(Note. The Diary has been occasionally summarized and edited by elimination of repetitive daily routine and, not infrequently, of superfluous adjectives, adverbs and phrases, but the clichés and the naïveté remain.)
Just turned 18 and in the middle of his sophomore year at Harvard, he enlisted in the American Ambulance Field Service. He sailed from New York on February 19, 1917 on the S.S. Chicago of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique.
"Good-bye to America" is the opening entry. It was his first sea voyage and he found everything about it fascinating --- in fact, that word took quite a beating; the waves curling under the bow and crashing into the anchor, the shuffleboard and the bouillon on deck, the salt water baths and, of course, the boarded-up portholes and no lights outside. There were some forty ambulanciers on board, most of them a few years older and there were great exchanges of confidences on deck lasting into the morning hours. Nearly all professed petty reasons for their enlistment. Dave had been jilted, was disillusioned about women and wanted to get away from all of them. Ted was bored with his brief encounter with business and so were several others --- or so they said.
Theirs was the first ship to cross after the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare and it took a round-about southern course --- 13 days in all. They were told afterwards that the Germans had no intention of attacking the passenger ships of the Compagnie-Générale Transatlantique and, in fact, did not do so the entire war because these were their chief line of communication with North and South America. The danger was taken very seriously on board, however. The Diarist noted that "Twice we took sharp turns to avoid objects which we took to be mines, lifeboats were swung out, the Chicago ran full speed in daylight, slowly at night, full blackout was maintained and the last two nights we slept in our clothes." But at 11:00 P.M. of March 2, after a beautiful warm day, the anchor was dropped at the mouth of the Garonne opposite the town of Vendôme. French papers delivered on board the next day carried the news that 3 French freighters following them had been torpedoed.
To land for the first time in a foreign country can be a thrilling experience, but for this inexperienced traveller it was ecstasy! Everything unfamiliar was the object of scrutiny and interest with impressions duly recorded in solemn prose. The Châteaux of the Médoc, the peasants waving, the toy-like engines with the shrill whistles, the solid stone houses with electric and telephone wires hung on them, the busy quai choked with drays drawn by great Percherons hitched in line. The Young Bostonian noted, "Bars predominated among the shops", also "Mules and bicycles predominate." He observed women in black and cripples. His first contact with a Frenchman came when he inquired the way to the Hotel Terminus. He took him by the arm, rushed him down to the car line and hustled him on a little tramcar.
Eight of them secured a 2nd classe compartment on the train to Paris, played bridge and tried to go to sleep. At Poitiers, two poilus and an "old" couple (probably over 50!) got on and the Diarist trotted out his school boy French. "The soldiers were artillery men returning to their 75 mm. gun at Châlons-sur-Marne after a 4 days leave. They said their guns were about 200 miles behind the trenches and we gave them fifty (50) cigarettes! The poilus, though they were very intelligent, kindly men, had a distinctly unpleasant odor about them, I regret to say. One had formerly been a butcher, the other a farmer. The latter's name was Pierre Dupont."
After breakfast at the Gare d'Austerlitz, they took taxis to 21 rue Raynouard, the American Ambulance Field Service Headquarters. This historic address, at the time the largest private property in the city, belonging to the banker, Baron Hottinguer, had been occupied by Benjamin Franklin as Minister to France. The house, an unimpressive two stories from the narrow street became four stories from the river side; its grounds several acres in extent, sloped down to the Quai de Tokyo across from the Eiffel Tower. It was unheated and the cold, raw dampness of the dormitory which was half cellar had to be experienced to be believed. The winter of 16-17 was one of the coldest in history: the Seine froze and coal barges could not ascend from Rouen.
Everything about Paris was exciting ---not just the great monuments, Notre Dame, the Invalides, Versailles --- though these moved him to verbal tears; but the cafés with tables on the sidewalk "even in winter", the placards in restaurants limiting the number of courses; the uniforms, the cripples, the women in mourning, the subway system; ice cream sodas at Rumpelmeyer's in the rue de Rivoli: the one-lunged taxis that coughed their way up what became the Avenue du President Wilson to the Place de Passy and rue Raynouard. "The city is so thoroughly saturated with the martial atmosphere that I don't think it will ever recover, at least not in our lifetime."
An American doctor at the American Hospital at Neuilly and his wife, who were distant relatives, gave the young man much information. Although there had been much suffering in Paris from lack of coal and there was soon to be rationing of sugar and bread "more precautionary than necessary", things were infinitely worse in Germany, as Mrs. Conkling had heard from friends in Ambassador Gerard's party. "There is no bread save some horrible stuff containing straw and chemicals; no coffee, sugar, butter, fats of any kind, milk and very little meat. Even babies are only allowed a pint of milk a day. The suffering is very great and some of the people in Gerard's party are so ill that they can hardly travel, although they are very wealthy. When they left Berlin the smallest chicken was priced at 50 dollars. They were absolutely dumbfounded at conditions in Paris."
The driving test at Vincennes on the Model T Ford was no joke. One chap was unable to master the mystery of the three pedals and sailed ignominiously home. The boys got their uniforms from Old England and swaggered around. "Graham and I went to the Olympia dans le soir and had one of the experiences of our lives --- 'C'est Paris'." Here is the Champs Elysées on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. "The sidewalks were crowded with officers and beautiful women, with the condition of color reversed from peacetime---black for the women to all colors of the rainbow for the soldiers on leave. Oh, but the latter are surely the finest, bravest men that ever walked !" The young man saw "a crowd of young boys drilling with a Captain. They carried rifles and the serious look on their faces was inspiring, but it seems terrible that they should he obliged to come face to face with realities of life so early."
At the Café Rotunde next evening, "Another fellow and I talked French with a Russian girl and she pointed out the different, interesting characters --- Japanese, Chinese, Siamese, long haired artists and musicians in flowing black ties --- all but Germans. Everyone knew everyone else; it was like a hilarious family party."
After dining with his American friends, "As I walked home through the deserted streets with only a light shining here and there, a strange impression of the unreality of my experience came over me. It did not seem possible that I was walking a street of the Paris of my dreams, thousands of miles from home!" This was a persistent, not-to-be-sidetracked reaction!
Comment at a dinner on the eve of departure of SSU 14 to the front was brief --- "The American Ambassador to France and a former French Ambassador to the United States were present and spoke; also a French Captain who gave a very good speech."
March 17 --- "We woke this morning to learn of two world-shaking events, First, the Czar of Russia has abdicated under popular pressure . . . . the general belief is that it will be for the good of the Allies. Secondly, the Zeppelin raid on England and the feared raid of Paris. Fire engines raced through the streets all night . . . . the air was full of loud, menacing, spluttering French aeroplanes mustering to the defense. Only 4 Zeppelins flew over French soil, probably returning from England and one of these lies wrecked at Compiègne.
"Americans living here think of nothing but our entrance into the war, and wonder that it has been put off so long. They imagine America is a chorus of voices urging Wilson toward the right course. They cannot imagine how we can possibly continue our devious ways after the events of the past 6 weeks. And it is only natural. considering the atmosphere in which they live. Action, war, death to the Germans. Glory to courage, sacrifice, to the righteous cause! These are the motive forces of Paris --- of France."
Hindenburg's strategic retreat, which was to have such disastrous results for the French under Nivelle a few weeks later, began on the same memorable March 17 and the Diarist records, "The French gained about 700 square miles yesterday, including 60 villages. It begins to take the proportions of a regular drive. Bapaume is again in French hands after 2 1/2 years." Next day, "Several more towns have fallen . . . Optimism is running through the city and papers." But on March 21, "The papers are beginning to see method in the rapid German retreat. It looks as though they were shortening their front in order to be able to withdraw men whom they are to concentrate as battering rams at the various points of the French lines which may be weakest. The absolute destruction of the villages which have been recaptured has aroused the soldiers to a pitch of fury."
Freight congestion caused the Field Services management to decide to send a group on March 23 by rail to Bordeaux to drive back the Ford chassis to Paris where the ambulance bodies, built by the glamorous coachmakers - Kellner Frères --- could be fitted on. A plank seat was built over the gas tank ---a rough ride in raw March weather. The hill town of Angoulême, with its pineapple-topped Romanesque church, was reached in the afternoon. The convoy halted for the night of March 24 at Ruffec on the main highway, at an inn which 25 years later was to become the headquarters of the Resistance in that area and a way station for escaped prisoners. Today a plaque pays tribute to the heroic proprietress who was finally detected and carried off by the Germans to an unknown death. She, the daughter of the proprietor, was undoubtedly there that night in 1917. but the Diarist was chiefly impressed by Ham Craig's rendering of 'Poor Butterfly' on the piano in the parlor with its "big gilt mirror and three old-fashioned prints", and by the fact that daylight saving occurred that Saturday night, causing loss of an hour's sleep. The vineyards he had passed on the way reminded him of the stunted spruce on Mt. Lafayette, stripped bare.
The next day being Sunday found the towns full of people who were "all very pleasant and waved to us; the children cried out; the soldiers saluted smilingly. But they all think we are English." Lunch was at Poitiers where the day turned sunny and warm. At Châtellerault crowds surrounded the cars and at Tours for the night, "We created a sensation by simply walking down the street. Met a drunken French soldier, a Serbian and a Russian."
Monday provided a first glimpse of Chartres Cathedral which he never forgot. He drove in sleet and was saved from it serious accident by it truck driver who waved him to a stop just as a front wheel fell off. Arrival in Paris was made memorable by his first letters from home. One was dated the 23rd of February and damaged by seawater. March 31st found "The English pressing forward at the rate of a village or two a day, but the French have met firm resistance and counter attack. Three interpellations in the Chambre yesterday. one on shortage and high prices of sugar, bread, wine, butter, eggs, potatoes and milk. All but sugar appear to be due to inadequate transport and leakage... Coal is coming in more regularly now and theatres are open every night."
April 2 --- "Today the United States Senate and House convene and the momentous question of the day is discussed... The question that is bothering all of us now is. "What shall we do if America goes to War?"... I trust I will do what is right and honorable."
April 3 --- "The papers are full of President Wilson's message, asking Congress to declare war ... great excitement and joy here."
The entry of April 7 was a let down --- "War has been definitely declared by the United States" --- but next day he spoke of "the enthusiastic welcome of France to her new ally... All public buildings decorated with French and American flags joined --- and many shops."
Section Sanitaire États-Unis 15 got under way at 8 o'clock April 12, but only straggled as far as Montmirail by 7 that evening where they were fed at an army depot and slept in their cars. Off at 7, the convoy took two hours to pass a file of singing soldiers, skirted Châlons-sur-Marne, lunched at Vitry-le-François and reached Bar-le-Duc, the great depot at the foot of the Voie Sacrée for the night. Here the matter of saluting caused some difficulty, a general officer being unrecognized. They rose at 4:30 under a half moon and washed at the town pump against the background of a ruined monastery. A narrow street with overhanging houses climbed up the hill from the square. "The still hush of the pre-dawn was bewitching. Below a canal-stream flowed sleepily between houses, lapping the walk with a faint splashing. That alone broke the stillness."
Soon off for Verdun on the Voie Sacrée. "The road was lined with piles of crushed rock and we saw gangs of sleepy Orientals repairing the worn surface. We passed little villages ruined by shell fire, troops, long wagon trains, an officer's car whirling by in a cloud of dust, munition depots surrounded by walls of earth and stone, aeroplane sheds, narrow gauge railroads, German prisoners, military sign hoards everywhere. Aeroplanes circled overhead. In the distance, a French observation balloon. The countryside was now rolling and cultivated --- now hill and wooded. 8 kilometers from Verdun. we turned left 4 kilometers to Dombasle, where we are relieving Section 1, which is going to Champagne. We live in an old farmhouse, partially demolished by shell fire, on a hill surrounded by fields pock-marked by shell holes. Our rooms are comfortable with big fireplaces and plenty of firewood. Lidell, Paine and a Section 1 man, riding out to the poste at Esnes in front of hill 304, had a shell burst within 30 feet of them which most literally peppered the car. One piece ripped through Lidell's sheepskin coat, scraping his belt at the base of his spine. Pieces struck the steering column and wheel."
The Diarist made no further comment on this incident. It appears that the reaction generally in the section was that this was a normal happening including the fact that no one was hurt. After all, they were only there helping. The Frenchmen were the ones supposed to get killed or wounded. However, he noted that Lidell "may get a Croix de Guerre". And he did.
"Both French and German aeroplanes have been shot at during the afternoon though the shrapnel burst far from the mark. The Germans use black powder and the French white, so we can tell them apart. There are two sausage balloons on either side of us and they are targets for evening attack. Two German planes came at one of them this afternoon, so they had to pull it down. . . It has been bright and sunshiny, --- the birds are singing and the realities of war seem far away. It is like some 4th of July, everything seems so peaceful and contented. Kind nature has healed the shell scars that disfigured all the countryside --- covering them with grass. . .As yet, I cannot quite realize that we are in the midst of death and suffering."
April 15 --- "There was quite a hit of firing this morning so that the booming was almost continuous. In the afternoon several of us walked up the hill behind the village with a very interesting French Corporal, who was a school master before the war and speaks very good English, watching the Germans wasting shells on French aeroplanes. We are not far from Verdun with Mort Homme and Hill No. 304 on the north and the Argonne Forest on the west . . . The Corporal made me ashamed. He knew so much of English literature, reciting Keats and Tennyson."
It was a quiet sector, so that only 5 cars out of 20 were on continuous front line duty, with 4 on reserve. The off-duty days were spent reading, writing, keeping fires going in the half-destroyed farmhouses that sheltered them, working on the cars, talking with the brancardiers stationed at the GBD (Groupe Brancardier Divisionnaire), stationed at what had been the Mairie at the foot of the street, and in walks to the Coopérative Divisionnaire for extra ration supplies.
His first duty was to Poste No. 2 in the edge of the Argonne Forest before the flattened village of Avocourt where the front lines ran. "I am writing in a little abri in the gray-dripping woods. Everywhere is dirty, sticky yellow mud that is unlike anything I have seen before. The abri is built of logs covered with rocks and sand bags with six narrow steps leading clown into the gloomy interior. But after you become accustomed to the dull light, you find that a cheerful fire is burning and that it is really very comfortable." The sergeant in charge of Poste No. 2, Jean Foyer, like the rest of the division, a Provençal, was a big, jovial, black haired man, much admired and loved by the young Americans. He had four words of English "Oh yes, very well!" and he taught the boys to drink out of the goatskin wine flask, insisting that they hold it at arm's length as he did with, of course, disastrous but hilarious results. There were two priests at the poste one of whom, for some reason, was clubbed the Irish priest. There was continual joshing!". . . A later trip to this Poste in early May gave a different picture of the scene. "The road up was lined with blossoming apple and peach trees, filling the air with essence of spring. I have been wondering why J should go to the front to find beauty, where the imagination pictures only desolation. I have decided that the search after beauty is like the Quest of the Grail, in that success depends on the state of mind rather than any definite goal."
April 19 --- "The soldiers here all firmly believe the war is practically over and it is difficult not to share their optimism in the face of continued English success in Champagne. The French are also forging ahead and taking thousands of prisoners." This on the eve of the wave of defeatism that was to cause one of the regiments of this very Division to refuse to return to the line, with the result that two of the ringleaders (probably rather arbitrarily selected) were shot on the orders of the new Commander-in-Chief, Pétain, in front of the representatives from each company of the Division, as the Diarist records on June 16.
April 19 --- "As I set out this morning, the sun had just risen and shone redly like a ball of dull fire through the woods. The sky was streaked with bands of blue, saffron and pink --- all in the lighter tints. Along the road, between me and the dawn, came a file of blue-clad heroes. They were going to relieve their comrades in the trenches and, in spite of the hell ahead, they were singing. They called me "camerade" and I felt ashamed."
His first wounded made a searing impression. "The poor fellow had been badly wounded by an exploding shell, so I went very slowly and carefully all the way to Ville (about 10 miles) as he was fully conscious and suffering intensely. The poor man kept softly groaning all the way for the jolts and jars were terrible in spite of all my efforts. Coming back from Ville, a reaction took place and I slewed and tore around the slippery corners to beat the band."
The sector of the front held by the Division was in front of Hill No. 304 ---a continuation of the ridge of Mort Homme --- just beyond the destroyed village of Esnes which had been approached, but not reached in the final assault of the Germans in 1916. However, they held the crests of both hills and commanded the wide plain through which the roads ran north from the woods of Béthainville and from Montzéville, the latter village itself being completely exposed to enemy observation. A car was kept at the poste located beneath the ruins of the Château at Esnes and one at Montzéville. The road between was in full view and seemed particularly naked and exposed where it made a sharp turn closest to Mort Homme, around the shoulder of Hill No. 310." (These figures, of course, represented heights in meters.) Naturally, this was called Hell's corner and was strewn with wreckage including a French Fiat ambulance. As he left Montzéville for Esnes the first time this was his view. "The plain stretches away towards Mort Homme, level and bare time--- all trees and bushes cut down, barbed wire entanglements alone breaking the evenness. In the twilight it was the most desolate place I ever hope to see, Save only the place where the village of Esnes used to be." But "the abri in the cellar of the old Château is large and clean and comfortable. Compared With Poste No. 2 it is a palace." He stayed up 'til 10 "watching the star shells and listening to the shells whining overhead and finally exploding on the other side of 310." A trill to Ville Hospital with 3 wounded at noon encountered a puncture and also a 150mm shell which exploded "about 50 yards away" near Montzéville, while the road itself was covered with dirt thrown up by shells during the night. He returned to Montzéville where that night he underwent a bombardement "that shook the abri for over an hour. I was in a semi-daze; it was hot and stuffy in the abri and it seemed like a nightmare. Later the Esnes car came down and he went out into "a beautiful clear, moonlit night while the cool evening breeze cleared my eves of sleep. A fine ride to Esnes, star shells in the distance, the dull booming of the guns and moonlight mercifully softening the lacerated plain." Another wounded awaited him at Esnes and it was nearly dawn when he "hit the hay --- literally" after spending an hour dragging a truck out of a ditch in Montzéville.
Between tours of duty the bright hot days passed in reading and writing, long walks, visits to neighboring gun emplacements and balloon ground crews and endless work on the cars. The Kellner Frères body, with its long overhang to accommodate the stretchers, was far too heavy for the relatively frail chassis and the triple breaking bands in the curious Ford transmission wore out sometimes in hours. Tires soon collapsed and rear axles snapped.
April 28 --- The section was honored by a visit from the Inspector-General of the French Army, Lt. General Herr, who had been in command of the fortress of Verdun and been made the scapegoat for the series of misunderstandings and mistakes which resulted in the loss of Ft. Vaux, by default. "We lined up at attention and watched the Chief and the Lieutenant (our French commander) bow and scrape and converse with the big wig, who was a kindly old man with cavernous eyes. Then we were introduced to him personally by name and he said a few words to each one. The Lieutenant was very nervous and had a lighted pipe in his pocket. The General noticed something burning and called the Lieutenant's attention to a big hole in his pocket, to his considerable embarrassment.
Three weeks veterans by now, the section treated replacements with proper contempt. "The new lads have been filled with as many stories as their credibility admits. We sowed mitrailleuse bullets in the wall of their room and spoke meaningly of aeroplane bombs and German sharpshooters. I find that my lamp has been knocked off by a piece of shrapnel, and we have all had remarkably narrow escapes."
May 1 --- "I set out from Montzéville to Esnes. It was hot and a little hazy, but I fully intended to stop at Hell's Corner and take a picture of Mort Homme As I drew near, however, I noticed a gray haze hanging about the road and I heard the exploding of shells that were falling about 300 yards short of the corner. Right there and then I changed my mind about the picture. I had just passed the corner, when three things impressed themselves on my brain at the same time --- a loud boom, a gray cloud of smoke directly overhead, and little spurts of dust in the road all around me. I didn't stop to pick up any of the shrapnel as souvenirs or take a picture of the smoke! I was terribly disappointed when I got to Esnes to find my car entirely free from holes, cuts, scratches of any kind. I waited at Esnes only long enough to he looking forward to a good supper, when I had to start out with 2 couchés and a malade. When I got to the corner I found ten neatly spaced 77's had fallen on the outside of the road so that the éclat must have swept it for over 100 yards . . . That evening Dave, who was to relieve me, and I walked up the road to meet Dominic coming down from Esnes, who was an hour late. We kept looking for an overturned ambulance or some such catastrophe. Star shells began to appear and out of the gloom, where the trenches were, an occasional rifle-shot sounded. French star shells explode when they reach the height of their trajectory into a little pin-prick of light that gradually grows into a ghastly green flare suspended from a small parachute and lasts about a minute. The Boche star shells light on the way up and remain up only as long as it takes the torch to describe a long arc, but they give no warning. At Esnes we found that Dominic had been delayed by blessés and could not take us back. A cartridge depot had caught fire near the abri and the popping of cartridges sounded like mitrailleuse, with an occasional fusée making a great flare. We decided to avoid this entertainment by climbing over ruins and shell holes. The walk back was enlivened by 2 shells that whistled overhead and caused us to duck into a ditch, but which exploded with a soft thud behind 310 and a stray bullet that whined by us with the most wicked sound. I took two assis back to Dombasle and got called down by the Chief for being late and keeping him up. Verily, a fitting end to a perfect day!"
Letters from home made red-letter days. The Diary records a fine batch and the immediate composition of responses. The weather continued ideal. "The chestnut trees have burst into leaf during my absence at poste; spring flowers are blossoming underfoot everywhere; birds fill the air with twittering and song; the place fills my heart with contentment."
An excursion to Verdun was an occasion. "Fraser and I rose at 5:30. A cool fresh morning with the sun just peeping over the hill as we struck out. Breakfast of bread, cheese, jam and pinard under a bush. The white dust powdered the trees and bushes along the road like snow. Through the Porte Neuve to the citadel with its huge walls, 50 feet high and as many wide. Walls of similar dimensions surround the city, then a huge dry moat, then barbed wire in profusion and, finally, trenches. Deserted streets --- shops with dust over everything ; some sections in ruins and others hardly touched; great heavily protected abris. Took pictures, especially of the Porte Chaussée with its round towers and drawbridges and Porte Cullis. . . . A long hot walk back arriving at Dombasle at 5:30, having covered 31 Km. . . Red Clark carried a wounded German prisoner and was terribly bawled out for shaking hands with him."
Now, "the two magnificent chestnut trees are a mass of rich green leaves, in startling contrast with the red-tiled roof and casting blotchy shadows over the gray cars with their red and white crosses; the straight white road lies glaring in the hot sun beside the cool gray-brown walls of the old farm houses; poppies and cornflowers and daisies populate the rich grass around me . . . A farewell party for Chiefs Henderson, Barton and Richmond who are leaving us to take over command of new sections. We feel very sad over losing three whom we all liked and respected. . .It is really remarkable how the Section has grown together since its formation."
May 7 --- From Poste No. 2 --- "An artilleryman took me to see his gun, a 120mm located in a battery about 100 yards off the road. The gun is set in a circular, shallow pit, 30 feet across and 4 feet deep, with a screen of boughs overhead. Deep and well built boyaux --- or communicating trenches --- ran from the pit to the abris where the powder is stored; the bombardment shelters five meters below ground; and the dugouts where the men eat and live. The shells are stored in small piles scattered through woods and covered with branches. After supper he took me through two former emplacements of the same battery from which they were driven by well-placed bombardments. The little underground villages were well shot to bits. In some places one 'marmite' (literally, kettle --- poilu slang for a shell) had destroyed a whole abri, but near one of the pits, five shells had failed to touch a magnificent tree thirty feet away. Returning we crossed a field where we had to step carefully to avoid grenades that an explosion of a depot had scattered broadside."
Bridge became a popular off-duty occupation and soccer, under the leadership of Keith Vosburg. The first opponents were an English ambulance unit located nearby. "It was terribly hot and we were all gasping after a few moments, but we gradually found ourselves and the last half of the game was very even, the final score being 3 to 1. The English were quite old, but good fighters and fine sports.
. . . In the evening --- May 10 --- "We could hear the awe-inspiring bombardment in Champagne, 60 km away. The Germans are counter attacking the English with some success and the French are preparing for a second big drive. The first one was a partial failure that resulted in the replacement of Neville by Pétain. One of our regiments has gone to Champagne."
The weather continued ideal. On May 12, "being on reserve duty, I had a call to Poste No. 3 at nine o'clock. .a marvelous ride in the soft velvet darkness. I shall never forget (he said correctly) that short ride --- merely to Poste No. 3 and back to Dombasle. The warm fragrant breeze blew softly against my cheek and the flint, tantalizing odor of apple blossoms brought out vague memories and longings."
May 13 --- "A day of peace and quiet, in all the meaning of the words. We did nothing at all, yet I shall always remember this day as the perfection of tranquil existence. Huge and ferocious as the elemental things of existence seem from a distance, there is something very simple and restful in the shelter of their protection from the artificialities of life."
He greatly enjoyed talks with the pharmacien at Montzéville, a cultivated man who spoke the pure French of the Touraine, and a Jesuit priest who was among those driven out of France to England where he became fluent in English.
He met death for the first time when a badly wounded was discovered dead on arrival at Ville. It was a heart rendering experience, as he feared that he was somehow responsible and the man's cries of pain rang in his ears.
The Diarist notes a growing pessimism about the war (May 16) --- "More settled as a permanent thing every day. Russia prepares for a separate peace and the only hope is the United States."
The routine vent on. --- 2 days at poste, 2 on reserve and 3 days off, enlivened by bombardments, occasional near escapes, aerial battles, work on the car, creation of a garden and, of course, by the arrival of mail from home. It was a quiet sector, but the Diarist observed preparations for more activity including new gun emplacements in the Bois de Hesse. There was a successful Coup-de-main, no injuries, with the prisoners marched back in triumph by the attacking party. The Lieutenant in command dined with the Section Lieutenant and the town mayor---and all three got gloriously drunk. The Germans retaliated with an unusual daylight raid, capturing 7 Frenchmen, but losing 10 in the process.
The boy was continually being impressed by his talks with the poilus. He described one as a simple country man of no education who had informed himself on national and world affairs and who possessed a keen, reasoning mind. "But, above all this, he was a sympathetic, big-hearted man. He told how he had taken care of a Boche prisoner who was terribly wounded by a grenade and barbed wire; how he had seen the poor fellow's suffering and although he knew no German, had managed to convey his sympathy by taking his hand; and how when the German left, the latter had wept over the parting."
On a visit to a nearby observation balloon --- "Suddenly the telephone operator received warning of a Boche plane. Immediately, the truck engine was started and the balloon began to descend rapidly; a hundred soldiers sprang out of the ground, as it were, from some concealed trenches I had not noticed before; and several men turned a crank that wound up the telephone wire from the balloon. In five minutes the big gas bag had come down 1.000 meters and the crowd of soldiers grabbed the trailing ropes, dragging the clumsy thing to a spot nearby where they tied it to stakes after the basket had been undone. The sous-officier stepped out of the latter, undid his parachute and quickly picked tip the basket and hid it in the bushes. The truck was covered with a streaked cloth, the men disappeared and all was quiet and peaceful."
A trip to a Red Cross poste in front of Avocourt between the third and second, or main support line of trenches, was reported. "Our approach vas easily seen by German sausage balloons, a fact which gave me a queer little thrill. Incidentally, I wore the Sergeant's coat so that the Bosche would not mistake me for an English officer and bombard us. The lowering sky; the barren outlook, shells bursting on a bayou not far distant, and particularly the idea of the Boche in the balloon watching our every movement, directing his battery to fire on this trench or that gave a vivid and depressing idea of the reality of war as an attempt to kill rather than simply to avoid being killed." This observation coincided with the nervous break-down of one of the older men in the section.
June 10 --- "I am going through a very hard period of homesickness for all the beauty that surrounds us reminds me vividly of what I have left behind. We have gathered roses to fill the vases in our room and the smell brings back the most poignant memories of home. I can almost see Mother in her straw hat we made so much fun of, with the rose basket on her arm.'' Later "It is a beautiful warm summer evening and just now the sky is flooded with all the colors of a beautiful sunset. The faint puffing of an aeroplane engine among the crimson clouds gave a sudden vision of a little motor boat chugging across the lake, leaving an ever-widening lazy line of ripples that wrinkled the glowing reflections of the sky."
At Montzéville, his particular brancardier friend. nicknamed Gratadour after his Provençal accent, was like a playful child when the burricos went by dragging up the carts with ammunition. He had a basketful of bread and ran out among the little animals, feeding them as they trotted past." Next day "Sitting in my car, trying to read and basking in the hot sun, suddenly I heard a loud explosion and looked to see Gratadour, who had been working among the ruins, blown into a bloody heap in the road." He had dropped a piece of tile on an old grenade. "The pharmacien arranged a tourniquet on his arm and I rushed him to Ville. They told me his right arm would have to be amputated." But he heard later that he had died.
The first suggestion of mutiny was reported on June 14. "There seems to be a well-substantiated rumor that the 143rd regiment refused to go into the trenches to relieve the 80th, hut were persuaded by their Colonel whom they are devoted."
As will be apparent from time to time. security was loosely observed in the French army and the section kept remarkably well informed concerning future plans, not only covering its own movements and those of the division it served, but also of the corps, the army and even of the Allies, as a whole. So on June 21 the Diary records the approaching replacement of the 32nd Division by the 73rd served by Section 2 of the American Ambulance Field Service: and that an attack in this section is to be mounted. "Other divisions are to be moved in and the whole Verdun front is to be pushed forward if possible. Vague rumor says that Mort Homme and Côte 304 are to be mined and all agreed that they will he taken. The theory further goes that our division will he refitted and rested in time to return and help back up the advance." This information proved to he accurate in all respects.
Some idea of the approaching change must have reached the Germans as the roads became choked with wagon trains of the incoming regiments and bombardments accelerated. On his last day at Esnes, June 24, he was sent out with 5 lightly wounded and malades in the face of observed shelling of Hell's Corner. "I had a malade on the front seat with me who was very nervous which helped me keep up a bold front. As I drew near the Mauvais Coin. I could still see the arrivés exploding almost every minute and I decided to approach slowly out of range until one came and then tear through. I was terribly nervous and confidently expected to 'get mine' at last --- on my last day out, at that. I drew near, but no shell came. I was bound not to stop, so opened the throttle and dashed by. almost driving into a shell hole in the middle of the road which was covered with dirt and stones for 100 yards." This was, he thought, a fitting climax to his first tour of duty at the front.
The convoy took off June 26 through Bar-le-Duc and St. Dizier to the little sub-prefecture town of Wassy in the Haute Marne. The 20 ambulances, staff car, truck, kitchen trailer made an impressive convoy. The country beyond Bar-le-Duc --- untouched by the war --- impressed its beauty on the young man. Rains had laid the dust and the fresh odor of hay was in the clean air. A memorable stop to regroup and refresh was made near a cherry orchard in full ripeness. That this was private property never occurred to anyone.
"Wassy is a quaint, beautiful little city of 4,000 inhabitants. Its streets are wide and shady like a New England village outside the small business area which is a tangled maze of clean, cobblestoned streets. The church is 12th Century, they say. and there is a historic spot pointed out as the site of the beginning of the St. Bartholomew massacres . . . We are the first Americans who have visited the place outside of a few tourists and, consequently, we are the topic of the day. Little children follow us and we are constantly surrounded by an eager, curious crowd of all ages . . . The river Blaise flows through the village, ending its journey in the Marne. There is a canal also fed by a reservoir just outside the town. We went swimming there this afternoon (it was terribly hot) and absolutely had the time of our lives. . . Down in the fields below they were making hay and the warm, sweet odor drifted up to us as we lay stretched out in a luxurious sunbath. It brought back, so vividly, memories of the lake."
"Our new quarters are in the second story of the Grand Chateau of the town: one that was formerly occupied by the Governor of the Province and that dates hack to 1700. The family, consisting of the mother (Madame duPotet de Cruzilles) and 3 children --- Michael 10, Marie-Thérèse 8, and Bernard 6 (the father is a Captain at the front), live on the ground floor . The grounds are spacious with lambs gamboling about, and both the Blaise and the Canal flow through it."
June 29 --- "A. Piatt Andrew (Director of American Ambulance Field Service) spent the night with Osborn (Chief of the Section) and had breakfast with us. He told of the very sad death in action of Paul Osborne of Section 28. I played billiards at the Café de la Gare and loafed, two things that I expect will occupy my attention as long as we are on repos. I am getting to love the town of Wassy more and more each hour we stay here; the people are delightful. Our Divisional General arrived this afternoon."
There was an expedition to a nearby munitions factory. "The little village in which the factory is located is made rip almost wholly of tenement houses for the workers, but so different from our idea of them. These were clean and neat and lined on one side of the street, so that the occupants looked into cool, green trees rather than bare brick. The women sat on the doorsteps surrounded by children of all ages and gazed at us with the frankest curiosity we have met so far, which is saying a great deal. We said good-day to all. It is truly remarkable and touching to see the good faith on which all Americans are taken. . . At one shop. a little old lady told me, with tears in her eyes, about her son who had been reported missing May 6 in the Battle of Champagne. The war has struck us harder here than at the front."
June 30 --- The big event of the day is the fierce attack launched by the Germans on the left bank of the Meuse --- our Sector. A terrific bombardment started the afternoon of the 28th and at 6:30 the first attack was made on Côte 304. It succeeded in taking the first line trenches and at 3:45 in the morning a similar attempt was made on the Avocourt side of 304. but was repulsed according to the communiqué. Further rumors and communiqués seem to disclose the fact that at one time Esnes was almost occupied. but was recaptured by fierce counter attacks. The fighting is taking place from Mort Homme to Avocourt: the plateau of Avocourt, including the village, is lost and also the Bec de Canard. It is beyond my power to imagine the terrific struggle that is being waged. though I know the ground. But the pounding. hammering, numbing bombardment, the explosion of tremendous shells; the terror of it is too awful to think about. And to think we only missed it by a few days after waiting months! After supper, Lidell and I went up to the mairie where the communiqué is posted and read it with a thrill that brought up a picture of the anxious crowd that must have surrounded the bulletin board in the first months of the war. Returning, we stopped to talk with an old (sic) gentleman and his wife who were leaning through their parlor window. They were the most genuine, patriotic, lovable, kindly, hospitable people I have ever known. I was moved and overwhelmed by what they said and the way in which they invited us in to partake of their hospitality. The old gentleman reminded me of Jean Foyer in his heartiness, sincerity and joviality of manner. At the beginning of the war, when the Boches were expected in Wassy, they sent their little boy to the interior with relatives (the other son is a 1st Lieutenant now in a hospital recovering from wounds) and were determined to stick to their home. They showed us a picture of a young soldier, now dead, whom they had cared for as a son when he was taken sick on his way to the front two years ago. The house was very attractive, but the most wonderful part of the place was the tiny garden filled with fruit trees and flowering bushes with a cool sylvan retreat where we were served a mild liqueur in fragile glass cups. In parting, the old gentleman called us, 'mes enfants'."
July 1 --- We can think of nothing hut the terrible rumor that flew from mouth to mouth this morning that four from Section 2 that relieved us have been killed and twelve wounded. The awful story goes that a large calibre shell landed in the cantonment. But I can't believe it and won't until I have to. I can't bear to think of it."
There were soccer matches in the park with teams of the munitions workers and soldiers and the Diarist was surprised that "practically the whole population cheered for us. Someone had written 'Vive la Section Américaine 15' in chalk on thee concrete bicycle track that surrounded the field. . . . . Lt. has done something he shouldn't and consequently we now have a new French officer, Lt. Fabre, a manufacturer of shoe polish from Bordeaux, probably in his early 50's, who is a real man. He has inaugurated a new system of military regulations for us. We have to work on our car from 8:30 in the morning until 11, unless we get the appointed task finished ahead of time. We were excited during our labor by an old man who beat a drum loudly in the public square and cried out something in a shrill voice. We were tremendously disappointed to find that it was only about the loss of 20 francs by an old lady. Frazer and I paid a visit to the Marquis de Mauroy to see his wonderful collection of meteors and minerals. He was tremendously interested in his hobby, of course, and delighted that we should share his enthusiasm. We noticed the chart of his family tree and saw that his title dated back to 1330."
July 4 --- "We were reviewed by General Dreyden who read the general order of General Pétain, asking all soldiers to pay honor to America on this day of independence. We decorated the gateway of the Château with flowers and French and American flags. The college of Wassy arranged a dinner for us at time Hotel de la Gare. We each sat between 2 students who insisted on talking broken English. while we murdered the French language with our usual cheerful unconcern. There were speeches; followed by a track meet with the soldiers, an exhibition of baseball and, finally, a soccer game. We had our own banquet in the evening with more speeches." Quite a day!
The next day he started on a 2 week leave in London via Paris. There was an affectionate farewell from little Bernard duPotet, who insisted on accompanying him to the station. (This friendship has persisted to the present.) The trip began at 4:30 on the local to St. Dizier --- one hour for the 8 miles. Supper there, and then the 9:00 P.M. train to Vitry-le-François; a crowded train at midnight to Châlons, where he and his pals changed to a comparatively empty one which landed them in Paris at 6:00 A.M. "Tex and I took a taxi straight to 21 rue Raynouard where we had breakfast. Had a pleasant chat with A. Piatt and were relieved to find our fears about Section 2 unfounded. Marie (the maid) seemed more than glad to see me and we had a fine time talking over old times (sic). It is great fun to be a permissionnaire and swank around among the new fellows." He got a room at the Hotel Gavarne "where I am treated like a duke and dined at the Café de la Paix". Next day a highlight was "tea at Rumplemeyer's with an ice-cream soda. Then with friends to the shooting galleries at the Place de la République and the Alhambra music hall. "Paris is beautiful and I am having a wonderful time, but I miss being treated like a potentate as in Wassy." Evidently ducal recognition was not enough.
Snobisme reared its ugly head. "I am very unfavorably impressed by the Americans in Paris. The officers chew gum and make fools of themselves. Section 2 had a lot of work and was forced to evacuate to Ville on account of shells landing in Dombasle." He toured Paris on foot and found the Champs Elysées "gay with officers and their families --- in fact, all Paris has impressed me as being remarkably gay." He was happily astounded to run into his older brother, Dick, who had arrived with the Y.M.C.A. and they spent an exciting evening together.
On to London next day via Rouen and le Havre. "An orderly of the British Red Cross took our luggage and said he would arrange everything for us which we thought was rather decent. Havre is a peculiar city, in that its population is French: it is under the military police of the English army and it is, incidentally, the capital of Belgium.... The crowds of English soldiers and officers gave its our one cause for worry; the Tommies insisted on mistaking its for officers and saluting with all ceremony. including clicking of heels. It was very embarrassing, especially if a real officer happened to he coming along. We compromised on a half-salute --- a sort of cross between a salute and a 'how-are-you-old-sport' wave of the hand. There were many destroyers tied up at the docks and we saw two hydro-aeroplanes tear across the water and rise gracefully into the air over the Channel." After an automobile tour of the City, the four permissionnaires went on board the boat. which was convoyed by four destroyers, and into 1st class bunks (62 francs 50). landing at Southampton at 7:00 A.M.
Two of his companions had relatives in London, including an attractive sister at the American Embassy who arranged parties and provided partners. There was a memorable luncheon at the Savoy --- the famous Milan of E. Phillips Oppenheim --- where the orchestra played his theme song of the period. 'Poor Butterfly'. "I located at the Strand Palace Hotel opposite the Savoy on the Strand. . .I saw 'High Jinks' at the Adelphi and never enjoyed myself so thoroughly. London first impressed me by its seeming likeness to an American city, but I soon found out that this was due more to the use of English and the hustling traffic than to any true resemblance. I do not think London a beautiful city, but it is tremendously entrancing --- and titanic. I like the bus system and the bobbys are nothing short of marvels. The people are not as cold and aloof as pictured rather, on the contrary, I find them very pleasant and obliging. Their accent is certainly not exaggerated in the caricatures and am still amused at it, although I grant it is purer than ours in most cases. I shall never be able to swallow 'figger' however. They are very casual in their attitude on the war. They say to a returning permissionnaire, 'Well, so long' (or rather, cheerio) 'old man. See you in three months.' There is a great deal of hysterical placarding such as 'Eat less bread' and 'Every loaf of bread means 14 bullets', etc., but I have been told that this is the work of a certain group of busybodies and is rather senseless. There is no mourning worn but, different from Paris, there are many cripples on the street. The latter and the wounded are treated wonderfully well and with efficiency, so lacking among the French. There are numerous food regulations, but people manage to eat very well and the idea of economizing is apparently followed only by those who have to. The air raids have made the people angry for reprisal instead of panicky, as apparently expected by the Germans. All sorts of warning for air raids are being tried out, including the idea of hanging sandwich signs on the policemen saying, 'An air raid is expected. Take cover!' There is no great confidence in the French expressed here and not a great deal of respect for them as fighters which was rather surprising. They do not like the Belgians and despise them as fighters. The Australians are not too well liked in England."
He moved to a boarding house near Bedford Square for economy, sharing a room with a Cambridge graduate who enlisted as a private, was twice wounded and was preparing to return with a commission to interpret Chinese. "He told me that he had seen two Canadian soldiers crucified and Belgians on whom the most tortures had been inflicted. That is the reason so few prisoners appear in Haig's daily communiqué.
He toured London, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's (not as beautiful as some of the French cathedrals), the Temple, the Tower, London Bridge, climbed the '6,000,000 odd steps' of the Fire Monument and was lucky to hit the House of Commons during interpellations. "Questions on the Mesopotamia scandal, the recent air raid, objects of the war, etc. were discussed and we saw Bonar Law and others in action. The House, as a whole, impressed me as more dignified than our House of Representatives, although at times it became uproarious." Through the intercession of a bobby with a passing Peer --- the Earl of Granard --- he and his friend were admitted to the House of Lords and witnessed the solemn procession and ceremony of the creation of a Peer. The Earl told the boys that he had an American wife, asked them questions about themselves, and pointed out notables --- Lord Curzon, Lord Lansdowne, Admiral Fisher.
He made many acquaintances, was received into homes; there were parties and dancing, movies and the theatre --- notably the famous musical "Chin-Chin Chow". The day frequently started with his favorite dissipation, an ice-cream soda at Selfridge's.
Back in Paris he met his brother again, borrowed 150 francs from him and received his ukelele which Dick had carried over. "The most terrible thing has happened while we were away. Harmon Craig was wounded one evening at the G.B.D. Dombasle while on duty and died the next morning after awful suffering that he endured without a murmur." He heard later that Ham had said when told that his leg would have to be amputated, "Well, I'll only have to buy one shoe." There being no tram from St. Dixier, "We hired an old barouche and had a wonderful ride to Wassy in the cool evening. playing the ukelele and singing for all we were worth."
A week of hot, clear days filled chiefly by swimming greeted the returned permissionnaires. "This life is wonderfully enjoyable. but we cannot help feel that we are not doing our part. We shall rest easier in our minds when we get to working again."
Rumor of change was soon followed, however, by detailed information. "The division is going back to Hill 304. We are not going to the front immediately, but are going to rest outside of Bar-le-Duc for a few days until the negro division (actually Moroccan) makes an attack on Hill 304, when we shall go up and support the captured trenches against counter-attacks. It is a thankless task for our men and there is every prospect of hard work for us."
The convoy moved out July 31, after affectionate farewells from the du Potets and others, for a short run to Ancreville beyond St. Dizier. The kitchen trailer provided a hot supper. It rained. "We all sat in the café afterwards and sang and played. It was a very hilarious party." The next stop was at Tremont for a few rainy days where a huge accumulation of mail caught up with them. Russia had apparently collapsed after her short, rapid advance under Korneloff and only a miracle by Kerensky can whip her into shape again according to the pessimistic editorials in the Daily Mail and the New York Herald. The Rumanians are making substantial gains, but the most wonderful of all is the tremendous British offensive around Ypres and the sand dunes that apparently yielded such marvelous gains. The wonderful French resistance to the desperate German counter-attacks on the Chemin des Dames and Craonne Plateau is also heartening."
On August 5 the section followed the division to its support position, setting up its tents for the first time in the mud outside the village of Julvécourt. Passing through Bar-le-Duc, changes were noted. "Two American privates waved genially at us. We passed regiments of Moroccan troops; soldiers of the Foreign Legion, whole villages of hastily constructed barracks, countless officers --- many of high rank; and an indescribable tension in the air. . .As we were working on our tents, a German prisoner went by with chains on his wrists accompanied by 2 gendarmes. He had a most peculiar look on his face which was tragically explained when the Lieutenant told us that he was undoubtedly being led to be shot. He probably insulted an officer or refused to obey, he shrugged his shoulders and made an eloquent gesture of unconcern 'Why we don't care any more for killing a German than that. He snapped his fingers. At the beginning of the war I used to see them shot down in groups in cold blood. The awful things they did to our wounded and to Belgium made the men wild and willing to do anything to avenge.' We also saw a young prisoner of not more than 17 years whirled by in an automobile with a French major. They said he was a traitor (sic) who had given himself over to us and thus avoid the trenches...There is an aerodrome on the plateau behind us with 12 hangars, each with 4 machines. These are all cage-à-poulets ( literally, chicken coops) carrying two men and all equipped with at least one machine gun. We watched 3 planes making spectacular dives and turns for the benefit of a big crowd of soldiers, blackly silhouetted against the glowing crimson clouds in the west. It was a thrilling spectacle that makes one wonder anew at man's conquest of the air ... Mud! I used to think Poste No. 2 mud was unbeatable, but this certainly wins for all around perversity."
"Section 29 had relieved Section 2 and the day before yesterday. two of its members were wounded outside the abri at Montzéville. One has since died at the Fleury Hospital and his funeral is tomorrow. A Norton-Hayes section has also had two wounded. Fellows from both sections tell interesting stories. They say the woods are full of artillery, wheel to wheel; that artillery officers have told them that this is the most stupendous massing of guns they have ever seen; and there are 8 giant 400's ( millimètres --- over 15 inches ). The roads are choked with traffic. The ambulance hospitals are being evacuated to make room for the great number of expected casualties in the attack."
"Hazy and I took the chamionette to Vadlaincourt for ravitaillement. Each unit of the army sends several men and a team to the railhead. One man gets in line for different cars of the train. (We waited an hour for macaroni) and their team drives around and collects the booty... It was a clear evening and we counted 20 observation balloons, 16 French and 4 German. The air was literally filled with aeroplanes. Our division will relieve the 31st. They don't expect the attack to gain any huge strip of terrain. but hope to penetrate, perhaps. a kilomètre and capture some strategic points, such as Mort Homme and 304. The Germans apparently know all about the French intent for they stuck up a sign in the trenches near Esnes. 'We are waiting for you.' The bombardment is almost continuous. . . We saw several soldiers with red cloth hands sewn on their arms and found. on inquiry, that they were 'trench cleaners'.
August 14 - Last night the Chief, Dave, Dominic and the Lieutenant went out in the staff car to visit our new posts. At LaClair beyond Fromereville, there was a good deal of shelling and the Lieutenant told them to hustle down into the abri. Earl decided to turn the car around first. however, and a shell of about 130 calibre burst near them. A small piece of éclat hit Dominic's wrist and several pieces entered the car, wounding Earl in both calves. The Lieutenant was blown down by the shock, but Dave was untouched. It appears that both blessés will take about two months to recover."
"For three weeks not a day has gone by without one or more violent rainstorms and this has held up the attack. A terrific bombardment all day yesterday and last night. The sky was livid with brilliant flashes. The 400's have been fired several times. Sixty prisoners were marched past this evening, woefully bedraggled but, for all that, rather good-looking fellows --- not the sort of men to commit 'German Crimes' of their own will."
August 16 --- "The whole campaign of action has been mapped out to us on secret army maps. The 31st Division and part of the Foreign Legion is going to attack Mort Homme and will be served by the English Section 10. There will be two postes. Hill 232 and 272 reached through Dombasle and Montzéville, where the first relay of cars will be kept; the second relay at Jouy. All evacuating will he done to Clair-Chênes. If the Dombasle road is heavily shelled, we will use the Béthainville road, but this latter offers little protection and the troops are to use it coming up. Section 10 can call on ten of our cars and when our Division goes in, we can call on them. 40 more prisoners were marched past today."
August 18 --- "Had a very interesting conversation with a soldier-priest. My religious doubts, raised anew by reading 'The Inside of the Cup', did not prevent me from admiring the perfect faith and goodness of the man and envying the completeness of his spiritual peace. We watched battalions of the 31st Division go by in their attacking kit --- blanket roll and no pack. The priest remarked, rather cynically I thought, that many had new uniforms so that they 'might be well-dressed to die'. Later, however, lie said that no matter how much a Frenchman may complain, he always fights like a hero when the test comes. These men were so downcast and serious looking that I could not force a smile of good cheer; quite a contrast to the Moroccans who went up singing and joking like boisterous children."
August 19 --- "Today, the 6 months anniversary of our departure from New York, was spent in moving to a grassy hill above the town of Rampont, considerably closer to the front. A Boche avion was shot down by anti-aircraft near us in the afternoon. The pilot was killed, but the observer was unhurt, though only saved from lynching at the hands of a crowd of Moroccans by the intervention of a General. Tex Jones, rushing to the scene in raincoat and goggles, was nearly mobbed before they discovered he was not the Boche.
August 20 --- "My first call came at 11 o'clock last night and since then I haven't had time to eat or sleep. I did triage work until 7:30 in the morning, making trips to Vadlaincourt, Fleury, Julvécourt and Placy. The bombardment was furious all night in preparation for the attack which started at 4 AM. this morning. The sky was bright with flashes and all sorts of curious light signals; occasionally the whole countryside was lit up by a brilliant red flare. The night was starlit, but the clouds of dust and the never ending streams of wagons, camions and men made driving frightfully difficult. I had an orderly, so was fortunate in being able to shift the wheel occasionally. The doctors were enthusiastic about the attack. The first blessés to come in said the bombardment was terrific and very effective. By comparison, the German return fire was as nothing. At 7:30, the Lieutenant of S.S.A. No. 10 (the English Section) told me to transfer to front line duty. My pulses were pounding away with excitement and I turned up the old Montzéville road and the noise of the roaring guns grew louder and louder until, finally, I reached the crest of the hill and the whole stunning effect of sound and sight burst upon me. I was watching an attack in progress! Guns exploded on all sides of me --- nightmarish things that shook the ground; the camouflage was torn and destroyed in several places; I caught a glimpse of Mort Homme, hardy distinguishable through the cloud of black smoke; the road was worn out and shell-torn. I drove into Montzéville and the Englishman in charge told me to go straight to Côte 232. Now I was on the old Esnes road; dead horses horribly mangled. they were beginning to smell: the guns were more numerous --- mostly 75's; I could see many of them hidden under a cloth camouflage and firing through it: heap of shells covered with leaves; sweating men carrying ammunition; a little burro with a broken leg stood motionless by the road; ambulances passed me; shell-holes all over and beside the road --- newly made; dug-outs with men standing around laughing and joking. Oh, yes I remember how the contrast struck me between the laughing casualness of these men and the hellishness of' the scene around them. I stopped at the poste --- a long row of dug-outs with a crowd of men in front. Boche prisoners, wounded, brancardiers, an officer who brandished a captured saw-tooth bayonet. I suddenly realized that I had not heard a single enemy shell! . . The attack had gone famously. We had advanced 3 kilomètres and Boche resistance was demoralized. The enthusiasm was contagious. The day was brilliant; it seemed a holiday. The sausages were everywhere and surrounded by French aeroplanes. I started hack with my wounded, determined to get back as soon as possible, in order not to miss any of the fun. What was my anger and disappointment when I was forced to wait half an hour to unload at Clair-Chênes with my poor blessés suffering intensely. Some had the most horrible face wounds imaginable. They say not many were killed. M. Rev of Dombasle and Esnes remembrance was slightly wounded in the leg. I renewed many old acquaintances. All
the wounded that could walk went to Clair-Chênes on foot --- a weary, but undaunted file. The dust was fearful."
"The second time at poste I got a helmet from a very attractive prisoner. Many of the prisoners spoke French and were engaged in conversation with their captors who showed no hate, but rather pity and curiosity. The American General Sebry was at the poste and the French took great delight in pointing him out to the Germans and telling them that there were already 120,000 American soldiers in France. The Boches all said they had not believed the rumor; they had been told that it was only a calculation on paper. They said they did not want the war; that it was the doings of the Kaiser. Several said he was a 'cochon' and mentioned the fact that neither he nor his six sons had ever been wounded. After three trips the poste was cleared of blessés and so I waited around for several hours. The Boches have begun to shell again, principally with shrapnel, some of which came unpleasantly near the poste. Artillery carriages, drawn by eight horses, tore across the roads, occasionally disappearing in the smoke of an exploding shell, exactly like the old-fashioned idea of the dash and furor of warfare. Long straggling lines of prisoners stretched across the fields, some running in fear from their own shells. Several German wounded were brought in and carefully tended. I finally got a load and, just as I started off, a shrapnel burst overhead, rattling on the ground to my left. I finished out my 24 hours with a trip to Chaumont. I passed thousands of prisoners. By this time results of the attack were pretty well established. Extending from Besonvaux to Avocourt, all objectives were taken, Hill 304 being surrounded and Mort Homme taken and left behind. 5,000 prisoners. In our own sector of Mort Homme, only 44 French were killed, though many wounded. Our section alone carried over 700 during the day, covering a distance of 2,000 Km; congratulations from General Deydrein and from A. Piatt, who honored the region with his attendance. I carried 55 men, went over 350 Km. and used 50 litres of gas. I was fairly well tired out when I was finally able to tumble into bed and forget the war for a while."
August 22 --- "Last night a German aeroplane bombed the Vadlaincourt Hospital and worked terrific havoc among the wounded, including many of their own. It was a frightful deed, done apparently in cold blood in reparation for the attack. On a trip to Vadlaincourt, I had a Dutchman of the Foreign Legion in the front seat with me. He said 450 of his countrymen had enlisted at the beginning of the war, of whom only 40 are left. He spoke of the esprit de corps of the Legion; every man is proud of its reputation and would rather die than, in any way, harm it. It has never failed to obtain its objective."
August 23 - "Last night a German plane flew over us at Rampont at 300 metres --- so low that we could easily make out the silhouette. It threw out flares and dropped several bombs on Clair-Chênes, killing four men. (I forgot to mention that during the day of the attack, the Lieutenant was everywhere, encouraging, helping, cheering and taking care that we got enough to eat and drink. He is a wonderful man and it is an inspiration to work with him.) On duty at Clair-Chênes after supper and was sent immediately to Chaumont with a badly wounded Moroccan. These are wonderful fighters, but when they are wounded they cry and suffer out loud like children --- untaught to conceal their emotions. This poor fellow cried out all the way, in spite of all my efforts to prevent jars. It was a fearful experience for there was nothing I could do to help him except continue. Oh, this war --- this terrible, frightful, inhuman war!"
August 24 - "Talked with two fellows from the English section who had watched the attack on Hill 304 at 5 o'clock behind a heavy tir de barrage. By now the Hill has fallen and the troops are just outside Mallancourt. Only 7 prisoners were taken --- the rest having escaped through tunnels. I talked with a wounded German who had been taken in the Krönprinz tunnel on Mort Homme. They say several of these had been discovered, some elaborately fitted up as dressing stations, etc. This prisoner hated the war, the Kaiser and the whole system that forced him into unwilling struggle. I made 8 trips."
August 25 --- "A group of us took the staff car and ambulance to visit old front lines beyond Chattancourt by way of Blercourt, Fromereville, Chauny and Marre. We caught glimpses of the Bois de Forges almost hidden in a cloud of smoke where according to predictions, the French attacked early this morning and now hold half the woods. It is a strong position infested with machine gun emplacements. We passed a huge wagon encampment with rows of small white tents that looked like an illustration for 'Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground'; rows of batteries and staggering quantities of ammunition. The poste at Chattancourt is a tiny abri in the ruins of the railway station, The Meuse flows through a tract of marshy ground a half-kilometer east, bordered by lines of poplars green and untouched, since the trenches end 500 mètres from each side, with only lilies of barbed wire through the marsh. To the north are the utter ruins of Cumières and behind the sharp slope of thee Bois de Cumières --- now a ragged, yellow surface with a few blackened stumps. To the left rises the beginning of Mort Homme. We continued on foot in single file because of the Boche saucisses. German shells were bursting on the crest of the Bois de Cumières, The road had been repaired after the advance to a point just short of Cumières where several enormous holes made by the French 400's completely blocked it. The destruction all around was absolute and terrible: we were standing --- now in No Man's land --- and now in what were the German lines last Monday, all but obliterated. We found some heavy body armor worn by German machine gunners."
The weather turned cold and rainy. "Read further in 'The Inside of the Cup'. I do not know how lasting the impression will be --- whether it is only the natural sway of the unintelligent reader in deference to the printed word --- but so far I agree absolutely with Mr. Churchill. He expresses the doubts and half-formed opinions that have been fermenting in my mind for some time. . . I sat at Clair-Chênes reading the August 'Atlantic'. 'The Diary of a Coward' started a corresponding train of thought in my own mind. I tried to analyze my own motives---I don't know. ..'The New Paganism' by Edward Lewis has an interesting theory, but I question the fact that he gives no credit to Christianity either as a source of inspiration or as an end in itself, but states its function as solely a hampering. annoying, but necessary discipline.
September 1 -"I made several trips last night which gave me all opportunity to revolve in my mind the troubled impressions given by my reading. It was a beautiful night with a clear, untroubled moon that made all human problems seem futile and unnecessary. On one trip a sergeant of the Foreign Legion sat with me on the front seat and talked cheerfully on various matters during the ride, though his head was entirely bandaged. On reaching Vadlaincourt. I put my hand on the side box while alighting: it came away dripping with blood while the faint glimmer from the 'Attente des Couchés' sign showed a pool of blood stretching several feet on the mudguard, There was the answer to the moon... Toward evening the Boches dropped a few shells on Blercourt, Souhesmes and the fields near the ambulance. I was struck by the futility of the fire and by the absurd seriousness of a big shell exploding in the midst of an open field... It all depends on the point of view! . . . Our new cantonment is in the woods of a steep slope rising north of the village of Jouy-en-Argonne. The fellows had worked well and numerous tents gleamed through the trees, cleverly placed to avoid detection by aeroplanes. There are batteries, uncomfortably close, that make the whole place a target. Coming in, I ran into a man on a bicycle, ruining the latter but, fortunately, without injury to him. Since he admitted it was his fault, the affair was patched by carrying him and his wreck to his destination."
September 2 --- "The Lieutenant has given further proof of his ability to get what he wants by securing 8 croix de guerre for the section --- 4 to the order of division and 4 corps de santé. I have had moments of fierce jealousy, but now I am happy and contented in a proper view of the situation. Without envy, I say that none of us deserve the croix; to compare our 'bit' with that of the soldiers is to prove that. . . Frazer's car was hit at poste by a shell that landed a few yards away while they were putting blessés in the car. During the same bombardment a shell wrecked one of the abris at the poste, killing three and wounding sixteen, several mortally. It seems there is plenty of excitement."
September 3 --- Labor Day --- "In deference to America the Lieutenant forbade us to do any kind of work today, as usual managing to get a hearty laugh out of the occasion. He surprised us all by coming forth with a loud, 'Lay off' in his daily after-breakfast scuffle with Bob. He picks up our slang with great rapidity and little discrimination. A beautiful joyous day in all the rich maturity of late summer. The indescribably sad, mysterious touch of spring has given way to frank, out-spoken happiness. The leaves are turning, not withering, but reaching the fullness of their beauty. As I look up through the trees, there are cheerful patches of unclouded, sunny blue; the yellow and pink of the maples; the green of the oak and elm; and faint glints of brown and gray --- perhaps of a tree trunk, a bush, a patch of warm soil. The same bright sun in the same blue sky shone on the outlook as I turned out of Montzéville toward Mort Homme. But nothing can make those yellow slopes anything but hideous, scarred, defiled; or soften the harshness of those blasted stumps: or change the pathetic quality of the straggling grass and occasional poppy bravely defying 'civilization'. Shells literally landed all around us as we made our painful way to the poste. There is so something infinitely fascinating in the explosion of a big shell with its geyser-like spray of dirt and stones and huge pillar of smoke that floats lazily away. Poste No. 232 is located beside the road sheltered by a small rise north of it. It consists of a small room deep in the ground approached by a long sloping tunnel. Charvet is there which makes it familiar and homelike. Naylor, my orderly, and I had dinner with him and the médecin chef. General Deydrien, commanding the Division, is also living at the poste for the present. The Boche were shelling some batteries near the poste, searching for them with a long line of marmites which occasionally reached near the abri. They told me this bombardment had been going on all day, but no one had been even wounded An example of the waste of war!"
September 4 --- "Made a trip last night at one o'clock. The moon was up, softening the landscape, but the sharp, cruel flashes belied the serenity. Shrapnel burst very near us at Montzéville on our return. . . Read, played cards and watched the firing all morning on the 'mauvais coin' by large calibre shells. We could hear the German gun, then the faint beginning of a whistle; then we could see the explosion while the whistle continued and finally hear the explosion. I was glad I was not on the Esnes run until our own road began to he the subject of German intentions. At 5:30 we were relieved. As we started out a shell burst on the first corner, a hundred yards away. At the top of the first rise, we saw another on the fork of the Esnes road; we drew nearer---another came in, then a roaring blast beat in our ears and for one awful second. . . Then we saw the guns and the grinning gunners and recovered something of our dignity and equanimity. They were firing across the road with the muzzle pointed over our heads and I am sure their timing was intentional. To crown this eventful voyage, a final shell burst outside Montzéville as we approached. 'All he does is follow him around' and I remembered how I used to play that tune on the victrola at Andover and read of German atrocities and try to imagine them! I found a wonderful loving letter from Mother that so matched my mood that my heart seemed as though it would burst. And I lay awake a long time, listening to the fellows singing outside and thinking of many things."
September 5 --- "Last night bombers were overhead all night. Four bombs fell where our tents had been at Rampont. But the most terrible effect was the second bombing of Vadlaincourt Hospital. (The town was also a rail head.) The Médecin Chef and two other doctors were killed and none of the buildings was untouched. The casualties were chiefly among the personnel; three nurses badly wounded; a doctor killed with the patient on whom he was operating, the ward where Dominic and Earl stayed was raked with éclat. A truly terrible spectacle that made the onlooker forget any sense of humanity in an overwhelming desire to crush a people whose doctrines sanction deeds like this." (Shades of Vietnam.)
September 6 --- "We are sufficiently alarmed at Jouy to start digging a shelter trench through the rocky hillside, though the danger is waning with the moon. It is tough going --- like digging your way out of prison with a nail file, but we have got it 5 feet deep already. It rained all evening and our tent leaked horribly."
September 10 --- "Last night was too nerve-racking --- I shall ask to be allowed to enjoy the comparative safety of the postes. First there were aeroplane motors, the rat-rat of machine guns, rockets and the boom of anticraft. At midnight we were awakened by the crash of two shells in the orchard below us. The firing continued, but moved slowly away. We lay in the tent congratulating ourselves on the conclusion of the 'strafe' when two more landed so near that éclat rattled through the trees. At that, all dignity broke and there was a mad rush for the trench Poor R----'s bed was at the entrance and fifteen fellows walked over his face before he could escape. (R---- was a new chap who always wore a cap, even to bed. It was only then that it was discovered that he was completely bald.) No more shells came. Wit began to make itself heard and the party broke up a sort of lark."
September 11 --- "'The trees are even more beautiful in their gorgeous colors and the warm sun filters through them, filling the wood with dancing lights. As I was sitting reading under a maple. two shrapnel casing from French anti-craft fire tore through the branches a few mètres away. Montzéville where I went on duty was fairly quiet except for some whizz-bangs (Austrian 130 MM's) They are extremely dangerous as you haven't time to duck. The sunset was painfully beautiful. Montzéville is out of our sector and there are no arrangements for eating, so I was happy to move up to Poste 232 in the morning, but had to leave immediately with two bad cases who had been buried since 5 o'clock yesterday. Talked with two older Frenchmen of SS 109 who set a wonderful example of cheerfulness and serenity under trying circumstances. This trait, so common among the soldiers I have seen is one I think Americans, in general, would do well to emulate. We joked and talked, particularly about the discouraging Russian situation. Korniloff and Kerensky are at odds and the former is marching on Petrograd.
September 14 --- "Cold and rainy and unbelievably disagreeable. I am sitting in my car at Clair Chênes gazing at the desolate outlook. The Tricolor at the gate is struggling manfully against the beating rain. It flaps painfully from side to side, slower and slower, and now seems about to give up and hang dead; but every time a new impulse seems to spring through it and it struggles up again, fluttering in dogged resistance against the downpour. And I am feeling somehow cheered at the sight of this sacred emblem of France, so worthily emulating its people."
The routine continued and so did the bombing with frequent spells in the trench at night. The front quieted down. One hazy morning he received permission to leave the poste for a visit to the front line on Mort Homme. The former German lines below the crest resembled "the interior of a volcano with smoke-blasted sides --- or an angry yellow sea running in mountainous swells". The debris of war lay scattered, including innocent looking bundles of rags that turned out to hold the remains of a man or a shoe with a foot and sometimes a leg. The entrances to the German shelters were so steep and narrow that one had to enter backwards. They were deep and comfortably furnished. From an observation poste on the northern slope he could see the German lines in front of the Bois de Forges. To the right the Meuse ran between rows of poplars and Hill 344 on the right bank was wreathed in the smoke of a bombardment.
September 22 --- was "an extraordinarily clear and beautiful day --- the air brisk and invigorating. At Poste 232 a shelter with a corrugated steel roof well camouflaged has been built for our cars. It rather amused me to see a small Red Cross flag nailed timidly in front as though for an alibi, should the Germans discover the camouflage. Boche planes were overhead and spent shrapnel clattered on the road. We were well repaid by the sight of a Boche plane shot down by a chasseur near Cumières. At 5:30 a group left for the front line to bury 18 dead Boches that lay between the lines, A shell landed right on top of the médecin chef's abri while they were at dinner, but they were only slightly jarred and did not even hear the explosion." The next day a French observation plane accompanied by a chasseur was attacked by four German planes and shot down near Esnes. "I walked down the road just beyond the camouflage to where the shell landed as I came in, wounding two men on a ravitaillement train. Three dead horses lie there rotting in the hot sun."
September 24 --- "Jouy received a real raid last night. In the trench the Lieutenant yelled, 'Down boys. All down!' Swish, crash; encore; still again: a fourth. First four cars on reserve. Come on boys, don't be afraid.' Half the section was called out and the rest held in reserve. Actually we carried only three blessés from Jouy and several from Souhesmes. But at poste something really happened. It was heavily shelled from 5 to 7:30 and there were many wounded and suffocated, though none killed. Nate's car was tout écrasé --- mudguards, lights, hood and body being smashed by stones and collapse of the shelter, but it still ran and stayed on duty until the regular relief,"
September 25 --- The aerial bombardment intensified as the moon became fuller. "At Clair Chênes, Perrout assured me the tent was the safest place as the Germans wished to keep it as a landmark, so I sat quietly and read. However, a small bomb fell in the barracks nearby --- fortunately without injury to anyone and a soldier was wounded by a spent bullet. Enjoyed talking with some American engineers at Rampont and Fleury.."
September 28 --- All the members of the section were inducted by voluntary enlistment into the American Army 'for the duration'. "The tang of the hunting season is in the air, crisp and cool and alluring. On account of the bombardment of Poste 232 we have a new car shelter nearby at Poste 239 for daytime with a camouflaged hole in the back. As I moved up at 7:30 the moon was full and the valley bathed with a soft, silvery light."
October 3 --- Produced the first rain in a month.
The division was relieved and on October 6, the section packed up and made its slow and tortuous way south through a continuous traffic jam some 20 miles to the village of Vaubécourt where tents were set up again. "The kitchen trailer was delayed so four of us went forth in search of food. After many rebuffs and failures we found ourselves in the back room of a tumbled-down house that we reached by going through a stable. The room was bare but scrupulously clean and with a cheerful fire on a wide hearth. Two old women served us with fried potatoes, cider and pears which, added to the tins of meat we had brought and a huge loaf of bread and cheese made a very substantial meal. They told us of the vandalism and wanton destruction of the Huns when they occupied the village before the battle of the Marne. All furniture and goods were transported to Germany and the houses were then burned. The English gave each of the inhabitants of the destroyed villages around here a bed, some clothes, a rooster, a hen and a cow. Went to a café in the evening and found it full of jubilant soldiers of the 80th on their first spree after the trenches. There was much singing in which we joined, by request."
October 7 --- We found ice outside this morning. Hazy and I took long walks to keep warm across fields and wooded hills. I was back in the White Mountains. . . We leave for the Champagne sector, having been transferred to the 4th Army ---wonderful news after our expectations of a winter on the Meuse. It seems we are a trump card that the French generals have kept up their sleeve to completely crush the Germans when the right moment came. The hour has apparently struck."
October 10 --- "Breakfast at 7 o'clock and under way by 8:30, despite great difficulty in starting the cars. We were soon stopped to make way for a party of notables, including President Poincaré, Marshall Joffre and the President of Portugal. We lined up and all three acknowledged our formation as they whirled by, President Poincaré raising his hat completely, accompanied by a short bow. We ran full speed on the main road, but had to make frequent stops to let the numerous accidents catch up. We passed through village after village so completely and cruelly razed that it made one heartsick. The character of the country changed as we proceeded westward. The roads became straight as arrows, emphasizing the rolling nature of the ground; the forests disappeared --- replaced by groves of pines in rows. Nothing shows the age of a country as do these trees which represent, not the magnificence of nature, but the wise foresight of an already old community. It began to hail violently as we passed through Châlons to the village of Chantrix 20 kilomètres beyond, where my car gave a groan and the left rear wheel slid off --- a broken axle. Again we had to resort to our tents after a look at the leaky barn provided for us. The cafés seemed to be closed, but found a 'blind pig' where excellent beer, heat and light could be enjoyed --- a fine combination. I slept in my car against the possible ravages of 'Système D' . . . (Supply by stealing from other units. A car left unprotected might be found minus tires, wheels and motor.) Chantrix is a charming, prosperous appearing place, very different from the squalid little villages of the Meuse valley. The church rings out the hour with a bell which is the exact counterpart of the Andover school bells. Everyone had found rooms except Aurelius and I, but after a long search we persuaded a little old woman who lived alone to rent us a room with two big beds and a fireplace for 15 ft. a week."
This was fortunate because some days later he had a severe attack of dysentery and was dead to the world for four days, nursed by Aurelius, the old lady and "the enthusiastic doctoring of the Lieutenant who nearly scalded me to death with a hot towel." Nearly everyone in the section was half-sick and five were evacuated to the Châlons hospital. The section remained immobile at Chantrix for two weeks. There were trips to Châlons, including a memorable meal at the Hôtel Haut Mère Dieu ("even the napkins was a source of delight"), soccer and bridge games and, of course, a thorough overhaul and painting of the cars. An occasional bright warm Indian summer day was a cheerful interruption of the cold rain. One day "I managed to discover four squabs and arranged with the town baker to have them cooked in his great oven and we made our own supper. The meal was an epic. We built a roaring fire and had bouillon scrambled eggs on toast, baked potatoes, squabs and tea. I don't want to enlarge on our enjoyment --- besides there are some things too sacred to talk about."
Diary, continued [October 27, 1917]