BATCH of mail was given out the morning after our return. When we moved, our address seemed to have been lost, for only a few letters, of no interest to any one, managed to find us. We have been too busy to miss them, and when they arrived in a bunch there were no complaints.
It is a wonderful thrill to get a letter from home, to read what those who mean all to one are doing, and to feel their personalities throbbing "between the lines." We bridge for a brief moment the chasm of three thousand miles, and in revery gaze upon those persons, those places, and those things we have known. Our thoughts here are always in the past. We cannot think of the present, and we dare not think of the future, but there is always the past to live in, --- the past of events and memories. ---
We settle down, to the same dull monotony as before. For a few days this is bliss, but it soon becomes tiring again. All work here is contrast. When we are at work, we work intensively, taking less rest than seems physically possible, and when en repos we are plunged into the dullest monotony imaginable, with nothing to amuse or occupy us. This is true of every branch of active service.
The few air raids are rather an anticlimax after the days that have just passed, especially as nothing falls near enough to cause us any annoyance. At Bar-le-Duc the Boche playfully drops a dozen bombs into the German prison camp, much to every one's amusement; a mile from us he destroys a camp of Bulgarian prisoners, and we wonder at his hard-headedness and laugh. But the next night we hear bombs crashing in the distance, and in the morning learn from some men in another section passing through that it was Vadlaincourt, where the Huns flew so near the ground that soldiers in the streets shot at them with rifles. At that height the aeroplanes could not mistake their targets, and they retired only when the hospital was a mass of flaming ruins. There are no smiles at this. Another night the purring motors reveal outlined high against the stars a fleet of Zeppelins, bound we know not where, but, we do know, on a mission of death to the innocent.
HE enemy aeroplane comes over us often. We have wondered why, but we now realize that while the Allies can get control of the air when they want it, to keep continual control would be too expensive in both men and machines. The anti-aircraft gun theoretically solves the problem. When an enemy machine appears, a battery of contre-avions is notified and essays the destruction of the adventurer.
It is pretty sport. A little white machine, sometimes catching the glint of the sun, dashes towards us at a great height. It is sighted, and then the high-pitched boom-booms of the contre-avions start in, and the shrapnel breaks at varying distances around the machine like powder-puffs, which float along for some minutes. After a little of this harmless sport the Boche gets out of range, the guns cease, and the machine, having in the meanwhile disposed of some bombs or taken some photographs, dashes off, to be followed shortly by one or two Frenchmen.
The practical value of the anti-aircraft guns is to keep the machines so high in the air that they can accomplish little, as the guns rarely score. At M-----, where every day they have been shooting two or three hundred rounds at the machines which fly over the city, they are quite proud of their record, for once in one day they shot down three machines---two of their own and one German. They have been resting on their laurels ever since. It was a few examples like this which taught the French airmen to keep out of the sky while the contre-avions were busy.
APOLEON" was so christened by us because, despite his sparrow-like form and manner, he considers himself the moving spirit of the army in general and of our section in particular. Because he knows nothing about automobiles, he styles himself an expert,---the mere fact that he is assigned as clerk to an ambulance section proves his claim. The one time he had the indiscretion to touch a car, he drove the lieutenant's around the compound with the emergency brake set---after telling the sous-chef that he had driven cars for twenty years! One of the ambulances goes for ravitaillement every day, carrying "Napoleon," who disappears into mysterious buildings and returns with still more mysterious edibles, presumably for our delectation.
On one trip the carburetor gave trouble and we stopped and cleaned it. While we were working we noticed "Napoleon" industriously turning the lights on and off, pumping the button on the dash. We said nothing, and when we had finished and started the car again he tapped his chest proudly, cocked his head, and said, "Moi!"
In circumnavigating a large team in the centre of the road later that day I rubbed "Napoleon" off against a horse, and after that he snubbed me on every occasion.
EING at the cross-roads, all manner of men and things come through Erize. The never-ending stream of camions passing each other as they go, layers deep with dust and grime, winds on steadily. There is great rivalry between the camion pelotons, and each has adopted an insignia painted on the sides of the cars to distinguish it from the others. As there are several hundred pelotons the designs are many, interesting, and reveal much of the inner nature of the poilu. Every species of beast and fowl is depicted, --- greyhound, stork, swallow, and other types, --- as a monkey riding on a shell, a demon with trident pursuing a German, and then perhaps a child's face, copied no doubt from the locket of one of the men.
Soldiers go up cheering wildly, singing and shouting. They return silent, tired, covered with mud, and reduced in numbers. German rifles, bayonets, caps, buttons, cartridges, and other odds and ends are then offered for sale. In August a poilu offered me a German rifle. I was examining it, and admiring the design, when I noticed the maker's name, --- the latest type German rifle had been made in New Jersey, U.S.A.
In addition to these things, the poilus have for sale many articles they have made themselves. The favorite is the briquet, or pocket lighter. This is made in all conceivable sizes and shapes, and operates by a flint and steel lighting a gasoline wick. This is why we use more gasoline en repos than when rolling! The soldiers also take the soixante-quinze shell-cases and carve and hammer them into vases. As many of the men were experts at work of this type "avant la guerre," and as much local talent has appeared since, some of the specimens are very fine indeed, and command high prices in the cities.
It is these laughing, playing, seemingly care-free soldiers who are the spirit of the war. Relieved from the tense struggle of life and death for a brief rest, their joyous nature blossoms forth in reaction from the serious affairs of their day's work.
HERE is nothing that so brings out the best in a man as to fight against terrific odds, to struggle in a losing fight with the knowledge that only by superhuman effort can the odds be equaled or turned. To work for an ideal is a wonderfully inspiring thing, but when the battle necessitates the risking or the sacrificing of home, happiness, and life it brings to the surface in those who persevere characteristics which lie dormant or concealed.
An ideal must be worth while when millions of men gladly risk their all for its attainment, and those men who risk and sacrifice must have returned to them something for what they give. Whatever sort of creature he is on the surface, the fire test, if a man passes it and is not shrivelled in its all-consuming flame, must develop in him certain latent and hitherto buried attributes which are fit to greet the light of day. If he be lacking in worthy human instincts, the flame will destroy him, but if he passes through the test, he emerges a better man---how much better depends on the individual. At least, having once seen the ideal, he has something now for which to live and strive.
HE world, judging from what it saw on the surface, flatly declared that France could never stand up under the strain; but what has happened has proved how little of the real worth of a nation or of a man is ever visible on the surface. There must always come the test, the fire which burns off the mask, the false surface beneath which mankind ever hides, and brings forth what is concealed --- good or bad. The bad is swept away and the good survives.
The French are a temperamental people, and consequently are most easily affected by circumstances. In former times the mass of the people were inclined to be demonstrative, insincere, somewhat selfish, and rather egotistical. These characteristics could never pass the tests, and now the true spirit of France, the Phoenix, is rising from the ashes of the past a freed and glorified being, radiant in the joy of accomplishment. From the torture she has endured, an understanding of the feelings and desires of others must be born which will banish the taint of selfishness forever. Those who do things are never egotistical --- they have no time to talk, and France has been doing things these past years. Those who rub elbows with the elementals and sacrifice for each other and a cause can never be insincere again. And what harm is there in demonstration? The bad characteristics removed, this becomes merely an effervescence, a bubbling over of a joyous, unrestrained nature---Ponce de Leon's true fountain of perpetual youth.
The difference between the men who have served at the front and either seen or felt great suffering, and those who have not, is most marked. One evening I was in an abri where some new recruits were wrangling over unimportant things, and showing their selfish character in every speech and act, when a desperately wounded man was brought in. After serving for some time in the trenches he had been given a few days' leave to see his family. He went back happily, thinking of the wife and the little children he was soon to see again. Having left the third-line trenches, he was walking through the woods down the boyau which leads to the outer world, when a shell broke overhead. The brancardiers patched him up and brought him in with his head bound so that his eyes and mouth alone were visible. The doctor handed him a cup of Pinard and a cigarette, neither of which would he touch until he had offered it to the rest of us. I picked up his helmet which he had put down for an instant, although his eye never left it. There was a hole in it through which I could have rolled a golf ball.
To illustrate the reverse --- I was standing in a town a little ways back, waiting for a car to give me a lift up to the lines, when a kitten rubbed against my leg. I picked it up and started to play with it. Instantly a peasant---not too old to serve---rushed out and snatched the kitten from my arms:
"Ce n'est pas à vous!" was his comment.
HE English can never be called a temperamental race, but even their stolid worth has needed much shaking up for the best in it to come to the surface.
The example they have set since their awakening is one which any nation may well emulate, and it will be a proud people indeed which can ever equal the record they have made in this war for courage and devotion, never surpassed in the history of the world.
The poilu and the Tommy are of such opposite types that each completely mystifies the other. The Frenchman works himself up to a fanatical state of enthusiasm, and in a wild burst of excitement dashes into the fray. The Englishman finishes his cigarette, exchanges a joke with his "bunkie," and coolly goes "over the top." Both are wonderful fighters, with the profoundest admiration for each other, but each with an absolute lack of understanding of the other, intensified by the difference in language.
HE varying characteristics of troops from different parts of the world---the allied countries, dependencies, and colonies----have led to their classification and assignment to the work best adapted to their temperament. The fighting troops are divided into two main classes called the "flying" and the "holding" divisions. There are some troops who are wonderful in a charge, but have no stamina or staying power to resist counterattacks or the wear of steady fighting. There are others who lack the initiative and dash, but who can hold on and resist anything. Then there are others who, while they are possessed of both qualities, are somewhat better suited for one class than the other. The Flying Divisions are used chiefly in the attacks, where a quick advance and desperate fighting must win the day. This completed, they go back en repos again, while the Holding Divisions take their place to consolidate the ground won, and to resist the enemy's attempts to regain it. The Flying Divisions have longer repos but more violent fighting while they are on the line, and the Holding Divisions have shorter repos but a less strenuous although longer stretch in the trenches. This has all been worked out from observation and experiment.
For example, in the early days of the war the Madagascans, French colored colonial troops, are given certain trenches to take. They take them with little delay, and are told to consolidate and hold them. This is all very well until supper fails to arrive. The soldiers wait impatiently for a short while, and then, ignoring the commands of their officers, evacuate their trenches, which are immediately occupied by the Germans, and go back for their meal. Supper finished, with no hesitation they return and in a wild charge recapture their trenches and several more.
Other French troops in the Flying Division are the Algerians, who have done wonderful fighting throughout the war, and have suffered heavily. It is the boast of the Foreign Legion, which is classed as Algerian, that since its organization it has never failed to reach its objective, and even in this war it has made good its boast. In one attack the Legion entered thirty-five thousand strong and returned victorious with a remnant of thirty-five hundred men.
The Algerians have a sense of humor all their own. An ambulancier was carrying one of them down to the hospital. As he was only slightly wounded he was sitting on the front seat with the driver, leaving more room for the couchés inside. One of the couchés was a German. Half way to the triage the Algerian made signs to the driver to stop. The driver looked inquiringly at the man who, with a broad grin, pulled out a long knife and pointed at the German. The driver naturally did not humor him, and the sulky Zouave refused to speak to him during the rest of the trip.
Another Algerian came into the poste one day. He had a great joke that he wanted us all to hear. He said that he had been given three prisoners to bring in, and was leading them down a road in a pouring rain, when he noticed the ruin of a house with the roof missing. He told the prisoners to go in there "where it would be drier," and when they complied, stood on the outside and tossed grenades over the wall at them.
The fact that the colonial troops of the Allies, especially those of Great Britain---the Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders---fall practically without exception into the Flying Division because of the initiative, dash, and daring developed in them to such a degree, has given Germany, who has won more victories with poisoned pen than with the sword, an opportunity to stir up hard feeling with her propaganda between the colonies and their mother country.
This propaganda claims that England has sacrificed her Colonials to save her own troops. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While the Colonials are in the Flying Division and the larger part of the English in the Holding Division, because of their famous bulldog tenacity, the English have lost a greater percentage of their men than any one of the colonies. The world has never seen such fighting as the troops of Great Britain have had to stand up under, and full credit is always given the Colonials for their share.
The Canadians particularly have distinguished themselves. They share with the Foreign Legion alone the distinction of never having been given an objective they have not taken. When the order came for the attack on Vimy Ridge it read: The Canadians will take Vimy Ridge at such and such an hour, and they took it on the dot. With the Canadians must be put the Anzacs, ---Australians and New Zealanders, --- examples of what universal military training can do.
Then there are the Indians, who never take a prisoner. By training and tradition they are great head-hunters, and enjoy nothing better than creeping out at night over No Man's Land and waiting before the enemy's trench until a sentry puts up his head to observe. A quick sweep of the curved knife, the head is secured, and the Indian returns with the feeling of "something accomplished, something done, has earned a night's repose." Their sense of humor has much in common with that of the Algerians ---and of the Germans.
Many of the heads, in all stages of curing, have been found in the knapsacks and equipments of these troops---when they were dead or unconscious. While conscious, the Indian will guard them with his life, feeling that they are legitimate souvenirs.
HERE are three French medals which are given for service in this war, not to mention a number of lesser ones which are seen rarely. The most coveted of these is the Legion of Honour, a medal famous for some centuries both in war and peace. This is divided into several classes. There is the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, a very large medal worn over the right-hand pocket with no ribbon. This has been awarded to a few men of the greatness of Joffre and Petain. Then there is the grade of Commander of the Legion of Honour. This is a smaller cross worn at the neck. There are also the ranks of Officer and Chevalier. Both are small crosses on red ribbons, but the former has a rosette on the ribbon to distinguish it. These are awarded to officers only and are greatly prized.
Two new medals were struck for the war, --- the Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre. The Médaille is a round medal on a yellow ribbon of one class only, and is awarded to officers and soldiers alike for actual bravery on the field. The Croix de Guerre is a bronze cross on a green and red ribbon, and has three classes,---the Croix de Guerre d'Armée, which has a bronze palm on the ribbon, de Corps d'Armée, which has a bronze star on the ribbon, and de Division, which has a plain ribbon. They are awarded for different degrees of bravery or service to officers and soldiers alike, and may be won unlimited times. In aviation a Croix with palm is given to an aviator for every enemy plane he is officially credited with downing. Thus Gynemer at the time of his death was privileged to wear fifty-five palms on his ribbon. For the benefit of such as he a silver palm is worn, representing five bronze, and a gold palm in place of ten bronze. Before this was allowed, Gynemer wore his ribbon with forty odd palms.
In addition to these there are the colonial medals and a number of French decorations which have not strictly to do with the war.
ONIGHT I am on guard. I have just taken a walk around the cars. It is the hour before the dawn, and the cold, grey mist hangs over all, robing the jagged ruins and harmonizing the rough outlines into something more human, while accentuating the stare of the vacant window-openings. There is the first crescent of the moon in the sky. Two companies of artillery have just passed along the road. The guns and caissons creak and rumble, and the men, preserving a sleepy silence, bend forward on their horses, their heavy sabres smacking against the horses' sides, and their blue uniforms melting into the mist.
The officer halts to water his horse, and we chat for a minute. The contre-avions are after a raider headed for Bar-le-Duc, and I put out my lantern. We smile as the shrapnel bursts more than a mile from the machine. The officer speaks a few words of praise about his men, then vaults on his horse. We exchange "bonne chance," and he canters off down the road, disappearing in the blue-grey mist.
RUMOR creeps into camp that the next attack will be at V-----. More rumors follow, supported by the increased traffic. We are on the main road to V-----, and are keenly critical. We take out our maps and examine the outline of the front in the sector just as if we knew something about it. Would-be strategists hold forth in heated arguments, and many bitter debates follow. Those of us who have the early watch just at daybreak notice many companies of soixante-quinzes rumbling by each morning, and observe that they take the left fork of the road. This is important, for the left road leads towards M-----, which is really not in our sector. More argument follows, and ears are constantly strained to catch the first augmentation of the distant thunder of the guns, and to determine from which end of the sector it comes.
Now all the officers admit that an attack is to ensue shortly, but they do not know when. We tune up our cars and get our baggage ready, as we may be called. The lieutenant receives some orders and warns us to be ready to move on a moment's notice.
The traffic is incessant now. Camions with shells, barbed wire, camouflage cloth, torpilles, and more shells rush by. Convoys pass filled with troops, cheering wildly, thirty-five hundred or more in an evening. The thunder is gradually intensified, and the sky flashes faintly in the distance like heat lightning. From a hilltop artillery rockets and star-shells can be seen in the far horizon. More troops keep going up, and the guns pound the line with unabated fury.
It is evening, and we are formed in a circle listening to some story. The lieutenant walks up to us:
"We move at seven in the morning," he says laconically, and steps off.
HIS time we have a different run. It is from Montzéville to Hill 239, and the wounded are brought in through the communication trench which leads to Mort Homme---the well-named Dead Man's Hill. The road was once lined for a distance of perhaps a mile with towering poplars, evinced by the size of the stumps, but now not one of them is left higher than three or four feet. The road runs the entire distance across open meadows, and as what camouflage there was has been shot away by the Boche in his search for two 220 batteries, which have long since moved on, the enemy saucisses can regulate the traffic quite simply. The place has been shot up so much recently that there has been no time to repair the roads fully, and now there are long stretches temporarily patched with rough, broken stone, which makes bad going. Riding forward, one sees large German shells breaking on the road ahead like sudden black clouds, which disappear slowly and convey to the mind uncomfortable premonitions.
Mort Homme comes suddenly and bleakly into view about two kilometres on our left, --- a hill, not exceedingly high, commanding a great plain, it is imposing only in the memory of the rivers of blood that have flowed down its sides. Once---and looking at it one can scarcely believe it --- this was covered with trees and vegetation like many another less famous hill. Now it is reduced to a mere sandpile, pitted with the scars of a million shells. After standing the continuous bombardment of both combatants for over a year, there is left not a stick of vegetation, nor an inch of ground that has not been turned over by shells many times. Crowned by the pink of the sunset, it stands there on the plain a great monument to the glorious death of thousands.
The French lost many thousands of lives in their attempts to capture Mort Homme, and were very bitter, consequently, against its defenders. There was a large tunnel running through the hill, and when three sides had been captured and both ends of the tunnel were held, it was discovered that they had trapped there three thousand Germans. I talked with a man who walked through the tunnel the day after the massacre and he told me that it was literally inches deep in blood.
Arrived at the poste, which is nothing more than a hole in the ground, we stand around while the brancardiers load the car and exchange lies with any one who happens to be there. The Boche sends a dozen or more shells whining over our heads to break on the road or beside it, and near enough for every one to gravitate slowly towards the abri in preparation for a wild dive should the next shell fall much nearer. One man asked me why they put stairs leading into an abri, as nobody ever thought of using them. When I asked him how else one would get out, he said he had never thought of that.
There is nothing quite so uncomfortable to hear as the near whistle of a shell. The more one hears the sound the more it affects him. There is something in the sharp whine which seems to create despair and induce subconscious melancholy. There is a feeling of helplessness and powerlessness that is most depressing. The thunder of the guns or the crash of the bursting shells cannot be compared with the sound of this approaching menace. It is as if some demon from the depths of Hades were hurtling towards you, its weird laughter crying out, calling to you and chilling your blood. For the second of its passage a hush falls on the conversation, and the best jokes die in dry throats. But it is only for that second, and instantly laughter rings out again at some jest. Speculations or comments are made on the probable or observed place where it exploded, and all is the same except for that subconscious tenseness which, for the most part unrealized, grips every man while he goes about his work here.
The first ordeal by fire is the easiest. It is then but a new and interesting sensation and experience. Later, after one has seen the effect and had some close calls, it is more of a nervous strain. The whine of a shell is very high-pitched, and after a time the sound wears distinctly on the nerves. It is a curious fact that, in spite of the philosophy developed, the longer a man has been under shell-fire the harder it is for him to stand it. By no means would he think of showing it, but he would not deny the fact. It is only the philosophy and callousness developed which keep the men from breaking down, and in many cases the strain on the nerves becomes so great that men do collapse under it. This is one of the forms of so-called "shell-shock."
The car loaded with blessés, we start back, driving more slowly this time, as precious lives are in our care and jolts must be avoided wherever possible. We find the road still more "out of repair" than when we went over it before, with a number of new shell-holes varying from two to ten feet in diameter, and much wood, dirt, and torn camouflage strewn about, and often a horse lying where it was hit, its blood coloring the mud in the gutter.
Approaching the town of Montzéville one sees at first a wood- --ci-devant --- now a few blackened tree-trunks of spectre-like appearance against the grey of the evening sky. Behind these appears the town, a mass of jagged ruins, at that distance seeming to be absolutely deserted. In fact it is, except for the dozen odd men who live in two or three scattered abris for some obscure purpose. An air of desolation and despair broods over the place, and God knows it has seen enough to haunt it.
From Montzéville we ride on to Dombasle and Jouy, the hospital, and after handing over our more or less helpless charges to the tender mercies of the brancardiers, we return to the relay-station at Montzéville to wait for our next roll, and to wonder what possible good those poilus can be doing who sit all day so peacefully at the door of the abri opposite ours, sipping Pinard and smoking their cigarettes.
HE soldiers at the front are always looking for the bright side of life, and after a little one gets to see humor in many more things than he would have believed possible at home. As an example, there seems to be little humor connected with a funeral, yet one of the times I saw the poilus most amused was one day at P 4, our relay-station, on such an occasion.
There had been an intermittent bombardment, and we were sitting or standing inside the abri waiting for it to let up. The abri was located in the corner of a graveyard, and there was always the unpleasant feeling that the next rain might wash a few bones in on us. The abri was small, very crowded, and, as it was several feet underground, none too well ventilated. Every one spent long stretches here, and brought his food with him. What was too poor to eat soon mixed with the mud on the floor, lending an unsavory odor to the atmosphere. Presently one of the Frenchmen went out to see if the bombardment had stopped. This is discovered by the same method one ascertains whether or not it is raining ---if he gets wet the storm is not over. The bombardment was not over, and we waited. At last it seemed to have let up, only an occasional shell crashing into the woods across the road, and we went out to stretch and get a breath of air.
The poilus gathered our inquisitive friend from the surrounding shrubbery and trees and put him into several empty sandbags which they laid on a stretcher, carefully placing the head, which appeared to have been solid enough to withstand the shock, at the upper end. Another man carried a freshly-made pine-wood coffin. In high spirits, the assembled; soldiers formed a procession and marched into the graveyard, singing alternately a funeral dirge and "Madelon," the French "Tipperary." This graveyard, not being on the firing-line itself, was rather a formal affair. The graves were laid out in neat rows, and each man had one all to himself with a wooden cross and his name on it. Of course occasionally the shells did a little mixing, but that was a jest of the Fates which disturbed no one, least of all those who were mixed.
Arrived at the grave, the poilus rolled in the fragments of our late friend and covered them with dirt.
Then they came back, roaring with laughter and tossing the coffin in the air. The hero had expected the coffin and they had fooled him. Now they could use it again.
The usual method of burial on the French front, where there is little time to attend to such matters, is to dig a ditch six feet wide, ten feet deep, and twenty feet long approximately. As each man is killed, time and circumstances permitting, he is divested of his coat and shoes, and his pockets are emptied. He is then thrown into the ditch and covered with a few shovelfuls of dirt. This system is all very well until new divisions relieve those in the trenches, and start digging ditches for their own men. As there are no marks to show the location of the old ones, they sometimes uncover rather unpleasant sights.
The reputation we have gained at home of being cold-blooded and lacking in the finer senses is undeserved. While one is in it he cannot permit himself to realize or dwell on the horrors or they would overwhelm him and drive him insane. What is more natural than for the reaction to turn the matter into jest and joke, to permit it to glance from the surface without inflicting a wound ? --- "C'est la guerre."
LUNGED suddenly from the commonplaces of peace into the seething cauldron of war, France has had to adjust herself. Every one without exception has lost many who were dear to him and much that he had considered essential. The homes and hopes of thousands have been blasted. Destruction, following in the wake of the invaders, has laid waste much of the land, in many cases irreparably.
Entering the war a man is possessed of the greatest seriousness. He thinks of its causes, the results both immediate and future, and of the effect of each on him. He is stunned by what he believes himself to be bearing up under. Then, as he moves up into the zone, into service and action, and sees how others are affected, how much suffering and misfortune come to them, be merges his troubles with theirs, realizing the pettiness and insignificance of his own in the tout ensemble. He laughs, and from this laugh springs the philosophy, --- "C'est la guerre."
If a fly falls in his soup, if his best friend is blown to bits before him, if his home and village are destroyed, he calmly shrugs his shoulders, and remarks, "C'est la guerre."
HE roads at the front are cared for by a class of unsung heroes, the road-builders. Back of the lines German prisoners are often used for this work, but it is a rule of warfare that prisoners must not be worked under fire, and the Allies observe this as the other rules of civilized warfare. The roads are the arteries of the front, and during an attack the enemy does his best to cripple them. If he succeeds, the troops in the trenches, cut off from food, ammunition, and other supplies, are at his mercy. During one attack through which I worked, the Boche, whose hobby is getting ranges down to the inch and applying them as all other things in a definite system, put a 150 every ten yards down the more important roads.
All work in the zone is done by three classes of workers, excluding the necessary military operations carried on by the troops in action. First, there are the German prisoners who do every kind of work out of the zone of fire. Then there are the French prisoners in the army, who have committed some military crime, from sneezing in ranks to shooting a colonel. Instead of serving time in a guardhouse, these are put in the front-line trenches and kept there unarmed to build up the parapet, attend to the drains, stop Boche bullets, and perform other functions. If, for instance, a French soldier sends a letter through the civil instead of the military mails, where the censorship is more strict, he receives a thirty days' sentence. If these prisoners make a suspicious move they are shot by their own men. Second timers are rare, but many serve life sentences.
Then there is the third class, a regular branch of the army, a subdivision of the engineers, termed pionniers. The engineers do the nastiest work in the army, and the pionniers do the nastiest work in the engineers. It is their duty to see that the wire is properly cut before a charge, that the parapet is in repair and does not lack sandbags, and it is in this class that the road-builders come.
All along the roads lie piles of broken stone, which are continually replaced by loads from the rear. At intervals are placed abris filled with road-builders who watch until a shell hits the road in their sector. Then, almost before the dirt settles, they rush out armed with shovels, and pile this rough stone into the hole and rush back again to shelter, to wait for the next shell, which is not long in coming. This rough patching is consolidated later when the sector quiets down, but does admirably for the time-being, as the mud and traffic push it rapidly into shape.
Steam-rollers are then sent up to finish the work, but find themselves persona non grata when left over night in the middle of a narrow and muddy road, with no lights showing. We ambulanciers are not fond of the species at any time, as they seem to have a great affinity for six-inch shells. When disintegrated, any one of the numerous parts blocks our way. We are perfectly content to have the task left to the simple road-builder, who proves less of an obstruction after meeting a one-fifty.
ANY undeveloped instincts lie dormant in the subconscious mind of man. In this war, where man has turned back the pages of civilization to live and act for a period of time as a glorified cave-dweller, a number of these unknown faculties have been discovered and developed.
Many animals have the power of seeing in the dark, and all species can sense an unknown danger. These senses have been denied to civilized man, but the primitive life at the front has developed them and other instincts in those who live there so that it seems as if man might again become possessed of all his latent powers.
A man going along a road has a conviction that if he continues he will be killed. He makes a wide detour to avoid the road, and a shell strikes where he would have been. Then again, men have premonitions that they will be killed in the next attack or battle. All this is coupled with absolute fatalism. They feel either that they are going to be killed or will live through everything, and whichever it is, they merely shrug their shoulders, remark, "C'est la guerre," and permit nothing to alter their belief. Many say that the shell with their name on it has not yet been made, or if it has --- "Why worry? We cannot escape it." I carried one man, while doing evacuation work, who had served three years without a scratch, and when en repos had fallen from an apple tree and broken his leg. He thought it a great joke.
The ambulancier has developed two of these instincts to quite a degree. The first is that he can always locate an abri, his or some one else's, and disappear in it with astounding rapidity. The second is that he can keep the road with no lights. This has to be done almost entirely by instinct on many nights, and we find it usually safer to make a turn where the "inner voice" directs us rather than where we remember it should be. It is not remarkable, of course, that an occasional car falls into a ditch or a shellhole, but astonishing rather how seldom this happens. While our Fords never attained any great speed in night driving, I rode once with a friend from another section in a Fiat, when he drove in pitch darkness faster than fifty miles an hour, taking every turn accurately and safely by instinct and luck.
HE mud plays havoc with calculations, and we long to set our foot once again on dry land. All the water in France seems to have gone into mud. Water has never been a popular beverage here, and now it is even less so. One horrified poilu, who had observed me drinking a glass of water, asked if it did not give me indigestion. At the front there is good reason for this. With so many men buried in the ground and so many animals uninterred on it, all the springs are contaminated, and the germs of every disease lurk in the water.
The French army provides a light red wine to take its place. This wine is little stronger than grape juice and is the Pinard of the poilus. The government also provides tobacco which, to quote one ambulancier, cannot be smoked without a gas mask.
The water in the streams is little better, and a bath in one of them gives more moral than physical satisfaction. One French artilleryman told me with great glee of seeing from his observation post a company of German soldiers marched down to a river for a bath. As soon as they were in the water he signalled the range to his battery, and they put a barrage between the bathers and their clothes.
ERDUN is more than a name now ---it is a symbol. France's glorious fight here with her back to the wall has gone down in history as a golden page. The foe thundered at the gates and the gates held, ---held for months while the fate of France hung in the balance, and then opening, the hosts of France poured out and drove the foe back mile by mile, bitter miles.
The city does not boast an unscarred building, but these wounds do not bleed in vain. For every one here there shall be two across the frontier when the day of reckoning comes. An awe-inspiring silence broods over the littered streets. There are no civilians here now, but many soldiers, and as one walks an occasional cheer greets him,---"Vive l'Amérique!"
The enemy has been driven back so far by this time that not more than half a dozen vengeful shells a day are directed towards the violated cathedral, its subterranean vaults blown open and exposed, its walls struck, its windows shattered, and its roof fallen. A walk through this city, divided by the peaceful Meuse, would convince one, if nothing had before, that this war is not in vain, and that no force should be spared, no rest taken until the nation which has perpetrated these million crimes be crushed, that it may never strike like this again.
BATTLE is made up of a number of attacks, and a push consists of a number of battles. Consequently, each attack is most important as it is one of the single stones out of which the wall of the push is constructed. The taking of A----- was a small attack in itself, but it was a part of the foundation on which was built the great August push at Verdun.
Our section rolled into a town about four miles from A----- three days before the attack proper was scheduled to begin. We established our headquarters there, and our relay-station and poste de secours in the Hesse Forest, the latter just behind the third-line trenches.
In the Champagne push the year before the French had not had nearly enough artillery support, and it had cost them many lives. It is something one hears spoken of rarely. To avoid a repetition of this disaster they had massed for this attack in one wood six thousand guns varying in calibre from the famous 75's to several batteries of 380's, mounted on a railroad a stone's throw from our sleeping quarters. However, as we had no time for sleep, it made little difference. The 75 is about a three-inch gun, and the 380, a sixteen approximately.
Starting in three days before the attack, these guns began firing as steadily as they could without overheating. Very often in our front abri it was impossible to write because of the vibration. One day, when we stopped in the woods to change a punctured tire, the car was knocked off the jack by the shocks several times before we could remove the tire, and at last we had to run in on the rim.
Finally, just before the men were to go over the top, the barrage was set down in front of the trenches and the men climbed over the parapet, and started walking towards the enemy. It is always possible to tell the tir de barrage by the sound of the guns. There is a certain regularity which is lacking when each gun is firing at independent targets, and the steady thunder gives one the feeling of a tremendous hammer smashing, smashing, irresistibly, each blow falling true and hard, and following one another with the regularity of the machines in a giant factory.
A perfect barrage is impenetrable, with the shells falling so near together and with such short intervals of time between that nothing can survive it. The only possibility is the inaccuracy of some one or more guns which will put a number of shells out of the line and leave a break or opening.
Before the attack the officers all have their watches carefully synchronized, as a mistake of one minute may cost many lives. Walking ahead of their men, keeping them the right distance behind the solid wall of flame and steel, they wait until a certain minute when the barrage is lifted a number of yards and then advance to that distance. In the orders, the minute the barrage is to be lifted and the distance are given out beforehand; for to advance the soldiers too quickly .would be to put them under fire from their own guns.
In this attack the first wave passed over the destroyed wire, and on reaching the enemy's front-line trenches could not distinguish them from the rest of the ground, and found no living thing there. The second-line trenches were little better, and they got their fighting at the third-line trenches. So perfect had the preparation and execution of this attack been that the Bois d'A----- was cleared of the enemy in thirteen minutes from the time the French left their trenches.
The first wave is followed by the "butchers" (the English "moppers-up"), who kill all the wounded and the odd prisoners, it being impractical for a charging line to attempt to hold a few captives. Also another factor which makes this treatment of prisoners necessary, and which the Allies have learned by experience, is that unguarded men, once the first wave has passed over them, will take out a machine gun and catch the advancing troops between two fires. This happened a number of times before the simple expedient was adopted of requesting the prisoners to go down into an abri where they would be "safer," and then tossing in two or three grenades which kill and bury them at the same time.
Of course the Boche was not idle in the meanwhile, and kept up a hail of fire from behind A------ Wood and Dead Man's Hill, which did not fall until two days later, and we had the benefit of this back on the roads as we tore from the relay-station to the poste, to the hospital, and back again, trying to take care of as many as we could of the countless wounded from the attack who were being brought in. French soldiers who had been in the war since 1914 said that they had never seen such fire.
This run and the work through this attack were the most interesting of the experiences I had in the zone. We worked day and night, sleeping and eating at odd moments and with long intervals between, ceasing only when twelve of our cars had gone en panne, and half that number of drivers were in the hospital suffering from the new mustard gas which was showered on us in gas shells. We were tired indeed when relieved for a short period en repos.
N American army is in France. Old Glory is proudly floating above an armed host which has come to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Allies, and do battle to prove that Right makes Might. We read in the papers of the ovations the troops receive, of the reviews, the presentations, the compliments, and the training, and our hearts beat proudly because we too are Americans. We are noncombatants, to be sure, and are members not of the American army but of the French; yet, we are serving in the same cause, and, we hope, doing our bit towards the final victory.
We know that sooner or later the entire American Field Service is to be absorbed by the American army, but as to when this is to come, and in what manner, we are ignorant. We debate often now about these things, and wonder what effect the change is to have on us and on the section. Pessimist has picked up a rumor somewhere that we are to be turned out in a body, and that drivers who have been training at Allentown are to take our places. Cheerful Liar informs us that we are all to be made first lieutenants, and that the section is to serve with the American troops. "Napoleon" thinks that we are to be discharged, and that French drivers who "know their business" are to take our places. Some one else says that we are all to be put in the trenches. No one knows anything definite, and the chef and sous-chefs are besieged for information which they have not. The Assistant Inspector comes out to us and we know little more. American officers encountered in Bar-le-Duc can give us no information, and rumors, most of them originating in the section, contradict each other.
One evening a large Pierce Arrow pulls up beside our cars, parked in a walnut grove. Three American medical officers step out with clanking spurs, and we are all attention. The chef is called and we assemble. The officer in command makes a short speech. The section is to be taken over, he says, and those who remain must enlist as privates in the American army for the duration of the war. These men, having signed up, are then at the disposal of the Army, but will probably be kept in the Ambulance Service. The new officers are to be an American lieutenant, who will be our present chef, two sergeants, and a corporal. The section is to continue to serve with the French army, but may be transferred to the new American front.
We form small circles and discuss the situation. All the freedom and romance are gone, but many are going to stay. The rest have chosen aviation or artillery, and one or two may return home. The old volunteer Ambulance Service is dead, but the days we have lived with it are golden, and nothing can ever take them away from us, or bring them back again.
There is a little lump in each man's throat as he turns in tonight, but from now on we serve America, and any sacrifice is worth that. And for the rest ---"C'est la guerre."
HE participation of the United States in this war marks the time of this country's coming of age, and the real beginning of its work as one of the great world powers. Up to the War of the Revolution the thirteen colonies had more than enough on their hands in managing their own affairs. In the throes of that war the country was born, and slowly grew, feeling its increasing power which was never quite secure until the Civil War was at an end. Then, year by year, reaching out over the two continents of America, guiding and helping our weaker brothers in their affairs, gave us a foundation of courage and experience in the adolescent period before we were ready to stand forth staunch in our beliefs and secure in our power to uphold them. That that time has come, and that the Old World, throwing down the gauntlet to the New, has found it unexpectedly ready, is shown by the presence of the Stars and Stripes on the battlefields of France. The mask of our isolation by the ocean, that time-worn excuse, has been rudely torn aside by modern inventions, and the affairs of Europe have become by their intimacy our own. In mingling with them as we were forced to do, one side was bound to transgress sooner or later --- Germany did. And when Germany transgressed, America stepped across the bridge from youth to manhood, and picking up the iron gauntlet proceeded to settle the question by force of arms,---the one indisputable argument.
This war is to make Democracy secure only in that it is the continual struggle between the new and the old, a struggle whose issue is certain before the start civilization moves to the west.
America is the vanguard of the European civilization moving westward. It has taken the sum of the civilizations of the earth to bridge the chasm of the Atlantic. America is the last section of the circle of the world, which completed, civilization moves back to its starting place. Power increases with civilization and, with each step civilization has taken, the conquests have been proportionate. Each has tried world conquest and failed, but each has come nearer and each time the world has been nearer ready to receive it. The present war is the attempt of a representative of the civilization of Europe to control the earth, and proving per se its unfitness to do so.
Consequently, the relation of America to the War is that she is coming of age, and is at last ready to take her place among the great nations of the world as a power that can never again be disregarded, a mighty guardian of the Right.
MERICA has been aptly called the Melting Pot. Since 1620, when the Pilgrims established their permanent colony at Plymouth, people from the Old World have been flocking to this country and becoming "Americans." Every country of the globe has sent its representatives ---each a different metal to be merged with the others until the American should be as distinct a type as the Englishman or Frenchman. At first there was natural discord --- each was a different metal in the melting pot, but as there was no heat, no fire, they could not amalgamate. Then came the first blast of national fire---the Revolution, and in that, the first great struggle for Liberty, was moulded from the composite alloys ---the American. The American as he came from the mould of the Revolution was the foundation on which the country rests, and although the descendants of those Americans are too few in number now to be more than a flux for the steady stream of metal as it pours from the pot, they can at least preserve the standard that their forebears passed down to them as the Golden Heritage, and be examples to these new and untried metals.
In the War of 1812 and in the Civil War the new metals were amalgamated and tempered with the old, but since 1864 there has been no fire hot enough to mould together the millions who have sought the United States as a home. There has been no sword over our heads. There has been no great impending disaster, no danger to the country as a whole of great loss of life or property, and our Liberty and our Honor have not been at stake as they are today.
So it is now in this fierce blast from Hell's furnace, the Great War, that the National fire is rekindled and each metal is slowly sinking its own individuality into the common form carefully stirred by the hand of the Almighty, and in the white heat, as the pure metal is tempered until it rings true and measures to the old standard, the slag is cast aside. Thus is America the Melting Pot.
ARIS is the place where everything begins and ends. From here during the four years of war there has been the constant departure of men bound for the great adventure, and it is Paris that has received with open arms the greater bulk of the permissionnaires and the réformés. Gay, very gay on the surface, but below the crust it is the saddest of all places. When a man is in great agony he laughs. It is so with the great city, and the laugh of delirium is a poor sham indeed.
The shortage of necessities has also been a damper on the city. In Neuilly, a suburb of Paris, a man was carrying a bag of coal. A few paces behind him a well-dressed woman was walking home. The man dropped a piece of coal from his sack and the woman eagerly picked it up and placed it in her gold bag.
The war hangs over all in a dismal cloud and is in the back of every one's mind; although it is rare to hear it mentioned it is always before one. There is no Parisian who has not lost some one very dear to him or her, and nineteen out of every twenty women are in deep mourning. The social activities, therefore, are greatly curtailed, and the gay life is left only to the people of the street, the majority of whom have been driven to that life by the reaction of despair and sadness, and in lonesomeness seek the only companionship that they know.
HE old chateau at 21, rue Raynouard, so kindly loaned to the American Field Service for its headquarters by the Comtesse de la Villestreux, is a place of traditions. The great Napoleon has walked here. Rousseau wrote part of his works here, and Franklin walked in the park daily while he was Ambassador to France.
The park is the most extensive and beautiful within the fortifications of Paris, and contains the largest grove of chestnuts in the city. The water in the springs on the place was famous in the seventeenth century as the "eaux de Passy."
In the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, located on the banks of the Seine, the place breathes an atmosphere of rest and beauty and solidity, springing from the traditions of age. The men of the American Field Service, we who have had this place as the home to which we would return en permission, can never fully express our sincere gratitude to the Comtesse de la Villestreux and the other members of the Hottinguer family, who so graciously extended to us, Americans, the hospitality of their beautiful estate.
DREAM of a town, hot but not oppressive under the sun of the Midi, with quaint streets meandering through it, little blue tables set in the sunlight and a park filled with gay-colored soldiers and drab women, was my first impression of Bordeaux. Dilapidated fiacres in tow of hungry horses transport one from place to place, and give the newcomer his first taste of the haggling, without which a Latin would be disconsolate.
For all its quaintness and simplicity it is as much a "pay as you enter" city as the rest, and even in the park should one sit upon an iron seat instead of a wooden one there is an indemnity of two sous extracted and a further sou should the seat possess arms. A damsel in black then presents a ticket which entitles the possessor to hold down the seat as long as he comfortably can. The military may sit free, however, if they know it; but the new arrivals do not, and the park fund increases.
Bordeaux on my return I found to be quite Americanized. The quiet uniforms of our soldiers were neutralizing the bright reds and blues of our ally. The little blue tables were often covered by a khaki arm, and many new signs proclaimed "American Bar," those houses which had specialized in German beers before the war having painted "American" over the name of the Rhine country.
There is a large American hospital here completely equipped and ready to receive and take good care of the flood that will soon be pouring in. An American private telephone line has been built to Paris by Americans, and with our gradual assimilation of the railway system of France we are "carrying on" well from here.
HE American Ambulance, the American Field Service as it was in the old days, is dead. The spirit of bonne camaraderie and intimacy which each member felt for the others; the time when, members of no army, we served with the French, on equal terms with the poilus in the trenches and the officers on the staff; when, responsible to no one, we served the cause and the god Adventure, content with the past and with no thought for the morrow, --- has passed. With the coming of army discipline and system, with governmental organization and routine, the old days are gone. We are sorry, selfishly, to see them go; but we cannot and would not have it otherwise. The Ambulance Service is now proudly enrolled under Old Glory, and is broader and greater than it ever could have been as a volunteer organization. We rejoice that it is so, and are proud that we have been a part of it. So, hail to the new United States Army Ambulance Corps! The men of the Old Ambulance salute you!
LITTLE group of us stands together in the darkness, with the deck rising and falling beneath our feet. We are silent and pensive. The last lights of Bordeaux are fading in the mist, and with them France. The boat has been running up and down the wide harbor all day, and now in the darkness is making a dash for the open sea, hoping to outwit the enemy lurking in the depths.
Up there, far to the north of those lights, the great guns thunder and the sky glimmers with star-shells. Men are fighting, and struggling, and dying, and laughing over their Pinard, but it is not for us. We have finished for a while. Of course we are coming back, but furlough is not offered often enough to be refused lightly. We feel a queer mixture of sadness, and happiness, and relief. The life has worked its way into our hearts, and the call to return rings in our ears. But the relief from the tenseness and the joy of anticipation of America and Home exceeds all else. The wind blowing across the waves starts somewhere in America, and we take deep breaths. Soon we shall be home, shall see our friends, and shall lead a life of luxurious ease again for a short space of time.
We walk around the deck and then, taking out our pipes, settle down in our steamer chairs and puff thoughtfully. All is peace and quietness here, the spray breaking over the bow and the waves lapping against the sides. It is hard to realize that the earth is shaking in a cataclysm only a little north, but we know that this must be endured until the power of Germany is destroyed---that the world may be as peaceful as is the sea tonight.
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