When war was declared most of us were in New Haven, paying whatever heed to our studies at Yale we thought conducive to our collegiate safety and giving the balance of our attention to sports, the theatre and the threatening hostilities. When the declaration came, all lines drew to a focus and each man asked himself: "What's my job now? Is it up to me to enlist---and in what branch? Shall I choose the earth or the water or the air? Can I walk better than I can dive or fly? And which can I do first?"
That last was the crux of the question. All roads in those days led to France and all of us were looking for the shortest road. Consequently a certain notice published in the Yale News drew general attention. This announcement stated that a Federal Ambulance Service was to be formed, composed of units of thirty-five men each, to be drawn from the colleges; that an attempt would be made to keep each college unit together---and that in all probability the Yale outfit would sail for France in June.
The shortest road to France--so at least it seemed. By the middle of June the Yale unit was ready and waiting, but waiting at New Haven, for the story of the early June embarkation was merely our first military myth. We had enlisted under Major Stiles, who kept open house for about a week not far from the Campus. Most of us called on him, coming direct from the classroom (or the Taft bar) ; a few who had put aside childish things left their positions in the marts of trade or the high places of industry to join the unit from their Alma Mater. The physical examination was the one used in the regular army, but softened a bit to suit the circumstances. It was considered, perhaps erroneously, that a man need not be a physical paragon to drive a Ford; at the same time none who were lame, halt or blind could qualify. A modicum of morality likewise was demanded, though it was not necessary to be a choirboy. As regards age, the theory was eighteen to forty-five; in practice only those in first or second childhood were rejected.
Reports became current that our first destination would be an ambulance camp, not in France, but at Allentown, Pennsylvania. This rumor crystallized into fact, and on June 22 we left New Haven, under the leadership of Acting Sergeant Henry W. Johnstone, arriving at Allentown at five in the evening.
The hour of our arrival is important because it brought home to us for the first time the disturbing realization that we were in the army. This realization came through the agency of one of the vilest suppers ever set before man since God made the world. A mélange---literally a mélange, mind you---on the same greasy tin pan, of salty corned beef and forlorn little prunes, mournfully simmering in their juice It is the only meal whose like we've never longed for at any time in the checkered months since then.
The ambulance camp was installed in the fair grounds. The large grandstand was utilized as barracks, as were most of the exhibition buildings, horse stalls and cow sheds. At the time of our arrival these various edifices were sufficient to shelter all the enlisted men and officers, but later on tents and new wooden barracks were set up.
We drew for our dwelling a choice set of cow stalls, elegantly furnished with mouldy straw. Fresh from our civilian beds of roses we failed to detect any advantages in this Spartan simplicity, and during that first cold night at Allentown our plaints were loud and long. With Lyman and Larkin nobly filling the positions of end men, the Section as nobly responded. We ran the whole gamut of vituperation, and rang the changes of vocalized misery from A to Z. Like Jacob mourning for his lost child, we refused to be comforted, and with Job we cursed the day we were born. But as the cold penetrated and the boards became harder under our aching backs, a feeling of futility seized us, a haunting sense of the proper word unsaid. Our discourse had been sufficiently lurid but not sufficiently definite; we had spread abuse over too large an area. Gradually the comments became less frequent as each man groped for the adequate expression, and one by one failed and lapsed into silence. At last, when hope was well-nigh gone, a deep voice broke the stillness with a pronouncement solemn as a prophet's judgment, "God damn the Kaiser!" All recognized it as the ideal we'd been striving for. It was not blasphemy; it was the word that epitomized all our woes and fixed the ultimate responsibility. We sighed with satisfaction and fell asleep. Our first night in camp merits this comment simply to show what we then considered hardships. In view of what the last eighteen months have taught, such hardship seems puerile indeed---but to this day we stick by the slogan then uttered.
At the time of our arrival there were some ninety sections in camp. We drew number 85. Occupying the suite of stalls next to ours was 86, the bunch from Berkeley, California, and just as they were nearest us in quarters, so were they nearest in our affections, and so have they remained ever since. But we had many other good friends, and several old and dear enemies---Harvard, Princeton and Cornell.
The morning of June 22 Sergeant Johnstone's appointment was ratified by unanimous vote of the Section, while J. W. Peters was chosen second sergeant and Norman Hubbard corporal. George Butler and Warren T. Clifford became the official clerks. A little later Gilbert Marcellus and John Beecher were appointed mechanics, Albert Perkins and Arthur Shepard, cooks; the rest of us were buck privates, but with very advanced views upon discipline. Individualism was a popular doctrine in the ranks, and we owe it to our officers' sense of humor that the first week didn't find us all in the guardhouse. The Allentown officers were "good fellows," and prince among them was Captain Whitney, who first guided our destinies. Captain Whitney is now a lieutenant-colonel and we are still buck privates, but we have just as much respect for him and no more fear of him now than we had then; compliments can go no higher in the army.
Next came Lieutenant Ferguson, affectionately known as "Fergie," whose drill tactics were like his bandaging in his own words, "not much on looks but hell for stuff." His successor was Lieutenant Wharton, the man who never slept. In the cold gray dawn of many an Allentown morning he might have been seen wandering like an overconscientious ghost among the trees, at an hour that made reveille think itself a laggard. Nor did an ocean voyage cure him, for at St. Nazaire he beat the French government, hands down, in setting the clock ahead.
By the time we got our uniforms camp routine had become fixed. Drill, both morning and afternoon, with generous intervals for rest, lectures on the art of bandaging, care of wounded, safeguards against disease, with special talks on camp sanitation and personal hygiene, comprised the serious business of the day. It is well to mention here the fact that the sanitation of the camp was excellent, and the percentage of sick very low. All recruits were inoculated against typhoid and paratyphoid, as well as vaccinated against smallpox. For the excellent results, all is owed the earnest, skilful officers who directed operations and the generous townspeople who seconded their efforts.
The mess-hall was our greatest grievance. Here four thousand hungry men marched to a breakfast of dubious eggs and wan, hopeless coffee; four thousand men marched to a lunch of indestructible meat, boiled potatoes and sorghum; four thousand men marched to a supper of God knows what---then, after retreat, four thousand desperate men marched triple-quick to town to get something to eat. Many an Allentown recruit remembers with reverence the "Philadelphia Restaurant" or, like George Ade, would burst into tears at the sight of a "steak à la Columbia."
As the days went by, the different brands of genius in Section 85 began to crop out. We found a varied assortment, ranging from music and impassioned oratory to hair-cutting and dog-speculation. Before several audiences Stevens starred with the human voice divine, while Deak Lyman swayed the crowds and sometimes the neighboring trees with his eloquence, or burst the buttons off government O. D. with his humor. But it took the unique genius of Holbrook to combine the tonsorial art with the business of dog vending, and to make money at both. One day he bought and brought to camp a monster which he alleged to be a dog, but which looked more like a dwarf rhinoceros, though lacking the latter's grace and spirituality. He proposed the Section adopt the creature as mascot. The noes had it on this motion, but permission was granted Holbrook to park the rhino near the quarters until he could find a bigger fool than himself to take it off his hands. The consensus of opinion was that this would be impossible, and so it proved for some time. In this predicament Holbrook's genius came to light: he organized a lottery-prize, a Yale bulldog; price, one dollar a throw; no peeking before paying. The beast was disposed of; Holbrook took in twenty dollars and the purchaser.
During our stay at Allentown the people of the city were at all times interested in our progress, and most cordial in their attitude. The "big brother" policy was instituted; each section was adopted by some prominent citizen who made it his special care to provide occasional entertainment outside the regular camp recreation. Sunday afternoons at the fair grounds were enlivened by concerts by the Allentown band, while the Y. M. C. A., through Song Leader Clarke, furnished amusement in the way of music and movies on the evenings throughout the week.
Since our ultimate business was to drive Fords it was natural to suppose that we would be given some sort of training along this line as well as in marching and litter drill. As a matter of fact, we were subjected to a trial better calculated to test our sense of the ridiculous than our ability to manage a car. About a dozen machines, variously diseased and ripe for the grave, were set up in the rough, hummocky ground enclosed by the race track. To add insult to injury and to increase both, these senile anachronisms were stripped of every cushion, even of every seat that might add a poor pinch of comfort to the unfortunate driver. A Ford fully dressed is none too decent; a Ford stripped is an abomination before the Lord. The idea was to drive once round the field, try our hand at reversing, and come to a graceful stop in front of the judges. Well, we took the test and passed. Had we used sewing-machines to qualify, the proof would have been just as conclusive.
Between the date of the arrival at camp and our departure for France the personnel of the Section was increased by nine men, some of whom had enlisted at cities other than New Haven, some of whom had transferred from other sections or from "casuals." These men were Balmer from 72, Bowerman and Cunningham through casuals from 113, Harper from 91, Wasem from 88, Tremaine, Lewis, Weber and Crane direct from casuals, having enlisted prior to or subsequent to the enlistment at New Haven. Meanwhile our non-com list had grown, Hubbard becoming a sergeant and Tony Lundgren a corporal.
About the first of August we became certain that the date of sailing was near. It proved to be August 7. At midnight of the sixth we boarded the train with great show of secrecy, it being considered appropriate to take French leave when embarking for France. At about ten o'clock the morning of the seventh we climbed aboard the San Jacinto at the Hoboken Pier.
Many a queer craft has sailed the seas since Noah's cruise to Mt. Ararat, and possibly, among them all, there may have been one more uncomfortable than the San Jacinto. But Section 85 will have to be "shown." And in spite of the mixed company that Noah took with him, most of us would have preferred a steerage passage on the ark to our quarters on the "San Jack." She was an old Mallory Line fruit boat, equipped to accommodate perhaps one hundred passengers; in this ease she disaccommodated about thirteen hundred. Ten ambulance sections were aboard; the rest of the contingent were engineers and regular army troops, who looked upon us with a contempt which we considered a bit incongruous, since they were destined for the hazardous duties of M. P. work in Paris, Bordeaux, etc. We bunked in layers of three below the water line. Our only consolation was that in case of being torpedoed we wouldn't have so far to sink as if we'd been in the part of the ship usually inhabited by human beings.
The dining-room harmonized perfectly with the sleeping quarters. We entered by a ladderlike stairway from the deck, and attempted to enter by every other possible orifice, but were usually stopped by the guards. Only about one fourth of the ship's company could crowd into the messroom at the same time, though this fact required daily proof by experiment. Once in, it was every man for himself, and devil take the hindmost. The service was of the catch-as-catch-can variety. Frequently a pleasing diversion was created by the irruption of a species of tidal wave that came from nobody knew where, but which was of sufficient volume to disturb us landlubbers, let alone floating the tables away. Barring an occasional burnt offering (result of ill-timed beauty sleeps on the part of the cooks) or the periodical plague of tripe, the food was better than its environment.
At nine o'clock on the evening of the seventh we steamed out of harbor, with no lights showing. Four ships beside the San Jacinto composed the convoy---the Henderson, the Finland, the Antilles and the Lenape. A battleship and two mean-looking destroyers formed our escort. The weather throughout the entire voyage was beautiful, and the sea, except for one day, calm as a pond. A submarine watch was strictly maintained, and "abandon-ship" drill faithfully practiced. The intervals between drills and meals were beguiled by reading, argument and that great American help in time of ennui, poker. We performed all these diversions squatted on the hard decks, yet no one ever complained of discomfort from too much sitting, for no one was allowed to remain in one place long enough to run this risk. "You can't stay there!" became the watchword on board; doubtless it would have been yelled at us had we sought refuge in the free blue sea.
But whatever the cares and irritations of the day, the evenings brought solace to all---solace, and perhaps just a touch of homesickness. Night after night we gathered on the promenade deck, as though by tacit agreement. It was the hour when the danger from submarines increased, as the evening shadows crept over the sea. But very few of us spoke seriously of that. Our eyes were upon the fleecy shapes of the western horizon, and our thoughts winging far beyond those sun-shot clouds to the homeland we loved, and to the dear ones we were leaving, perhaps forever. Careless words were hushed, voices became low---no longer the chatter of boys, but the deeper communion of men born to the same heritage of a glorious motherland, and destined to the same fate of life or death. America, father, mother, brother, sister, sweetheart---yes, and the unknown Future---all these spoke to us in the silences, and sealed our comradeship the firmer. The loves and fears and hopes and joys of the days gone by pressed through the gates of memory to abide with us in that sunset hour, offering us faithful guerdon against the hard days to come. Night after night, as the crimson sun sank lower, we watched that falling glory over the sea, half believing it God's special benediction upon our great land of the West. Then, when shadows of waves had ceased to dance among the waves, and phosphorescent darts began to streak the waters, would come the call to quarters. And so our days ended.
We had one great disappointment during the voyage, and one great triumph. The disappointment was a section affair; the triumph concerned the entire convoy. Each unit had---or thought it had---a chest of chocolate, crackers and tobacco stowed away for use when the craving for sweets became intolerable. When that moment arrived Section 85 sought its chest in vain. We could explain the loss only upon the supposition that somebody had forgotten the difference between mine and thine---or our'n and their'n. Into the depths of our woe Section 86 brought balm by offering to share their box with us. Only one who has cried for chocolate and been offered a tripe sandwich can appreciate such generosity.
Our triumph was the submarine battle. On the seventeenth we were met in the midst of the danger zone by six American destroyers, while our other escort turned back. The closest patrol was demanded, for the situation was perilous. The San Jacinto became the flagship, and top speed was maintained. The gunners were petting their glistening charges, keen for a chance at the Boche. On the nineteenth one of the destroyers spotted a sub and dropped a mine, but the German made away. It was from eight o'clock till ten on the morning of the twentieth that things happened. The convoy ran into a nest of U-boats within sight of the coast of Belle Isle. The alarm sounded, the San Jack, the Henderson, the Finland, the Antilles, and the Lenape scattered with miraculous suddenness,---and the fight was on. With the little destroyers darting about like terriers chasing rats, the guns began booming, the mines dropping, the torpedoes coming---and from our various places on deck or at the boats we began to pray, now and then interlarding a word of encouragement to the defenders, such as "Atta-boy Give 'em hell!"---then returning to our prayers. To make short a story that might have been even shorter, the subs failed to hit us, though they missed by only a dozen feet; on the other hand, the destroyers accounted for two U-boats. No one who was on the San Jack will ever forget the moment when the depth bomb exploded just behind the stern, and the captain, thinking we were hit, gave orders to drop the boats. During the battle, French aeroplanes had come out to see the fun, and they soared low, their pilots waving a welcome to the Yanks. By evening we were safe in port at St. Nazaire, and by seven the next morning disembarked and on the march to camp, two miles from town.
The Breton seaport that was to be our first French home is a city of some thirty-five thousand inhabitants. It has the mingled bustle and shabbiness characteristic of seaports, though the broad avenue along the harbor passage, from which one can watch the tiny fishing boats with their pastel-tinted sails, goes far to redeem the ugliness of the downtown districts. At this time the old place was quickening to a new life with the arrival of troops from America. As their numbers grew the United States government came more and more into control, and ultimately took over the civic management.
For the first three weeks the camp routine was similar to that at Allentown, with the addition of French lessons and long hikes into the Breton country. We became thoroughly familiar with the "shining roads of France," with the hedges and little thatch-roofed chaumières, the wayside shrines, the hospitable buvettes that marked the crossroads, and the blackberry lanes through which we wandered, eating that forbidden fruit. During these various jaunts Lieutenant Wharton, with commendable originality, taught us several military paces previously unknown to the drill-manual, such as "To the rear---Halt!" "Left side-step---March !" or "Cadence." At this last command we were to substitute a thunderous elephantine plod for our ordinary lightsome trip, the better to let the countryside know we were coming. Another favorite exercise of our esteemed commander, who by this time had acquired the dainty appellation of "Myrtle," was to conduct drill in the midst of sleet-storms which drove even the Marines, who are supposed to be amphibious, to the shelter of their barracks.
But in spite of these vigorous measures the Section suffered very little from sickness, and none of our cases were due to exposure. Weber underwent an operation for appendicitis, while Sergeant Peters and Clifford also spent some time in the hospital, the former from an attack of malaria, the latter from an injured back acquired in lifting a recalcitrant Ford. As at Allentown the ambulance sections were well cared for by Major Hall and Captain Whitney, acting under the general command of Col. Percy L. Jones, present head of the service.
About September 8 drill was replaced by detail of unloading ship and shifting cargo. Since there were not enough of the rolling teakettles that the French use for switch engines, we were called upon as a substitute to shunt freight about the yards. In this work we were aided and abetted by negroes, Boche prisoners and an occasional jackass which had been attracted by a community of interests. Not only did we unload legions of crated Fords, but having carted the dismembered flivvers to a broad beach near the camp, we set them up, putting body and chassis together as best we knew how. All the sections had a hand in this task. Most of us were dilettante workmen at best, and only the comprehensive knowledge and martyrlike patience of our mechanics, Beecher and Marcellus, kept the slate of mistakes clean for Section 85. But in spite of difficulties the Fords rapidly took definite form, and by September 29, when we left St. Nazaire, there were enough ready to equip the entire contingent then in camp.
In the meantime one important change had taken place in the Section. On September 15 Lieutenant Wharton was replaced by Lieut. John R. Abbot, formerly of a Harvard unit, and an old Field Service man who had served his apprenticeship at Verdun. He commands us today, and to his knowledge of the game and his inspiring leadership we owe, in great part, a record of which we can speak with pride.
On the sixteenth the Section was officially attached to the French Army, and identification cards and pictures issued. We began to look forward to an early departure from St. Nazaire. Our days there had been at times a bit laborious, yet we could reckon up many a play-hour as well. We'd met Harvard in baseball and had been beaten, had met Bucknell and had won: had enjoyed nocturnal pie-feasts furnished by Harper & Crane, successors to Perkins & Shepard; had "done" the city and had been done by its publicans; had explored the neighboring seaside resorts---notably La Boule, where a martial phalanx of twelve from the Section received a stirring ovation---and before an admiring congregation we had swum in the sea, clad as Adam was before the fall.
Yet all this was unsatisfying. We knew that along the Front the guns were roaring; at Inverness and Zonnebeke the British had finished the battle of Flanders and were shelling Ostend; the Germans were bombing London; and the great Frenchman, Guynemer, had met his death. Each man of us was feeling the thrill of adventure, the impulse to action and, according to his lights, the insistent call of our common purpose. So we welcomed the day of departure, September 29, when with Sections 25, 39 and 92 we set out in convoy. Each unit had twenty-five ambulances, two touring cars, a camionette and a Packard truck. The route led through Angers, where we spent the first night; Nogent, where we were billeted the second; on by way of Chartres and Versailles to Sandricourt, the Base Camp. Over smooth white roads we sped in the autumn sunshine, past tiny hillside hamlets and old, gray-walled châteaux, through little villages that had paid the heavy human toll of war, on by France's peerless cathedral, and the fabled gardens of Le Petit Trianon. The Red Cross fluttered from every car, and though it is hard to imagine crusaders in flivvers, at moments we felt a fleeting sense of the true significance of our mission of mercy. Once especially we were made sure that we had chosen aright, when, in one of the little villages, an old, old lady, who was weeping, waved a feeble hand as we passed, and sobbed, "God bless you---God bless you!"
None of us swooned with joy at the sight of the Base Camp. We'd heard whispers of a château, and in those green days of ours had not learned what a multitude of architectural sins the term may cover. This particular château was a drafty old farmhouse of whitewashed stone, built about a cobblestone courtyard. Here we lived for the week spent at Sandricourt, during which time we met for the first time our friend of these latter days, "Pinard---le vrai sang de la terre"; we performed tree-chopping details, fence-building details, dirt-hauling details---all the tasks, in short, that help along the pacifist cause. On October 3 we lost three men temporarily, Larrabee, Houlihan and Van Doren, who were sent on detached service to Section 64. We were further alarmed by an order reducing the Section in number to thirty-five---an order which happily was rescinded before our departure.
Sandricourt was a singularly depressing place, and even now, seen in retrospect, arouses little enthusiasm. In the chill gray mornings we performed the setting-up exercises, through the dull mid-hours of the day dragged the wearisome details to completion, and as the cold evening winds whistled about the courtyard, we stood at retreat, glad of the day's end. At this last ceremony the enrollment was frequently increased by a delegation of homeless dogs, who saw fit to mingle their despairing howls with the mournful notes of the bugles that rose and fell and quavered into silence among the encircling hills.
But our discontent was as much due to our attitude of mind as to the uninspiring surroundings. We had left St. Nazaire eager for life at the Front. Thus to be stopped in mid-flight was a bitter disappointment. We had spent the long weeks since enlistment in preparation, had finally been given a place with the French Army, but so far had seen nothing of our Division. However, this consummation, so devoutly wished, finally arrived. On October 8 the Section left Sandricourt, leaving the Fords behind, and after a tiresome journey by train through Paris to Bar-le-Duc, by camion from Bar-le-Duc to Génicourt, we found ourselves part and parcel of the 165th French Division.
On a steep hill in a bend of the Meuse rises the citadel of the martyr-city of Verdun---martyr, but victor as well, for beyond its blood-hallowed battlements, except as prisoner, the Hun has never passed. The direst fighting of the most brutal of wars took place before the stronghold of this old Roman city, famous for sugarplums and jams, sparking liqueurs and curious wood-carving The glory of other battles is shared by the Allies; the glory of Verdun belongs to one nation alone. During those three hundred days from February to December of 1916 the white warrior-soul of France again justified its immortality, as it had so often in the high days of old. And the Crown Prince, having sent seven hundred thousand of his choicest men to a fruitless death, drew back defeated.
For many kilometres round, the desolation of Verdun has spread. But so has its heroism. That is why in the autumn of 1917 one could see feeble old men and white-haired women, with awful, tragic faces, puttering about the pitiful ruins of their homes, determined to hold to the unity of their existence long after all who were young had gone. Come want and danger and bitter loneliness, no matter; their place was by the doorstep they had built and from which their children had gone forth, and by it would they stay, though only a shattered wall remained to cherish.
Such sights we saw in many a ruined village among the grim, brown hills that stretch southward from Verdun. It was our first glimpse of the war zone. But the deepest effects remained for a time subconscious, for we piled out of the camions at Génicourt, cold, hungry and sleepy. An excellent breakfast was furnished us by Section 63 of the Field Service, which Section we were relieving. The quarters were in a barn built after the fashion of Gunga Dhin's pants---"not much before, and rather less than half o' that behind." Instead of Fords to drive we found Fiats, and instead of dodging shells for pastime we fought rats for our existence. Génicourt lies some ten kilometres south of Verdun; cars were sent on duty to several posts---Rupt, Mouilly, La Cloche, etc. The sector remained quiet, though to the north of us the artillery was active, and by night we could see the gun flashes and star shells. We had no time to become familiar with the roads, for on the twelfth the Division went en repos, and we with them. In a cold, driving rain our convoy passed Bar-le-Duc, Ligny and Vaucouleurs, reaching the destination, Amanty, about dusk.
Scarcely a 'scutcheon, even the fairest, is without its tiny blot. Section 85 is firmly convinced that Amanty was such a blemish, a plague-spot on the fair expanse of Lorraine. Génicourt had been a bit short on comfort, but Amanty set an absolutely new low record in elegance. Our cars in a barnyard, ourselves in a loft, whither we had climbed by ladders and poles and whence we doubted ever to descend; Stygian darkness and ankle-deep mud, the hardtack of hardship and the coffee of calamity, bodily cold of the Arctic and linguistic heat of the tropics, with the army pawn's helplessness crowning all---such was our first night at Amanty. By day things were worse, for things were visible.
During the short stay at this delightful spot some eight men were appointed first-class privates, another such appointment having been made at St. Nazaire. The rest remained first-class philosophers with no boost in pay. All our philosophy was needed the night of the fifteenth, when a call came requiring the evacuation of nearly two hundred patients from the station at Vaucouleurs to the hospitals. The task was completed at eight-thirty in the morning---at ten the Section moved a few kilometres north to Burey-en-Vaux, where we took up quarters in another château similar to the one at Amanty. Posts were established at St. Germain, Goussaincourt and Maxey-sur-Vaise; the evacuation of sick and wounded was to Toul.
During the hours of leisure, which were plentiful, Shepard conducted devout pilgrimages to Domremy, the birthplace of Jeanne d'Arc, and delivered lectures rebuking the more benighted of us for levity in regard to sacred matters. Balmer began a collection of French drinking songs, but went to the hospital with a high fever before its completion---no case of cause and effect was proven. Weber replaced Campbell as bugler, and bugled not wisely but well enough. Crane and Harper, whose kitchen was in happy proximity to the dwelling place of two village goddesses, Jeanne and Marie, caught the gleam of bright eyes through the smoky murk of their inferno, and turned out viands made ambrosial by Devotion's own hands. The rest of us spent a less idyllic existence, shoveling mud.
Domremy and the old house of La Pucelle have their place in our memory, along with Vaucouleurs, where in 1429 Jeanne d'Arc was given her sword, and where in 1917 two less martial but no less comely maids dispensed knickknacks and smiles across the counters of the "Grand Bazar." But the best place we found in all that pleasant land was the poste at Maxey-sur-Vaise, in the cottage of Madame Viard and her granddaughter Marguerite. Madame Viard was a tiny old lady, who must have already lived lifetimes but showed no signs of stopping. Hers was the heart of a child and she had a young girl's strength. Many a miss of twenty would do penance to secure roses like those in Madame's cheeks, or to cultivate a vivacity half so successful as Grand'mère's spontaneous gayety.
Jean Acker, clerk to the Médecin Divisionnaire, Savreux, a little cyclist, and four of us from the Section were constant boarders at the Viard cottage. Acker was six feet two, broad as a door, strong as four men and gentle as one real woman. Savreux, who was. barely five feet tall, sought compensation for his smallness in a tremendous moustache, while his big friend could boast only a hirsute shadow.
Grand'mère Viard mothered us all, calling us her "pauvres grands," making us tarts, brewing us tea, and when the day was done, tucking us in bed with a touch like only one other on earth. She joined with zest in all the chinoiserie that took place beneath her humble roof. Few sights are funnier than was that of Grand'mère hopping about in a mad jig to the lilt of Acker's violin; few sights more touching than that of Grand'mère kneeling by the hearth, and with the old-fashioned bellows fanning the embers to a blaze, for the warmth and comfort of four husky soldiers of the Old World and the New. Little and gray and wrinkled, but indomitable, she symbolized the unconquerable will of millions of her sex, who for years and decades and ages have kept the hearthstones warm for the sake of the sons of France, for France herself---for more than France.
Though possessed of great patience, and a humor almost Rabelaisian in breadth, Grand'mère could recognize moments when her honor demanded instant battle. One such moment occurred on an otherwise quiet Sunday, when a violent private brawl broke out between Madame and her granddaughter Marguerite, over the difficult question of the division of labor. It was no mere battle of words; things hard and deadly filled the air, but Grand'mère had the better aim, and at the end of the skirmish held the field in triumph, still challenging and implacable, while Marguerite was carried out. Our sympathy is with the fallen everywhere, but our salutes are all to you, Grand'mère Viard---so little, but so mighty!
During our three weeks' repos we came to love the Jeanne d'Arc country. Round the barracks we had plenty of mud, but we had beauty among the hills and along the noble sweep of the valleys, with the mist from the Meuse dimming harsh contours to a gracious harmony. The autumn was brilliant, seeming not the death of summer, but its consummation; color in the trees and more than summer's vigor in the air; no decadence, but a flowering to hardy life. In the evenings, as the sinking sun kindled its halo over the hills, one could hear the church bells of many little villages tolling with a soft persuasiveness, and the lingering music of the shepherd's call, full of a perennial sadness and resignation, born with the birth of time. The white smoke spirals rising seemed incense from peaceful altars, until, listening intently, one heard through the stillness a rumbling, faint and far, but ominous and ugly---the guns. And instantly the little columns of smoke became supplications to the quiet sky, mute prayers for surcease of strife. How often we asked ourselves the question, When will these prayers find answer?
On November 3 the Section left Burey, passing by Toul and Nancy to Custines. Most descriptions of cantonments at this season begin with mud, and many need go little further. "Mud" just about suffices to complete the picture of Custines---mud, and some 1100 inhabitants wading about in it, intent upon their various tasks of butcher, baker and candlestick maker, regardless of the menace of Boche trenches a few kilometres away. The sector was quiet, though every clear night German planes glided over the town to bomb the iron works at Pompey, two miles distant. They got a warm reception from the anti-aircraft batteries hidden among the hills, but during our stay at Custines never deigned to waste a bomb on such small fry---a conservatism for which we were duly grateful. We had learned a lesson soon after our arrival. A daylight engagement between Boche and French planes took place directly above the quarters, during which encounter Section 85 signalized its contempt alike for danger and the law of gravitation by standing in the open, heads tilted back, eyes and mouths open, like so many baby robins waiting to be fed. There was a conspicuous absence of Frenchmen in the vicinity, but we took little heed of its significance until a sizable chunk of éclat from a French anti-aircraft shell thudded into the ground a yard from Voorhees, reminding us that what goes up, even though with the best intentions, must come down.
Though the repos of the Division had ended with the departure from Burey, there was no increased activity in the new sector where the men held the lines. The approach of winter discouraged offensive tactics in Boche and French alike. Consequently we had few blessés to carry. No postes were established, but two ears were constantly on call at quarters. Time hung heavy on our hands; many of the Section took to their beds with colds or grippe, and only the unconquerable humor of the men and the wise direction of our leaders kept the morale from suffering a relapse. The weather was cheerless---day after day of cold drizzle, until we were tempted to doubt the promise of the rainbow. Meanwhile the news from other fronts was none too reassuring. At Passchendaele and Cambrai the British had advanced a bit, and in the Far East had taken Gaza, Askalon and Jaffa, while the French were beyond the Chemin des Dames. But on the other hand the Italian disaster showed itself more and more sinister, as the Germans and Austrians, after capturing Asiago, crossed the Piave, on their march to Venice. In Russia, Kerensky's government had fallen before the Maximalists.
All these things we read in French papers bought at the divisional "Co-op." The poilus, when discussing the news, looked glum, professed doubt that the war would ever end, and betook themselves and us to their Pinard-inspired arguments in the dingy little cafés.
But there were rifts in the gloom. American mail, especially parcels, had found the way to us. Cigarettes and chocolate proved very material aids against depression, though of doubtful curative value to our invalids. On the few decent days we staged football games, until Larkin came to grief with a broken ankle that necessitated evacuation to the hospital at Nancy. Then, shortly before our departure, into our dignified existence flashed "Loulou," like an imp of the perverse, with her startling good looks, and her laissez-faire morals. She was the daughter of the landlady, and proved herself the champion blagueuse in a land of blague. Upon hearing the Section sing that lovely ballad, "My Girl's a Lulu!" she had instantly taken the name to herself, the sentiment to heart, and lost no opportunity in justifying her claim to both. She held court in our sleeping quarters, taking in cigarettes and chocolate, and handing out jokes and kisses with delightful impartiality. Loulou played no favorites, though several of us---nameless here forever more---were ready to act the part. Her mother and her small brothers and sisters were present at these soirées. It was a touching sight to watch the little ones valiantly striving, under the tutelage of Cook Harper, to master the words and spirit of another chaste old song, "Colombo."
On November 23 a sudden order came, detaching us from our Division and sending us back to Sandricourt. In supreme disgust the Section left Custines, en route for Nancy, where we gave up the Fiats, completing the trip to Sandricourt by train. It was during this journey that we staged our famous parade through Paris from the Gare de l'Est to the Gare du Nord. This war has seen many heterogeneous armies, but it is safe to say that, for piebald and addled accoutrement, it never saw our equal. Having left the cars at Nancy, we had no fit method of carrying the extra baggage acquired while at Custines. So we wore all we could and lugged the rest. No two men were dressed alike. Underneath we may have been "regulation," but nearly everyone wore so many extra costumes, and toted so much additional impedimenta that the modest O. D. was quite obliterated. Felt boots, aviators' helmets, black overcoats, Canadian jackets, gloves and mittens of all sorts, varicolored earmuffs, etc., are only a few of the disguises we affected. We carried, in addition to our regulation haversacks, boxes and parcels of all sizes, souvenir guns and sabres, wicker market-baskets and wooden chests, loaves of bread and bags of cookies. To make the farce complete, Beecher, leading the procession, bore an immense American flag---indeed, we needed national identification. Benjamin Franklin, with the buns under his arm, never looked funnier to the eyes of his future sweetheart than we must have appeared that day to the sophisticated gaze of Paris. In any other city of the world we'd have been unmercifully hooted: courteous Paris doffed its cap to the flag and shouted, "Vive l'Amérique!"
We found Sandricourt as cheerless as before. Our gloom was deepened by the necessity, which had once before threatened, of reducing the number in the Section. It was a bitter duty for Lieutenant Abbot and Sergeant Johnstone to perform, though rendered easier by the unselfish attitude of the men ultimately chosen---Shepard, Balmer, Thorpe, Durant, Lynch, Core, Holbrook and Sjöstrom. We have never ceased to mourn the loss of these messmates of ours, though each of them has since filled a worthy place and done his part as though there had been no separation. Two have found their way back to us---Lynch and Sjöstrom.
We had been ordered to Sandricourt to get Fords, the Fiats proving unwieldy and expensive. The flivvers at the Base Camp were in fearful condition, but after a day's work we had twenty that would run. With these, a motorcycle and a kitchen trailer---since come to be known as the Ark of the Covenant---we set out in convoy for Nancy. The route led by way of Ecouen, across the Marne, past the Meaux Cathedral, and through the famous battlefield to Sezanne, where we spent the second night in a loft. At noon of the third day---Thanksgiving---we were looking for an appropriate dinner at Vitry-le-François; by night we were doing the same at Void. The entire convoy pulled into town at the heels of the staff car containing Lieutenant Jamon, our French officer, who worked sometimes in cooperation, sometimes in conflict, with Lieutenant Abbot. Upon this occasion Jamon supposed he had gone ahead to find us quarters, until, looking back, to his amazement he found the whole convoy with him. The Fords were such a relief from the heavy Fiats that we'd forgotten the prescribed speed limit. However, our luck in convoys has always been that of the predestined---and by noon of the next day the Section was safely installed in a caserne at Nancy.
We were now in the unenviable position of a Section without a Division. Such sections are liable at all times to base-hospital evacuation work, the line of duty most dreaded by the true ambulancier. Happily the suspense ended after three weeks, when we became part of the 128th Division---Les Loups du Bois le Prêtre.
In the meantime the interlude of three weeks at Nancy served to bring us again in touch with the amenities of civilization---comfortable baths, cafés with table linen and silver, theatres, well-stocked stores and smartly dressed civilians. Though the Huns' air raids had instilled caution among the inhabitants, here as in Paris, they could not inspire fear. Behind darkened windows the night life of the city "carried on." When the Boche came over people quietly retired to caves to await his passing; there was no panic, no confusion.
Our quarters were in a large caserne, which before the war had been used as a military school. Here at least we escaped the plague of mud, but had to fight cold and snow. Yet these were minor hardships, for we had no driving to do. An exception to this happy rule was Borden, whose luckless fate it was to provide ravitaillement. Mess sergeants are martyrs even in the hours of balmy springtide; in the bitter winter their sufferings must remain untold.
Housed in the same building with us were about eighty "territorials," Frenchmen whose fighting days were over, but who were kept in mobilization, dragging out the weeks until their time of release. These poor old boys cast many a wistful look at our warm clothes and plentiful food, and seemed to wither perceptibly into old age in the presence of our vigorous youth. As they shuffled in to their meal of bread, carrots and Pinard, one was reminded of Tennyson's lines---
Trooping from their mouldy dens
The chap-fallen circle spreads.
Yet these tattered veterans had the spirit of Mars in their eyes and France's own pride of heart. We have met many like them since, and our pity has risen to reverence.
Though far from the trenches we became involved in one skirmish which might have afforded employment for our idle ambulances. Not far from the quarters was a café, known among the Section as "The Bucket of Blood,"---a favorite haunt of Apaches, a true "low dive" of the movies, with its attendant spirits, male and female, old and young. It was the custom of some of our members, when cloyed with the glitter of the elegant Café Lorraine, to average up their impressions by a glance into the Bucket of Blood. One night a particularly low-browed genius of the place was asserting his right to Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité by cracking beer bottles over neighboring heads. Through the impartiality of the donor, a French friend of ours received a share of this attention and "passed out cold." The party ended for that night. The next evening a strange delegation might have been seen wending its way to the Bucket of Blood. It was led by Gil Marcellus and was Franco-American in makeup---a chosen band of avengers, composed of the most likely looking "hard men" to be found about the caserne. All were armed, but no two alike. Since it was uncertain just what operations might have to he performed, instruments were provided for all exigencies---clubs, short crowbars, chisels and Stillson wrenches predominating. But a disappointment awaited the band like unto Alexander's upon his finding no more worlds to conquer---the Bucket was empty, and remained so the entire evening, save for two octogenarian cripples already too far gone to need hastening. So vanish the hopes of the world!
While at Nancy we received the order changing the Section number from 85 to 585. This was consequent upon a scheme of notation installed in the A. E. F. by which different branches of the service were given different numeral series, the ambulance serial beginning with 500.
On December 4 Sergeant Johnstone left us, to attend the Automobile School at Meaux, Sergeant Peters filling his place. When "Johnny" went we lost a beloved comrade and masterful leader; when "Pete" took charge we gained a worthy successor.
On the fifth the wanderers, Houlihan, Larrabee and Van Doren, returned to the fold, having finished their detached service. And on the same day our first permissionnaires, Bradley and Beecher, left for Biarritz.
December 21 we began to receive the false reports that usually preceded departure. Hints of destinations all the way from the Vosges to Verdun kept us guessing, until on the twenty-third the true order came, shunting us to Baccarat.
With the arrival in Baccarat one phase of our army life may be said to have ended. Theoretically the period of training closed at Génicourt, but in fact the ten weeks ensuing were little more than a proving time for the lessons learned. Many of those lessons stood the test, some did not. For example, the stretcher drill, good enough on parade, went by the board when wounded men were waiting; the speed and traffic rules of convoys, once devoutly believed in, proved dead letters in practice; the army dictum concerning daily baths became a hissing and a byword when tried out at the Front. With experience came a sort of affectionate contempt for much that was "regulation" in matters of detail. This proved the easier for us because we were a small unit, out of close touch with the A. E. F. Headquarters and largely self-governing, subject of course to the French authority under which we worked. This authority was represented in the Section by Lieutenant Jamon, who served as liaison officer, transmitting the "ordres de mouvement," keeping tab on the gasoline consumption, and in cooperation with Lieutenant Abbot regulating choice of route and quarters when in convoy. Besides Jamon the French personnel included a "fourrier" or "maréchal des logis," acting in the capacity of clerk and general utility man, two mechanics, a cook and a driver for the French staff car. This personnel varied at different times in number as in quality. At Baccarat the two mechanics, "Jimmy" and L'Antoine, left us, as did Proal, a fine young chap from Nice, who shared with Borden the tortures of the ravitaillement job. Here we lost the picturesque Martinet, but gained Rouger, whose tact and understanding, as well as his command of languages, have smoothed many a rocky road. In place of Proal we acquired Emery, late of the Café Martin, New York, and master of culinary arts as well as past master of blandishment. Back at Burey, Edouard, a genial Apache acting as cook, had been replaced by Mathe, who looks and talks like Moses gone to seed, and cooks like Sitting Bull. With Mathe came Richard, docile slave to Jamon, hope and terror of women and high priest of Pinard. "Our Frenchmen"---we think of them as peculiarly ours---have been our faithful friends and boon companions through thick and thin.
As stated above, the weeks preceding Baccarat served to sift the unessential chaff from the meaty grain of service. A few simple principles were found to compose all that was demanded for the smooth working of the system. Most fundamental of all---the wounded must come in: difficulties and even impossibilities in the way form no excuse for failure. The impossible can be accomplished where men's lives are at stake. Each driver understood this; his conscience and his honor were his commanders. In this respect the ambulance man's part was a harder one to play than that of combatant. In going over the top each man helps sustain the others, and from the excitement of concerted action is born a group-courage. There can be no turning back. This is not true of the ambulance driver. When things are darkest he must go alone with his wounded; there is no room for an orderly. His is the lone trail and the slow trail. For no matter how close the shells drop or how thick the gas, he dare not hurry; speed over bumpy roads means hemorrhage and death to the helpless men in his charge. When the gas comes he must first adjust their masks, then think of himself. But it is his own soul that says must. If he chooses to shirk, there is no one to hinder; and if he himself falls, there is no one to help. It is the unshrinking acceptance of this high ideal of service, not only in our own Section, but in all sections, that has made the S. S. U. name a proud one.
Baccarat was our first permanent home. The quarters were in a roomy building adjoining the "Cristallerie," though we spent the first week in the "Caserne Haxo," one place where the mercury of the Centigrade ducked lower than at Nancy. Many people in the States have souvenirs of the Cristallerie, but few know it. A Colgate bottle sees its beginning in this glass mill of the Vosges, as do many other articles of glassware.
The town has some seven thousand inhabitants. When we arrived the American soldier was still a rara avis in those parts, though another S. S. U. section had preceded us there in time and somewhat exceeded us in cochonnerie. However, at the end of a week or so we were looked upon as semi-respectable and treated accordingly. The Hôtel Du Pont opened hospitable but golden-keyed doors to us, as did the Hôtel de la Gare, where lived Mademoiselle Yvonne and her beautiful little sister Simone. Among other haunts of conviviality should be mentioned the Café de la Meurthe, throne-room of the pale and slender Marguerite.
Part of the town had been destroyed by shells and fire, of both French and German origin, during the early part of the war. In the winter of 1917 the trenches swept in a wide semicircle some six to twelve kilometres from town. Our permanent postes were at Badonviller, Migneville and Montigny, but calls came from practically all advanced points along that sector of the lines---Neuviller, Ancerviller, St. Pole, St. Maurice, Pexonne, Bois le Compte, Village Nègre, etc. All through that winter our little Fords rolled back and forth over the snowy roads, more often with sick men than with wounded. The shelling was intermittent, though certain spots got more than their share.
Such a place was the house of Madame Thomas at Badonviller. The town itself was only a few hundred yards from the trenches. Practically all the civilians, save Madame and her daughter Alixe, had abandoned the ruins of their homes long before we came to Baccarat. Badonviller was one of the unfortunate villages that had suffered from the cruelty and lust of the Huns in their first dash towards Nancy. Many of the houses were mere stone shells, without roofs and pierced by great jagged holes. The Thomas house retained two or three comfortable rooms, and Madame and Alixe, with their wise old dog Michel, refused to give it up. The Section established its poste in the house, brought out the phonograph, and prepared to face the strafing of Fritz as best they could. Night after night the shrapnel cracked and rattled over the town and hummed across the doorstep, as the two brave French women and four Americans made merry with the music of opera and "rag." Often the gas alarm sounded, and to the accompaniment of the shells that plopped with a treacherous silken softness, the vapor of death crept through the town. Masks were clapped on and the concert continued. Pretty Alixe enjoyed the excitement and had no wish to retreat. Madame Thomas simply said, "All this has happened before," and sleepy old Michel, who seemed to be gas-proof, took not the slightest notice, but drowsed on, dreaming doubtless of the coming of peace, when he could eat his reserve rations of buried bones without fear for the morrow. Several times it was thought that the Germans had broken through and were in the town. Alixe dressed herself in her finest, to flaunt the conquerors; Madame went steadily about her household work, and we tuned up the Fords, though our code would have prevented flight. But at such times the "Wolves" never yielded the last ditch. Many of them came back to us mangled and bleeding, but always brave, always smiling at the prospect of a jaunt back to the hospital in one of the "petites voitures."
At Migneville and Montigny there was less activity than at Badonviller during the greater part of the winter. In the evenings the Germans usually fired a few good-night shells in the general direction of the postes, but rarely did much damage. And the saucy little "soixante-quinze"---the finest gun in the world---barked back its derision and defiance. In the long evenings, when calls were few, those of us who were on duty wrote legions of letters, read everything we could find, and jabbered with the Frenchmen in approved Franco-American, a lingo which is absolutely untrammeled by grammar. A conversation usually begins:
"Dis donc mon vieux---as-tu ton quart?"
"Oui---donnez-moi a little Pinard."
"Bon! Well, à votre health!"
"A la vôtre!"---etc.
In one respect the Montigny poste was unique, though Migneville ran it a close second. This was in the possession of probably the most expert group of soup-garglers in the French Army. Grizzled, bearded, tough old brancardiers who believed in directness in all things and à bas ceremony, they splashed, inhaled and siphoned down their liquid ration with a concert of fortissime wheezing that fairly drowned the thunder of the guns. There were usually about a dozen of these human sponges seated at a large table, bent upon annihilating a huge boiler of beef bouillon. Each veteran had his own technique and applied it with deadly effect. Though tradition had taught us that in all dealings with soup, silence is especially golden, we soon learned respect for war-time exceptions to the rule. If we hadn't we'd have gone soupless to the afternoon's work.
Just as life on poste gave us a better understanding of the French soldier, life in the town of Baccarat helped us to appreciate the customs and manners of the civilians. We learned the ways of the shopkeepers and adopted the little amenities that at first sight seem so amusing and soon become so agreeable. Upon entering the shop, one greets not only the "patron" but all the customers, as though he were genuinely glad to see them ahead of him in turn. No matter how small the purchase, the deal can carry quite a ballast of persiflage along with it. The banter usually centered upon the prices of commodities and the richness of Americans, but this is immaterial. It may be apropos of nothing. And when one has finished, he bids all a hearty, ceremonious farewell, though he may intend to return within the hour.
The first formal coup de main took place January 15. It was only a small affair, put on by the French to get prisoners for purposes of information. But for the first time we were told of the plans beforehand, and so came to realize with what a cool calculation the terrible work was done. The barrage began at 2 p.m. At four the Wolves went over the top, and by six o'clock the wounded began to come in. Every ambulance in the Section, the Packard truck and even the motorcycle sidecar were hard at work until two in the morning---Boche and French, we carted them in. The night was black and rainy, but the Section came through with no serious mishaps, though the Packard rested in the ditch till the next day. The poilus had bagged about forty "fritzes" who were exhibited to the townspeople in the courthouse yard.
About this time "Johnny"---now Lieutenant Johnstone---came to bid us farewell before taking over another section. In his place came Howard Potter, detailed to us from the Base Camp.
Late in February the Americans came---and with them came trouble. It was the Rainbow Division that took over a part of the sector and, aided by the Frenchmen of our own Division, staged coups de main and maintained constant artillery activity. They were a fine, clean-cut set of Yankees, very eager to get a chance at the Germans, but patently new to the game. As soon as Fritz began to feel the wrath of American guns, he replied in kind, specializing on the roads---and our "bon petit secteur" was no more. The route to Montigny and Migneville became a gamut of fire, and the Badonviller stretch a death-trap. In short order we found our duties multiplied, for we took care of both French and American wounded. We had many chances to compare the pluck of our own boys with the grit of the poilus, only to find neither had the advantage. Take one example. An American boy, terribly wounded, lay in the ambulance, when a Frenchman was pushed in beside him. The poilu's head was a grotesque white knob of bandages, only his mouth being free. The Yankee was shot in the stomach, and was slowly bleeding to death. So they rested, side by side.
"Hello, Frenchy How the hell are you?" queried the Yank, in a voice meant to be hearty.
"Bonjour, mon vieux! Ça va?" came from the bandages, cheerily as might be. There you have it.
Casualties among the Americans were numerous, and often due to rashness and inexperience. It was with mingled emotions that we watched developments---pride in the splendid spirit and dash of our countrymen, sorrow at seeing so many fall. We had thought ourselves hardened to suffering, but a new element had entered here. These were our own brothers we were bringing back; every groan or cry wrung from them might later find echo on our own lips. Often we were possessed by a sense of unreality; could it be possible that these fellows, so familiar-looking, so homely in their talk, so like the men we'd known all our lives at home, were here in the trenches, killing and being killed? It is doubtful if the people in America ever came fully to realize the exact meaning of the expression, "Life is cheap in war time." To do so they would have to see warm, moving bodies turn in one sickening flash to still, red-mottled heaps, and to note that those same pitiful heaps make not the slightest difference in the great maelstrom.
Take a single instance, the case of a bright young fellow we saw and talked with at Village Nègre, in a dugout. Strong, capable hands, smooth brown skin tight drawn over firm jaws, a humorous twinkle in his eye and a whimsical curl of lip-corners: then like a flash came a variation of the picture---the same boy at home, guiding his plow through some lush lowland field, the same humor in his eyes and on his lips. Why in God's name is that young fellow here in France, crouching in a cave, so out of place in uniform and casque, yet looking so handsome too! All that he represents is ours as well. We know his fields, his streams, his woods, his little town---and we can feel the crisp tang of the autumn that ripens the apples in his orchard. Though he thinks he is concealing it, homesickness creeps into his voice and dims a little the glint of the honest eyes. So it was that Monday afternoon. Early the next morning, so early that the frost still lingered and the amber sun-rays were cold, we brought him in. One can't describe him. He was still alive, we thought, as we carried the dripping stretcher into the hospital. A single idea possessed us all---how clean and strong the night before, how shattered today! Above all, we remembered the clear, gray eye that twinkled so humorously till the hurt of homesickness softened the gleam.---And as we lifted the stretcher to put it back in place---this is literally true---we saw that eye again. It lay in the midst of a dark, red-clotted heap among the blankets.-A--n hour was required to clean that litter; a lifetime won't blot out the memory.
Many of the Section had close calls after the American guns had roused the sleeping Hun giant. One night as the phonograph was proclaiming that
|Cleopatra had a jazz-band
In her castle on the Nile ---
a portion of the Thomas house disappeared in the wake of a "big one" that had perforated the kitchen. The boys burrowed deeper, and the concert was resumed. At the sawmill, near St. Pole, a "seventy-seven" skimmed lovingly over the faces of Sergeant Peters and Ted Larrabee as they lay sleeping. The shell lodged in the wall, failing to explode. Before we left the Baccarat sector even the most skeptical of us believed in the angels.
It was at Pexonne that Van Doren began his series of Secret Service adventures. Upon several occasions Van had sauntered among the first line trenches with a sang froid and a deliberateness, as well as a pipe and cane, that drew respectful salutes from the American officers who considered him at least a colonel. But one day he supplemented his stroll by taking pictures of machine-gun positions, shell bursts, etc.---a practice ardently discouraged by American General Orders. For this extracurriculum activity he was apprehended as a German spy and relegated to the Pexonne guardhouse, where he languished in durance vile until proven neither guilty nor innocent, but irresponsible. This verdict guaranteed him a perfect candidate for K. P., in which rôle he performed miracles where miracles had never been seen before.
Throughout the winter rumors were rife of a big spring party all along the Front. Fritz would be the host, it was thought, and the Allies were preparing to attend in large numbers. As the affair was to be formal, nobody wanted to commit the gaucherie of appearing in careless garb.
We spent many an evening---some wet, some merely humid---in the café, passing prophecies back and forth through the tobacco smoke. Frequently the group became cosmopolitan, as upon one occasion when, besides the Frenchmen, among those present were two Britishers, who remained jovially in our midst until one succumbed to liquid fire and was ejected for behavior under the table unbecoming a Royal Engineer.
But however merry the discussions might appear, seriousness lurked behind every careless word. We all knew that great events were impending. At last, when the fragrant warmth of spring was touching the drab slopes of the Vosges, came news that the great battle had begun: the Germans, in overwhelming numbers, were smashing their bloody way towards Amiens. Our hopes were high; French reinforcements were rushing north; doubtless the Wolves would too. Then an order came. On April 1 we started for St. Clement---with one exception the dullest, most peaceful of our caravanserais.
The children of Israel had certain cities of refuge to which a man might flee after he had shuffled his neighbor off this mortal coil. Here he might avoid attention from the blood-avenger until the tribal gendarmes had a chance to stage his demise properly.
St. Clement and Bazien were cities of refuge for Section 585, though the places were no more cities than we were murderers. But here we found perfect sanctuary both from Hun shells and from Baccarat's cutthroat prices. Nothing happened at St. Clement except climate, while at Bazien the torpor of all things was so phenomenal as to be almost exciting. It was like the forbidding calm before a storm that never came.
To remind us that we were still alive, we were sent out where we stood a first-class chance of being killed---to postes at Domjevin, Benaménil and Herbéviller---but without sanguinary effect. Our real excitement occurred in quarters each evening as we heard the news from the Somme; how the Germans were scattering all before them in their advance upon Amiens and the Channel Ports upon which the vital supplies of the British Army depended. By this time the world recognized the German purpose---to cut the French from the British and so reach a decision before the American forces could play their full part.
None of us are bloodthirsty; furthermore we'd just come from a sector full of ever recurrent danger, where our escapes from death had often seemed miraculous. Yet at St. Clement we grew impatient, hoping the Wolves would be sent north to the great battle. Many other French divisions were going: at some points the German tide was being stemmed. Our confidence in the French was unbounded. The British were fighting with a desperate valor: no one could call for more devotion. But something, whether inherent in the situation or inborn in the men themselves, gave the balance of opposing power to the little poilu. Perhaps a word about this same poilu as he appears to us is not out of place here.
He is one of the greatest fighters in the world because one of the most spirituel---imaginative. He is not only pure nerve---he is courage-plus. The quality that makes him the world's best lover, the being most in love with life and best able to comprehend earthly existence, is the same quality that turns him to pure battle steel when the occasion calls. He does not affect a stoicism which is natural to the Britisher. He fights with abandon, joyously, and when he dies he simply drifts into oblivion in a sort of exaltation that differs only in degree, not in nature, from his battle fury.
We, with many others, were deceived by our first impressions. Often the poilu does not look the warrior. In his old, faded blue uniform, his nondescript leggins and his clumsy shoes he stands by his big brother from the West, little and humble, quietly watching. But when he begins to fight the revelation comes. And God help the foe in his path when the poilu goes over the top!
His courtesy is not a matter of habit, it is an instinct. Nothing ever makes him forget to do the beautiful thing. No matter how shell-torn he may be, he cannot be driven from the zone of death until he has shaken hands with "mon lieutenant" and wished all about him "bonne chance." This practice frequently made us extremely uncomfortable, at critical moments, until we came to realize that we were watching something bigger than battles. From that moment we never tried to hinder the leave-takings of this little blue doughboy whose courtesy is beyond the fear of death.
On April 23 we moved from St. Clement to Bazien, a microscopic village between Baccarat and Ramberviller. It was like a lapse from semiconsciousness to complete amnesia. Bazien lay under a spell like that of the Land of the Lotus-Eaters, except that the tranquillity of its eternal afternoon was marred by sundry gruntings, cacklings and bellowings from the legions of pigs, chickens and cows that made up the greater part of its population. The first object that met our gaze as we entered the village was an enormous hog, stationed with disconcerting completeness across our path of advance ---a true road-hog. It was an inoffensive, well-meaning animal, glad to be friends with all the world, but a little too fat to be convenient either to himself or to his surroundings, like many a man whose avoirdupois has smothered his tact. Circumventing that cochon was about the most exciting thing that occurred at Bazien.
But we soon discovered that this bucolic existence held comforts not to be sneezed at. Milk and fresh eggs as well as real butter became daily diet. We were comfortably housed and had no work to do---what Sybarite could ask more?
While exploring the country-side we came across the ruins of an old château. Nothing remained save walls enclosing shapeless heaps of débris, with tender green grass blades sprouting from the mould. Passages, now choked with rubbish, led down to ancient wine vaults. Parts of the corner towers remained, their jagged turrets rising above the ruins like sentinels of desolation. Mournful though the place appeared, there was about it an atmosphere suggestive of vanished romance, of colorful life and joy, of love and hate and battle, wit and wickedness, of slender swords and ladies' slippers, sparkling red wine and lilting, witchy music ---echoes of France's golden chivalry.
Later we heard the story of the château. It had been the hereditary home of a noble French family. At the outbreak of the war its master was a captain of artillery. In the first few days of attack the Germans took possession of the old château. It became the headquarters of some forty high German officers. When the French had stopped the Hun advance, these officers remained. At length French guns were brought up---and by a piece of cruel irony, the captain who owned the château was in command. His duty was a hard one. Knowing every nook and cranny of the place, and loving all with a love rooted far in the past, he trained his cannon on his ancestral home and shattered it to bits. But with it went some forty high German officers.
At Bazien Van Doren staged his second Secret Service episode---and his last. Having tired of the frivolous company of the Section, Van pitched his pup tent in the woods and retired to a life of lonely contemplation. Whether his meditation was so deep and occult as to establish telegraphic rapport with the American authorities at Baccarat, or whether somebody "squealed" about his splendid, but irregular isolation, we never knew. At any rate a couple of redoubtable American M. P.'s arrived in a touring car and scoffing at habeas corpus claims, took Van with them. Yet he departed not after the manner of a malefactor, but rather as a prince going to his coronation. Here, as always, Van's assurance was sublime. With noble tolerance he submitted to the puerile indignity of having his suitcase searched, even deigning to swear that the present out-lay was all that the bag had contained the night before---with a single exception. At this the M. P.'s, scenting a clue, fixed him with a basilisk stare. Then Van Doren, casting all caution to the winds, named the exception-two eggs, which, as he deposed with some show of reason, having eaten, he could not conveniently display. Upon the conclusion of this colloquy the captors and captive departed, the M. P.'s carrying Van's luggage to the car.---Two days later, just as the Section was leaving Bazien, the touring car arrived in a cloud of dust, and Van Doren with dignity descended, the M. P.'s standing respectfully by. Once more the inquisition had reached an indeterminate verdict, the prisoner's actions being at once so naïve and so unaccountable as to allow no chance for the claw-hold of prosecution. There was nothing in General Orders forbidding a man to pitch a tent and to sojourn therein, nor could the fact, however significant, of Van's having eaten two eggs the night before be interpreted as evidence of conspiracy with the enemy.
Viewed in retrospect the movements of 585 during that May of 1918 seem to have been providentially arranged as a preparation for the all-important work of the summer. The preceding winter we had served our novitiate at Baccarat; now we were to be drawn by gradual stages into the immense vortex that had its bloody centre in the forests of Villers-Cotterets.
The first phase of this preparation we found at the end of the long convoy trail that led from Bazien in the Vosges to Picquigny, just behind Amiens in the Somme. The thing we had prayed for had come to pass; the Wolves were ordered far north to support the British, if necessary, against a German attack that was now fast dwindling in fury. During April and early May the German tide had rolled steadily westward to beat against that stubborn ridge of opposition which it was destined not to pass---the armies of Britain, France and America commingled, holding the extensions of the line through Amiens.
In convoy we drove for three days, through Charmes to Troyes, historic old city of gray, on by Beauvais, which was tense with the stress of conflict, seeing once more the prophetic shadow of the Hun upon its streets. On the third day we halted at Aumale, far behind the British lines, a town that will live in our memories for the fabulous variety and potency of its liquors. If ever a people believed in being jocund with the fruitful grape and in seeing visiting Americans jocund, too, that people is the hospitable populace of Aumale. After making the tavern-keepers of the town solvent for life, we moved to Picquigny, some eight kilometres west of Amiens on the main road to Abbeville.
The Wolves were not sent into the lines but were held in reserve. The poilus, while glad of a respite, shook their heads; the prospect was forbidding. Inaction now meant lots of action at a worse time. The officers felt the emotional pulse of the Division, and like the subtle psychologists they were, took measures to offset any possible drop in morale. Doubtless few who listened night after night to the inspiring music from the band of the 169th, or watched the spirited reviews at sunset realized that these displays meant more than mere entertainment---they meant the spiritual "energizing" of the men, like the charging of an electric battery. For the crisis had not yet passed; formidable though the German onslaught in the north had been, all realized now that the last great battle had yet to be fought. With drawn lips and glowing eyes the Frenchmen would breathe the name of Paris---and glance to the east, where the Boche shells were falling in Amiens. Sooner or later it would come, the last obscene lunge of the wounded beast upon Paris, the tender mistress of all their hearts, their white city of love and laughter and life. To the Frenchman Paris is more than a shrine, for she is more intimate; sweeter than dreams, and more real, for she gives dreams their consummation. The thought of Germany's taking Paris was to the poilu bitterer than the thought of death. Both might happen, but death should happen first!
Something of the Frenchmen's hatred of the Hun must have arisen in us, too, as from the peak of an old castle in Picquigny we watched the great shells crashing about the Amiens cathedral, or as, after a raid by the German bombers, we gathered up the limp little white-and-red bodies of children killed by the scourge that so often spared strong men.
Meanwhile, day after day, along the artery of hard white road rolled British cannon, British shells, British food supplies, and backward towards Abbeville rolled British ambulances, not often empty. Along this road came Comedy, too, in the midst of grimness, as, for example, the detachment of Chinese laborers led by a British sergeant. It was the only contingent that ever rivaled our own as we had appeared on the day of our parade through Paris. These Chinamen "had nothing on us" for diversity of costume, but they possessed the gift of an Oriental imagination.
"Aint this the helluv un army!" yelled the disgusted British sergeant as he passed at the head of his "troops." Since the most conservative and martial-appearing fellow of the lot was simply dressed in a suit of heavy woolen underwear, old tan shoes and a "Derby" hat, we were constrained to agree with Sergeant Tommy.
Big, raw-boned Australians, devil-may-care fighters and born good comrades, swaggered about the town of evenings, and speedily took up with the "Yanks." It was a proud night for Yale when four of these giants from the Land of the Rising Sun slipped under the table, with fixed and stary eyes, and waxed helpless as babes, while the saturated champions from 585 commandingly hoofed the rail and ordered "three more rounds."
Though the work at Picquigny was easy the leisure brought no sense of security. Suspense spoke in eyes and voices, and a sinister uneasiness poisoned the beauty of those spring days. We were nervous, like men treading the thin crust over a volcanic lake; each snap and crackle boded the bursting forth of the white-hot lava. Rumor whispered through the day and sank into stillness before new flocks that took wing at nightfall. All reports breathed the revolting, terrifying association of two ideas---the Germans and Paris---the Germans and Paris.
By the twenty-second we had moved to Esquennoy, camping in pup tents in the wooded grounds of an old château near Breteuil. For seven or eight nights we crouched under inadequate shelter while the German Gothas throbbed above the tree tops, unloading their cargoes of "coal" on a near-by aviation field. By day the French aviators played ping-pong on a little table in the shade, and at night chased the sportive Fritz.
Van Doren had said a last good-bye to the Section at Picquigny, being transferred for parc duty. In his place came Bob Wylie, variously and affectionately known as "Dinghat," "Sleepy," "Whiz-bang" or "Pinard." It was a rough initiation, this bomb-dodging at Esquennoy, but Bob's sang froid smacked of the veteran.
On May 21 the tension broke as the Germans struck with shattering force. It was the second great attack, delivered this time against the British at Berry-au-Bac and the French along the Chemin-des-Dames. For us it meant the last short respite before Villers-Cotterets. During the next three days we moved with our Division, bordering the lines, skirting the edge of battle, through Compiègne, Le Meux, Rethondes and Vez, towards the point where the spearhead of the Hun drive was hacking its way to Paris. The Germans were hurling division after division into the advance, moving with appalling rapidity. On May 28 they crossed the Vesle, in the Aisne sector; on the twenty-ninth came word that Soissons had fallen, with the loss of 25,000 prisoners ; on the thirtieth Rheims made her last-ditch fight, with the green-gray tide only two miles away. On the thirty-first came a shadow of hope, for the Germans had failed to cross the Marne; but on the first of June the whole battle front from the Marne to the Oise blazed and thundered into new fury-and the German host swept on.
Shortly after midnight of the thirty-first, at Le Meux, Lieutenant Abbot, calling the Section about him, read the General's order to the Division, a brief message, but one that filled our hearts with fire and our eyes with tears. It was the death warrant of many a little poilu friend of ours---a summons to the glorious death they were all so eager to dare. In substance it said:
Division of the Wolves:
Paris is in deadly peril. It is you who must save her. Cost what it may to check him, the enemy must not pass. As you fought long ago at Verdun, as you have fought many times since, so must you fight once more, though it be for the last time.
Soldiers of France, I salute you!
We knew what it meant, even before the Lieutenant, pale and haggard, added his few words of explanation. Our Division was to be sacrificed to save Paris---thrown alone across the area of greatest penetration to hold the Boche until reinforcements could arrive.
No one knew the precise point where the Wolves would make their stand. At four in the morning we moved to Rethondes, the town where on a happier day some months later Maréchal Foch was to meet the German delegates to discuss armistice terms. This morning the roads were choked with great trucks full of men coming hack from battle. Their faces were like masks of pale stone, showing ghastly through the coating of dust. Over their cheeks ran smudgy lines, made by the drops of sweat and tears. Their eyes were unseeing, frightful, wide with a horror indefinable, as of men come out of hell. Such a look could never live in human eyes except through experience of the obscene, ultimate evil of war. These men had come from an inferno where nothing was normal; where wounds and the warmth of spurting blood were friendly, where pain came to be clutched as a boon, an assurance of sanity---a place where man's indomitable will sobbed itself out in bafflement, as the great senseless mechanical forces tore their brutal paths through living flesh.---So they came back---hopeless wraiths, with futile, staring eyes, truckful after truckful, the retreat of an army.
We hoped against hope, trying to believe that these troops were retiring only temporarily---but we knew better. And then came the guns, a headlong riot of great caissons, with their mute brown barrels still pointing defiantly towards the foe.
Like a strain of piercing sorrow in a blatant pæan of war sounded the sobs and prayers of the refugees, begging protection against the Boche. Crowded from the way, old men and women, young girls and little children, pushing carts and carrying bundles, struggled along the ditches of the roadside, or fell and lay still, overcome by the heat and dust and exhaustion. None of them had food, none knew where they could find a resting place. They only knew that the Germans were close behind---coming, coming! One picture is hard to forget. A little old lady, who reminded us of Grand'mère Viard at Burey, was trundling along a small wheelbarrow, in which slept a chubby wee fellow of six. The quaint black bonnet the old lady wore had slipped askew, and thin strands of white hair hung about her ears. The boy in the wheelbarrow was heavy, but evidently too exhausted to walk. Every hundred feet or so the woman sank to her knees to rest, her breath coming in long sobs. She seemed the image of pitiful despair. A soldier hurrying past, spoke to her with the bitter jest of that bitter day---"On to Paris, eh, Grand'mère ---a German Paris!" The old lady sprang to her feet like a girl, her eyes snapping angrily. "Never! They will never see our Paris!"
Spirit of France and motherhood!
That word from the feeble little woman shamed hope to life in us again---and then far in the distance we heard cheering. Along the hurrying, panic-filled line of retreat drifted a dust cloud, nearer and nearer, until suddenly, into view shot truck after truck, but---going the other way! To meet the Germans! The camions were crowded with soldiers in horizon-blue, soldiers whose eyes gleamed like the eyes of demons, and whose teeth shone white as they shouted. And as the first load swept by we broke into a yell that fairly split our throats. For written with chalk on the back and side of each truck were the words,
"Boche you shall not pass! We are the Wolves of Lorraine!"
The Wolves took the lines not beyond Rethondes, but in the Forest of Villers-Cotterets. One of their number has told the story; his brief account is as follows:
In March distressing news began to come to us from other points of the Front. The Boches were winning successes of which the recital enraged me. During the months following, these successes increased. After Calais and Amiens Paris herself was threatened. Paris, my old Pantrache, was about to find herself again in a situation as critical, more critical perhaps, than in 1914. I say it in all truth, at the very thought that Paris could be taken, I wept.
But one day without explanation the Division was hastily relieved; we were piled into trucks, then into freight cars, finally into trucks again, so that after an abominable journey we climbed out, the thirty-first of May, in the Forest of Villers-Cotterets, where we were thrown in skirmish formation to meet the Boches, whom we had to check there, cost what it might.
The Parisians of the Division of the Wolves had for their mission the saving of Paris.
Never have I fought so gladly against that vermin whose chiefs had dreamed of enslaving my dear Paris. Never have I felt so intensely how much I loved my city as at the hour when I shuddered to think that the hill of Montmartre might be desecrated by the foul Boches.
If I live a hundred years I shall never forget that advance of sharp-shooters into the woods of Villers-Cotterets, with the fear of arriving too late, of clashing with an enemy already master of part of the position we had to defend.
Happily the Boches had not yet penetrated into the forest. Comrades exhausted, decimated, were still holding its borders. With joy they saw us arrive, and the enemy himself perceived the same day that he had fresh troops in front of him, and that things were going to change. Neither trenches nor ridges; it was war on level country; we clung to the roughnesses of the ground, yielding not a metre of the precious soil, repulsing the most furious attacks, holding under the most violent bombardments.
Fritz attacked us twice the same day; he smothered us with his sheets of gas; he crushed us under the projectiles from his famous field howitzers which had won his initial successes. We swore that he should not enter the Forest of Villers-Cotterets ; we kept our word.
Once after a repulsed attack they found on a prisoner the copy of an order of the day written by the German general Kundt, and containing the following lines: "We found opposing us an infantry hard to reduce, and adversaries wholly worthy of respect."
Thus the Boches themselves render homage to the Division of the Wolves.
We did better than stop the onslaught; in the course of June we widened our positions; it was the division which recaptured the Javas farm, the château of Montcreux, the village of Faverolles, then Longpont and Corey.
Then after this hard defensive battle, we prepared to take part in the offensive.
(From "La Division des Loups," by Leon Groc.)
It will be seen from this account that the Wolves entered the Forest on May 31. On June 1 our Section drew into the town of Villers-Cotterets, having spent the night under our cars at Vez, a few kilometres distant. All was in utmost confusion, but through the pandemonium one sobering fact showed plainly---the Germans were very near.
"They've passed Dampleux, and are at the outskirts of Villers !" cried a refugee, or
"They're only four kilometres away!" shouted another as he passed.
German avions circled back over our heads and were met by French battle planes, attacking gamely, now falling in flames, now bringing down the Boche. Not much noise of big guns was to be heard, a fact which was ominous. We knew the French hadn't had time to bring up their artillery. The silence of the German guns meant one of two things---either they too had lacked opportunity to concentrate their heavy fire, or else they were already in the Forest, advancing behind myriads of machine guns.
As we reached the main road leading to Villers the one cheering omen of the morning met our eyes; the wreck of a German plane. Five minutes later we were in the town. It was full of Frenchmen of our Division, but not a civilian was to be seen. Shops and cafés stood wide open, their goods at the mercy of the passer-by, so hurried had been the departure of the inhabitants.
No sooner had we parked the cars in the square fronting a château than a call came in, requiring twelve ambulances at the lines. Not one of these twelve drivers expected to return---nor, as Lieutenant Abbot afterward confessed, did the officers have much hope in their chances.
"Killed or prisoner---heads or tails---which shall it be!" was the farewell of the twelve to those left at the château. But return they did, with cars loaded to the guards and cracking under the weight of the wounded. Dave Guggins "rolled" by first, looking for the road to the hospital at Bets. A little later came Hap Houlihan, with two wounded poilus perched on the roof of his ambulance; after him came the others. That was the beginning of a relay race with death which continued night and day long after every man in the Section was dropping with fatigue and want of sleep.
But here as everywhere humor shone at moments through the clouds of war in burlesque and grotesquerie. During the hottest bombardments of the town the fat French cooks might have been seen scuttling about, laden with bottles; though in deadly fear of their lives, they were determined to save the rare old wine. Nor was this "souvenir-hunting" peculiar to the French. Section 585 did its share, and collected a variegated spoil, of which perhaps the most interesting article was a dainty pink-and-white lace corset, salved by Ballantyne.
At Dampleux Green and Bowerman resurrected a girl's middy outfit of a modish cut, a "Prince Albert" coat, and a high silk hat. To this collection Kirby added a parasol. Clad in their finery---Green the demure lassie, Bowie her gallant, swagger escort---they paraded up and down before the poste to the uproarious delight of the Frenchmen, including a captain. An hour later Green and Bowerman---the latter still wearing his silk hat---were driving back to the hospital with their ears full of groaning, bleeding soldiers, the very poilus who had laughed so merrily a short time before.
To this same poste that day came a humble, sad-faced little Frenchman, begging that he might see his dearest comrade, who had been wounded that afternoon. When he asked us where the comrade was, we faltered and stammered, until finally Shively succeeded in lying. For we could not tell the little poilu that we'd buried his comrade half an hour before.
During these hard days at Villers, Tony Lundgren was in charge of the Section, Sergeant Peters having been called away on May 29 to the officers' school at Meaux, and Sergeant Hubbard being on permission. In this crisis Lundgren showed a downright cool courage, an endurance and a tact that did much to inspire the others. The knowledge that it was a last-ditch fight did the rest. Not a man failed; hour after hour, day after day, night after night, the little Fords rolled to and fro between the forests about Bampleux, Fleury and Oigny, where the machine guns chattered out their blood-tattoo, to the hospitals at Betz, at the end of twenty kilometres of rough cobblestones. During all these hours the Wolves were fighting as they had never fought before. It was as we had feared; the Germans had massed machine guns by thousands and were literally raking the forests with fire. Behind these guns came infantrymen, Prussian Guard divisions, flower of the army---wave after wave to break upon that thin blue line which would not yield an inch. Often it was cold steel the poilus used to pile up Fritz in three-foot heaps and to hurl back his brothers who trampled ahead over those still gray mounds. The Wolves fought joyously, with absolute abandon, often feeling no pain when wounded.
"Oh, we can't kill enough---that's why I cry---we can't kill enough!" shouted a Frenchman, as we lifted him to the ambulance. Tears were streaming from his eyes and he laughed furiously, knowing nothing of the horrible wound that allowed his entrails to protrude.
We knew that it was only a question of time till our turn would come. It was a game that sooner or later claimed stakes from all. The phenomenal luck of 585 held through the first ten days of June. During this time the Germans were shelling not only all the roads and postes, but the town of Villers-Cotterets, the very château in which we were quartered, and which was used as an evacuation hospital. On June 3, at Dampleux, Kirby Green had a narrow escape when a shell crashed into the midst of a group who were helping him load his ambulance; two days later, at the same place, a "210," exploding under Bob Wylie's car, totally wrecked the flivver, not five minutes after he had left it. Many of the shells landing in Villers took their toll of dead and wounded.
A strange superstition took possession of us; we found ourselves half wishing some of our number would be wounded, even while we shuddered at the thought. But we felt that until some mishap should occur we were living in a security unnatural, uncanny and sinister; enjoying an immunity like that of the mouse which the cat caresses before she strikes. Such a distorted desire was the result of nerves stretched to the snapping point. Days on poste that drew to a close in tumult and thunder, under the anodyne curtain of dark, and broke into reluctant, frightened dawn, at the guns' red awakening; or nights---June nights of fragrance and the cool white stars---nights hallowed by an immemorial beauty, but here racked with moans and the blood-choked shriek of hemorrhage, or the garbled prayer of delirium: experience of these things, so hideous but so real, was telling a bit on our sanity. Yet how quickly we swung back to normal under the grief that our first loss caused.
An item in the Section Diary, dated June 10, says all that we need tell of the story:
At 6.45 this evening shell lands in court, near kitchen. Bates, who is preparing to go to poste, is badly injured by shell fragments. Left foot shattered, both arms fractured above elbow, left wrist badly cut, small wounds elsewhere. Operated on at Ambulance 226 this evening. Pretty bad shape.
Borden gets small piece of éclat in wrist.
Such is the brief entry, but into those lines must be read our thankfulness that others had been spared, our rage at the foe who had so hurt this comrade of ours and our admiration for the splendid courage that bore Bates through the Valley of the Shadow, back to life and strength again. During the days in the French hospitals, the months in the American hospital at Neuilly, and finally the months of convalescence at home, a broken body mended under the dictates of a will that never broke.
At two-thirty in the morning following the wounding of Bates and Borden, the Section was "alerted," in consequence of a report that the Germans were attacking, and that a hurried retreat might be necessary to avoid capture. But again the Wolves held and the attack failed.
The château in which we were quartered had become a death-trap. The Boche artillery had secured perfect range, and each day parts of the old building crashed and crumbled under the impact of the big "210's." The only place of security was in the deep vault underneath.
But on June 11 we moved to Boursonne, about six kilometres from Villers-Cotterets. A new evacuation hospital was established at this place, a new route to the postes mapped out and the routine work went on. By this time the fury of the German onslaught had abated. With the comparative stabilizing of the lines came an arrangement of permanent postes at Dampleux, Fleury, Oigny, Croix de Vouty, and later at Croix de Corey. These stations were "fed" by cars stationed at Maison Forestière, this latter point serving as "regulatrice" for all movements to and from the advanced positions. With the exception of Dampleux, these positions were in the woods in proximity to the lines; a splendid objective for shells, gas and even machine-gun fire. On the other hand, life at Maison Forestière was pleasant, since for some unaccountable reason the Germans refrained from shelling the crossroads in front of the house. Besides, the cuisine of the poste was excellent, the cooks being two round little Frenchmen who had been chefs in Paris. Over an improvised grill in the woods they wrought marvels, and an occasional dish of wild strawberries, gathered in the fields near by, lent a touch to meals that Epicurus might have approved.
Another entry in the Diary reads:
Under date of June 18 General Segonne cites "à l'ordre de la Division" the S. S. U. 585; also Lieutenant Abbot, Maréchal des Logis Rouger, Corporal Lundgren, Bates, Larrabee, Green, Stevens; and cites "à l'ordre du Regiment" Ballantyne, Bowerman, Larkin, Larsen, Russell, Potter and Wasilik.
On June 27 the Médecin Divisionnaire decorated these men with the Croix de Guerre, at a ceremony that began impressively and terminated hilariously. An additional cause for celebration was the return of Lynch, who had effected a transfer from Section 646. One casualty marked an otherwise idyllic occasion; Lyman had the ill luck to fracture his ankle, an injury that kept him in the hospital until the last of August.
The first fifteen days of July were in the nature of a breathing spell, not only for 585 but for the Allies all along the Front. Germany had failed in her great purpose; she had made formidable advances, but her gains were dust and ashes, for Paris rested in smiling security behind her steadfast champions, not the least of whom were those splendid legions in khaki that the Kaiser said would never cross the sea. Under the master hand of Marshal Foch, the different armies had been welded into one matchless phalanx stretching from the North Sea to the Vosges. Never before in the history of the world has there existed an army of such strength, under the control of a single will. It is doubtful if the Allies themselves realized their power, as they waited to strike the blow that was to crush Germany, scattering her cohorts like leaves in a storm wind.
It is said that years of existence can be compressed into the short span of a dream. In the same way ages of life's lessons can be included within the narrow limits of one month. During that beautiful June---last month of all when blood should flow---we had lived years of experience, had seen life and death in their most vivid forms, and the instant passing of life into death. At Villers-Cotterets the Hun had met his bloodiest check. But how many blue-clad poilus fought their last there in the Forest near Dampleux and Fleury and Oigny---names we can never forget. Our own experiences were many and thrilling, but one hesitates to attempt the telling. For after all, words fail so signally to depict the events whose deepest effects are mental and spiritual. Men seen in the last stages of desperation, in the last frantic grapple for life, or in the renunciation, ultimate and complete, of every hope; men going laughing to certain doom; men twisted to deformity in a night; men unrecognizable because of wounds-..nothing left but masses of throbbing, red-spouting flesh. Cries, prayers, animal noises; the chatter of madmen, the sobbing of the strong, heartbroken---all this, and more. But showing through it all, triumph unmistakable---victory through devotion and sacrifice. There we saw a nobility unbelievable, and there we learned a contempt for all who deal in trivialities. It is impossible that we shall ever wholly forget; elemental rage, elemental hunger, elemental fear, elemental faith have taught us too much.
On the fourth of July warning came to be ready for an attack; it was thought that the Germans, hoping to take advantage of any possible relaxation consequent upon holiday festivities, might renew their quarrelsomeness. Nothing happened. The Wolves, always delighting in an opportunity to irritate Fritz, sent patrols into No Man's Land late the night of the third, to plant hundreds of tiny American flags in a row between the lines. In the morning, the Boches, disgruntled and sore, cut loose with machine guns until every flag was clipped to the ground. This was enough to convince the chuckling poilus that Fritz didn't relish the hint intended---the ever-growing strength of the Americans.
The Germans were uneasy, as was plainly revealed by the intermittent artillery fire and by their lavish use of gas. Two of our men fell victim to this policy. On July 9 Potter was put under treatment for chlorine fumes, and on the fourteenth Stevens was sent to the hospital, suffering from the same cause. He remained out of the game until August 25.
From the tenth to the eighteenth the French harassed the enemy unceasingly, concentrating pressure upon the town of Corey. A serio-comic feature was the employment of Senegalese troops, big negroes from central Africa, who fought with their native bolo-knives----elongated meat-cleavers---and with their wild whooping bade fair to scare Fritz to death. The French officers who commanded these tar babies had the greatest difficulty in preventing them from returning from battle laden with all sorts of unsavoury souvenirs---Boche fingers, ears and even heads.
On July 18 the electrifying message reached us---"Our turn has come!" That night the roads were packed with troops and guns going up,---and when the barrage lifted, the next morning, the Germans were in full retreat, leaving hundreds of prisoners. It was the beginning of the Franco-American offensive between Fontenoy and Château-Thierry, which grew to the relentless advance that never ceased throughout the summer and fall, until the Germans, reeling back to their very border lines, begged for mercy.