and threes that a single one did not attract their attention. Suddenly almost over their heads the Boche dropped a shell, trying to get them. But it was a dud and did not explode. Two American soldiers came tearing over, crying: "Girls! Are you hurt?"
"Oh, no," said one of them brightly. "The Lord wouldn't let that fellow get us."
The soldiers used strong language as they looked after the fast-vanishing plane, but then they glanced back at the women again with something unspoken in their eyes. They believed, those boys, they really did, that God protected those women; and they used to beg them to remain with their regiment when they were going near the front, because they wanted their prayers as a protection. Some of the regiments openly said they thought those girls' prayers had saved their lives.
That Boche plane, however, had not far to go. Before it reached Baccarat the Americans trained their guns on it and brought it down in flames.
The house occupied by the Salvation Army girls as a billet had a sad story connected with it. When the Germans had come the father was soon killed and four German officers had taken possession of the place for their Headquarters. They also took possession of the two little girls of the family, nine and fourteen years of age, to wait upon them. And the first command that was given these children was that they should wait upon the men nude! The youngest child was not old enough to understand what this meant, but the older one was in terror, and they begged and cried and pleaded but all to no purpose. The officer was inexorable. He told them that if they did not obey they would be shot.
The poor old grandfather and grandmother, too feeble to do anything, and powerless, of course, to aid, could only endure in agony. The grandmother, telling the Salvation Army women the story afterward, pointed with trembling lingers and streaming eyes to the two little graves in the yard and said: "Oh, it would have been so much better if he had shot them! They lie out there as the result of their infamous and inhuman treatment."
Some most amusing incidents came to the knowledge of the Salvation Army workers.
An old French woman, over eighty years of age, lived in one of the stricken villages on the Vosges front. Her home had been several times struck by shells and was frequently the target for enemy bombing squadrons. All through the war she refused to leave the home in which she had lived from earliest childhood.
"It is not the guns, nor the bombs which can frighten me," she told a Salvation Army lassie who was billeted with her for a time, "but I am very much afraid of the submarines."
The village was several hundred miles inland.
The activity was all at night, for no one dared be seen about in the daytime. It must be a very urgent duty that would call men forth into full view of the enemy. But as soon, as the dark came on the men would crawl into the trenches, stick their rifles between the sandbags and get ready for work.
It seemed to be always raining. They said that when it wasn't actually raining it was either clearing off or just getting ready to rain again. Twenty minutes in the trenches and a man was all over mud, wet, cold, slippery mud. In his hair, down his neck, in his boots, everywhere.
Through the trenches just behind the standing place ran a deeper trench or drain to carry the water away, and this was covered over with a rough board called a duck-board. Underneath this duck-board ran a continual stream of water. A man would go along the trench in a hurry, make a misstep on one end of the duck-board and down he would go in mud and freezing water to the waist. In these cold, wet garments he must stay all night. The tension was very great.
As the soldiers had to work in the night, so the Salvation Army men and women worked in the night to serve them.
The Salvation Army men would visit the sentries and bring them coffee and doughnuts prepared in the dugouts by the girls. It was exceedingly dangerous work. They would crawl through the connecting trenches, which were not more than three feet deep, and one must stoop to be safe, and get to the front-line trenches with their cans of coffee. They would touch a fellow on the shoulder, fill his mug with coffee, and slip him some doughnuts. At such times the things were always given, not sold. They did not dare even to whisper, for the enemy listening posts were close at hand and the slightest breath might give away their position. The sermon would be a pat of encouragement on a man's shoulder, then pass on to the next.
One morning at three o'clock a Salvationist carried a second supply of hot coffee to the battery positions. One gunner with tense, strained face eyed his full coffee mug with satisfaction and said with a sigh: "Good! That is all I wanted. I can keep going until morning now!"
When the men were lined up for a raid there would be a prayer-meeting in the dugout, thirty inside and as many as could crowded around the door. Just a prayer and singing. Then the boys would go to the girls and leave their little trinkets or letters, and say: "I'm going over the top, Sister. If I don't come back--if I'm kicked off--you tell mother. You will know what to say to her to help her bear up."
Three-quarters of an hour later what was left of them would return and the girls would be ready with hot coffee and doughnuts. It was heart-breaking, back-aching, wonderful work, work fit for angels to do, and these girls did it with all their souls.
"Aren't you tired? Aren't you afraid?" asked someone of a lassie who had been working hard for forty consecutive hours, aiding the doctors in caring for the wounded, and in a lull had found time to mix up and fry a batch of doughnuts in a corner from which the roof had been completely blown by shells.
"Oh, no! It's great!" she replied eagerly. "I'm the luckiest girl in the world."
By this time the Salvation Army had acquired many great three-ton trucks, and the drivers of those risked their lives daily to carry supplies to the dugouts and huts that were taking care of the men at the front.
There were signs all over everywhere: "Attention! The Enemy Sees You!" Trucks were not allowed to go in daytime except in case of great emergency. Sometimes in urgent cases day-passes would be given with the order: "If you have to go, go like the devil!"
The enemy always had the range on the road where the trucks had to pass, and especially in exposed places and on cross-roads a man had no chance if he paused. Once he had been sighted by the enemy he was done for. A man driving on a hasty errand once dropped his crank, and stopped his truck, to pick it up. Even as he stooped to take it a shell struck his truck and smashed it to bits.
Most of the travelling had to be done at night. Silently, without a light over roads as dark as pitch, where the only possible guide was the faint line above where the trees parted and showed the sky; over rough, muddy roads, filled with shell-holes, the trucks went nightly. Just fall in line, keep to the right, and whistle softly when something got in the way. No claxon horns could be used, for that was the gas alarm. A man could not even wear a radiolight watch on his wrist or a driver smoke a cigarette.
One very dark night a truck came through with a man sitting away out on the radiator watching the road and telling the driver where to go. The only light would be from shells exploding or occasional signal lights for a moment.
To get supplies from where they were to where they were needed was an urgent necessity which often arose with but momentary warning--frequently with no warning at all. The American front was a matter not of miles, but of hundreds of miles, and the call for supplies might come from any point along that front. Sometimes the call meant the immediate shipment of tons of blankets, oranges, lemons, sugar, flour for doughnuts, lard, chocolate and other materials, to a point 200 miles distant. At times a railroad may supply a part of the route, but always there is a long, dangerous truck haul, and usually the entire route must be covered by truck.
During the winter there were many thrills added to the already strenuous task of the Salvation Army truck drivers. One of them driving late at night in a snowstorm, mistook a river for the road for which he was searching, and turned from the real road to the snow-covered surface of the river, which he followed for some little distance before discovering his mistake. Fortunately, the ice was solid and the truck unloaded-an unusual combination.
Another missed the road and drove into a field, where his wheels bogged down. His fellow-traveller, driving a Ford, went for help, leaving him with his truck, for if it had been left unguarded it would have soon been stripped of every movable part by passing truck drivers. Here he remained for almost forty-eight hours, during which time there was considerable shelling.
A Catholic Chaplain told the Salvation Army Staff-Captain that he thought the reason the Salvation Army was so popular with his men was because the Salvation Army kept its promises to the men.
When the Salvation Army officer went to open work in the town of Baccarat it was so crowded that he was unable to secure accommodations. He was having dinner in the cafe, but could get no bread because he had no bread tickets, The local K. of C. man, observing his difficulty, supplied tickets, and, finding that he had no place to sleep, offered to share his own meagre accommodations. For several nights he shared his bed with him and the Salvation Army officer was greatly assisted by him in many ways. The Salvation Army is popular not alone among the soldiers.
While the offensive was on in Argonne and north of Verdun, those who were in the huts in the old training area, which were then used as rest buildings, decided to do something for the boys, and on one occasion they fried fourteen thousand doughnuts and took them to the boys at the front. They traveled in the trucks, and distributed the doughnuts to the boys as they came from the trenches and sent others into the trenches.
By the time they were through, the day was far spent and it was necessary for them to find some place to stay over night. Verdun was the only large city anywhere near but it had either been largely destroyed or the civil population had long since abandoned it and there was no place available.
Underneath the trenches, however, there had been constructed in ancient times, underground passages. There are fifty miles of these underground galleries honeycombed beneath the city, sufficiently large to shelter the entire population. There are cross sections of galleries, between the longer passage ways, and winding stairways here and there. Air is supplied by a system of pumps. There are theatres and a church, also. The Army protecting Verdun had occupied these underground passages.
When the officer commanding the French troops learned that the Salvation Army girls were obliged to stay over night, he arranged for their accommodation in the underground passage and here they rested in perfect security with such comforts as cots and blankets could insure.
It was said that they were the only women ever permitted to remain in these underground passages.
When the trouble at Seicheprey broke out the Germans began shelling Beaumont and Mandres, and things took on a very serious look for the Salvation Army. Then the Military Colonel gave an order for the girls to leave Ansauville, and loading them up on a truck he sent them to Menil-la-Tour. They never allowed girls again in that town until after the St. Mihiel drive.
That was a wild ride in the night for those girls sitting in an army truck, jolted over shell holes with the roar of battle all about them; the blackness of night on every side, shells bursting often near them, yet they were as calm as if nothing were the matter; finally the car got stuck under range of the enemy's fire, but they never flinched and they sat quietly in the car in a most dangerous position for twenty minutes while the Colonel and the Captain were out locating a dugout. Plucky little girls!
The Salvation Army Staff-Captain of that zone went back in the morning to Ansauville to get the girls' personal belongings, and when he entered the canteen he stood still and looked about him with horror and thankfulness as he realized the narrow escape those girls had had. The windows and roof were full of shell holes. Shrapnel had penetrated everywhere. He went about to examine and took pieces of shrapnel out of the flour and sugar and coffee which had gone straight through the tin containers. The vanilla bottles were broken and there was shrapnel in the vanilla, shrapnel was embedded in the wooden tops of the tables, and in the walls.
He went to the billet where two of the girls had slept. Opposite their bed on the other side of the room was a window and over the bed was a large picture. A shell had passed through the window and smashed the picture, shattering the glass in fragments all over the bed. Another shell had entered the window, passed over the pillows of the bed and gone out through the wall by the bed. It would have gone through the temples of any sleeper in that bed. After this they kept men in Ansauville instead of girls.
The next day the girls opened up the canteen at Menilla-Tour as calmly as if nothing had happened the day before.
The boys were going down to Nevillers to rest, and while they rested the girls cooked good things for them and used that sweet God-given influence that makes a little piece of home and heaven wherever it is found.
The girls did not get much rest, but then they had not come to France to rest, as they often told people who were always urging them to save themselves. They did get one bit of luxury in the shape of passes down to Beauvais. There it was possible to get a bath and the girls had not been able to have that from the first of April to the first of July. They had to stand in line with the officers, it is true, to take their turn at the public bath houses, but it was a real delight to have plenty of water for once, for their appointments at the front had been most restricted and water a scarce commodity. Sometimes it had been difficult to get enough water for the cooking and the girls had been obliged to use cold cream to wash their faces for several days at a time. Of course, it was an impossibility for them to do any laundry work for themselves, as there was neither time nor place nor facilities. Their laundry was always carried by courier to some near-by city and brought back to them in a few days.
The Zone Major had supper with the Colonel, who told him that none of the organizations would be allowed on the drive. The Zone Major asked if they might be allowed to go as far as Crepy. The Colonel much excited said: "Man, don't you know that town is being shelled every night?" The next morning a party of sixteen Salvation Army men and women started out in the truck for Crepy. It was a beautiful day and they rode all day long. At nightfall they reached the village of Crepy where they were welcomed eagerly. The Zone Major had to leave and go back and wanted them all to stay there, but they were unwilling to do so because their own outfit was going over the top that night and they wanted to be with them before they left. They started from Crepy about five o'clock and got lost in the woods, but finally, after wandering about for some hours, landed in Roy St. Nicholas where was the outfit to which one of the girls belonged.
The Salvation Army boys had just pulled in with another truck and were getting ready for the night, for they always slept in their trucks. The girls decided to sit down in the road until the billeting officer arrived, but time passed and no billeting officer came. They were growing very weary, so they got into the Colonel's car, which stood at the roadside, and went to sleep. A little later the billeting officer appeared with many apologies and offered to take them to the billet that had been set aside for them. They took their rolls of blankets, and climbed sleepily out of the car, following him two blocks down the street to an old building. But when they reached there they found that some French officers had taken possession and were fast asleep, so they went back to the car and slept till morning. At daylight they went down to a brook to wash but found that the soldiers were there ahead of them, and they had to go back and be content with freshening up with cold cream. Thus did these lassies, accustomed to daintiness in their daily lives, accommodate themselves to the necessities of war, as easily and cheerfully as the soldier boys themselves.
That day the rest of the outfits arrived, and they all pulled into Morte Fontaine.
Morte Fontaine was well named because there was no water in the town fit to use.
The girls felt they were needed nearer the front, so they went to Major Peabody and asked permission.
"I should say not!" he replied vigorously with yet a twinkle of admiration for the brave lassies. "But you can take anything you want in this town."
So the girls went out and found an old building. It was very dirty but they went cheerfully to work, cleaned it up, and started their canteen.
There was a hospital in the town; they knew that by the many ambulances that were continually going back and forth; so they offered their services to the doctors, which were eagerly accepted. After that they took turns staying in the canteen and going to the hospital.
The hospital was fearfully crowded, though it was in no measure the fault of the hospital authorities, for they were doing their best, working with all their might; but it had not been expected that there would be so many wounded at this point and they had not adequate accommodations. Many of the wounded boys were lying on the ground in the sun, covered with blood and flies, and parched with thirst and fever. There were not enough ambulances to carry them further back to the base hospitals.
The girls stretched pieces of canvas over the heads of the poor boys to keep off the sun; they got water and washed away the blood; and they sent one of their indefatigable truck drivers after some water to make lemonade. The little Adjutant twinkled his nice brown eyes and set his firm merry lips when they told him to get the water, in that place of no water, but he took his little Ford car and whirled away without a word, and presently he returned with a barrel of ice-cold water from a spring he had found two miles away. How the girls rejoiced that it was ice cold! And then they started making lemonade. They had known that the Adjutant would find water somewhere. He was the man the doughboys called "one game little guy," because he was so fearless in going into No Man's Land after the wounded, so indefatigable in accomplishing his purpose against all odds, so forgetful of self.
They had but one crate of lemons, one crate of oranges and one bag of sugar when they began making lemonade, but before they needed more it arrived just on the minute. It was almost like a miracle. For a whole car load of oranges and lemons had been shipped to Beauvais and arrived a day too late--after the troops had gone. They were of no use there, so the Zone Major had them shipped at once to the railhead at Crepy, and got a special permit to go over with trucks and take them up to Morte Fontaine.
The Salvation Army never does things by halves. Colonel Barker sent to Paris to get some mosquito netting to keep the flies off those soldiers, and failing to find any in the whole city he bought $10,000 worth of white net, such as is used for ladies' collars and dresses--ten thousand yards at a dollar a yard--and sent it down to the hospital where it was used over the wounded men, sometimes over a wounded arm or leg or head, sometimes over a whole man, sometimes stretched as netting in the windows. And no ten thousand dollars was ever better spent, for the flies occasioned indescribable suffering as well as the peril of infection.
Wonderful relief and comfort all these things brought to those poor boys lying there in agony and fever. How delicious were the cooling drinks to their parched lips! The doctors afterward said that it was the cool drinks those girls gave to the men that saved many a life that day.
There were some poor fellows hurt in the abdomen who were not allowed to drink even a drop and who begged for it so piteously. For these the girls did all in their power. They bathed their faces and hands and dipping gauze in lemonade they moistened their lips with it.
The other day, after the war was over and a ship came sailing into New York harbor, one of these same fellows standing on the deck looked down at the wharf and saw one of these same girls standing there to welcome him. As soon as he was free to leave the ship he rushed down to find her, and gripping her hand eagerly he cried out so all around could hear: "You saved my life that day. Oh, but I'm glad to see you! The doctor said it was that cold lemonade you gave me that kept me from dying of fever!"
In one base hospital lay a boy wounded at Chateau-Thierry. Of course, when wounded, he lost all his possessions, including a Testament which he very much treasured. The Salvation Army supplied him with another, but it did not comfort him as the old one had done. He said that it could never be the same as the one he had carried for so long. He worried so much about his Testament, that one of the lassies finally attempted to recover it, and, after much trouble, succeeded through the Bureau of Effects. The little book, which the soldier had always carried with him, was blood-soaked and mud-stained; but it was an unmistakable aid in the lad's recovery.
But the honor of those days in Morte Fontaine was not all due to the Salvation Army lassies. The Salvation Army truck drivers were real heroes. They came with their ambulances and their trucks and they carried the poor wounded fellows back to the base hospitals. The hospitals were full everywhere near there, and sometimes they would go from one to another and have to drive miles, and even go from one town to another to find a place where there was room to receive the men they carried. Then back they would come for another load. They worked thus for three days and five nights steadily, before they slept, and some of them stripped to the waist and bared their breasts to the sharp night wind so that the cold air would keep them awake to the task of driving their cars through the black night with its precious load of human lives. They had no opportunity for rest of any kind, no chance to shave or wash or sleep, and they were a haggard and worn looking set of men when it was over.
While all this was going on the Zone Major kept out of sight of the Colonel who had told him he couldn't go out on that drive; but two days later he saw his familiar car coming down the road and the Colonel seemed greatly agitated. He was shaking his fist in front of him.
The Zone Major pondered whether he would not better drive right on without stopping to talk, but he reflected that he would have to take his punishment some time and he might as well get it over with, so when the Colonel's car drew near he stopped. The Colonel got out and the Zone Major got out, and it was apparent that the Colonel was very angry. He forgot entirely that the Zone Major was a Salvationist and he swore roundly: "I'm out with you for life" declared the Colonel angrily. "The General's upset and I'm upset."
"Why, what's the matter, Colonel?" asked the Zone Major innocently.
"Matter enough! You had no business to bring those girls up here!"
The Colonel said more to the same effect, and then got into his car and drove off. The Zone Major wisely kept out of his way; but a few days later met him again and this time the Colonel was smiling:
"Dog-gone you, Major, where've you been keeping yourself? Why haven't you been around?" and he put out his hand affably.
"Why, I didn't want to see a man who bawled me out in the public highway that way," said the Zone Major.
"Well, Major, you had no business to bring those girls up here and you know it!" said the Colonel rousing to the old subject again.
"Why not, Colonel, didn't they do fine?"
"Yes, they did," said the Colonel with tears springing suddenly into his eyes and a huskiness into his voice, "but, Major, think what if we'd lost one of them!"
"Colonel," said the Zone Major gently, "my girls are soldiers. They come up here to share the dangers with the soldiers, and as long as they can be of service they feel this is the place for them."
The Colonel struggled with his emotion for a moment and then said gruffly: "Had anything to eat? Stop and take a bite with me." And they sat down under the trees and had supper together.
It was at this town that the girls slept in a German-dug cave, in which our boys had captured seven hundred Germans, the commanding officer of whom said that according to his rank in Germany he ought to have a car to take him to the rear. However, he was compelled to leg it at the point of an American bayonet in the hands of an American doughboy. The cave was of chalk rock made to store casks of wine.
The airplanes were bad in this place. One speaks of airplanes in such a connection in the same way one used to mention mosquitoes at certain Jersey seashore resorts. But they were particularly bad at Morte Fontaine, and Major Peabody ordered the canteen to be moved out of the village to the cave. More Salvation Army girls came to look after the canteen leaving the first girls free for longer hours at the hospital.
One beautiful moonlight night the girls had just started out from the hospital to go to their cave when they heard a German airplane, the irregular chug, chug of its engine distinguishing it unmistakably from the smooth whirr of the Allies' planes. The girls looked up and almost over their heads was an enemy plane, so low that they could see the insignia on his machine, and see the man in the car. He seemed to be looking down at them. In sudden panic they fled to a nearby tree and hid close under its branches. Standing there they saw the enemy make a low dip over the hospital tents, drop a bomb in the kitchen end just where they had been working five minutes before, and slide up again through the silvery air, curve away and dive down once more.
The scene was bright as day for the moon was full and very clear that night, and the roads stretched out in every direction like white ribbons. One block away the girls could see a regiment of Scotch soldiers, the famous Highland Regiment called "The Ladies From Hell," marching up to the front that night, and singing bravely as they marched, their skirling Scotch songs accompanied by a bagpipe. And even as they listened with bated breath and straining eyes the airplane dipped and dropped another bomb right into the midst of the brave men, killing thirty of them, and slid up and away before it could be stopped. These were the scenes to which they grew daily accustomed as they plied their angel mission, and daily saw themselves preserved as by a miracle from constant peril.
We had about eight or ten German prisoners here, who were employed as litter bearers, and very good workers they were, tickled to death to be there instead of over on their own side fighting. Most of the prisoners, except some of the German officers, seemed glad to be taken.
These German prisoners were sitting in a row on the ground outside the hospital one day when the Salvation Army girls and men were picking over a crate of oranges. The Germans sat watching them with longing eyes.
"Let's give them each one," proposed one of the girls.
"No! Give them a punch in the nose!" said the boys.
The girls said nothing more and went on working. Presently they stepped away for a few minutes and when they came back the Germans sat there contentedly eating oranges. Questioningly the girls looked at their male coworkers and with lifted brows asked: "What does this mean?"
"Aw, well! The poor sneaks looked so longingly!" said one of the boys, grinning sheepishly.
There in the hospital the girls came into contact with the splendid spirit of the American soldier boys, "Don't help me, help that fellow over there who is suffering!" was heard over and over again when they went to bring comfort to some wounded boy.
When the supplies in the canteen would run out, and the last doughnut would be handed with the words: "That's the last," the boy to whom it was given would say: "Don't give it to me, give it to Harry. I don't want it."
It was during that drive and there was a farewell meeting at one of the Salvation Army huts that night for the boys who were going up to the trenches. It was a beautiful and touching meeting as always on such occasions. Starting with singing whatever the boys picked out, it dropped quickly into the old hymns that the boys loved and then to a simple earnest prayer, setting forth the desperate case of those who were going out to fight, and appealing to the everlasting Saviour for forgiveness and refuge. They lingered long about the fair young girl who was leading them, listening to her earnest, plain words of instruction how to turn to the Saviour of the world in their need, how to repent of their sins and take Christ for their Saviour and Sanctifier. No man who was in that meeting would dare plead ignorance of the way to be saved. Many signified their desire to give their lives into the keeping of Christ before they went to the front. The meeting broke up reluctantly and the men drifted out and away, expecting soon to be called to go. But something happened that they did not go that night. Meantime, a company had just returned from the front, weary, hungry, worn and bleeding, with their nerves unstrung, and their spirits desperate from the tumult and horror of the hours they had just passed in battle. They needed cheering and soothing back to normal. The girls were preparing to do this with a bright, cheery entertainment, when a deputation of boys from the night before returned. There was a wistful gleam in the eyes of the young Jew who was spokesman for the group as he approached the lassie who had led the meeting.
"Say, Cap, you see we didn't go up."
"I see," she smiled happily.
"Say, Cap, won't you have another farewell meeting to-night?" he asked with an appealing glance in his dark eyes.
"Son, we've arranged something else just now for the fellows who are coming back," she said gently, for she hated to refuse such a request.
"Oh, say, Cap, you can have that later, can't you? We want another meeting now."
There was something so pleading in his voice and eyes, so hungry in the look of the waiting group, that the young Captain could not deny him. She looked at him hesitatingly, and then said:
"All right. Go out and tell the boys."
He hurried out and soon the company came crowding in. That hour the very Lord came down and communed with them as they sang and knelt to pray, and not a heart but was melted and tender as they went out when it was over in the solemn darkness of the early morning. A little later the order came and they "went over."
It was a sharp, fierce fight, and the young Jew was mortally wounded. Some comrades found him as he lay white and helpless on the ground, and bending over saw that he had not long to stay. They tried to lift him and bear him back, but he would not let them. He knew it was useless.
They asked him if he had any message. He nodded. Yes, he wanted to send a message to the Salvation Army girls. It was this:
"Tell the girls I've gone West; for I will be by the time you tell them; and tell them it's all right for at that second meeting I accepted Christ and I die resting on the same Saviour that is theirs."
One of our wonderful boys out on the drive had his hand blown off and didn't realize it. His chum tried to drag him back and told him his hand was gone.
"That's nothing!" he cried. "Tie it up!"
But they forced him back lest he would bleed to death. In the hospital they told him that now he might go home.
"Go home!" he cried. "Go home for the loss of a left hand! I'm not left-handed. Maybe I can't carry a gun, but I can throw hand grenades!"
He went to the Major and the Major said also that he must go home.
The boy looked him straight in the eye:
"Excuse me, Major, saying I won't. But I won't let go your coat till you say I can stay," and finally the Major had to give in and let him stay. He could not resist such pleading.
One poor fellow, wounded in his abdomen, was lying on a litter in a most uncomfortable position suffering awful pain. The lassie came near and asked if she could do anything for him. He told her he wanted to lie on his stomach, but the doctor, when she asked him, said "No" very shortly and told her he must lie on his back. She stooped and turned him so that his position was more comfortable, put his gas mask under his head, rolled his blanket so as to support his shoulders better, and turned to go to another, and the poor suffering lad opened his eyes, held out his hand and smiled as she went away.
The doctors said to the girls: "It is wonderful to have you around."
The Red Cross men and their rolling kitchens came to the front, but no women. Somehow in pain and sickness no hand can sooth like a woman's. Perhaps God meant it to be so. Here at Morte Fontaine was the first time a woman had ever worked in a field hospital.
The Salvation Army women worked all that drive.
It was a sad time, though, for the division went in to stay until they lost forty-five hundred men, but it stayed two days after reaching that figure and lost about seventy-five thousand.
The doctor in charge of the evacuation hospital at Crepy spoke of the effect of the Salvation Army girls, not alone upon the wounded, but also upon the medical-surgical staff and the men of the hospital corps who acted as nurses in that advanced position. "Before they came," he said, "we were overwrought, everyone seemed at the breaking point, what with the nervous tension and danger. But the very sight of women working calmly had a soothing effect on everyone."
When the drive was over orders came to leave. The following is the official notice to the Salvation Army officers:
G-1 Headquarters, 1st Division, American Expeditionary Forces, July 26, 1918.
To Directors, Y.M.C.A., Red Cross, Salvation Army Services, 1st Division.
1. This division moves by rail to destination unknown beginning at 6.00 A.M., July 28th. Motor organizations of the Division move overland. Your motorized units will accompany the advanced section of the Division Supply Train, and will form a part of that train.
2. Time of departure and routes to be taken will be announced later.
3. Secretaries attached to units may accompany units, if it is so desired.
By command of Major-General Summerall.
P. E. Peabody,
C. of S.
The girls stowed themselves and their belongings into the big truck. Just as they were about to start they saw some infantry coming, seven men whom they knew, but in such a plight! They were unshaven, with white, sunken faces, and great dark hollows under their eyes. They were simply "all in," and could hardly walk.
Without an instant's hesitation the girls made a place for those poor, tired, dirty men in the truck, and the invitation was gratefully accepted.
There were more poor forlorn fellows coming along the road. They kept meeting them every little way, but they had no room to take in any more so they piled oranges in the back end of the truck and gave them to all the boys they passed who were walking.
Now the girls were on their way to Senlis, where they had planned to take dinner at a hotel in which they had dined before. It was one of the few buildings remaining in the town for the Germans, when they left Senlis, had set it on fire and destroyed nearly everything. But as the girls neared the town they began to think about the boys asleep in the back of the truck, who probably hadn't had a square meal for a week, and they decided to take them with them. So they woke them up when they arrived at the hotel. Oh, but those seven dirty, unshaven soldiers were embarrassed with the invitation to dinner! At first they declined, but the girls insisted, and they found a place to wash and tidy up themselves a bit. In a few minutes into the big dining-room filled with French soldiers and a goodly sprinkling of French officers, marched those two girls, followed by their seven big unshaven soldiers with their white faces and hollow eyes, sat proudly down at a table in the very centre and ordered a big dinner. That is the kind of girls Salvation Army lassies are. Never ashamed to do a big right thing.
After the dinner they took the boys to their divisional headquarters, where they found their outfit.
They went on their way from Senlis to Dam-Martin to stay for a week back of the lines for rest.
There was a big French cantonment building here built for moving pictures, which was given to them for a canteen, and they set up their stove and went to work making doughnuts, and doing all the helpful things they could find to do for the boys who were soon to go to the front again.
Then orders came to move back to the Toul Sector.
Those were wonderful moonlight nights at Saizerais, but the Boche airplanes nearly pestered the life out of everybody.
"Gee!" said one of the boys, "if anybody ever says 'beautiful moonlight nights' to me when I get home I don't know what I'll do to 'em!"
The boys were at the front, but not fighting as yet. Occasional shells would burst about their hut here and there, but the girls were not much bothered by them. The thing that bothered them most was an old "Vin" shop across the street that served its wine on little tables set out in front on the sidewalk. They could not help seeing that many of the boys were beginning to drink. Poor souls! The water was bad and scarce, sometimes poisoned, and their hearts were sick for something, and this was all that presented itself. It was not much wonder. But when the girls discovered the state of things they sent off three or four boys with a twenty-gallon tank to scout for some water. They found it after much search and filled the big tank full of delicious lemonade, telling the boys to help themselves.
All the time they were in that town, which was something like a week, the girls kept that tank full of lemonade close by the door. They must have made seventy-five or a hundred gallons of lemonade every day, and they had to squeeze all the lemons by hand, too! They told the boys: "When you feel thirsty just come here and get lemonade as often as you want it!" No wonder they almost worship those girls. And they had the pleasure of seeing the trade of the little wine shop decidedly decrease.
However near the front you may go you will always find what is known over there in common parlance as a "hole in the wall" where "vin blanche" and "vin rouge" and all kinds of light wines can be had. And, of course, many soldiers would drink it. The Salvation Army tried to supply a great need by having carloads of lemons sent to the front and making and distributing lemonade freely.
One cannot realize the extent of this proposition without counting up all the lemons and sugar that would be required, and remembering that supplies were obtained only by keeping in constant touch with the Headquarters of that zone and always sending word immediately when any need was discovered. There is nothing slow about the Salvation Army and they are not troubled with too much red tape. If necessity presents itself they will even on occasion cut what they have to help someone.
The airplanes visited them every night that week, and sometimes they did not think it worth while to go to bed at all; they had to run to the safety trenches so often. It was just a little bit of a village with dugouts out on the edge.
One night they had gone to bed and a terrific explosion occurred which rocked the little house where they were. They thought of course the bomb had fallen in the village, but they found it was quite outside. It had made such a big hole in the ground that you could put a whole truck into it.
The trenches in which they hid were covered over with boards and sand, and were not bomb proof, but they were proof against pieces of shell and shrapnel.
It was a very busy time for the girls because so many different outfits were passing and repassing that they had to work from morning early till late at night.
At Bullionville the hut was in a building that bore the marks of much shelling. The American boys promptly dubbed the place "Souptown."
The Division moved to Vaucouleurs for rest and replacements. At Vaucouleurs there was a great big hut with a piano, a victrola, and a cookstove.
They started the canteen, made doughnuts and pies, and gave entertainments.
But best of all, there were wonderful meetings and numbers of conversions, often twenty and twenty-five at a time giving themselves to Christ. The boys would get up and testify of their changed feelings and of what Christ now meant to them, and the others respected them the more for it.
They stayed here two weeks and everybody knew they were getting ready for a big drive. It was a solemn time for the boys and they seemed to draw nearer to the Salvation Army people and long to get the secret of their brave, unselfish lives, and that light in their eyes that defied danger and death. In the distance you could hear the artillery, and the night before they left, all night long, there was the tramp, tramp, tramp of feet, the boys "going up."
The next day the girls followed in a truck, stopping a few days at Pagny-sur-Meuse for rest.