Out of Boursonne, where the mysterious shellburst sounds had fostered arguments, technical ones, lasting long into the night, we were glad to go. We had spent a month here, an unusually long stay for such bohemians as we. Fortunately, there had been plenty to do. "Les Loups" had earned a good rest; and were going back into reserve for a time.
We left for Pierrefonds on the twentieth of August. There were no sad partings, for the small town claimed no village belle. For those who cared, moving spelt Hope. And Pierrefonds had a château! Long had our dreams formed misty veils of cloud about the walls of some "wonderful" château. Now our dream seemed about to be realized. We were happy enough, perhaps; but the dream faded into thin air as we approached, and we still made our abode "in the shadow." 'Twas ever thus. Shadows are such futile things,---phantoms of mist and a cheerless mind.
Work was begun at once. The hospital at Pierrefonds was more than crowded with American wounded, and cars began evacuating them to Crépy-en-Valois, some fifteen or twenty kilometres away. The next morning several cars were doing duty on the roads around and above Chaudun, and before the day was over Lieutenant Abbot and Shively had made a part payment of the great price. Shively was evacuated with a fractured right leg, wounds in the left foot and a broken left arm. The lieutenant's right knee was penetrated with a piece of éclat, though he refused to be evacuated, and hobbled around with a crutch. (Faithful John) The American system was most conspicuous by its absence, and we were not at all sorry to "hit the road" again on the twenty-third. What pleased us the more was that we were going back to our old division, "Les Loups," whom God had found not wanting in the forests of Bois le Prêtre and Villers-Cotterets, and whom we had learned to know and love.
We found them at Le Fayel, not far from Compiègne, a small village, undisturbed by avions and peaceful with the fields of waving, yellow wheat. Here we were quartered near the park grounds of another château---the home of some twenty English ambulancières, with whom the social set began immediate negotiations. Two of our less erudite companions, green-eyed, sought solace in the arms and affections of a couple of charming nurses from the near-by hospital. Marcellus and the younger Peters found themselves victims to less interesting complications, and were evacuated with the dysentery. Some others suffered and were silent.
But these things could not last forever; and on the twenty-ninth of the seventh month we "picked up our tents and stole away," saying "good-bye" rather than "au revoir." The dusk of evening found us at the "Ferme Thumet," just outside of Taillefontaine. It was here that corn syrup and hornets vied with one another, and combined to make the kitchen more than interesting. "Check" found enough to gray a few more hairs in the interim between griddlecakes and syrup in the morning and bread and jam at noon. After a couple of days on the farm we moved up to Couloisy, where we were quartered in an altogether too small farmhouse. To alleviate congestion and the nuisance of tumbling out of a bunk to reach the small cave during the nightly air raids, many dug for themselves individual caves under the roots of trees on the hillside. One or two who thought the rest at Le Fayel had been all too short found a ready-made dugout, cavernlike---in depth akin to the Inferno---and slept through many a night unhearing and undisturbed.
The Division went into the lines near Autrêches,---lines which had remained set so long that it seemed the time had come to change them. Wasem broke the monotony of more than a week's posteless life by leading his car into camouflage amid the environs of Côte (Hill) 120. Three more followed his suit on the following day, the first of August, one acting as company to him at Hill 120, one in the quarry at St. Pierre-les-Bitry and the other at St. Cristophe-à-Berry.
For two weeks the Section "existed" at Couloisy, the King of Hearts and his court sitting in continual conference, while others, either less clean or more aspiring to godliness, soused themselves in the sluggish waters of the Aisne. A new poste was established near Berry, called Picardie. It was on the narrow, rough road down the hill from Picardie to St. Cristophe that Potter almost hopelessly lost his bearings, and thought the "Road to Germany" led "home": and down this same hill Larkin's voice often trilled nervously "The Song to the Shells":
|Don't pick on me
Out of a diary written at this time we copy: "Aug. 7. 'Check' claims that the Boches dropped more bombs last night than he had ever heard in any previous war." Those of us who know "Check," know that this statement of his means bombs spelt with a B.
On the eleventh Lieutenant Jamon, Bradley, Campbell, Cunningham and Weber were decorated with the Croix de Guerre at the Order of the Division. The ceremony was performed by "the Old Man." Shively and Tremaine received the same honor in absentia.
Mail in quantity arrived about this time. Changing from the 128th to the American sector, then to the French army of reserve, later to the army of the line, we had given the mail truck a merry chase of three weeks. It had won at last, and we were all ready to do battle, either for Her or because of her.
"Pete" came hack from officers' school while we hung in the balance at Couloisy,---and we felt that again we had found the "Lost Leader."
From Couloisy to Jaulzy was a short, easy step---our next move on the thirteenth. Here we found the nearest semblance to a château ever to be our lot to be quartered in---a large farmhouse, with four or five large wine cellars which served remarkably well as caves. One of the rooms was fitted out with the Æolian, and with mirrors, upholstered chairs, reading and card tables brought from one or another room of the house---a fitting reception-room for the delayed 14 juillet champagne fête, which the officers of the G. B. D. enjoyed with us on the fourteenth of August, at which time Marcellus, thin and haggard, returned like the ghost of Banque, faithful at the feast.
From the fifteenth to the twenty-fifth things moved forward much more rapidly. Hautbraye, Autrêches, Chevillecourt, Morsain, Ouilly, Berlinval, Vézaponin and Bagneux were taken by the Division with many prisoners and slight losses. The Section moved its headquarters twice during this time; once to Vache Noire, where the quarters were in the Hôtel de la Gare---and where the wine cellar was preferable to the guestroom as a sleeping place,---next, to St. Christophe, where an old ruined house sheltered us in the shadow of the battered church.
At Vache Noire Bowerman and Green were evacuated to Villers-Cotterets for dysentery, a disease nearly as unpleasant and far less interesting than the little circus we were staging. Légèret, faithful dog to Jamon, was replaced by Senan, whose faithfulness was far exceeded by his ability as a patisseur, which we learned at Vez.
During the night of the twenty-third---twenty-fourth the Division was relieved in the lines, and the next morning found us at Vez, where we parked our cars under a huge open shed, used also as an open-air sleeping place. The water at Vez was pronounced unfit to drink---a most proper time for Richard to return from permission, so we drew stronger Pinard rations and were happy. It was here that Lyman, D. C. Peters and Stevens came back among us, each with his tale of the hospital.
At Vez the Section found shelter for the cars and kitchen under a great grain shed adjoining some French aviation fields. Our quarters we found in a little brick toolhouse on the edge of a great wheat plantation, where German prisoners were helping the peasant women in the harvest.
It was at Vez that Tremaine and Googins broke all previous records of which we could boast for "three days well spent." Only men of their well-known executive ability---one might say genius---could have gone to Senlis, conducted research parties to the cathedral and other points of interest, returned, and before the evening of the third day washed half the cars in the outfit and cleaned the relics of ten months of Crane and Harper from the trailer, besides curing Sergeant Peters of what we all feared was chronic melancholia. To quote the Rural Editor, "A good time was had by all."
On the morning of September 4 we took the road again, and followed it over familiar stamping ground through Villers-Cotterets, Fleury, Gare de Ramée, Corey, Longpont and Chaudun to Equiry, where we spent the night. On the fifth the Division went into the lines, above Soissons, before the Chemin-des-Dames. The Section discovered quarters along with the G. B. D. in the Hospice de Soissons, where it remained for three days. On the afternoon of the eighth we started for Crouy, across the Aisne, which overhangs Soissons two kilometres above the river. The next ten days would probably be described in a communiqué officiel as "exceedingly active." The cantonnement was under intermittent shell fire, and the roads to the postes led over the back of a plateau which was everywhere visible to hostile eyes. The names Pont Rouge, Nanteuil-la-Fosse and Vauvigny carry poignant and unforgetable memories, and convinced us again of the efficacy of the horse shoe carried in the right place, and the left hind leg of a jack rabbit, slain under a full moon.
From the eighth to the eighteenth the Division des Loups attacked or repulsed attacks every day, and sometimes twice or thrice in a day. When the evening of the nineteenth found us all intact, gathered together once more in the shadow of the twin spires of the ancient abbey of Soissons, each man of us sent his own particular song of thanksgiving to the Providence that rides with the ambulance driver.
On the morning of the twentieth we left Soissons, and at noon dined and wined at the Café de la Gare of Clermont, near Beauvais. At eventide, after a pursuit race in which "Sims" demonstrated his ability to drive to a fighting finish under conditions the most extraordinary, we arrived in Dury, near Amiens, where we slept, and after another day of good speed and fair weather Section 585 settled down on the beach between Dunquerque and Calais for a rest.
From September 22 to 26 we repaired cars, swam in the Channel, hiked to Dunquerque in the daytime, and beguiled the evenings with song and bowl and story. The summer had been severe, the Division was tired, and the Section "jolly well fed up." The time for relaxation had come; a long repos well earned and much needed was ours. No more war, perhaps, before winter, and if not before winter---never! Thus we reasoned, as foolish privates will, as we loafed on the sands across from Dover, and on the twenty-eighth, after three moves in the "wee sma' hours," the Division went up to support the Belgian Army between Dixmude and Paschendaele, above Ypres, and we went with them. In the first day of battle, that of the twenty-eighth, the Belgians and British attacked in a drizzle and drove the Hun 12,000 yards across the deadest, dirtiest, toughest country anywhere along the Front. Langemarck ties at a point five miles into this desolation, whence originated the phrase "No Man's Land," and it took the Section eight hours to get part of the cars there, and eighteen to get the rest of them there and under way again. We stopped at Langemarck, only because it was impossible to go on. Artillery had to move, though the little Belgian Army was pushing ahead without proper artillery protection. Our Frenchmen were way ahead of their artillery, and the British had likewise outranged their own field pieces. Hence everything gave way to the "75's"and the R. F. A.
And so the battle went on, and ambulances lay useless in the mud and the wounded lay out in the rain because no one could bring them back until the guns had passed. They are the grist and chaff; the whole grain must go up that the war shall go on, that the red millstones of death shall keep turning.
We had seen war, a certain amount of war. We had always seen the dirty side of war, but we had never seen war appear dirtier, more terrible, more damnable in all its damnable phases than in those forty-odd hours spent in the vicinity of Langemarck and Poel Kappel those last days of September, 1918.
On the first of October we moved to Wifwege, where we saw British planes bring food to the troops when the ration parties could not get through. Our own rations were exceedingly low, and our cooks, Crane and Harper, lacked anything like ambition or ingenuity in a crisis, so the chocolate, meat and bread dropped to us by aeroplane helped us to appreciate Elijah's state of mind when the ravens ran his ration train.
Wifwege, Cinq Chemins and Woost Roosbeke followed each other in quick succession as cantonnements. It was at Wifwege that Crane and Harper were "inducted," as our conscripts would say, out of their jobs, and Perkins and Cunningham assumed their prerogatives. As one looks back to the period when Crane and Harper blasphemed the word food, one marvels at the patience and endurance of the private soldier. It is only fair to add that Crane has since proved himself the most conscientious of cooks and the best of good fellows.
It was at Cinq Chemins that Weber was wounded, and that Hank Tremaine lost part of his sweater and carried a lame shoulder for some days.
On the thirteenth of October we were replaced by an English section, and the Division went into reserve. On the morning of the fourteenth the second big attack of the Yser-Lys offensive started. French and English had replaced the Belgians, and the Germans retreated rapidly, closely harassed by French cavalry and armored motors.
From the sixteenth on, we moved each day as the attack progressed swiftly. At last we were in "Belgique Libérée" and among the wounded we evacuated were many civilians who dared not or could not leave their homes as the attack went over. For four years the region here had been German. German aviation fields, German cemeteries, German railroad shops and factories gave evidence of the permanency and future of German occupation.
From Staden, which we reached on the sixteenth, to Vive St. Raven, where we camped on the twenty-ninth, our recollections are as drab and monotonous as the settlements through which we journeyed. Hooglede, Coolscamp, Iseghem, Emelghem, Oostrosebeke---names unlovely and unloved. A spice of interest was added, however, by the fact that the Germans had mined many of the roads, so that one never knew at what moment he and his flivver were at the gates of Kingdom Come. Furthermore the Boches bombed us most industriously each night.
At Iseghem Borden and Lewis received citations "à l'ordre de la Division," and were decorated by the redoubtable "Old Man"---the Médecin Divisionnaire.
On the last day of October another Allied attack was launched, in which the Americans and the French of our sector worked together. That morning we witnessed a literal example of Kipling's dawn that "comes up like thunder"---a beautiful sunrise, to the accompaniment of a drum-fire barrage that gladdened the heart. A dense white vapor clung like a shroud over the flat plain of the Lys, blending by livid nuances into a sky like mother-of-pearl. A hint of rose-pink crept up the gray, gradually warming into an opaline glow. The mist began to lift, twisting in fantastic spirals against the deepening color in the east. From half the arc of the horizon came the rumble of the guns, growing in volume with the growing light, swelling to a mighty crescendo as suddenly the sun appeared. Like magic every trace of mist dissolved. From far overhead came the angry whine of hundreds of shells, en route for the German lines. The level ground floor quivered and vibrated like the tympanum of a drum under the shock of the explosions.
It was experience of such moments that made the Great Front our first love; the place which, with all its hardships and dangers, sent out the strongest call. For it was the place where the vanguard of civilization moved, bloody, mud-stained, unshaven, rude in manners, violent in thought, but representing all the powers of love and peace. As we listened to that terrific, beautiful barrage, we were happy as children and capered about like clowns. For how ugly it must have been to Fritz!
At any rate, he retreated, taking the last step in the long road of defeat he'd been following for months. Eleven days later the armistice was signed.
The Section was quartered in a little mudhole called Vive St. Eloi when the hostilities ceased. Sergeant Peters had been called away to receive his commission, and Ray Sjöstrom, whom we had left at Sandricourt, rejoined us here, in time to make merry over peace. Our celebration was limited in violence by the lamentable lack of anything to celebrate with. We yelled a bit, shook hands with several regiments of Frenchmen, three or four times to a man, watched the poilus shoot star shells, then crawled into our blankets again, with a perverse feeling that it was almost a shame to discontinue so good a war.
The story of our doings after the armistice need not be long. Extracting ourselves from the mud of Vive St. Eloi we girt up our loins, cranked up the Fords and started upon what proved to be a triumphal tour through Belgium to Germany. The route lay by way of Audenarde, Brussels, Louvain, Tirlemont,---home of pastry too good for the gods, ---on to Liége, and finally Verviers, last stop before Germany. We were often acclaimed the saviours of Belgium, the liberators of the world, the heralds of the millennium, etc.,---in short, the ne plus ultra of everything admirable and beatific,---and as such, were charged double prices. A certain element of these worshipful folk, doubtless a bit dazed by the violence of their emotions of gratitude and snatched away into a rapture of the spirit, lost control over the workings of their bodies, with the result that we lost control over three new tires, nine blankets, several souvenir guns, two pairs of boots, a haversack, a box of cigars and a set of tools, besides a St. Bernard dog and certain hors d'oeuvres that were not catalogued. However, kleptomania must not be regarded as the national purpose of Belgium. It must be remembered that we were traveling through a country that had been occupied by the Germans for four years and German Kultur was bound to draw some disciples. Furthermore, the few cases of extortion and thieving stand out the more pronouncedly by contrast with the almost universal kindness that was shown us. Nearly every man in the Section today numbers among his friends Belgians of the best families who threw open to him the doors of their exclusive homes.
We saw little actual suffering. But the prices were fearfully high; for instance, a five-cent cake of chocolate cost about a dollar. Bread was plentiful, vegetables not lacking, and meat could be had everywhere if one had the "price." In Brussels and Liége especially life was made pleasant for us by the lavish hospitality of the inhabitants who received us into their homes. Most of these people had easily borne the burden of German occupation, suffering in spirit doubtless, but in body only to a limited extent. Their financial losses had been proportionately as great as the losses of the poor, but to them it meant inconvenience; to the poor, starvation and ruin.
Belgium was quick to recover a semblance of prosperity after the departure of the Germans. In the cities, cafés and theatres were crowded, and plenty of money was in circulation. But such affluence is fictitious ; beyond the glow of the cities' lights lie ruined villages, devastated fields, and factories stripped bare of machinery, useless shells of industry. Until labor applies its hand once more to these fields and these factories the wealth of the cities must remain a sham---the dwindling traces of a stream whose fountainhead is dry.
Everywhere we found evidence of the efficiency of Hoover's system of provisioning. Without the American food vast numbers of the population would inevitably have starved. Such was the testimony we heard on all sides.
About the ninth of December we crossed the border and took up our abode among the gentle Boches. Our duties were largely sedentary. Most of this heavy sitting around was done at Aix-la-Chapelle, Charlemagne's old capital, though we spent some three weeks at Jülich, farther "inland," at which place we partook of a Christmas dinner like those known only at home or in dreams. The Division was quartered in the neighboring small towns. There were no wounded to care for, of course, but many of the poilus got sick---due rather to the company than to the climate, doubtless. During this period of comparative idleness the problem of morale in the Division became critical, particularly so on account of Bolshevistic theories that throve in the shallow soil of discontent which was the natural reaction from the months of war. No serious trouble threatened; the Frenchman, who always talks more pessimistically than he thinks, was simply expressing his very reasonable desire to go home. This desire was by no means confined to the poilus. In Section 585 Bowerman headed a formidable Bolshevik movement that broke on the shoals of higher authority, and resulted in a copious supply of permanent "K. P's." The question of amusement became paramount, and out of the confusion arose two fairly well-defined parties, one professing faith in the power of conviviality to raise men's spirits, the other believing that the same results could be obtained by reading and study---incidentally by work upon this book. The bibulous contingent said, "When in Germany do as the Germans do"---which, as a slogan, was a political error, for the other side crushingly responded, "Don't do as the Germans do, no matter where you are." Seeking support in the philosopher, the Conservatives reminded their opponents that reading maketh a full man, to which the Radicals retorted that drinking maketh a man full,---of the two the more desirable condition under the circumstances. As the supply both of liquor and books was meagre, the question was more academic than practical, and its discussion afforded more amusement than its solution could have furnished. Ennui suffered an occasional shock when the Division put on a show, usually a "revue," featuring the famous "Poilu Chorus," which, though clad in orthodox pink tights and lace, by reason of its bristly ambush of beard looked more like Birnam Wood moving to Dunsinane than like a footlight row of Ziegfeld sweeties.
Though we ourselves were comfortably quartered and well fed, it was easy to see that Germany had staked all and lost. Food was scarce; the bread a vile black substance, containing little nutriment, meat almost non-existent. Strangely enough the pastry shops made a great display of tempting pies and cakes, which, however, upon investigation were found to be largely pneumatic, and so fragile that they had to be inhaled rather than eaten.
The behavior of the natives toward us was courteous and friendly---forcément. Our attitude toward them might be described as "fifty-fifty"---we gave them credit for being outwardly decent, but reserved the right to consider them liars a priori, if we were so inclined. Discounting for the moment any good will that may have existed, there were two reasons at least why the population of Aix sought to make friends with the Americans; the fact that we were not so likely to break their heads as the French and Belgians were, and secondly, the presence of a goodly number of giant howitzers within easy range of all the fine buildings of the city. Good behavior was evidently their best card to play.
But they so often overplayed it. We mistrusted the protesting humanitarian of today who was a blusterer yesterday, and felt contempt rather than friendship for the renegades who too loudly denounced the Kaiser and all his system. A favorite performance of the Germans was to seek to engage us in conversation, upon no matter what subject. For example, one old codger entertained us for half an hour one night in a café explaining how, by a scientific diet, etc., he had prolonged his life to seventy-five years---but neglected to explain the more pertinent and puzzling question of why he had so prolonged it. At another séance a woman undertook to enlighten us upon the matter of the Lusitania, with a view to proving the righteousness of Germany's action---a demonstration to which she failed to add Q. E. D.---On the other hand we may have met sincere Germans. We don't know.
Shortly after Christmas we received orders to return to Belgium, got as far as Liége, and were sent back to Aix-la-Chapelle, there to remain until March 12, when Section 537 arrived to replace us, and in mingled joy and regret we bade adieu to the Wolves.
The first move on the home stretch took us to Paris. The journey, though long, was accomplished in comparative comfort, and without resort to the "40 hommes---8 chevaux" cars usually employed. Lieutenant Abbot, being canny and longheaded in such matters, sent Borden and Bradley on ahead to Liége, to secure for the Section a private car ---an enterprise moderately ambitious. This they did, after some rather lurid dealings with a scandalized station master. Not only did we get a good coach, we got the only passenger coach on the train.
Several immaculate Belgian officers, attempting to enter with all their baggage, were met by the emphatic American advice, "Stay out---reserved!"
"You are only private soldiers," haughtily responded the Belgian captain; "how dare you order us out? What do you mean by trying to reserve a second-class coach?"
"There were no first-class coaches on this miserable Belgian train," blandly explained Bradley. "There is room up ahead, however"---pointing to the long line of freight cars.
"Oh, these Americans---these Americans!" chorused the fuming grandees as we barred the doors against them.
We reached Paris on the fifteenth, having spent some time and more energy pushing our cherished private car about the yards at Noisy-le-Sec even as in the days of our novitiate, when we had done switch-engine duty at St. Nazaire. At Paris we were offered the privileges and drawbacks of Headquarters, but most of the men slept in hotels, preferring to pay much and see much rather than pay nothing and see nothing.
About eleven the night of the seventeenth we arrived at the Base Camp, no longer at Sandricourt, but at Ferrières-en-Gatennais. Being different from Sandricourt it was of necessity an improvement. All base camps are bad, because they are the places where one merely marks time, while he waits for excitement to come or regrets excitement past. Employment of some sort is considered necessary to sanity, though it is an open question whether sanity is necessary at a base camp. It was the duty of a group of sergeants to provide for us this employment, at Ferrières. That they fulfilled this duty seemed to us bad enough, but that they found the duty congenial was the thing that drew down anathema. So unfathomable is the soul of man that it can comprehend chaos resolving into divine order, and can interpret deep answering unto deep, but it finds itself stumped to explain why a G. I. can of garbage should be moved from point A to point B, and back again, nine times in the course of an hour, or why twelve men with rakes should be delegated to manicure sixteen square feet of stubble, or why Private Perkins, having emptied three hundred spitboxes, escaped being ordered to fill them again---"and to report to Sergeant --- when he had finished."
Due to the fact that sundry of the governing powers most vitally concerned with us were of Hebraic extraction, and hadn't been extracted far enough, we were inclined to regard our hardships as a recrudescence of the age-old persecution of the Christians. Some of the men favored declaring a holy war, while others advocated a series of punitive pogroms, centering about the chief sanitary sergeant and working outward, until the New Testament supplanted the Old. But too much was at stake; to rise against the hierarchs would have been to stay among them indefinitely, while more docile martyrs were shipped home.
On the twenty-fifth we submitted to that occult rite known as delousing. We had heard fearful tales of this mysterious process and were prepared to undergo an ordeal at least equivalent to the worst tortures of the Inquisition. There was no escape; every man was considered guilty until rendered incapable of guilt through an immunity beautiful in theory but ridiculous in practice. It was rather an anti-climax to discover that delousing meant simply a bath---and a bum bath at that. Our clothes were treated a bit more strenuously, being put through a boiler of superheated steam.
We were then placed in quarantine, which meant that we were moved from dry quarters into a leaky tent, surrounded by mud, and commanded to stay there. Fortunately the Red Cross and Y. M. C. A. had establishments on the grounds, where the books from the library and the smiles from "Sister Sue" proved of paramount solace.
On the twenty-sixth our impedimenta was increased by an issue of infantry packs and our personnel by the addition of Sergeant Roberts from Section 582 and Private Barnes from the casual detachment. Six days later we entrained for Brest, this time traveling after the orthodox fashion, in freight ears, reaching our destination on the fourth of April.
The embarkation depot at Brest had borne an unsavory reputation some months earlier, but at the time of our arrival conditions had so changed that it was in all respects a model camp. Here, perhaps better than at any other place in France, one caught a glimpse of the wonder-workings of American enterprise and the vastness of the American conception of the war. It is needless to describe the camp in detail. Suffice it to say that one hundred thousand men could be fed, clothed, sheltered and given medical attention. Furthermore, these hundred thousand could be kept busy---much too busy, we thought. Ferrières, with all its garbage "details," was a rest camp compared with Brest. For at the latter place the troops worked night and day, with no such thing as a holiday. No one dared object audibly, for the same reason that held us in check at our Base Camp---fear of being kept off the sailing orders.
After again being deloused, inspected, tested and vouched for, we boarded the transport Great Northern, sailing April 12. It was with a feeling not all joy that we watched the receding shores of France. Due to our association with the French Army, we had had the privilege of knowing the French people to a degree impossible for the strictly American troops. We had learned to love their unfailing courtesy, to feel their quick sympathy, and to reverence their spotless courage. It is safe to say that no S. S. U. man will ever agree with those Americans who constantly seek to discredit and belittle the French. Such criticism is the fruit of utter misunderstanding.
But if the feelings of the Section were mixed as we drew out of port, within an hour's time there was no question about it---all but about five were more wretched than they had ever been before or expect to be again. It is wise and merciful to say little about that voyage; no one in the outfit wants to be reminded of it. The fact that we were going home meant nothing then, while the fact that we'd come through a great war alive was in itself bitterness, for we wished that we were dead. Only the extreme weakness of our men kept them from scuttling the ship for the sake of a watery grave. The Great Northern was a speedy craft but rough. Furthermore, we ran through storms practically the whole way across. No more need be said.
On the morning of Easter Sunday we disembarked at Hoboken, and by ten that evening were quartered at Camp Dix. Again we were deloused,---by this time we were sure that the government was trying to insult us,---given new underclothing, relieved of our packs, and after two days under the tutelage of a tough old army sergeant were "honorably discharged," April 23---and invited to reënlist. Up to date no member of 585 has accepted this invitation.
"It there's another war, my children shall fight it," declared Wasem.
"Yea-a-a-ay, Bo!" agreed Guggins. Which is the present policy of us all.
The term "Médecin Divisionnaire" ordinarily means, in French Army parlance, the grade or office corresponding to that of division surgeon in the United States Army, but to the members of S. S. U. 585 the words will always be used as proper nouns referring to one particular man, Lieutenant-Colonel Lejonne, chief of the sanitary service of the 128th Division, during the months of our service with that organization. From the first days of our joining the Division, back in Baccarat in December, 1917, to the day in January of 1919 when he was promoted to the rank of colonel and left to take up his new work as "Directeur du Service de Santé" in Tunis, his word was law to Section 585.
Our first impressions, like those of many who worked under him for the first time, were not wholly favorable, for his keen gray eyes, looking out behind big steel-bowed spectacles, and his long, bristling moustaches gave him an appearance of fierceness which his decidedly abrupt manner of speaking did not in the least tend to lessen. He had a habit of saying exactly what he thought, and his words were often disconcertingly frank. But it was not long before we learned that there was always a twinkle in those keen gray eyes, and that the abruptness of speech was never quite so fearsome as one was led to suppose at first. His brusque manner could not conceal the deep kindliness of the heart within. He used to say himself that he was purposely gruff and short in bestowing his favors in order to save people the bother of thanking him. Compliments and flattery he would have none of.
Even in the early days at Baccarat we began to appreciate his wonderful spirit of dauntless energy and unflinching devotion to duty which we came to admire so sincerely in the sterner days which followed. As an old soldier he demanded a strict and exacting obedience from everyone who came under his command, and he saw to it that his orders were carried out to the letter. No detail, however small, escaped his eye, and no excuse sufficed to cover up a mistake in his sight. He would take nothing for granted; he always "had to be shown." How often during those strenuous days of action, when we were frequently moving from place to place, has he arrived to inspect our newly taken quarters, demanded at once to know if our portable telephone was installed, if it worked; and then, even after an affirmative rely, tried the apparatus himself to make certain! And how often on those occasions has he given us a few terse words of sarcasm, when, as sometimes happened, the telephone did not work! He was impatient and sharp at times, but never unjust or unreasonable. Above all, we knew that he was very fond of his S. S. U.
His first thought was always for the comfort of his wounded, and he made that the guiding principle of his service. Whenever he felt that the good of that service demanded his presence in the frontline first-aid posts or battalion dressing stations---and that was very often---he went without the slightest hesitation. Fear was something he did not know. During the days of an attack, office work was entirely forgotten, and all his time was given to directing the evacuation of wounded at the Front. He threw himself into his work with a complete disregard of danger and fatigue, and exacted the salue steadfastness to duty from his subordinates. Among the men of the division the sanitary formations were often called the "S. S. U. d'attaque," and the "G. B. D. d'assaut" because the Divisionnaire always posted them so near the lines. The sanitary service was well known throughout the Division for its efficiency, and we, proud in that knowledge, tried to play our part to the best of our ability, for we had a leader whom we trusted and admired.
Such was---and is, for his memory will live always in our thoughts---the Médecin Divisionnaire, known more familiarly to the section as the "Old Man," a splendid man and a splendid soldier who made Duty and Service his two supreme ideals, and set the example to all in unselfish devotion to those ideals.
AUTHOR'S NOTE. It was at Sandricourt that we first met M. Pinard, and I recall how we all disliked it. "Chappy" professed a liking for it, because he wished to give a hard-boiled impression, but the rest of us drank it because we were told that at the Front good water was not to be had, and we decided we might as well learn to like it, though at the time we reckoned Socrates a lucky dog, seeing that he only had to drink hemlock. During the months which followed we lost our extreme distaste for Pinard, and at one time a large barrel was placed in a spot convenient to all. The barrel cost us three hundred francs each time it was filled, and the boys set themselves manfully to the task of emptying it. The first barrel went well, the second more slowly, though our David did his best. The third would be full yet had not Mathe and Richard de le nez rouge been with us. So we decided to bid the barrel adieu, much to the sorrow of Mathe and Richard, who paid nothing towards keeping it full and did so much towards keeping it empty. So much for that.
To those who paid no visit to France during the eventful years 1917 and 1918, it may be necessary to say that "Pinard" is the name given, in army slang, to the red wine issued daily to the poilu. Before the war Pinard was issued only on fête days, and was known as "vin ordinaire," with the accent on the "ordinaire." It was in no great favor with the soldiers until war was declared, at which time the issue became daily, in quantity varying with circumstances, but usually three "quarts" or three fourths of a litre.
What the reasons were for issuing this wine I do not know; probably the idea was merely to provide a substitute for those existent table wines a Frenchman has with his meals. Granted that this was the reason, I doubt greatly that the "powers which be" guessed how popular and indispensable this Pinard was to become. In view of the recent acts of Congress I have no desire to ally myself, by a defense of an alcoholic brew, with those interests whose Mecca is Milwaukee, but I must say that the uses of Pinard far outweigh its abuses. Before I open the case for the defense I wish to have it known that the following observations are the result of eighteen months' association with Pinard, and only a man in, or connected with, the French Army can know how much Pinard I have observed during eighteen months.
As I have already said, Pinard in some measure takes the place of the wine which the Frenchman enjoys "en civile." I say "in some measure" advisedly, for a Frenchman always insists that it is only fit to wash one's hands in, and that before the war no one would think of drinking the stuff. So you see it is all-important to remember that Pinard is in no way a representative French wine, and the poilu curses it with the same breath that he curses somebody for only giving "trois quarts" when he wants "deux litres." Again, Pinard quenches thirst when there is no fit drinking water available. Perhaps this use is not worth mentioning, inasmuch as a Frenchman so rarely drinks water that one is reminded of the Kentucky colonel, who, having been hurled into a river during a train wreck, and being asked if he were injured, responded, "No"---with great spirit---"never swallowed a damn drop!" Nevertheless there are Frenchmen who prefer water, and to these Pinard at least provides a safe way of quenching thirst.
The Americans have never looked upon Pinard as a thirst-quencher, but during the first days of the Belgian offensive we drank it eagerly and blessed the man who was responsible for its appearance in French rations. Those who are acquainted with a "cuisine roulante" know how greasy are the soups and meat and potatoes; Pinard cuts this grease like mechanic's soap and undoubtedly does much to keep the poilu's tummy functioning in the proper manner. I am sure that the percentage of men in the French Army suffering with stomach trouble is considerably lower than in any other allied army, and I am equally sure that Pinard is responsible. It will not be out of the way to mention at this time that it is a curious fact that when "en poste," eating French food, we drink our Pinard with relish, but in barracks the stuff tastes extremely bitter.
In fairness to W. J. Bryan and Josephus Daniels it must be said that Pinard is sometimes abused.
Sometimes---but very, very seldom, and I have seen only three Frenchmen drunk on Pinard. When it comes to "kick," Pinard and beer go arm in arm. It can be done, but it takes so long that only young men can afford to try, and such large quantities are necessary that small men are inconvenienced. As a nerve tonic or exhilarator, hot Pinard (with or without sugar) can keep pace with any "licker" going, and in a warm sector, or on fête days, it is not unusual to see several "quarts" simmering away over a fire. It is rumored that hot Pinard caused one of our "silent partners" to miss an extremely good Christmas dinner, and at the Fête de la Decoration, a foundation of Pinard with a superstructure of champagne caused one to weep, another to bully a champagne case, and several others to sleep in out-of-the-way places and ungraceful attitudes.
On the whole, Pinard is harmless, and I am inclined to believe that the strongest indictment against it is that of a doughboy at Soissons, who said "If these Frenchies had of been here they'd uv stopped on that hill yonder to have a drink of vin rouge, and the fritzes would uv kept 'em stopped."
It is astonishing how near the expression, "Pas de Pinard, pas de guerre!" comes to being true. This expression, let it be known, is used as a jest, but at the same time there is some foundation for it, and I do not know anything the lack of which can make the poilu, veteran of a thousand hardships, so surly and unsociable. I do not mean to imply that he would refuse to fight without Pinard, but it is true that a contented man fights better than a discontented one, and a poilu's contentment varies directly as the amount of Pinard on hand. He will go without bread and meat, and he will eat cabbage day after day; if he has to, he will lie in a water-soaked hole, he will march twenty kilometres carrying a load such as only a poilu carries, but take away or delay his Pinard issue and you have trouble on your hands. Because of this, every effort is made to get the issue to the men. In Belgium, that first week, when every bit of traffic had to go over one wrecked road, all but impassable; when this road was blocked for hours at a time with mired wagons and artillery; when we were fed by avions; when wounded men were dying because no ambulances could reach them, and enough artillery couldn't be brought up to support an attack, I saw King Pinard's carriage ploughing through the mud, and every time the played-out horses stuck, a score of eager volunteers put their shoulders to his wheels and moved him on, though caissons full of "ammo" lay mired by the side.
A French soldier, if he likes you, will share his meagre rations and his ofttimes more meagre bed; you are his friend, his comrade. But should he offer to share his Pinard, then indeed are you admitted to the inner shrine, a true brother---"un copain."
Oh! It's Lizzie this and Lizzie that,
They say your system's lousy,
The frog Conducteurs cuss you
When the staff cars you push past,
They flay you and they cuss you
When weary Peter finds you,
Merci, Adèle, Merci,
Merci, Adèle, Merci,
Merci, Adèle, Merci,
Ae! Here's ta ye, tha Lieut,
We cuss ye when ye drave,
Ye nae kill kape a jit,
We 'ave cussed ye leke tha diel,
In any war there have been distinctive features of the men engaged that have characterized what we choose to call the "morale" of the army; in reality, the predominating characteristics of the various individuals, the nucleus around which forms the---not guiding perhaps, but---controlling spirit of the whole. In this war it is not alone the dreadfulness of it, nor yet the bravery of the men engaged that stood forth. These two things need no mention here to be realized even by the most remote. But the thing that was hardest to grasp and yet so vitally significant was the unceasing search, even groping, of the men for something to laugh about. This is true of their repos and barracks life, but more especially true of their life on the battle front in the midst of desperate and tragic situations.
To meet privations, sufferings and the chances of death without flinching, is one thing. But to make a joke of discomforts, to turn one's own sacrifice into a jest, to look Death in the face with that serene smile, born of the confidence in their cause that is one of the most wonderful things of this war. That is the poilu as we have seen him, and likewise is it true of his brothers-in-arms of the Allied Entente.
Many times have we beheld him accomplish these things; heard his dry humor when it was the sum of his dryness for days untold; times without number have we borne him wounded, fearful lest we cause him undue suffering, in the end to smile in sympathy with some whispered jest over his pitiful plight; seen him die bravely, simply, crowned with a quiet exaltation as he passed to his Maker.
Most incidents impress themselves vividly on the mind. And while we are acutely conscious of the event at the moment, time and leisure to review these happenings serve to make them stand forth in their many contrasting phases. Perhaps specific incidents can best serve the point.
On leaving Rethondes for Villers-Cotterets it is necessary to cross the Aisne River by a very narrow bridge---barely wide enough for one-way traffic. Our convoy of cars had reached about midway of the bridge when it was halted by a jam in a French mule convoy ahead of us. Let it be said here, that an army mule at best is an unruly beast and that a French army mule with the prospect of being "Hun'd" out of existence is the devil's own contrivance to plague the souls of men. At first this halt seemed but an ordinary annoyance, but we were soon undeceived when the drone of a Hun avion became evident above the hum of our motors. The vain attempts of the cicerone of one mule to prevent his charge from smashing our motorcycle and at the same time secure himself a safe retreat from the Hun's strafing were ludicrous despite the situation. The attention of all near by was equally divided in seeking a safe shelter and watching or assisting the muleteer in his predicament. From all sides came the soulful condemnation of the "Boche!" "Cochon!" "Sale Boche!" "-----!"---interlarded with a more playful yet none the less damning vituperation of the mule. The situation was fraught with uncomfortable possibilities when the opening up of an "Archie" battery disposed of the avion, bringing it down---but the mule was not reduced to a state of reasonable docility until he had smashed the spring of our motor sidecar! Order returned, all continued on their way. Not merrily perhaps, yet with danger forgotten in the farcical episode which produced a laugh when things looked most uncomfortable.
All one afternoon and night we forged our way through a ceaseless stream. A stream composed of refugees, bound they knew not whither, but fleeing from the awful menace of an insatiable monster, with nothing but the few valuables they could carry---all that was left to them of their homes and their past life; of troops retreating, worn out and broken against the surging crest of the German wave, yet their tired, harried faces ever expressive of their confidence of the time to come when they should turn to dam the flood---forged through this to arrive at Villers in the mists of early morning. Here all was lowering and sombre, punctuated by the bursts of shells and the crash of a falling wall. The muffled tread of our troops going forward to stop the Boche advance or die seemed an echo of the grim purpose of their souls. Through it all came a gleam of comedy, typified by the cooks scuttling like scared rabbits in and out the ruined houses retrieving precious bottles of wine and choice bits of cheese left by the civilians in the haste of their departure.
The sunsets of those long terrible summer days were signs to all. Almost always with the close of each day seemed to come a pause in hostilities; as though awed by the splendor and majesty of its promise neither side dared to mar the vision. After the travail of the day, the ruddy glory of the declining sun bespoke a promise for the future---a promise that all would be well. Yet, lulled almost to forgetfulness of place in the contemplation of what might be and just as the last faint glow was fading from the horizon, there would come the shattering crash as once more the artillery took up its pæan of hellish music.
As a part of the army of occupation in Germany one cannot but compare the aspect of devastated France and Belgium with the trim and untouched form of Germany. It would seem that leaving a stricken, ravished land for one that was intact and of a clean-cut symmetry would create a pleasing impression. On the contrary it was quite depressing to contemplate villages and cities, populous and thriving as before the war, and then remember Louvain and Langemarck; the former gutted by fire, plundered and pillaged, the latter totally razed by the surge of four years of conflict over it: to see the cathedrals of Aix-la-Chapelle and Cologne and then to think of those of Rheims, Soissons and Ypres, those despoiled monuments to art and time, the handiwork of ancients irreplaceable; and to see the châteaux and castles of the Rhine and then remember the ruins of those one-time similar châteaux, mere shells now, that stand as tombstones to commemorate the nobility and glory of France and Belgium. Today drab-colored stone shells fit only for eyries for the denizens of the air-yet one time ancestral homes filled with the colorful happenings of all the ages and mute witness to their history.
Today France is rejoicing in the victory that has liberated her from the scourge of Hun Kultur. Schrecklichkeit is no more. The tricolor waves triumphantly and proudly over the fortress of Metz, the "impregnable stronghold of the invincible Boche," mocking the discomfort of the vanquished foe and proclaiming to the world the victory of France and the freedom of Alsace-Lorraine. Alsace-Lorraine, pilfered and enslaved child, after fifty years of misery and suffering under the heavy yoke of Prussianism, yet always untamed and defiant to the last, finds happiness once again in its mother's arms. And yet more. Both mother and daughter have survived to witness the destruction of the cruel foe that tore them asunder. Glory indeed is to France. The wonderful, indomitable spirit of France and the true stoicism of her soldiers are alone responsible for the glory that is hers. And the poilu is the impersonification of this same unbreakable spirit.
The poilu. Our poilu. No more fitting word could be manufactured to describe the French soldier, it being the literal expression of the qualities of the man. As to the derivation of the word, and its present meaning, we find this very well explained in a certain guidebook entitled "Facts about France," in which the author writes: "First it should be remembered that we preserve in French the distinction made by the Romans between 'capillos' (cheveux), hair growing on the head, and 'pilos' (poils), hair growing on the face or body of man, or on animals. Therefore 'poilu' means, in orthodox French, 'hairy.' In the second place popular belief associates hairy arms and chest with (a) vigor; (b) manliness; (c) courage. The word existed before the war with that meaning, as one of those images of Parisian slang. From Paris it had passed to the barracks. The war made it popular throughout the army; it pleased the men as humorously, grotesquely indicative of their own valor. From the army it spread to the papers, polite conversation and literature."
From the very beginning of France's history the poilu has existed, not in name, to be sure, but in spirit. He has always been the same, a true soldier and a noble son of France. The poilu who has fought through four long terrible years of war, and poured out his blood like water that "la patrie" might live, is none other in spirit than the brave Frenchmen who gave up all that was dear to them to sail across the seas to the aid of young America, struggling for its very existence against a tyrant king. Nor is he different from the brave, hard-fighting "grognards" of Napoleon, loyal to their leader to the last, and beloved by him. He lives today as our poilu---the embodiment of physical courage, with a spirit that no Hun frightfulness or four years of suffering could break, and a trust in God that cannot but be rewarded by Him. And it is this poilu, with the help of God in whom he trusts, who has saved France.
Before the war one heard so much of the low morality of the French people, and certain poor, unknowing creatures rattled on in a senseless strain about race suicide. France was signing her own death warrant. Such a dissolute life could end only in the destruction of the race. Such talk and ideas were all too common in the pre-war days. And all this from those poor unsophisticated souls who knew nothing whatever about France---save that the French drank a lot of wine, and that La Vie Parisienne was a Paris publication. What shame these individuals must have felt when they saw this France, with all its loose morals, put to a test far more severe than any other people, and then come out on top! Race suicide, indeed! But before many weeks the world was given most convincing evidence that France was far from speeding toward ruin.
When the first rumor of war came floating over Europe Paris was at the zenith of its gayety. And France was happy. It did not come with a shock. Rather it was treated lightly, and was given little credence by the joy seekers of Paris and the contented peasants of France. It was merely a false alarm, a slight trouble that would soon be settled by polished speech over a mahogany table. Nothing to be startled about. War in the twentieth century was unthinkable. Mere newspaper talk, and the fright of a few too timid citizens. No, it was impossible. And thus the report was passed on and forgotten for the moment.
It was not until German troops had begun their march toward Belgium and declarations of war were being turned out like hot cakes that the first black clouds of war came rumbling nearer and nearer, growing more ominous every hour, the prelude to the storm that was soon to burst forth in all its fury upon peaceful France and Belgium. Then followed in short order the glorious and stubborn resistance of the plucky little Belgian Army at Liége, which marked the first of a series of events that were to plunge all Europe, and later almost the whole world, into a death struggle destined to rob France of the flower of her youth and England of her noble sons, to leave the fields of Europe devastated and torn, cities and towns razed and defiled, and the whole country stained red with the blood of the heroes who fought the Kaiser's hordes, and dotted thickly with the graves of "Tommies" and "poilus" alike. Then it was, while the stalwart Belgians were disputing the further advance of the imperial troops at Liége, that Paris and all France awakened to the real peril, looming up blacker and more threatening on the horizon. From that moment there was but a single thought in the hearts of all Frenchmen---the safety and honor of "la patrie." All the true sons of France came rallying to her aid from all corners of the earth, so that when the heathen tribes came rushing toward the capital, the heart and soul of France, they were surprised and disheartened to find opposing them an army of poilus armed with bayonets, and with determination writ upon their faces. "On ne passe pas," was the cry. The Boche did not enter Paris in triumph that evening, as per order. And then took place the Battle of the Marne, when thousands and thousands of Frenchmen fell that their beloved France might live. The river flowed red with the blood of patriots, noble French blood and red, and the graves along the roadside give horrible testimony of the heavy toll taken in that great battle---a battle of pure sacrifice, a simple pouring out of the lifeblood of France. The French Army was very rudely equipped to wage war against the well-provided Hun, but the soldier, the poilu, was "there." Slowly, step by step, gradually increasing the speed, the brave poilus pushed back the Boche invaders at the point of the bayonet. The simple bayonet and the poilu's own body saved France in the Battle of the Marne. Of all the instruments of death in this war the Boche fears the bayonet the most, and when we consider that the Frenchman is a master at the art of bayoneting, it is more readily comprehended how this almost miraculous feat was accomplished. Here, in the first battle of the great war in which the poilu played a rôle, we find the expression of that indomitable spirit and unstinting courage that have always characterized the fighting sons of France.
And let it be said to the credit of the poilu that he has maintained throughout the war this never-say-die spirit, in times of adversity as well as in times of success. Who are we, who have had a mere taste of war, to complain of the hardships and dangers of war? If we, at times, have felt discouraged and tired almost of life itself, how much more justification has the poilu had to feel that way? We who think we know war, what do we know of the suffering and pain and sorrow he has experienced? We have had enough of war to give us an idea of the hell it is. We have been at the game scarcely more than a twelve-month, many of us much less long, while he has endured for more than four years, when the days were darkest, too. How can we appreciate (we can only surmise) the mental torture he has suffered all these years---living, as it were, under a threat and a curse, tempting fate time and again, always on the alert for the approach of death in one of the many forms that Hun Kultur has devised? Not to mention the long dark days when he sat crouched in an abri during the cold, dreary winter months, brooding over the past and speculating about the future, lamenting the fate of his lost comrades and his broken home, but never his own lot, and yearning for the end of the war. How many hours has he whiled away thus, thinking, thinking? Provided he does survive the war, what must he face? A future little better than the war itself. The odds are even greater. The terrible war has taken all he possessed to make life happy for him---his home and dear ones and his total wealth. We cannot know what he has suffered, but we can easily understand how he could have succumbed to fate. But not so with the poilu, the man who never says "die." In truth he has fought other battles than that against militarism, and they were as hard and exacting as the battles of blood and iron, calling for all the courage and stamina that were in him. And he won them all
And for all his courage, his strength of will, his steadfastness for a noble cause, what is his reward? To be sure he has the honor of fighting and offering his life for "la France"---the greatest of all rewards. Yet what natural reward does he receive? His name is not featured in the headlines of the newspapers the world over. No one writes eulogies to this man when he has made the supreme sacrifice. His breast is not decorated with a row of medals, announcing the hero, nor does he know aught of elegant, "snappy" uniforms and gold braid. His is not the career and fortune of the handsome, dashing young aviator, acclaimed the "ace" by the masses. He is destined for a far different end. The poilu, our comrade Jacques, was the first to offer himself to "la patrie"---the obscure, "simple soldat," without name, wealth or fame; and he has fought for her with his life year in and year out, still the obscure, ordinary comrade Jacques, and he dies unwept and unsung. He knows not the comforts of the "ace's" life---a good bed, fine food and hours of recreation. His task is never finished and he makes no distinction between "time off" and "time on." His home is a filthy cave, stinking with foulness and alive with "totoes," where he crouches himself to gain what sleep he can after a meal of soup and "singe." His is a life of monotony, suffering, filth, and above all, of extreme and continual danger. Never is he safe from the sniper's bullet or the deadly gas fumes. Always he can hear the whiz-bang of shells and the crash of bombs. Then comes the moment when he dashes forward amidst a rain of steel, when he goes "over the top." It is the same story over and over, and still he is game and fighting with all the spirit that is in him. This is the life of the poilu, that of the "ace." Who wins? For when all is said and done, talk to your heart's content of the wonderful feats of aviation, it is the "poilu" and the "Tommy" and the "doughboy" who have been the mainstay in this war, and to them belongs the greatest glory.
But after more than three years of what seemed an almost fruitless struggle, the poilu was weary, well-nigh unto death. Another but our poilu might have given up, but not he. And then help came from across the seas. Life began anew for him. Fate was kind, after all. He could now see his objective by the full light of the sun, and he gained hope as the doughboys began to arrive and take the places they should have occupied long before. He welcomed with open arms the khaki-clad warriors from far-off America. He lauded them to the skies and was proud to fight beside them against the common enemy. The coming of these fellows-in-arms was for him the beginning of a new era. Now he could see victory in sight, and he gathered strength from the knowledge. But it took so long, so long, for the "Sammies" to come. Could he hold out until they should be able to shoulder their part of the burden? "Yes," said the poilu, and proved it a little later, during the critical period of the spring of 1918, when he fought with all his old courage and strength, fighting his best when the days were darkest. (And those days were dark, too.) There for the hundredth time the poilu was put to the severest of tests, and for the hundredth time he surmounted an adverse fate. It is one thing to fight, bravely and strongly, when fortune favors the fighter. It is quite another thing to fight with the same spirit when fortune seems to favor the adversary. It is in just this respect that the poilu, as a soldier, differs from the Boche. The Boche is a fine soldier when he is winning. We have seen what he is when he is losing. It takes more than a purely mechanical soldier to fight with all his might when adversity stares him in the face, when fate itself seems to be against him, and to "carry on" as our poilu did during the dark, critical days of the past spring, when the Boche, heading straight for Paris, was stopped in his mighty drive in the Second Battle of the Marne. Here thousands gave their lives as willingly as their brothers had done four years before, falling in almost the same spot as the first defenders of Paris. And finally, when fortune took the side of the Allies, who now became the aggressors, the poilu was in the thickest of the fighting to the last moment, displaying the same sterling qualities that had won him fame at Verdun and the Marne--- that courage that never fails, and that spirit that has never been broken.
And now that it is all over, and the poilu marches triumphantly into Bocheland and sees his former oppressors now his vassals, he cannot but rejoice and sing praises to the good God who has made it all possible. And yet at the same time he looks back, and considers the terrible price exacted for all this peace and glory,---his own dear France torn and bleeding from her many wounds, the shattered homes, the millions of youths who made the supreme sacrifice and who are less fortunate than he in not being able to enjoy the day of victory---tears well up into his eyes, and he shudders as he brushes them away with a rough, dirty hand.
But it is not for the poilu to waste time reminiscing and lamenting his fate. He has much to do. So gritting his teeth, he turns and faces the future, like the true soldier he is. The outlook is not pleasant. No home, no family, no money. Alone he enters another battle the greatest of all battles---the battle of life. But he will fight this battle even as he has fought the Boche, and with the same spirit. And he will win. There can be no other end. The poilu and France must needs always win, so long as the poilu exists.
France is free. France is rejoicing in her victory, when she renders glory and honor to her heroes, the living and the dead. Alsace-Lorraine is returned to her own. And the poilu, the obscure, ordinary "simple soldat," the plucky, brave, God-fearing poilu, has achieved it all. He has removed the "aur" from "on les aura," and to him we owe the "on les a." "Vive le poilu!"
Probably the dictionary defines the word "gravy" as a sauce with a spice, used to add flavor. If the dictionary went deeper into the art of modern slang, the definition of this word would be a bit different. It might use the definition, "Gravy is the art of making the most of one's possibilities by luck, hook or crook," and is most frequently employed in the phrase "riding the gravy." In my own defense I must say that to "ride the gravy" in civilian life is not the same thing as "riding the gravy" in army life. As a civilian there is a limit; as a soldier---well, all is fair in war. To fully understand the meaning of the term, and perhaps to gather a few hints, read as much as you are able of my experiences in that particular line.
My gravy career began unintentionally immediately after I had joined the army. I left New Haven for Philadelphia, where I was sworn in, and from there I went to Chicago to wait till I was called. Somehow or other my name was overlooked, and not until the disagreeableness of making the camp was finished and I had passed two extra pleasant weeks at home was I called.
My next experience was aboard the San Jacinto. The delights and comforts of that trip are explained elsewhere. I avoided the pleasures of our dining quarters and the wonderful food served therein by a very simple combination of a small sum of money and a large amount of nerve ---a combination often used in the United States with great success. First, I made the acquaintance of a fighting field clerk, who had a stateroom. Secondly, I cornered a colored waiter who served the officers, and with the use of dollars my friend Mr. Darkey could have been seen twice daily carrying a tray on which nothing was visible but sheets and pillow-slips, but which contained ample to fulfill the needs of a growing boy.
We landed at St. Nazaire. Our camp life consisted of poor food, watching the moon disappear and the sun come up, sleeping on the ground and taking long hikes in the hottest part of the hottest days with every button of our blouses fitting snugly in its buttonhole. This life was disagreeable but not unbearable. However, the joys of a merely disagreeable life were not to be ours; we soon learned that we were to be chosen to unload five ships that had just come to port. The following afternoon I developed a pain in my right side, and three days later I was recovering from an appendicitis operation, perfectly comfortable, a good bed, good food and pleasant nurses chirruping round me---a situation slightly preferable to the perspiring occupation of unloading hay and canned goods.
My next gravy adventure was a rare one, one that formed itself out of peculiar circumstances, and, if you will note carefully, lacked not one of life's spices. The Lorraine sector was a "secteur tranquil." The town of Badonviller was within a kilometre of the lines. Until this part was taken over by the Americans as an instruction sector, German shells had not been fired on the town since 1915. Civilians had moved back into those houses that had not been destroyed, and were living as comfortably as possible in a war area. One family we shall never forget; that of Madame Thomas. In France one always thinks of Madame as the head of the house. Not meaning to slight "papa"---but have you ever tried to buy eggs from a private family in France? If so, who decides whether there are any to be sold, and what the price is to be? When on duty at "Badon" we stayed at the Thomas home, occupying one room, in which we ate and slept. Everyone was anxious to go to this poste for three reasons---Madame was a mother to all of us, she was a good cook, and she had a daughter who was good-looking. Moreover, the family next door had a daughter who was also pretty. We had had a month or more of peaceful existence, enjoying our food and playing boy and girl. However, this was not to last. One fine day---the same day, by the way, that the town barbers raised their prices---some tired doughboys dragged themselves into the town of Baccarat, some twelve kilometres from Badonviller. They had missed a meal; this coupled with the fact that they had made a long hike made them feel as though they had not eaten for days, and naturally they said so. This event was the beginning of the end for peaceful Badon. In a few days friend Boche noticed that his adversary was firing many bullets on dark nights, and that on the following mornings there were many new holes in the posts supporting the wire entanglements. Old officers knew a pole from a man, even at night; therefore new troops must be in the opposing trenches. By the process of elimination it was finally decided that Americans must be on the other side, and so they began to prove a great general's well-known saying.
One day regiments were changing places, one was going back for a rest and the other was going into the lines. The entire population in the vicinity knew of this movement, as they did 0f all American actions, almost a week in advance. So did the Germans. Two of us made a trip to Baccarat with wounded, discharged them and started back. We reached a hill overlooking Badonviller, from which position we saw shells bursting over the town. About twenty yards from Madame Thomas' house we stopped the car and jumped into a friendly cellar, whence we saw that the wall of the room next to the one in which we lived had been completely demolished. Then I imagined that all sorts of terrible things had happened to the two boys who, when I had last seen them, were sitting comfortably in our room. I imagined them blown to bits, or perhaps down in the cave underneath the house they were under the knife of the doctor, who was cutting away to his heart's content. I was mistaken, happily mistaken. For a few minutes we were unable to run over to Madame Thomas' either for lack of time or for lack of nerve. Finally we made it. In a far, dark corner sat both the boys; in place of a bloodthirsty doctor were two very pretty girls, Alixe Thomas and Juliette. The girls were shaking with fright and crying over the loss of their homes, and my lucky comrades were consoling them in a man's way---a strong arm and a poor endeavor at words. Juliette was nearer my age, so I butted in. Imagine a cave some twenty feet underground, shells landing very near, causing the whole place to rock back and forth, even extinguishing some of the candles that were doing their best to make the cave cheerful. Then imagine two very sweet demoiselles who must be consoled. I call it a happy circumstance.
My last and most fortunate gravy episode occurred in Belgium. To fully understand how successfully I "rode the gravy" it is necessary to mention something of the conditions under which we were working. Belgium has many muddy spots, and we were in the most muddy part of all. To go over certain stretches of not more than five kilometres it took the twenty ambulances of our Section twenty hours, and the make "Ford" was in their favor. We were dirty and exhausted. Our billets were situated near a crossroads, not far from a railroad station. The day was a beautiful one, and the coming night promised to be clear and bright, making it practically certain that there would be numerous air raids to disturb our sleep and nerves. That afternoon a kind and thoughtful shell came my way, a piece from which caused a clean, small hole in the fleshy part of my arm. No pain, a trip back to the hospital in Dunkirk were the results. To add to this, after spending three comfortable weeks in the hospital, with the aid of less than a hundred cigarettes I managed to get the consent of the French doctor to go to Nice for ten days, as a convalescent. The most unfortunate event of all was that when I returned the war was over.
Is the definition of "gravy" almost clear?