On several occasions during our long stay in the quiet Lorraine sector last winter we naturally got restless, because of our inactivity, and began to wish something would happen to break the everlasting monotony of our life.
Being on poste at Migneville, a little village a few kilometres behind the lines, one day everything seemed especially quiet, so having nothing to do and no prospect of any calls, with our usual disregard for "rules and regulations," Stevens and I decided to visit the trenches. Leaving the village behind we strolled along the road over the hill, leading to the little clump of woods called the Bois-le-Compte, where our advanced poste de secours was stationed. Inside we met the Frenchmen in charge of the poste, who took us in and wanted to show us round. First of all, we were led down a trench leading to the entrance of the station, and then, to our astonishment---and the poilus' delight---we went downstairs at least thirty feet under ground. Here we saw a complete hospital with every convenience for the handling of the wounded. The poilu proudly showed us how the escalator worked (a device that carries the serious cases from the ground level down to the operating table), then he led us a little farther along the passageway, and we saw the beds arranged in tiers. At the end of the row of beds the dressing station was installed. Here the wounded men, after receiving their first-aid attention, left through another door to the trench which took them up to the road, where they were loaded into the voiture and taken back to the evacuation hospital.
We left the hospital and made our way up to the machine-gun posts. Everything was peaceful; the Frenchman in his dugout, making "briquets," enjoying his solitude. When we arrived he willingly took us over to the guns and showed us how they worked, then led us back to his dugout, brought out his "bidon" of Pinard, the poilus' best friend, and started to tell us a few stories of his previous battles, until one of his companions arrived who was feeling much the happier on account of his Pinard, and who agreed to take us up to the first line and the observation postes.
With our strong persuasive powers---American cigarettes---we started on our tour of the lines. Contrary to all expectation, instead of everything being battered down by shell fire everything was clean and in good order. We wandered over the muddy duck boards along the communication trench, and finally arrived at the first line proper. Here the Frenchmen welcomed us and asked all kinds of questions concerning "les Américains." Everyone wished to take us in hand, but our "petit caporal," by this time our best friend, stood up for his rights and took full charge of us.
First of all he took us along another small trench which led to the observation poste, where two poilus were stationed. Here the "caporal" illustrated the use of the periscope glasses, and told us the necessity of having an alert guard on duty. With the aid of these glasses we had a splendid chance to see that section of No Man's Land. At that time it was just a long sloping strip of ground, pockmarked here and there with shell holes, and crisscrossed, of course, by the wire entanglements.
We returned to the trenches again, and here the Frenchman showed us how he lived in his dugout, comfortably fitted out with two raised platforms, one above the other, with a substantial covering of straw---this he called his bed. He showed us also his little trench stove. Leading us around through another trench he displayed their supply of Pinard, without which it is said the Frenchman will not fight
After this little tour we returned to the group of poilus whom we had met before, and here we spent a very interesting half hour, enlivened by rounds of their ever present Pinard, learning the secrets of the grenade, the star shell, and many other instruments so important in the trenches, until finally we decided that it was getting late and that we had better leave.
About sunset we started to wander back to our little village. As we walked through the woods everything looked so pretty in the light of the setting sun. The Angelus was calling to prayer. The thin blue line behind us had completed one more day in the defense of France and the homeland.
Being the days and wanderings of the Ark of the Covenant as told by Abimadab the scribe of the Mamonites.
And this is the law of the Ark of the Covenant.
Where the tribe shall go there shall the Ark of the Covenant go, and where it shall be ordained that the tribe shall pitch their tents there shall the Ark be found, and whenever they shall gird up their loins and depart then shall the Ark go with them and on its altars thrice each day shall burnt offerings be paid between the morning and the evening, for thus it is written in the law and the prophets.
And the tribe shall eat thereof that they may fill their bellies and be not ahungered before the Lord their God.
And these were the days and journeys of the Ark of the Covenant.
For it was commanded of the most high that the tribe of Eli should gird up their loins and depart into a far country, they knew not whither.
Thus God commanded and they obeyed him.
And behold the tribe of Eli did journey, together with their flocks numbering as the sands of the sea, to many lands and by devious ways, even to the Vale which is called Meurthe-Moselle, and their flocks with them, which be called Toto, which is by interpretation Cooty, according to the sinful manner of their life.
For like the lilies of the field they toil not neither do they spin, yet Green in all his glory is not arrayed without some of these.
And whenever the tribe of Eli sate them down then did Moses and the priests of the Ark sacrifice and of the burnt offerings were the children of Eli fed, both of the flesh of sheep and of goats and of the wild asses slain with the edge of the sword.
And after many days in the Vale of the Meurthe the tribe of Eli did gird up their loins and depart into a far country and their flocks went with them; and the Ark went sometimes before them and sometimes behind them and sometimes beside them, and its goings out and its comings in were as the stars in their number.
And the priests and the Levite Marcellus did speak many holy words and great of it for the Ark and its burnt offerings.
For verily, the Levite Marcellus hath the gift of tongues. Great is the sound of his voice above the multitude and always doth he call on the name of the Lord. Yea, many and great with the name of the Lord are the words which the Levite Marcellus doth utter.
And from the Vale of the Meurthe the tribe of Eli and their flocks and the flivvers and all that unto them pertained journeyed to the city of Charmes, where they abode until nine sacrifices were made before the Ark.
And the children of Eli were exceeding wroth with the priests, yea, with Crane and Harper, because of the burnt offerings with which they needs must fill their bellies and especially because of the drink offerings.
For the drink offerings were as the venom of the adder and the poisoned spittle of the stinging dragon on the tongues of them who tasted.
But the priests would heed them not when they complained of it, neither would they do aught but mock, for they taste not as with the tongues of men but rather as the beasts of the field with whom they consort.
And the tribe of Eli did swear a mighty oath that they would cast the priests of the Ark into the waters, for they were unclean.
And they murmured among themselves and would not be comforted until the day in the wilderness when they cast them out and the tribe of Eli did get them new priests, the Rabbi Perkins and he that is as the bull of Bashan in his roarings and his stampings, he that is called Cunningham by the sons of man.
And then did the tribe of Eli taste of the burnt offerings and were comforted and drink of the drink offerings and were not athirst, not even for the chocolate of the Rabbi Perkins.
But the unclean priests dwelt apart from the others until they should be cleansed.
And the priest Harper bath gone into another country whence men say---yea, even those who sit in high places say---that he shall never return among the tribe of Eli, for they love him not. For he took with him certain monies which resteth as a sign unto those about him, for verily doth the priest Harper speak with the tongue of a false judge and the forked tongue of the serpent which lieth in the grass.
And from the city of Charmes did the tribe journey in two parts, and one part went one way and another went another.
And the Ark of the Covenant went with the greater part.
And the tribe of Eli journeyed for three days from early in the morning until evening, but they worshiped not three times each day before the Ark. Only in the morning a drink offering and in the evening a burnt offering and the tribe did murmur against the priests and the elders for the hunger that was in their bellies.
And the tribe of Eli journeyed by Troyes and the Vale of the Marne through Persan and Beaumont to Beauvais where there was a great gathering of the multitudes for war; armed men and mighty men of valor together with their chariots and horses and their men in warlike array, and their musicians with sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. For the day was great with war and the Hour of Battle was nigh when the tribes should rise up and smite the Philistine hip and thigh with the sword of righteousness.
And among them were many scribes and learned, the Ishmaelite, Cobb, and others of great report, who fill the ears of the multitude with their noisings and speak not with the tongues of angels but rather as Samson slew the Philistines, with the jawbone of the ass; for the truth is not in them and their voice is as the voice of the wild ass, loud and without meaning.
And from Beauvais the tribe of Eli journeyed to the city of Aumale---a half day's journey and the Ark went with them.
And the country round about was filled with war and rumors of war, for the might of the Philistine was great and his gods powerful.
And the tribe of Eli did make merry in Aumale two days' time. For Aumale is a goodly town and the inns thereof give bounteously of their wines and strong drinks to the stranger within their gates.
And the tribe of Eli waxed merry with the wines and strong drinks. Nor did they lie down to rest before they were filled.
And on the morning of the third day before it was yet light, yea, before the Frankish officer had arisen from his sleeping, did the tribe gather themselves and await.
And they were wroth with waiting, for the Frankish officer who came not. And the tribe of Eli would not await in peace; for their heads were great with goodly drinkings and many.
But early in the morning when the light had not yet come, the tribe of Eli and their elders and their flocks which be called Toto, whose seed had waxed great and multiplied, and the Ark of the Covenant and the priests of the Ark-yea, the unclean priests Crane and Harper, did journey a little way to the city of Picquigny which lieth in the Vale of the Somme by Amiens, where there is a great Tabernacle and old.
And there they bode in wait for the war against the Philistines.
And while they bode there the elders were wroth with the people, for they did consort with others not of their tribe and did mingle with them to the mortification of the sons of other tribes and did even bring them merry with much wine into their tents. And the Elder Peters, a man quick to wrath, bade them not do this thing, but they would heed him not, for their heads were great with wine of the country.
And behold these strangers within their gates fell asleep ere they were done drinking and two of the Sons of Eli did carry them by the heels and by the head into their tents as the Lord their God commanded them. And another of the tribe did exhort with them and teach them even the teachings of Moses and the sayings of the prophets, he being filled with wine, and many were his words and holy.
And on the following day the elder who is called Peters, which is by interpretation a stone, turned away his face from them and would not be moved from his wrath but remained for many days a barrier in the path of those who made merry with strangers.
And lo, when the hour of battle was nigh and the hosts were gathered together for war, it being about the fifteenth day of the fifth month, the tribe of Eli and their flocks and the Ark of the Covenant with them did arise and go out of the Vale of the Somme by Amiens where the Great Tabernacle lieth.
And they journeyed an half day's journey to the city of Esquennoy which lieth by Montdidier between the waters of the Somme and the waters of the Oise.
And there they lay in wait for many days in a forest. Yea, for fifteen days of the fifth month.
And on the last day of waiting they gathered their tribe together and journeyed to the Vale of the Oise by Compiègne, a sightly city and rich.
But the hand of the Philistine was heavy upon the land and its peoples were fled away, for they feared for the women and children before the anger of the Philistines, for thus do the Philistines make war, smiting all before them. Yea, even the babes and sucklings with the flocks of sheep and of goats and kids carried in baskets were fleeing before the coming of the Philistines.
And the soldiers of the Lord went up to battle before Compiègne and the tribe of Eli went with them. For the hour was nigh.
And on the coming of evening of the last day of the month the children of Eli journeyed further south into the Vale of the Aisne and in the morning the hosts went up to battle against the Philistines.
And the battle endured for many days, yet the hosts of the Lord did not falter, smiting the Philistine by day and by night, fearing not, for the Lord was with them.
And the Sons of Eli labored in the battle that their brethren sorely stricken might not die and the Lord was with them in their labors.
And the Ark of the Covenant was also with them and they continued to eat of its burnt offerings and drink of its drink offerings which were as gall and wormwood in their bellies, for the unclean priests were still with them; yea, these unclean priests and slovenly, and they labored not fittingly, but the Levite Marcellus and Beecher did toil also, for they are cunning with their hands, and all the Sons of Eli did marvel at their toil and have not ceased to marvel to this day at the toil of Marcellus and Beecher, for it is not their wont, inasmuch as they live as men apart and do not partake of the common lot.
And when the battle had somewhat abated the tribe of Eli did journey on to other lands and other battles in the Vale of the Aisne and by Soissons and on the hills round about.
And the Ark went always with them.
And it was commanded that they go into a far country, even to the lands of the Bclgiumites, which lieth between the Great Sea and the lands of the Philistines.
And so they went and the Ark went with them.
And it was about the end of the ninth month when the hosts of the Lord joined together under his servant the King 0f the Belgiumites and went out to do battle against the Philistines, to drive them out from the lands of the Belgiumites which they had taken and utterly destroyed.
And the Sons of Eli went with them.
And the Ark went with them also.
And on the twenty-eighth day of the ninth month, sorrow came among the Sons of Eli and fastened itself upon them in the Wilderness of Sin which lieth between Dixmude and Ypres.
For the Ark was not with them nor the priests of the Ark nor the chariot which drew it. For there was no way and the chariots of the hosts lay before them and they could not pass.
And the heavens opened and the rains fell both by day and by night and the Ark of the Covenant remained in the mud which filleth and compasseth round about the Wilderness of Sin.
But the children of Eli murmured among themselves saying, Where is the Ark and the unclean priests and the burnt offerings thereof? Our bellies cry out for food and are not filled.
And they sate them down and wept for the fleshpots of Egypt, and especially Stevens, crying out with a loud voice lamentations in the Wilderness, but it came not, neither did the unclean priests, for they were asleep.
And some of the tribe, together with the captain of the tribe, a good and mighty man of valor, did go in search of the Ark and its burnt offerings and Stevens went with them and Bowerman of whom it is cried when he cometh, Who hath loosed the bonds of the Wild Ass?
And they brought back portions of the burnt offerings and the children of Eli ate and were satisfied; yea, Stevens, even he was also satisfied.
And he that riseth early in the morning and laboreth in the high places of the earth, the trumpeter of the host, he that is called Campbell, he also was satisfied.
And the hosts went out to battle and smote the Philistines until they were utterly routed and fled away before them.
And the Belgiumites and their brethren followed by Dixmude near the hill that is called Paschendaele by the sons of man.
And there was no food for the armies and they were sore ahungered and athirst so that they drank the foul pools that lay in the Wilderness but had no food.
And birds of the air came among them with manna which they dropped. Even as Elijah in the Wilderness were they fed by the ravens. Even as the children of Israel were they fed by manna dropped from the skies.
And the Philistines fled before them and the hosts pursued, and some they slaughtered and some they took to be their servants and the land was freed from the Philistines and there was great rejoicing throughout the world.
And the Sons of Eli and all that unto them is, journeyed to Brussels, a great city and beautiful, and the Ark went with them. But the unclean priests were cast out and other priests ministered before the Ark, the Rabbi Perkins and Cunningham and many another.
And the tribe of Eli journeyed for many days and the Ark always went with them.
And the Sons of Eli went into the lands of the Philistines.
And the Ark went with them, for it is so written that wherever the Sons of Eli shall go there shall the Ark of the Covenant be found, and where they shall pitch their tents there shall the Ark be found, and where they shall take up their abode there shall the Ark of the Covenant abide.
For this was the law.
And so it was.
Three infantry regiments were garrisoned at Toul at the beginning of the war. During, and after the mobilization of the entire Front, they formed the mobile defense of Toul, occupying the Bois le Prêtre, where unaided they repelled the Boche attacks on this wood so fiercely that early in the war "Gerry" came to know it as the "Bois des Veuves," because of the number of widows mourning for German husbands killed in the vain attempt to dislodge these stubborn defenders.
June 7, 1915, the three regiments, 167th, 168th and 169th, were relieved from the Bois le Prêtre, and on the fifteenth of June the 128th Division was formed. This Division was composed of four regiments, the 167th, 168th and 169th, and the 100th Regiment of infantry, which was detached from the 12th Corps, a squadron of chasseurs, two companies of engineers and a park company, two battalions of territorials, the 252d Regiment of artillery (pieces of 75 millimetres short) and further supported, according to the sector, by artillery from the Corps d'Armée.
The Division was henceforth known as Les Loups du Bois le Prêtre, a name first given by the Germans to the defenders of the wood.
July 2 the 138th took the sector at Viermi le Château, near Varennes, where a firm defensive was maintained, and even the Hun attacks of the fourteenth of July and the eleventh of August were repulsed with heavy enemy losses. A short repos, and the Division went back into the lines at the extreme right of the French Champagne offensive, where on the twenty-fifth of September, 1915, it attacked the Boche forces of the Argonne, which were coming to the aid of their hard-pushed comrades in the Champagne. The German reinforcements were stopped at this battle, but the valiant Loups lost one half their effectives in two hours. That same day Les Loups were relieved and sent en repos in Lorraine, their native heath, where they organized the sector around Reillon, in front of St. Clement.
Before they left for Verdun, in June, 1916, the 100th Regiment was taken back to the 12th Corps. At Verdun the 128th took Fleury, Chapelle, St. Fine and Fort de Souville and held all the ground taken in this most critical epoch of the German offensive against Verdun. The Boche offensive of the eleventh of July for Fort de Souville was broken, as were the continuous Hun counterstrokes, while the 128th fought from one water-filled shell hole to another in this hell on earth, never yielding one inch of ground.
Again a repos for a few days only, and then the 128th was ordered to the Bois d'Ailly on the right bank of the Meuse, and near St. Mihiel. This sector was very quiet and well established, but owing to the nature of the ground the opposing front lines were far apart. Two horses had been running wild over this No Man's Land, since the front lines had become permanent, and had eluded both French and Germans, who were eager to win the respective rewards offered for their capture. Finally two of Les Loups were successful, and each received four hundred francs and ten days' "perm."
Toward the middle of October the 128th moved to Côte du Poivre, Verdun, where it supported the attacking forces, and assisted in entertaining some 15,000 prisoners. Immediately after the attack the 128th Division took over the entire sector, organized it, and finally held it over a month in mud waist deep, attacked continually by squalls of snow and rain and hordes of Boches. Relief came and the 128th went to a quiet sector on the heights of the Meuse, northeast of Eparges. Here they remained the rest of the winter until April. The eighteenth of April Les Loups stormed and took Auberives, Monts du Champagne, and held it until relieved the last of June for the usual short repos, after which they took a quiet sector at Simian, in the Champagne.
The last of July they were at Verdun for the third time, and in the Bois des Caurières. The eighth of August they went over the top and advanced under a dense and murderous Hun barrage. They held against the counterattacks until relieved. It was here that General de Riberpray was killed by a bursting shell in the front-line trenches. The name of General de Riberpray causes the face of any Frenchman, be he poilu or officer, to soften when he hears it, for the general had endeared himself to the hearts of the men. Permissionnaires laden with musettes were always given a lift to the railroad if he happened to pass in his car. When he visited the trenches, if it happened to be near time for "la soupe" the general often bore a kettle himself, and many a poilu was served by his general, disguised as a private. The morning he was killed he was personally ascertaining the losses in the previous attack before carrying out the order to attack again. He was succeeded by the present General Segonne.
In October, after a repos, the 128th Division went back to Verdun for the fourth and last time, and took up a position in front of Côte du Talon, where they were successful in occupying a part of the Bois des Caures after a bloody struggle.
In December orders came for repos, and this time Les Loups went again to Lorraine and took a quiet sector at Baccarat. Here we joined them, replacing an English section, and soon we had made many friends among the Frenchmen. In March the 42d Division of Americans came to Baccarat to receive its first front-line training from Les Loups, who were full of praise for "les petits Américains."
In April the 128th moved to St. Clement, but ugly news came daily from the Somme, and finally, the last of April, the Division entrained for Amiens, where they stayed en reserve with the Australians until the last of May, when they were called to stop the Boche hordes at Villers-Cotterets. Again and again the Boche tried to penetrate the forest, but each time the valiant Loups rolled back the surprised Hun, who was compelled to respect his adversary. An order from the German General Kundt found on a prisoner ran in part as follows, "We have found before us an infantry hard to reduce, and adversaries quite worthy of respect." A prisoner from the Imperial Guards recognized Les Loups, and was heard to say, "No wonder we couldn't get through; it was the 'Wolves' who stopped us again." The Division held, by very hard fighting and with surprisingly few losses, for over fifty days. It took part in the big French attack of July 18, and advanced several kilometres, until relieved to go en repos north of Compiègne.
The last of July the Division took an established sector in front of Vic-sur-Aisne with orders to smash the Boche lines and drive the enemy out of this hilly and strongly fortified country. Town after town was taken, and when the Division arrived at its objective it was relieved, to spend a few days around Villers-Cotterets, near where only a couple of months before it had stopped picked Boche troops in their rush for Paris.
September found them in front of Soissons, and this time Chemin des Dames was their objective. Some of the most desperate fighting of the war took place, as the Loups advanced foot by foot, pushing back the best fighters of the German Army, who were backed by the strong fortifications of the Hindenburg line, repelling continuous counterstrokes night and day. After the Loups took Ferme Perriens the Prussian Guards attacked six times during one night, but were not successful in permanently dislodging the French.
The 128th suffered considerable losses at Soissons, but were relieved from there the middle of September to aid the Belgians in the new drive in Flanders. This was another hell on earth; the low country did not permit trenches, and even the shell holes would quickly fill with water, leaving no protection for the men. The 128th supported the Belgians to Wifwege, where it went into the lines and fought its way to the Roulers-Thourout road beyond Staden. There were not so many losses as usual, for nearly all the Hun light artillery had been taken in the first rush, and the pill boxes were the chief obstacles. After reaching their objective the Loups were relieved and put on reserve for a couple of days, after which they went back into the lines and were the first Allied troops in four years to enter Oudenarde.
Next the armistice was signed, and after fifty-three months of hard fighting the Division was given a well-earned rest as part of the army of occupation, in Rhenish Prussia, around Aix-la-Chapelle and Jülich, and there we left them in March, 1919.
Les Loups du Bois le Prêtre won the respect of the Hun early in the war. They were always found in the hardest fighting, were four times at Verdun during the most critical epoch of the Hun drive for this important fortress, and were among the first to penetrate the famous Hindenburg line. They were always ready to sacrifice themselves, as when they were cut to pieces in the Champagne and at Verdun. Their constant hammering and dogged tenacity wore down the morale of the Hun at Chemin des Dames and made it easier for the next French division to go through. Their unfailing courage and readiness to sacrifice won them many citations, both as units and as individuals.
The Division as we knew it was composed of the 167th, 168th and 169th Infantry, the 252d Artillery (pieces of 75 millimetres), one battalion of 107th Regiment heavy artillery (pieces of 155 millimetres), one squadron of 11th Chasseurs, two companies of 10th Regiment engineers together with a park company, and the 54th and 67th Battalions of territorials. Further reinforcements of artillery were supplied according to the need of the sector.
Their number is legion, and as to shape, appearance and design they exist in as great variety as the products of Mr. Heinz, czar of pickledom. For me, however, they fall naturally into two classes---billets above ground and those below, or more properly, those that give protection from the elements alone, and those designed to shelter the billetees from gas, obus and "a' things that go bump i' the nicht." Being a conscript in the "Battle of the Book" I conscientiously object to adding mendacity to the crime here perpetrated. Therefore I refuse to discuss the general subject of billets, and will confine myself to such as sheltered the tribe of Eli in its wanderings.
As to the way in which our billets were awarded to us, the ordinary proceeding was simplicity itself. The convoi would be halted just outside the town that was to be our destination, while our French self-styled section commander bustled to the bureau du major de cantonnement in search of accommodations, while we cooled our heels by the roadside. Jamon might reasonably be expected to return before midnight; candor forces me to admit that he seldom took more than two hours, but his appearance of being a busy man was never missing. However much we maligned him, we were compelled to admit his Thespian ability, for he played his part well. When the courier of the G. B. D. had been awarded a convenient abri, and the Divisionnaire's horse had found logement, then and only then were the ambulanciers allowed to seek a place to lay their weary bodies. This system has privileged us to sleep in some of the most venerable relics of France, granges that sheltered forage for Napoleon's troopers, and wine cellars which held the vintage of ages long past. Such splendid barns as we had at St. Clement! In all fairness it must be admitted that they occupied a strategic position with regard to the café, but they had no other good points. The roofs leaked, they were crawling with cooties, and the addition of several horses added the subtle perfume which is always associated with those white-clad warriors of Manhattan who so consistently follow the ponies with a broad, long-handled scoop.
Owing to our aversion to sleeping on vermin-infested straw, we generally occupied more room than the same number of poilus would. The fortunate owned cots, the hoi polloi couched on brancards. Everywhere was strewn equipment, clothing, cigarette butts and waste paper. When we struck an oft-bombed town it was quite surprising how much room was to be found above ground and how little below. The château of Villers-Cotterets gave us a splendid apartment, which we occupied by day, deserting it for the lower regions with the first humming of the Gothas. Then came Boursonne with its hayloft, which we occupied gleefully until a "toot sweeter" formed the unpleasant habit of dropping a few in every night. Thirty seconds after the first shell fell, the solitary cave was crowded with doctors, conducteurs, the G. B. D. personnel and plenty of small black beetles that could bite through a pair of rubber boots. So it went.
Despite the few vagaries listed above, France treated us well on the question of billets, but Belgium---ouch! Wifwege, Langemarck, Cinq Chemins---what splendid quarters we had in those towns! Here a Boche pill box, and there a shell hole, and in the next place a tent sheltered us. Where Langemarck was, there is now only a pile of bricks. Our billets were in the cellar of the city hall, the rubble of what was once that edifice standing up at least three feet higher than the surrounding débris. As the Section advanced close upon Jerry's heels the quarters became better, for, scientific always, our friend the enemy refrained from burning such towns as we entered---he was in too much of a hurry. In Hunland the housing problem was simplicity itself. First a hotel, then a schoolhouse with central heating and lighting arrangements. The Cristallerie in all its glory could not compare with our luxurious logement in the école at Aachen.
The trailer has been deserted for a model interior kitchen; iron bedsteads have replaced the blood-covered brancards. Verily apartments de luxe. You can bet that forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.
Clouds are heavy in the sky;
|Shadows are moving
Hither and thither;
Daylight is creeping
Slowly upon us.
Why do we shiver?
Why are our faces
Sober and ashen,
Tense with emotion?
Why are we tongue-tied?
Why are we rigid,
Set in the harness,
Waiting and waiting?
Minutes are hours,
Hours are minutes.
Sighing and sobbing,
Crashing and crashing,---
Powder and metal
Thank God It's over!
The following is an account of the writer's experience on June 3, 1918. The Paris paper, Le Petit Parisien, contained in its June 8 edition a picture of Fernande, and told of her having been found by the French soldiers and carried to the hospital in an American ambulance. Her address at the hospital was also given, and the writer sent her a letter which was answered promptly by the child's nurse. Fernande soon recovered from her wound, spent the latter part of the summer at the seashore in care of some Sisters, and later spent several months at their school in Paris. The writer called to see her there in February, 1919, but the child had just gone to live with an aunt who is to educate her. Fernande's father, a stone mason, is again living at Faverolles (Aisne), but it was learned from some of the Wolves that her mother was killed in her home and was buried in the little military cemetery near the Oigny Quarry.
On the morning of June 3, 1918, the sun was beaming radiantly over the Forest of Villers-Cotterets, but among its shadows a bitter struggle was being waged. At break of day the Germans had launched a furious attack, hoping to gain a foothold in the Forest---the last natural barrier between their lines and Paris. After a tremendous artillery preparation the gray-clad hordes had hurled themselves against the thin blue line of Wolves, exhausted but ready to fight to the last to save their beloved capital. The Germans had managed to gain a brief possession of the town of Faverolles, but the little tanks arriving in support of the infantry had driven the enemy in terror from the village, and the Wolves remained masters of the Forest.
It was a busy morning for most of us and the sun was almost directly overhead when "Hap" Houlihan and I left the 168th Battalion poste at Oigny with the last load of wounded. On the top stretcher was a Boche, who was to be replaced by one of the wounded Frenchmen waiting at "The Quarry"---a huge cavern carved in the hillside, and serving as a regimental dressing station. About the entrance of the cave was seated a group of brancardiers noisily enjoying their "soupe" after their strenuous morning's work. Just inside, several poilus, using their packs as pillows, were snatching a few minutes' sleep. Beyond was a row of stretchers, each supporting a wounded soldier. The horizon-blue uniforms were tarnished with dust; many were tattered and stained with blood. The silence and damp chill in the cavern formed a marked contrast with the turmoil and brightness of the morning.
From the darkness, a strange sound reached our ears---a voice clearly distinguishable from those of the poilus. But we were imagining things, for surely there could be no child in that cavern so close to the Boches! Even when we saw a little figure in white, indistinct in the darkness, we scarcely believed. Our eyes and ears had not been deceiving us, however, for there in the midst of a group of admiring brancardiers sat a beautiful child. A fair round face, smiling but pinched by pain and fatigue, peeked from a mass of golden curls. What was the mission of the little girl in the white dress, here among the bearded poilus?
The question was soon answered, for a bandage extending below the child's dress told that she had been wounded. A sudden and intense feeling of hatred filled my entire being. To think that even the Boches had dared harm such a beautiful, radiant little creature! As we joined the group, the "médecin-chef," who had just finished bandaging the thigh, was jesting with the "petite blessée." Not a complaint or murmur escaped the lips of the courageous child, whose smile was ennobled by the suffering which it tried in vain to conceal.
As the old corporal filled in the hospital tag, the brancardiers gladly related to us the story of the child. She had been found that morning in the little village of Faverolles, after the French had driven out the Boches. During the bombardment which preceded the early morning attack, a German shell had made a direct hit upon the child's home, and a piece of éclat had pierced her thigh. When she saw that the poilus were in the village, she had attracted them by her cries, and had been carried to Oigny by the brancardiers who were then attentively caring for her. There was pathos but no wonder in the fact that neither the child nor the soldiers knew what had become of her parents. It seemed as though each of these old territorials---perhaps mindful of his own little ones---was trying as best he could to take the place of the missing parents.
The tag was soon ready and Fernande Noël of Faverolles, aged seven years and wounded in the right thigh, was ready to be evacuated. All wished her "bonne chance" and "bon voyage," and a group of brancardiers escorted her down the path to the ear, each of the men kissing the little girl fondly on each cheek before leaving her. My first thought upon seeing Fernande in the cave had been that the angels must have sent her there with a message of love and hope to the war-worn poilus. True, I had been partly mistaken, for it was the Boches who had sent her, but there was no doubt that the sympathetic attachment and pure affection which her presence had aroused in the hearts of these men would serve as an inspiration and help in the dark days that were to follow. I climbed on to the front seat beside "Hap" and the child was gently placed upon my lap. Little did we need the bidding to take good care of the child, for never had we been entrusted with so precious a charge, and no effort would be spared to assure her safety and comfort.
Slowly we climbed the winding, rutty road leading up from the quarry. What a relief to be rid of the German and his groans! What a contrast between him and this courageous little French girl who uttered no complaints though her face showed clearly that every jolt of the ambulance shot a dart of pain through her frail body.
But safety was the first consideration and as we crossed the open level space leading to Dampleux, "Hap" gave the car more gas. The next few moments were filled with the most intense and complex feelings. An ardent admiration for the brave and beautiful little creature in my arms was joined with a burning hatred for the brutes who had harmed her. A prayer for her safety was mingled with a thought of vengeance should any further injury befall her. With my helmet I shielded the beautiful blue eyes and golden hair from the bright sunlight and the strong, cool breeze-and who knew what else might fall? As we approached the village of Dampleux which had been battered to pieces about our heads that morning, the thought came constantly to me, "If anything should happen to Fernande!" We passed along the road skirting the woods, whose border was lined with "75's," and these little guns were barking forth a continuous stream of defiance and death. The crisp, crackling reports were almost deafening, and little wonder that Fernande was frightened! I did my best to divert the child's mind from her pain and danger, however, and assured her that they were French guns that were doing the firing and that they were helping the brave poilus drive the wicked Boches from her village. It was wonderful to see the child's courage return with the realization that those two great French contributions to the war, the poilu and the "75," were still fighting face to face with the enemy.
Dampleux passed, and once well into the woods the noise and danger were greatly diminished. Soon we reached the divisional "ambulance" at Villers-Cotterets, where we were ordered to transport our wounded to Bets. How I dreaded the long, jolting ride over the rough cobblestone roads! Of course we had a puncture, and while I was giving "Hap" a hand, Fernande was left alone on the front seat. When we were again ready to "roll" I noticed the child munching away on a stick of sand chocolate. This, she told me, had been given her by one of the poilus and she was enjoying it---for had she not missed her breakfast? This small piece of chocolate---or sand, as the fellows disparagingly called it---served as a diversion throughout several kilometres of the ride, but occasionally an unusual jolt would send a look of pain into the child's face and then she would smile! The most courageous, noble and captivating smile I have ever seen.
The road was thronged with men and conveys of guns, caissons and supply wagons on their way to the Front, and the sight of the little girl being carried by Americans brought forth a great variety of expressions as we passed. Most of the remarks were in the typical light-hearted, jesting vein of the poilu, but when we spoke of our petite blessée, the child became at once the object of the greatest admiration and I felt very proud of my temporary guardianship.
As we rode along, I tried to learn from Fernande something about her parents and the events of the early morning, but the child's mind, like those large blue eyes, seemed very weary. She did tell me that she was having her first automobile ride and that she was enjoying it (which seemed very difficult for me to believe), and I thought how thrilling the experience would have been for this little peasant girl under more favorable conditions.
After telling Fernande for the dozenth time that we were nearly at our destination, and with my arms tired out from supporting her, we reached the hospital where I was to lose my brave little charge. As I turned her over to the doctor and was about to leave, Fernande burst into tears---the first time she had cried since J first saw her in the cavern. It seemed so hard to leave her at the busy hospital with all those soldiers, but when the doctor promised that every possible care would be given her and that she would soon be sent to Paris for the best of treatment, we bade the child "au revoir, bonne chance," and "bonne santé." As "Hap" and J rode back to the Section, I realized that the morning had brought me experiences and feelings I should never forget, and that in little Fernande I had come to know the Unconquerable Spirit of France.
The road over which our Section drove, one rainy day in October, 1917, in a long convoy of Fiat ambulances following our blue-coated poilu division en repos, led through the beautiful Lorraine countryside, a region teeming with undying memories and traditions of France's peerless heroine and warrior-saint, Jeanne d'Arc. We passed several statues and monuments to the Maid by the roadside and not a few signs and inscriptions made reference to her glorious history. Late in the afternoon we passed through Vaucouleurs, the town whither Jeanne came to demand of its governor, the Sieur de Baudricourt, men-at-arms to conduct her to the French king at Chinon castle. Here, as I saw several weeks later, still exist the subterranean chapel where Jeanne heard mass before setting out on her fateful journey and the Forte de France through which she and her followers rode. When, towards nightfall, we reached our destination and place of repos, the tiny village of Amanty, high in the hills above the Meuse Valley, I learned that we were within easy walking distance of the Maid's birthplace and the scene of her miraculous visions---Domremy.
The following morning, a Sunday, I was possessed by the desire to visit Domremy that very day. I inquired of several villagers how far off the place was and whether I could hire a guide to take a party there. I was informed that Domremy by the shortest route was from twelve to fourteen kilometres distant and that it would be easy to procure a guide. Having secured Lieutenant Abbot's leave and persuaded and cajoled as many as I could to go with me, I engaged a seventeen-year-old boy to conduct us to the birthplace of Jeanne d'Arc. He was to meet us at one o'clock.
The weather had been threatening all the morning and toward noon it rained violently. This was far from encouraging and several who had agreed to go with me now backed out. When the guide came for us after dinner only two, besides myself, were game or rash enough to set out. At the last moment, however, the weather showing signs of clearing, four others decided to join us. We started out seven in number, Bill Flint, Borden, "Deak" Lyman, "Howy" Campbell, Perkins, Crane and myself. Following our little guide, whose name I learned was Aarmgaard Noisette, a cultivateur propriétaire by occupation, we struck over the country by a rough wagon road from the Department of Meuse into Vosges, where we soon hit the excellent departmental route leading from Gondrecourt to Maxey.
The scenery along this road is among the finest I have seen in France. Ahead of us rose the Vosges foothills, or petits Vosges, as our guide called them, which are, in fact, good-sized, thickly wooded mounts. Nearer at hand, on either side the road, vista after vista of hilly woodland interspersed by broad reaches of meadow unfolded before us as we advanced. I remember one magnificent view across a broad, gently dipping valley whose opposite rise was crowned by a small compact grove of pines standing out distinct and beautiful like a temple against the horizon. The country is a rich grazing and farming land, wheat and sugar beets being the principal crops. We passed several large flocks of sheep tended by shepherds and dogs, which made beautiful pictures as they grazed in the meadows near the dense oak foliage.
We walked rapidly over the region, uphill and downhill, admiring the scenery, talking, joking and skylarking incessantly. Practicing our crude French on the guide, we plied him with questions, trying his patience, I fear, but never for an instant ruffling his inborn French politeness. We continually asked how much farther it was to Domremy, declaring it was twenty rather than twelve kilometres. We inquired if there were fish in the streams.
"Mais oui, Monsieur!"
"Beaucoup de truite."
Was there gibier in the woods?
"De quelle espèce?"
''Oh,'' (with a shrug) "des lièvres, des sangliers."
When "Deak" Lyman was told that sanglier meant wild boar he feigned the liveliest fright. "Oh! J'ai peur! Sauvons-nous," then started off at breakneck speed and began to climb the nearest telephone pole. These Mark Twain tactics, however, didn't work at all. Aarmgaard, unlike the famous Italian guide, had a keen sense of humor and let out peal after peal of gleeful laughter. When we further informed him that "Deak" was the grand moqueur, the grand menteur de la section, his mirth bubbled forth joyously anew.
The weather cleared soon after we left Amanty and by the time we were half way to Domremy, the sky was blue from horizon to horizon and a warm brilliant sunshine poured down. We blessed our nerve in making the trip under such uncertain weather conditions.
Walking along at a tremendous rate we passed through several villages, among them Vauthon-bas and Vauthon-haut, the one situated at the bottom, the other at the top of a hill; and at last, towards 3.30, entered Domremy, which we found overflowing with French soldiers en repos. They had evidently seen few, if any, American soldiers before, for they gathered in groups or lined the walks staring at us with great curiosity.
We of course made straight for the house of Jeanne d'Arc, which we found at the end of the village street, next the church---the Maid's own, by the way---and within a grove inclosed by an iron railing.
The house is a fair-sized, two-story stone building with a broad, low-pitched, single-slant roof---just such a building as one would impute to the village innkeeper, Jacques d'Arc, in the fifteenth century.
The walls, like those of nearly all French village houses, are gray and hoary with age; but though the building has undergone repairs and reconstructions, it is undoubtedly in its foundations and walls the self-same house in which Jeanne d'Arc was born, grew to maidenhood and pondered on the resplendent visions which she saw revealed in the neighboring oak woods and meadows while tending her sheep.
Over the entrance of the house in a little covered recess or niche is an antique statue of the Maid, clad in full armor and in a devout kneeling posture. Beneath it are the fleur-de-lys of royal France, and the arms of Jeanne d'Arc with the inscription vive le roy louis. This monument, bearing the date of 1481, was emplaced in the reign of Louis XI.
What my feelings were in entering this house with its wondrous historic associations can easier be imagined than told. The dominating notes were reverence and awe in the presence of the early surroundings of "the most noble life that was ever born into the world save only One." I was frightened at the thought that I was treading the ground, touching the stones that had known the feet and the hands of the Maid; that I was standing in the room where she had first seen the light of the world. It seemed too wonderful---too tremendous to be true.
The whole building is a museum filled with objects relating to the life of Jeanne d'Arc---a few ancient relics, such as the wooden post on which the Maid hung her lantern---but principally pictures, statues, medals, prints and books, both mediæval and modern, representing her character and career.
In the anteroom on the ground floor where one registers on entering whose ceiling beams, by the bye, are scarred and chipped by the knives of the Prussian souvenir hunters of 1870---are two fine statues of Jeanne d'Arc, one representing the Maid in a graceful sitting posture, barefooted, clad in a simple peasant frock, head high, features distinct, beautifully chiseled, with a pensive look in her eyes as she gazes far off in the distance; the other shows her seminude, kneeling with hands folded and listening with submissive awe to her Heavenly Voices.
In one of the upper rooms is a complete collection of biographies and works in all languages relating to the Maid, among which to my satisfaction, I found Mark Twain's "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc."
Having spent an intensely interesting hour looking over the collections of the museum, and having bought a médaillon of Jeanne d'Arc attached to a double cross of Lorraine for a souvenir, I crossed over to the parish church, situated scarcely fifty yards from the Maid's house. Though a typical village church outside, its interior is one of the most beautiful, not to say interesting, of the sort that I have seen in France. On one of the pillars, just inside the portal, is an inscription to the effect that in this church Jeanne was baptized, confirmed and made her first communion. Everywhere are statues, carvings and pictures representing the deeds and person of the Maid. As "Deak" Lyman remarked, the little children of Domremy must confuse in their minds the Virgin with Jeanne d'Arc and Jeanne d'Arc with the Virgin. The stained glass windows, which are rare and beautiful in their coloring, depict successively the great scenes of the Maid's life, laying stress on the miraculous episodes. The whole interior impressed me as rich and tasteful in its art, devoid of the gaudy ornamentation often seen in French village churches.
Besides the house of Jeanne d'Arc and her parish church, there is a fine church about two kilometres from Domremy, known as the Basilique and erected in the Maid's honor about 1890. We could see its tall spire from the village and wanted very much to visit it, but as the hour was late and we were due back at quarters by 8 p.m. we decided not to make the attempt.
We left Domremy and started on our way back at five o'clock. Walking as fast as our legs could carry us, we had a regular heel-and-toe race as far as Vauthon-haut, "Deak," Borden, Flint and myself reaching there first, and the others, including little Aarmgaard, lagging far behind on the road. We waited until they caught up with us, then all sat down in the village buvette to a meal of vin rouge, war bread, Swiss cheese and confiture. These apparently were the best the village could produce, but after our hard walk they were as good as a royal feast.
As royalty in past ages is said to have dined, we too now dined, in public. The whole of Vauthonhaut assembled at the word of our coming, crowded into the buvette, or stood gazing at us through the windows and the door. Though feeling a trifle like caged animals on exhibition, nothing could dampen our high spirits and fun. We drank, sang and talked, or rather yelled, in a hodgepodge of English and French. At the request of a young peasant boy, who proudly exhibited his repertoire of five or six English words, we sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," which most of us, it must be confessed, knew but poorly and whose wild, somewhat outlandish air set the dogs to barking and several young children crying. Finally, just before leaving, we sang "The Marseillaise." We had learned the French words and the air in Allentown and had practiced them considerably since landing. We sang well, I believe, certainly with great spirit, for at the close, after thundering out the refrain,
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons,
we fairly brought down the house. Such a hearty, sincere applause none of us probably had ever received in public. The villagers clapped their hands, stamped their feet, shouted and crowded around us with their congratulations. An old man, a white-haired veteran of 1870, grasped my hand and held it as in a grip of iron. He and others begged us to return to them, blessed us again and again, and sped us away with cries of "bon voyage," "bonne chance" and "vive les Américains."
After a more leisurely though a fairly fast walk over the remainder of the road, we reached Amanty by 7.30 and found the rest of the Section gathered round a brazier fire in a room beneath the sleeping loft. We bade good-night to Aarmgaard, not forgetting to hand him a "souvenir" with which he declared himself bien content.
Having warmed my hands a few minutes over the fire, I climbed the ladder into the hay, lighted a lantern, sat down on my blankets and busied myself for an hour entering the events of the day in my diary.
"Y a-t-il du rab de bidoche, mon vieux?" inquires a short, stocky poilu. He merely wants to know if there is any meat left after everyone has been served once, but the average American reader of French is somewhat puzzled by the words he uses. Yet a knowledge of some of the common terms of war slang is very desirable and even necessary if one is to read intelligently such books as Barbusse's "Le Feu" or Paul Lintier's "Ma Pièce," an inspiring autobiographical account of the author's part and experiences in the war, written in very simple and direct yet charming style. Both these books are realistic, but one feels the inspiration, the idealism and the high moral plane of the latter work, the author of which depicts what he saw and felt in his short career from the beginning of the war until he was wounded. One is much impressed by the underlying note of the ardent patriotism of one who, while loving life with all the zeal of the youth of twenty-one who has everything before him, is ready to die if his France, which he loves more than his own life, may be saved. Nothing can be more in contrast than "Le Feu," describing solely, as it does, everything dreary connected with the life of the French infantryman. A great deal of it is true, and men did live the sort of life described, but its effect upon the men themselves was not what Barbusse would have one believe. No country would ever be saved by a huge army of men who believed at heart the thoughts expressed in "Le Feu," and acted accordingly. As some French critic, who himself saw long service in the trenches, points out, "he certainly did not leave undescribed any hardship, misery or toil." In describing those things, and their effect upon the minds and hearts and ideas of his own little squad of men whom he picked out to suit his purpose, from the millions in the French Army, a barkeeper, a farm servant, a porter, a peddler and a newsboy, he leaves out a side of war that is just as true and real as its horrors. All of us who have been with the poilu have seen men who approached Barbusse's types, but how few compared with the great numbers of witty, cheerful, willing, patient soldiers to whom such a description of his character is one of the greatest insults one can give his patriotism and valor. As the critic points out, this book has been received in America very enthusiastically as the real story of the poilu's existence and character, and has been declared as showing the new soul of France. Very naturally he concludes his article with the statement that if this is the new soul of France, then the old one is good enough for him.
The subject of this article is not a comparison of the merits of these two books which I have happened to read. I couldn't help, however, expressing my own opinion of them out of fairness to the men with whom we associated for fifteen months, and whose courage we learned to admire, whose patience and persistency in the face of adversity has evoked the praise even of the Germans. In a diary of a German officer the following was written, speaking of the Battle of the Marne: "Our people hold the heights, but the French are demons; they charge under shot and shell; they get killed blithely . . . . "
To come back to the subject then, "bidoche" is the generally accepted slang term for meat. "Barbaque" is sometimes heard, and I have read somewhere that the latter has replaced the former in popularity, but this was not true among the men of our Division, and "bidoche" was always the current word. There is a shade of difference in the meaning of the two. The ending "oche" is a depreciative one, and so "bidoche" (probably from bidet, an old nag) means a poor quality of meat. "Dure" (hard, tough) and "caoutchouc" (rubber) are sometimes used, and are self-explanatory. "Singe" (monkey meat) is the corresponding French term for the American "corned willy." The poilu calls his bread "bricheton," and inasmuch as the detail sent to the kitchen for the food returns very often with the bread strung on a wire like beads on a string, this string of "boules de pain" is known as a "chapelet." His potatoes are "patates" and his beans "fayots." The action of eating is expressed in several ways, the most common of which are "boulotter," "becqueter" and "bouffer." There exists a very curious expression, "becqueter les clarinettes," which means to eat nothing at all. "Pinard," the most important word in the French language, to the poilu, is his wine. So important is it that such expressive sayings as these have come forth: "pas de pinard, pas de poilus," "pas de pinard, pas de guerre," "y a pus de pinard, y a pus de petits bon-hommes," which may be translated, "no wine, no poilus," "no wine, no war," "no longer any wine, then no longer any good fellows." The part the Pinard plays in a poilu's life cannot be overestimated. Nobody who has never seen a little poilu bound for the "Copé" (co-operative store) with half a dozen "bidons" (canteens) strapped around him, or who has never heard the earnest discussion about how many "quarts" (cups) each one is entitled to on a holiday, can appreciate the importance of this phase of the poilu's life. The writer has many a time consigned every drop of Pinard to the uttermost circle of Dante's Inferno, when he was mess sergeant and had to stand in line for two long hours, in zero weather, in order to draw the twenty litres to which our small personnel of Frenchmen were entitled every other day. Such a subject as "Pinard" is well worth the descriptive genius of my friend Bowerman. Some trench poet rightly called it the "vrai sang de la terre" (true blood of the earth). In the background, not entirely hidden by the gigantic proportions of Pinard stands "gnole," a small portion of which is issued to the soldiers in the field each morning to serve the same purpose as the rum issue in the British Army. It is a kind of eau-de-vie, and is eagerly called for by the soldiers. Sometimes even a Frenchman drinks too much Pinard and gets "vaseux" (muddy), which indicates that his faculties are a bit confused. "Se cuiter" (to get cooked) and "s'allumer" (to get lit) are expressions often used. There is a rather descriptive expression for what is known in America as the "dark brown taste of the morning after"; one has a "gueule de bois" (a wooden mouth) or familiarly a "g. d. b." The Groupe de Brancardiers Divisionnaires (group of divisional stretcher-bearers) is known by its abbreviation of G. B. D., and you can safely leave it to a Frenchman with his quick wit to get off a good one by mixing up the abbreviations when he wants to "rub it into" the stretcher-bearers. Once in a while it becomes necessary for a poilu to mix water with his Pinard in order to make it last a bit longer. This common article is known as "la flotte." When one smokes, one may have a "sèche" (cigarette) or a "boufarde" (pipe) filled with "trèfle" or "perlot" (tobacco). Cigars are rarely seen on the Front, and that is probably why there seems to be no popular word for them.
For his different articles of clothing he has several slang words that seem to be popular. "Godasses" is the ordinary term for shoes, but "godiaux," "ribouis" and "croquenots" are used. His shirt he calls a "liquette,' while "falzar'' and "grimpant'' indicate his trousers. If he happens to wear glasses he has "carreaux" (window-panes) and his helmet is a "blockaus." He designates his knapsack as an "as de carreau" (ace of spades) or "Azor." His equipment, which he calls his "fourbi" or "barda," comes in for a share of attention, and "flingue" or "clarinette" is his gun, "Rosalie" his bayonet and "tringle" his belt. Not a part of his equipment, but always with him, is his pocketbook in which he carries the pictures of his dear ones, about which he is always eager to talk, and which he invariably shows one. This precious wallet goes under the name of "morling." Besides these pictures it may contain some money, not much, for no man can save much on five cents a day. Money goes by such expressions as "pèse," "poignon," "galette," "blé," and when one is without it one has "nip de braise," one is "dans la purée," or "fauché" (completely broke), literally "mown down." On the contrary one may be "aux as" ("flush"), "as" indicating here a franc piece.
The non-coms in the French Army come in as usual for their share of attention, as they do in ours, and the adjutant, who is above our top-sergeant and yet not quite a second lieutenant, is called the "chien quartier," a name due to the fact that an unmarried adjutant who lives in the barracks is always howling for some detail when the men are engaged in some pastime. The corporal is known as a "cabot," which happens to he a common name for dog. Probably the explanation is that a corporal leads a dog's life. The doctor is a "toubib," while the first-class private rejoices in the title of "premier canard" ("canard" meaning duck).
It seems to be the custom of the average French driver to get even with a horse by calling it a "vache" (cow) or a "cochon" (hog). Any other animal than the commonly accepted name for the animal will do. We have the story, probably true, of the man who, disgusted with the antics of his mule, burst out into this animal monstrosity, "Je n'ai jamais vu un cheval si cochon que cette vache!" Not very expressive or humorous to the average American, but to the Frenchman it was a very satisfactory way of getting even with his mule.
We find several terms applied to the man whose friends for various reasons wish to underestimate his intelligence or common sense. The English expressions "crazy," "nutty," etc., have as equivalents, more or less exact, "fourneau," "dingo," "marteau," "ballot," "maboul," etc., ad infinitum. The ambulance service paper suggested that it would be delightful, once we got home, to be able to open the window and without fear of a brickbat, yell "Ta gueule, fourneau!" (Shut your mouth, you fool) at the uncomprehending ragman below. On the other hand a "good fellow" is "un bon type." "Type" by itself is generally used for person, but with the underlying meaning of a peculiar fellow. "C'est un type" is not complimentary. "Vous êtes un as" was formerly a great compliment, "as" indicating, among other things, an "ace" in aviation; but, as is common in many cases, the expression has come to be used in an ironical sense and is not especially complimentary. A time-honored play on words when "as" was an honor rests on the words "as" and "asticot" (a little worm, a mite). "Vous êtes un as," some kind friend would say, and then as one was beginning to beam with pleasure and trying to think of something equally as pleasant and nice to say to reward him for his kindness, he would add "ticot." A man who is always springing some new joke is a "farceur" and deals in "blagues" (nonsense, banter). A mean chap is a "chameau" (camel). A man's companions are "copains," while his particularly close friends are "potes" or "poteaux." Among one's comrades one is known as "mon vieux" (old chap) and the classic way of addressing one's friends is "Dis donc, mon vieux" (I say, old chap). No American section is completely organized without having the two friends "Dis Donc" and "Mon Vieux," just as there is scarcely a section without a pet called "Toto" or "Pinard."
The infantryman's life is inseparably connected with the trenches and dugouts; the latter are called "cagnas," "casbas" (little sheds) or "guitounes." From the fact that the soldier lives a great deal of his time in holes, we have the word "troufion" for him, coming from the word "trou" (hole). "Cambuse" (house), "plumard," "pajot" (bed) and "lourde" (door), the common words, are seldom used until the wonderful night comes when the battalion is relieved. Then he can use this part of his vocabulary without insulting his own feelings. The rest of the time he is where the machine gun, "moulin à café" (coffee mill) or "machine à coudre" (sewing machine) clatters away, and where the "marmites" (shells) drop uncomfortably near. Some of them are "maous" (huge). Naturally enough a chance for a play on the two meanings of "marmite" (shell and pot) is eagerly seized by the Frenchman, and we have this expression, "Il est tombé une marmite dans le marmite." A "marmitage formidable" is a "frightful shelling." This condition of affairs is also expressed by the words "Ça tape." Then the poilu is liable to be "amoché" (wounded) or even "zigouillé" (killed). He may be working, to do which is "boulonner," "en mettre," and be interrupted by a hostile raid. Then he is compelled to "ficher le camp" or "mettre les cannes," which may be translated by the English slang "beat it." A curious expression, "22," is sometimes used for the same action, having its origin probably in the slang of the thieves, since "le flic" and "le cogne" (gendarme) are invariably associated with it. "Ça va," "ça boulotte," "ça biche," give one to understand that things are going on very satisfactorily. Occasionally, "ça cloche," the opposite of "ça va." In any company of men there are always some lazy ones. These are known as "cossards" and are said to have "la flemme." "En avoir marre" is "to have enough of it," and to be "fourbu" is to be exhausted. The sergeant always has a "filon" ("soft snap") in the opinion of the men.
All is not work and trouble in the soldier's life, as Barbusse would have one believe. I have seen many a merry party of poilus enjoying themselves in the cafés, and remember especially being a spectator at an impromptu program of singing, orchestral music and piano selections at a little, unpretentious café in Baccarat. It was at a time when things were going badly, and it was a wonderful revivifier of one's spirits to see and hear these poilus. A race that has that spirit can't be beaten, and the "on ne passe pas" and "on les aura" ("they shall not pass" and "we'll get them!") were just as indicative of the will and determination to conquer as they ever were. When anything pleases a Frenchman he is generally apt to break out into the expression, "Mais, c'est épatant !" (My, it's wonderful!) The words "bath," "chic" and "pépère" express the idea in varying degree of something rather nice. When anything amusing happens, it is "rigolo," "roulant" or even "crevant," the latter resembling, in the meaning of the word, the English expression, "bursting one's sides." "Sans blague, mon vieux?" is often heard, signifying that the speaker wishes to know whether to take the other seriously. "Y a pas d'erreur," is quite often the reply of the former, this expression affirming that it is absolutely "straight," that there isn't the slightest doubt about the statement. Among the most dangerous class of "blagueurs" are the originators of pleasant rumors, such as being relieved very soon in a bad sector, or, in our own case, of a swift return home. Dante has no particular circle or subcircle for them in his Inferno, but if he had gone through this war he would have had a special punishment reserved for this class of misguided humorists. The very common expression "T'en fais pas" (don't make a fuss about it, don't get excited) must not be omitted, nor the expression "le cafard" (the "blues"). "Chose" and "machin" are common words used to signify some very indefinite person, place or thing, about which the speaker has a very hazy idea. Our English "what-do-you-call-it" corresponds, more or less. There are several words that have come into the current poilu language with the advent of the African troops, the Moroccans and Algerians, who have written as fine a page in the history of the war for France as the Canadians and Australians have for England. From these people we have "macache" (no), "besef" (much) and "nouba" (feast).
This is no place to go into a discussion of the origin of the words, even if their origin could be established. In general, however, it seems to be rather sure that the source of most of the words is Parisian slang, as it was spoken before the war. This is no more than natural, for Paris is the predominating force in France in all lines of activity, in a way such as no one city in the United States exercises its influence over the whole country. The soldiers of other parts of the country naturally added words and expressions more or less local, some of which became general. It would be hard to find a slang in which a more vivid and vivacious imagination has been employed than in the "argot" of the French, and the present war has shown that their reputation for ready wit and ingenuity of expression is founded upon substantial fact. It is bound to affect the literature, for the man who has the imagination necessary for a book which will live can't help having his mind appealed to by a mass of new, picturesque and well-known words. Little by little the orthography of these new words will take on an authoritative form, and the language will be so much the richer for the words born of the new and infinitely varied experiences the poilus of France have passed through on their way to victory.
Only those who have been on a permission can realize what joy and expectation it brings to the lucky individuals. Permissions do not come often, and in a few cases do not come at all. Speaking individually, it made me as excited as the first vacation at school, but I was not so sure what I was going to do or what would happen to me. But I did know that I was going away from the Front and was going to have a great time.
The first thing a permissionnaire does is to borrow from everyone in the Section, as money is the most important part of a successful leave. Then he packs his musette with articles he never uses, and says goodbye amid a fusillade like this, "Don't forget my cigs!" "Remember those pictures!" "Bring back my shoes," etc.---to which he always answers yes, but with little chance of complying with the requests.
Now on to the station. And there all the poilus are smilingly talking about what they expect to do. Everyone is laughing and joking, while many are "plein de pinard," which livens up the situation considerably more. You have your ticket stamped by the chef de la gare, and if you have enough cigarettes perhaps he will condescend to put you in a second-class coach. Finally the train comes groaning and wheezing laboriously into the station, and you wonder how such a small engine can pull so long a string of cars. Whenever I see one of those engines it reminds me of Ring Lardner's saying, "If they ever lost the key to the engine it would never run." Everyone makes a rush, and finally, when you are seated, if you are lucky enough to find a seat, you try talking to your neighbors with your hands and feet. Your French companions listen to your struggles with patience. Gradually sleep conquers excitement, and you find a poilu snoring loudly on each of your shoulders. But at each station, or rather stop---and there are many on a permissionnaire train---all heads are crowded to the window. After which follows a long discussion as to how the name of the station should be pronounced. So sleep is an unknown quantity.
After hours of suppressed excitement and much planning, when you feel that it would be impossible to wait much longer, you arrive. Ah, Paris! No wonder people call it the flower of France. Have you ever seen the flowers there? Look out for the thorns! There's a noisy bustling and shouting that reminds you of New York. You could imagine yourself back home only for the funny kind of jabbering that goes on about you, and the different uniforms. As you walk down the platform you are all eyes, and others' eyes are not lacking. In passing you hear, "Ah, l'Américain, le brave soldat,'' and sometimes, ''Ah, cher ami!" An M. P. soon takes all romance out of life, yelling in your ear, "Come on to the A. P. M. and sign up!" After that it's one big party, and you have to be a great mathematician to make your money last to the end.
The sad day comes only too soon, and although you are glad to get back to see the boys again the thought of going back to the old dirty life of the Front is one to be dreaded. You say good-bye to the gay life and all the friends you have made, and wonder if you'll ever see them again. But you must keep a smiling face and carry on.
You take the train out of the city with many others who are going back to the Front. After reminiscences with the poilus, who are always ready to tell you all, with childlike simplicity, you sit back and dream over your good times while the wheels beat a steady time towards the turmoil. When you descend at a station, civilians are scarce, and the station is half in ruins from air raids. You report and find out where your Division is and jump on a ravitaillement train. All is over, you will soon be back again. The land becomes more devastated; long lines of camions are making their way towards the lines. It grows darker; no lights; you wonder if the planes will be over. Upon glancing out of the window you find it is raining, and you sigh with relief, settling yourself to wait for the end of the journey. Presently the train gives a few abrupt jerks and comes to a stop. Everyone gets out, with their canteens and musettes bumping you. An officer gives you the name of a town where the Section is located, and you start out down the pitch black road towards the flashes in the distance. It rains harder, with a chill wind. You pull your coat close about your neck and plod on in the mud. Something looms up dark and dangerous in the road; you spring aside as a camion goes by, splashing mud all over you. Then on again in the darkness, the guns growing louder and louder, with an occasional sharper explosion from the bigger guns. Now you can see the star shells going up in the distance, and occasionally a splash of flame from an "arrivé." A poilu comes splashing along---"Bon soir, camarade!---Mauvais temps." "Oui," you reply, it being obvious, and pass on. You are getting closer to your home, the permission is a thing of the past, nothing left but memories and an empty pocket. After all, it was life once more; you had one short glimpse, then the blinds were closed. Ugh! this rain-z--s--s--st-boom!
Yes, indeed---the permission is over!
One of the most interesting and inspiring scenes that I have witnessed during my career as a soldier took place on Saturday, December 7, 1918, a beautiful midwinter day, a day in every way suitable for the great occasion, namely, the entrance of the Allied troops into Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), Germany. Fully an hour before the great procession was to pass everything was in a state of tumult and uproar. Hundreds of civilians, young and old, were flitting about in search of advantageous spots from which they could see the parade. Officers of the different Allied armies, among whom were many generals, and many troops were passing to and fro.
At ten o'clock sharp the flags of all the French divisions, ours included, which had been engaged in the last great offensive in Flanders, were assembled together in a small courtyard in the rear of the great Cathedral of Charlemagne. A few minutes later came the dear old Stars and Stripes, and immediately the French band played "The Star-Spangled Banner," at which everyone present saluted until the last bar. No sooner had the music stopped than General Degoutte, Commander-in-Chief of the French Army Corps engaged in Flanders, put in an appearance. He was clothed in a brown uniform, the coat of which was covered with medals that glistened in the bright sunlight. He spoke a few words of greeting and gave a brief history of the struggles of France from the period of the Napoleonic wars down to the present day, touching here and there on the First and Second Battles of the Marne, and describing how victory came when defeat was staring France in the face. At the close of the address the band played "The Marseillaise," after which the colors were taken to their respective places in the procession. I then found a spot just opposite the reviewing stand from which I could get a splendid view of the parade.
I could not help admiring the great figures of General Degoutte and General Coppiens (commander of the Belgian division in Flanders), seated on their horses, and also the two long ranks of staff officers of all grades, mounted directly behind the generals and all in dress uniform. As I glanced about the now crowded sidewalks my attention was called to the various expressions printed upon this sea of faces. The greater number were cold, with a slight tinge of hatred which they could not conceal. A few were more or less uneasy, while many were bright and cheerful, probably happy because the presence of the Allied troops meant the end of a long, bitter struggle, and perhaps less suffering for them. There was scarcely any disturbance of any sort; one who was unaware of what was really going to happen would have thought that a funeral procession was about to pass. No flags floated from the windows, nor any manner of decoration; it was exactly as the conquerors might expect upon their triumphal march into the land of the enemy.
Soon the parade appeared, headed by two American generals and one French general, followed closely by the French military band. Directly behind came the French cavalrymen, mounted on beautiful young, spirited horses, each man carrying upright, in his right hand, a long lance with a small triangular flag fluttering from the point. As I looked with admiration upon this great body of horsemen, which spread from one curb of the broad avenue to the other, and as far back as the eye could see, it recalled to my mind the Crusaders in Scott's "Talisman," men who stood for that which was pure and noble, and these, now before me, were their sons who had fought nearly five years for justice, liberty and freedom.
Next in line came the infantrymen, with the heavy packs upon their backs. Although tired and worn from a long march---for they had already made many kilometres that morning---there was a happy and good-natured smile upon their faces, a trait very characteristic of the poilu, in times either of hardship or of pleasure. As I looked over these weather-beaten faces, grizzled and bearded and far from young, I thought for a moment of what these poor old men had endured, of the privations they had undergone, of the large families awaiting them at home, of the brothers and comrades they had lost in the awful carnage, all for France---and now France was marching, a victor, into the territory of the foe.
My attention was drawn from the poilus by a burst of applause from the spectators, and when I looked for the cause, I saw the Stars and Stripes approaching. Immediately civilian hats were doffed, and those that were not lifted were thrown into the street and trampled upon. Many spectators could not check their bursts of enthusiasm, but began to wave their handkerchiefs and shout at the top of their voices, which to me seemed rather strange. There were eight groups of flags, with two flags to each group, one regimental, and one Stars and Stripes, with guard of honor. As our boys passed, their bayonets glistening in the sunlight, my blood just tingled with pride and joy for the manner in which they marched and carried themselves. Their neatness and manly appearance was equal to that of any trained and veteran troops. They were a credit to the great country for which they served.
Next came many machine guns, mounted upon small, two-wheeled, horse-drawn cars, and finally, bringing up the rear, more squadrons of French infantry.
Such was the procession, inspiring as a spectacle, but even more significant in its symbolic meaning. Martial though it was, it nevertheless brought the blessed assurance of peace, and a hint that perhaps after all the old world had not such a far way to travel
We had just returned from our first swim of the year, in the Moselle River at Charmes. And when the Section "fell in" for roll call, our Lieutenant gave us a lecture on the saving of "essence." Essence, essence---save essence!---had been dinned in our ears for the last six months. Furthermore, he said that, due to the scarcity of the precious liquid, some cars would have to go by train on this coming trip.
Towards mess-time I had the good news broken to me---I was to go by train, chaperoning car 141194, my own. Googins, Green, Wasem and Sergeant Hubbard made up the rest of the party. We took three days' rations of hardtack, singe, bully beef, sardines, bread and jam---nothing to drink. Led by Lieutenant Abbot and Weber we rolled through the fifteen kilometres of dust to the station whence we were to entrain for the North. After filling our cars with gas and parking them in a convenient place in the freight yard we took things easy on the grassy railroad embankment. Someone suggested eating a bite, and since no one objected we started off with hardtack, singe and jam. Then our Lieutenant suggested that, two at a time, we go over to the buffet and sample the beer. Green and Wasem tried it and reported it terrible. However, discouraging as this verdict was, Googins and I had to quench our thirst. We came to the same conclusion as the others---it didn't compare with the suds in Charmes.
It was now growing dark. The Lieutenant went to look for available room on one of the trains. After about an hour of vain effort he returned. Several trains had already pulled out of the station, filled with the equipment and men of our Division. But still no room for four small Fords. Once more the Lieutenant went scouting around. We went to bed in our ambulances, but I couldn't get to sleep at all. At about ten o'clock unlucky Wasem was aroused from his slumbers and told to get his flivver on a flat-car. A French flat-car is about the size of a U. S. handcar and you can barely get two Fords on it. Wasem ran the flivver at right angles to the car, getting the front end on while the rear rested on the platform. Said flat-car contained a Pinard wagon, so there wasn't much room left. In order to make room for the rear end of the Ford the position of the wagon had to be changed, and the pole taken off. After a few more such manoeuvres about fifteen poilus picked up the rear end of the ambulance and slid it in place on the car. The four wheels were then securely tied to the bumpers, and in a few minutes the train pulled out. No more room could be found on the train, so Wasem was compelled to travel alone.
At about 4.30 a.m. the rest of us were aroused from our slumbers and told to get our three flivvers on a train. We were able to get two flivvers on a car, with the front ends together and the rear ends hanging over the bumpers. The remaining ambulance was stuck in between a few wagons, after no little difficulty.
Our train soon pulled out. The Lieutenant stayed behind, intending to reach the Section before they began the day's drive. All that day and night we rode at about thirty kilometres an hour. During the day, whenever our train stopped for a few minutes we would all make one mad dash for a café. In Ramicourt we succeeded in getting a dozen fried eggs. We passed through Lunéville, Nancy, Too], Neufchâteau and Bar-sur-Aube. Sleeping in the ambulances with the train in motion reminded one of the good old ship, the "St. Jack." How those flivvers did rock and squeak! We were all worrying as to where we were going. We knew that we were bound northward, and that's all. Some 0f the poilus would try to enlighten us upon this subject. They knew about as much as we did. One would tell us that we were bound for the Somme, another Belgium, and so on.
The following day we were still en route. We passed through some very picturesque country, where cattle could be seen grazing in the wayside pastures. It was the pleasant land of Normandy. On the way we passed many troop trains, mostly French and English, as well as hospital trains filled with wounded from the Battle of the Somme. We also caught sight of some American troop trains.
Our train pulled into a town called Fouilly about 5 p.m. of May 7. Here we were switched off on a siding where the train was to be unloaded. Our flivvers were taken off the ears by poilus. In the meantime groups of English avions performed stunts over our heads. With a load of French officers in each ambulance we sped off for a town called Aumale. In Aumale the officers left us. We secured a meal from a French kitchen, and then drove into the Grande Place. Slept in our ambulances that night. And how it did rain! Met Wasem in the morning.
It was almost eleven o'clock when we got up. Hub stood guard while the rest of us looked for a place to eat. We walked around town, inquiring at all the cafés and restaurants, but no luck. Finally we spied a fine-looking mademoiselle in the front of a hotel. In we went. And we had "some" meal, with the mademoiselle waiting on us. While in the midst of our repast who should walk in but Lieutenants Jamon and Abbot! The Section had arrived by Ford from Charmes. The Lieutenant gave us orders to report for one o'clock roll call.
Having served with the French most of the time, we have enjoyed a personal freedom unusual in army life. It has been inconvenient for our own army to exert its much craved for authority over us, while the French did not choose to bring us under their regular military schedule. We have had every reason to consider ourselves as having been the élite in both armies; but it was not by their will so much as by our peculiar position. Many lasting benefits derived from our service might have been lost to us under strictly military rules. But thanks to our choice and our position we have been unhampered in our work and have reaped the benefits which go with personal freedom and good judgment. Most of our troubles have come on leave, when we have been obliged to suffer the iron hand of an M. P. to be placed upon our tender shoulder. Great humiliation has come at such a time, forming many wicked designs in our mind, but good judgment has deferred action and reason has calmed our troubled spirits by reminding us that our difficulty is only temporary and that we will once more join our much beloved élite.