The verses here collected "need no bush." They evidence what they are --- the reflections, now playful, now serious, of typical American youth upon the surroundings of life on the French Front. They were writ/en by two members of one of the many volunteer ambulance sections of the American Field Service, who came to this organization from Leland Stanford University and who served in and with the French Army long before American troops were operating in France. Subsequently the sections of the American Field Service were adopted by the American Army, though left to serve with the French divisions, and the authors of these verses, along with many hundred other former volunteers, were enlisted as American soldiers.
Most of these verses were printed originally in the "American Field Service Bulletin," a small weekly published in France by volunteers of the Field Service for their own and their comrades' amusement. Not having been written for readers at home, but for the severely critical and somewhat blasé eyes of comrades, they contain few allusions to shot and shell, and the thrills and horrors of war. Journalists and novelists, writing for the home market, have naturally selected for description only the dramatic and heroic aspects of the war and have frequently conveyed an impression of life at the Front which, even though literally true of special times and places, is by no means representative of the normal experiences. The circumstances under which these verses were written are such as to give then a kind of documental value as true exhibits of a soldier's life and thoughts. They show, what the public seldom realizes, that the military drama includes only brief moments of intense and tragic action where heroism and valor are displayed, but that it consists mostly of interminable, entr'actes in which much more commonplace virtues are called upon to play their part --- such virtues as patience, self control, cheerfulness, and a sense of humor.
"This war could be extremely drear
If we had not long since begun
To view events that happen here
Transfigured by our sense of fun."
They show, too, beneath the light-heartedness that jests at everything --- the light-heartedness typical of healthy-minded youth the world over, and fortunately as typical of our American soldiers as of the soldiers of France--- the keen desire to voice the solemn meaning of this war, the meaning which, though often unexpressed, lies deeply tooted in the consciousness of all our troops.
"Come come, O Bard, front and some unknown place,
Come and record, in songs and words of fire,
The noble deaths, the struggles of the race,
The fight to check an Emperor's desire!
Come, take thy harp; the force of man is hurled;----
Give us an Iliad of the Western World!"
Beneath an obvious contempt for rhetoric and heroics, which is equally characteristic of the soldier, is also revealed that lore and admiration for France which grows every day more strong among all Americans who have had the privilege of knowing the soldiers and people of France during these prodigious years.
"You nay take your men in khaki,
Your men in brown and grey,
They're first-class fighting soldiers---
They'll prove it any day!
We'll honor every one of them
For all that they're been through,
But you'll have to give the laurels
To the Overcoats of Blue!
"Oh, the Overcoats of Blue! Oh, the Overcoats of Blue!
They're the finest fighting soldiers, are the Overcoats of Blue!"
The romance and splendor of France's history, the unfailing idealism and unfaltering will of her people, the democracy, the comradeship, and above all the unvaunting but indomitable courage of her troops, have kindled something akin to veneration in the hearts of our soldiers. And every American soldier who has seen with his eyes the suffering so wantonly and brutally inflicted upon this gentle country by the Huns has also felt with Jeanne d'Arc something of that "grande pitié qu'il y avait au pays de France."
"Oh, it is n't in words that we show it, ---
They're too feeble to tell what we feel:
It's down in our hearts that we know it,
It's down in our souls that it's real.
So we stick to our work as we find it.
And forget the caprices of Chance,
For we know that the price of the big sacrifice
Is 1ittle enough---for France!"
France, July, 1918
When an American starts for France he usually leaves home and hope at the same time. He has visions of a feverish dashing existence under a continual rain of projectiles, machinegun bullets, poison-gas, and high explosives. He expects to spend most of the time advancing or retreating or rushing on to Berlin, and between charges he expects to occupy his leisure moments extricating himself from barbed-wire entanglements, picking fleas from his garments, and exploring by night the wastes of No Man's Land, knee-deep in mud and gore. He expects to do his reading and letter-writing (if indeed he should ever do either) on the firing-step of a front-line trench by the intermittent light of star-shells and gun-flashes.
But if the realities of the Front in any degree approached one's preconceived ideas of its perils, the armies of both sides would long ago have been annihilated to a man, and the politicians alone would have been left to bicker over the boundaries of unpopulated states.
After a short sojourn in the war zone, the soldier comes to the realization that a good part of the time not only is there scarcely any element of danger, but also scarcely any element of interest. And presently he learns the meaning of "en repos." He finds that he must spend anywhere from half to three quarters of his valuable time "resting" in some half-forgotten village in the rear. Sometimes, after a trick in the line when something has "been doing," this "repos" is very grateful. But it is soon made plain to the soldier that he is supposed to rest whether he is tired or not, and often "repos" becomes more fatiguing, mentally al least than the more strenuous duties of active service.
The reason for this is the more or less limited opportunity for diversion that "repos" affords. In the first place, there is work, which is sometimes quite boldly invented for the purpose of keeping him occupied. Or he can walk, the extent of his perambulations being usually confined to the "limit of the cantonment." There is the alternative of participation in the endless games of chance, always in high favor subsequent to pay-day. Of course there is reading, but current publications, with their insistence upon matters pertaining to the war, and their obvious ignorance of the real facts, get on his nerves. He cares not to be "awakened to the realities of the situation." He does not want to hear the patriotic utterances of the journalists at home. Congressional quibbles over elementary military preparations do not interest him very much when he is confronted with actualities. As for the classics, the soldier will ever distrust them. This exhausts his ordinary amusements, for the soldier soon gets tired of repeating the same conversations with poilus, and letter writing becomes an irksome obligation.
It is on this account that many (and among them may be humbly classed the authors) are driven, perforce, to "literary" production. It is a sort of last resort to sit down and turn out an irreverent verse about the war. It is his only retaliation against a heartless world for many hours of tedious boredom. But it is a poor revenge, for of course the world need not, and probably will not, read it.
This is our only excuse for the present volume, which contains the ill-begotten fruits of many a "repos." We should like to state that these verses were written in the midst of heavy fighting, shell-fire, and destruction. We should like to tell stories of verses scribbled in the star-shell light, and by the lightning flashes of the guns. But the soul which is supposed to evidence its emotions during moments of stress by souring into verse, more commonly evidences them by soaring into the nearest "abri," where it remains in nervous discomfort until the bombardment is over. There is and will be but little literature from the actual trenches.
Many of these verses were originally written for and published in the "American Field Service Bulletin." They make no pretensions beyond the expression of the thoughts and passing observations of two ambulance-drivers.
Not wishing to be considered mercenary, the authors omit to give any other justification for this volume.