The following pages were written by a youth who, at the age when most boys are in high school, served in the ambulance corps of the army of France. Slightly wounded at Verdun and returned home to regain his health, for he had fallen a victim to typhoid, he entered the University of Michigan where he spent part of his freshman year. During this time he was a member of my class in composition where, one day in fulfillment of an impromptu assignment, he wrote a description of a battery of artillery going into action at night. The favorable reception of this theme, which had given us the first intimation that he had seen service abroad, elicited others of the same sort and led him to plan the writing of the full account of his term of service. But the sequence of events in his brief life has made this impossible Ill-health drove him to New Mexico, where he remained until he heard again the call to the colors and came home to enlist in the regular army. When he left for his training he entrusted me with what notes he had completed, and promised to send others from time to time. Now that the blighter of so many hopes has stilled his hand, these pages are given to his friends and acquaintances a memento of one who was truly a decus in pace, in bello praesidium.
One has to read but a few pages to realize the youth's purity of heart and steadfastness of purpose. In the thick of the sordidness, filth, filth, and squalor that characterized the condition of the men about him he was ever ready to pay tribute to the many good qualities inherent in human nature, while he let escape no word to show that he was aware of the great moral and spiritual degradation so deplored by English and French commentators alike. The latter cry out that "La guerre, aussi hideuse au moral qu'au physique, non seulement viole le bon sens, avilit les grandes idées, commande tous les crimes---mais ils se rappelaient combien elle avait développé en eux et autour d'eux tous les mauvais instincts sans en excepter un seul; la méchanceté jusqu'au sadisme, l'egoïsme jusqu'à la férocité, le besoin de jouir jusqu' à la folie;" and the former whisper:
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go."
The men whom he observed were not base; battleweary, filthy, and often starving, they retained still the spirit of human charity; simple-minded, appreciative of smallest favors, they were always eager to return kindness for kindness done. Among such men young Rogers mingled, giving them the encouragement of his spirit and the help of his hands, until wounds and disease sent him from their midst to return again later for the sterner game that he played to the end; for with him from the very first it was a game on his part to be played fair and hard, whatever the perversity and obliquity of the other side.
It is easy to recognize the boy's enthusiasm, his eager-eyed but unstartled wonder at the awful things of war; and equally easy to appreciate the clean and open spirit, free from trifling and devoid of subterfuge. For us who knew him and for others who may read his brief account, let the few pages serve as a souvenir of faith and fidelity to the greatest things in human life. For the white flower of a blameless life, closed by the blast of battle, still sheds perfume to greet the spirit of devotion, to cheer the soul of sacrifice.
Randolph Rogers was born October 26, 1897, in Grand Rapids, and attended the public schools and the high school of his native city. In March, 1916, his last year in high school, he volunteered in the American Ambulance Field Service, serving there from April until July. He was in the violent fighting about Verdun from June 10 to July 4, 1916. and was sent to Paris on July 5 because of dysentery which was diagnosed later as typhoid He remained in the hospital until September, returning to this country about October 1. He entered the University of Michigan in October, 1916, and remained until February, 1917, when his health again broke down. He was sent at once to New Mexico, where he remained until the middle of June. Having made a full recovery, he returned to Grand Rapids and enlisted at the Regular Army recruiting station in that city on July 11. and was sworn in at Columbus Barracks on July 13. After a stay of some five weeks at Columbus, he was sent to Syracuse and there assigned to K company, 38th infantry. In which organization he served until his death. He was made corporal in November, 1917, and sergeant in April. 1918, soon after his arrival in France. His regiment went from Syracuse, N. Y., to Camp Green. N. C.. and sailed for France about March 30. 1918. He was killed by an exploded shell on the morning of July 15, 1918 near the little village of St Eugene, a short distance from Chateau-Thierry and about a mile from the Marne.
It was raining a monotonous drizzle when our convoy drew up alongside the sticky, muddy road just outside of the village of Mourmelon-le Grand where we were to make our headquarters. We had stopped the ambulances to await Lieutenant P-----who had driven on into the town to locate our billets, and were naturally all aglow with curiosity to see what kind of a town our first home on the front would be, and to find out what the work would be like. We were only two days out of Paris and absolutely new to the game that we were going to play.
Immediately after leaving Paris we had touched at the great motor park at Versailles, where all motor convoys must be inspected and approved before taking up their duties in the field. There we saw all of those different types of automobiles, both large and small, that are taking such an important role in the grand defense that France is making. Some were fresh and new, awaiting their baptism by fire; others were old and battered by months of hard service behind the firing lines,
We were lined up and carefully inspected beside the crew of a transport convoy that was also to leave for the front that day. They were completely equipped with rifles and new steel helmets. After inspection we lingered at Versailles only long enough to have lunch, and for some of us to be shorn of our hair. Then we departed in the rain.
Our first day's run brought us to Provins, a little town nearly east of Paris. There we were billeted in a military hospital for horses. The next day's run took us through the battlefield of the Marne, with all its ruined villages and cross-marked graves. Noon of that day found our convoy drawn up in a side street on the outskirts of Chalons-sur-Marne, where we were to officially join the 6th Corps of the 4th army.
Throughout our journey through the country-side we could not but appreciate the spirit with which every one in uniform in France is greeted. Always, when we came to a village, the population, consisting of women, children and old men, lined the road to see us pass them, waving at us and shouting greetings. We had scarcely started our cold lunch when we received a more material manifestation of this spirit. A kind-hearted old lady, who had rooms overlooking the street where we had stopped, brought out a steaming pot of black coffee that she had made especially for us.
While we were eating, an ambulance belonging to S. S. Américaine No. 7 (Norton's Section) came by. The driver stopped for a moment's chat, saying that they had been with the fourth army and were just going out of action for a rest.
Lunch finished, we proceeded directly to the large motor park and horse-stable where we were to spend the night. It was a huge inclosure in which many motor trucks were standing, and around which were large tables and barracks. The life of the goodly number of soldiers who were stationed in this place was neither glorious nor romantic ---not even picturesque. They were for the most part older men. Their uniforms were anything but uniform, being mostly baggy, dirty trousers or overalls, and smock-like jumpers, topped off by cast-off military hats of every description which must have been doing service in the different periods of the French army for years. They were all dirty and smelt of the stables, for most of their work was the care of the horses. However, they were a fine lot of happy-go-lucky men, content that they were doing their part.
After we had finished supper in the dark, musty canteen, we joined them in a game that they were playing in the twilight. It consisted of maneuvers in which the crowd formed a circle wherein a blind-folded man tried to catch a compatriot who beat at regular intervals on a pan with a stick. The pursued had the use of his eyes. A great deal of sport was derived from this simple game, and we ended by taking our turns in the center.
That night we learned that we were to be assigned to the twelfth division which was in action before the town of Mourmelon, and that Mourmelon was to be our headquarters. The next morning after a muddy, disagreeable ride through the rain, we arrived outside the town.
When the lieutenant returned we drove to where the one street of the town proper commenced, and turned to the right down a military street, flanked on both sides by long one-story barrack-buildings. In one of these buildings we found our quarters and lined our cars up alongside.
We were fortunate in being assigned to a new building that had scarcely been used, so that the outside was surprisingly clean. Immediately a visit was made next door where were located the quarters of the section that we were relieving. The departing drivers presented us with rude benches, home-made beds and such other articles as they could not carry with them. Most of us made our beds by putting stretchers on the cement floor. In an adjoining building the kitchen was set up and tables and benches fixed for our mess. In the same building, the office of the section was established.
The next morning at eleven o'clock the French section that we had relieved left, and we went on duty. Before this time Lieutenant P------ and 'Chef" M------- had inspected the "postes de Secour" that we were to handle. Also, several of the men who were at the head of the list had gone down and learned the roads. As there was nothing in the line of duty to be done that afternoon by those of us who were nearer to the end of the list, we walked down to look the village over.
It was an uninteresting, unattractive place, with only one street. This was filled with soldiers all dirty and unkempt. They were billeted in practically every house in the village, and the few civilian shop-keepers dealt almost entirely in goods that a soldier requires or desires. At each end of the street were stationed sentries who challenged every passing vehicle. In the distance the steady booming of the big guns was to be heard.
Here was war at first hand, with all its dirtiness and disagreeableness. No glory---not even any excitement in the town----only the booming of the guns and the constant flow of men and supplies to and from the firing lines some six miles distant. We wondered why the town had not been razed to the ground since it was within such easy range of the German artillery. Upon inquiring, we learned that even in war there exists a certain amount of reciprocity. Mourmelon is unmolested by the marmites of the Hun because there is on the other side of "No Man's Land" at about an equal distance from the lines a similar village held by the Germans. They know that to shell Mourmelon would bring immediate bombardment upon their town. So they desist.
The names of all the men in our section were kept on a list in the office, and as a mail went out on a call he was placed at the bottom of the list to await his turn again. As my name was near the bottom I did not expect to go for some time, but as evening came on artillery fire became more intense and we could see by the glare of the rockets that things surely were happening out in the lines. As a result, there were a good many calls to the post, so that nearly everyone rode down during the day. The policy of our leaders was to have each man ride down with someone else before he took his own car down.
It was shortly after lunch when my opportunity to ride down and learn the road came. I received a call and M------ told me to ride down with him. Our course took us down the street where our billets were located, to the streets of the village, and thence thru town on this street, at the end of which we jogged to the right, answered the challenge of the sentry, and started across the open country in the direction from which the occasional roar of an artillery piece came. It was surprisingly quiet; all the activity of the previous night seemed to have ceased.
We had not gone very far from the village when on the left-hand side of the road we came upon a screen----and a remarkable screen it was, extending as far as the eye could reach. It was built of pine boughs strung on wires to such a height that a vehicle passing along the road would be invisible from the other side. It was erected because the road was in direct line of view of German observers. We had received strict orders to curb our speed when passing over this road in the day time so that no dust would rise over this screen, as that would surely draw fire. The screen followed the road for a couple of miles, breaking only at one point where a hill afforded protection for the road. It ended at the ruined shell of village called St. Hilaire.
Here we crossed a stream and turned to the right, going along about parallel to the lines until we came to Jonchery, another village which had been battered to crumbs by the German artillery. Jonchery was just behind the second line trenches. There we stopped by the side of the road, with crumbling ruins all around us.
The wounded were brought out from a cellar, as all the soldiers in the place stayed under ground. There emerged into the sunlight two stretcher-bearers with a stretcher between them, and on this stretcher lay a huddled mass of dirty grey-blue, swabbed in crimson bandages. As we slid the stretcher into the car I realized that this man was the first freshly-wounded man that I had ever handled. Those whom we had rolled out of their lousy bunks in the hospital train in Paris had been wounded days before, and while their condition was terrible and their suffering greater perhaps, than that of the man that we were handling, this was all more real. There the war had seemed a remote, distant thing.
In Paris it was almost impossible to conceive where the men had come from and how they had gotten their wounds, but here in the little village of Jonchery we seemed right in it. The poor fellow's wounds were less than an hour old, and it was only a matter of yards through winding "boyaux" to the spot where he had fallen.
That same evening as we were about to sit down to supper the bombardment commenced again, even more violently than it had been the previous evening. The French artillery had scarcely begun to reply when the warning came back that the Boches had launched a gas attack. As the wind was blowing slightly from their lines in our direction, the conditions for its success were ideal. In the last gas attack in this sector, hundreds of men had perished, so Fritz, evidently well pleased with his past luck, was trying it again.
Although there was as yet no sign of gas in the air, Lieutenant P------, guided by past experience, ordered us to put on our masks. This we did, but reluctantly, for supper was prepared and the masks made eating impossible. Some moments were then passed in restless wandering about while we grew accustomed to the grotesque figure that we cut in these large-eyed, business-like-looking masks.
I was beginning to entertain hopes of removing my mask and snatching a bit of food when a call came in from St. Hilaire, and I was surprised to find that my name had worked around to the head of the list. It was an exciting period for me as I turned my car out into the road and started through the village on my first trip up alone.
To add to the excitement, things were not quite as they had been in the afternoon. The roar of the artillery was constantly increasing, and the wind was still favorable for a German gas attack. In the village all was excitement, for everyone had been warned and was preparing for the gas. Men were running around wildly locating and adjusting their masks. Evidently the last attack had made a decided impression on all in the sector, for they were certainly taking no chances this time.
Immediately after passing through Mourmelon it seemed as if the artillery fire was some distance away, but very soon after I came to the place in the road where the river commences, I realized that the French batteries were firing on both sides of the road. At intervals, in the surrounding fields there would be flashes followed by roars, as battery after battery spoke.
Dusk was falling so rapidly that there was no necessity to run slowly for fear of dust rising over the screen. As the sun sank lower below the horizon, it became more difficult to see through the isinglass in the mask, for, even though before my departure Moreau had given me a preparation to rub on the goggles to prevent fogging, the moisture would collect on the inside. When the abandoned Ferme de St. Hilaire was reached, I noticed that artillerymen and convoy-drivers whom I passed on the road had taken off their masks, so I removed mine.
In a very few minutes I pulled up at the "poste de Secour" at St. Hilaire and turned my car around, remembering to keep in the shelter of the battered building that concealed the post from enemy observers. There I found D---- and S---- waiting for some 'blesses". They were standing near the mouth of the dug-out with a few of the stretcher-bearers and attendants, watching the artillery duel. It was the first opportunity that any of us had had to witness such a spectacle from the trenches themselves.
For the "poste" St. Hilaire actually was in the trenches. One communication trench tunnelled under the road and then ran out towards that dim line in the distance that marked the German first trenches. Another communication trench ran back from the series of dug-outs that made up the post to the batteries. Still another ran along parallel to the road.
Twilight still lingered, yet it was so dark that the observation balloons of both sides were down, and the artillery was all in action. From the rear of the Boche first line came the steady booming of the big guns, mingled with the distant flashes. Behind us was a slight rise covered by a forest, concealed in which were several French batteries, some '75's and also larger guns, as we learned later. These batteries were working at a terrific rate, sending their shells screaming over our heads. This noise that the speeding shells made as they cut the air was more impressive and more terrible than either the roar of the explosion or the flash.
On the opposite side of the road from the post, sprawled out behind the ruined building that I sheltered their cars, lay a group of soldiers. A silent group, they watched the firing eagerly as though they were waiting for something. All wore the same insignia on their sleeves,---crossed pickaxes. Wondering what they were there for, I asked one of their number. They were waiting for darkness to come so that they could commence their night's work. This work was to repair all the parapets along the first line that had been shot down during the day; and to crawl out into "no-man's land" and replace the barbed wire that had been cut away by the enemy's shrapnel. Their task was surely no safe one, yet every night when darkness fell, out they went, coming back only when break of day threatened to expose them at their work.
It is a curious thing that even in this hazardous work between the lines there is a certain amount of reciprocity. My informant told me that often as he crawled out he would hear someone else coming stealthily from the German trenches, but that neither interfered with the other, for each had his own work to do. Sometimes when working where the entanglements of the two sides joined, they would hear an enemy grunting and whispering Teutonic oaths at their very side, but their job was dangerous enough without courting hand-to-hand combat.
Some little time after my arrival, a few wounded were brought in and loaded into the car that D--- and S--- were on, leaving me alone to wait for the next batch. Unless some came by ten o'clock it meant that I should spend the night in the dug-out.
By this time it was absolutely dark and the artillery were at it harder than ever. Also the Germans and French had both started to send up rockets and star shells. The former would shoot up against the black in varied colors, while the latter lingered in the air, shedding a dazzling white light that illuminated the whole landscape---in fact, so bright was the light that while it lasted one could easily read a newspaper.
We had been standing by the entrance to the trench in the shelter of the building, for some time, when up ahead, down by the French first line, there appeared a green rocket. It had scarcely faded out when a bugler in a look-out post blew out a call that was strange to me, but not to my companions. Instantly several of the men near me dove into their dug-out and reappeared a moment later adjusting their gas masks. Others appeared running down the trench in masks. A non-commissioned officer explained to me that the bugle was the signal of another gas attack. The bugler had been warned by the green rocket sent up from a listening post in the first line.
While I was still putting my mask my eyes began to smart. The officer, who by the way spoke English, said that was always the warning that the gas gave. When our masks were all adjusted we retired to the dug-out and sat around in silence, awaiting developments, until one of the stretcher bearers raised his mask and discovered that the fumes had blown over. A little later the performance was repeated, the gas seeming to come in small quantities, just enough to make a mask necessary, yet blowing over quickly.
As it was getting late and still no wounded came in, I decided that I would probably have to spend the night in the dugout, and so brought from my car a stretcher and a couple of the blankets that we carried for the wounded. Before turning in I talked with the young commissioned officer who spoke English so well. He had lived in England for some time and had thus picked up the language. He was a mighty fine chap and we had a conversation in the dug-out that for me was most interesting.
He was sitting on a rough, hand-made desk, and I lay sprawled out on my stretcher. The place was lighted by a couple of candles stuck in the necks of bottles. In the corner on a heap of straw several men were sleeping, and other spaces were ready for 'blessés' whenever they should be brought in. Aside from its stuffiness and rather strong smell of filth and drugs, left by the hundreds of wounded who had found temporary shelter there, it was not a bad place to have to spend the night. However, I did not expect to sleep much, for it was my first night actually in the trenches, and if the excitement of that fact alone was not enough to make me wakeful, the roar of the guns surely would make it rather hard to sleep. I was still green and had not reached that stage where it is possible to sleep under any conditions whenever the opportunity presents itself.
At last, as I was about to roll up and make an attempt at sleep, the note of the bugle again wafted itself through the communication trench. The gas again! The first couple of times the excitement of the occasion had made it exhilarating and interesting, but now it began to grow tiresome, this continual wrapping one's face up in an ill-smelling, chemically-treated mask.
Things were just getting back to normal in the abris when Sea--- arrived from St. Souplet, accompanied by a stretcher-bearer and several 'blessés.' All of the latter had come on foot save one who was in a very bad condition, being on the verge of passing away at any moment. Even those who had walked had been in no condition to do so. It seemed that a car had been wanted at St. Souplet to bring these men and S----- in, but there had been a misunderstanding somewhere along the line and the car had not been sent. S----- had waited and waited in the post above, while the badly-wounded man was passing from bad to worse. The wires had all been shot down, so that none of the posts were in communication with each other, or with the rear. At last S----- had volunteered to try and get them back to St. Hilaire where he knew there would be an ambulance. So he and the stretcher-bearer had put the one man on one of the little push-carts that are used to carry stretchers and started back. After a hard time they had reached St. Hilaire.
We put the wounded men in my car carefully, putting the seriously wounded man in first. However, as luck would have it, his stretcher jammed when it was about half way in. I crawled in under him to guide it while the other shoved Just as it started to slide into place the poor 'blessé' commenced to vomit and belch blood all over the car. As I crawled out and tried to brush some of the mess off my clothes, one of the "brancardiers" said, "Il sera mort quand vous arrivez". We then put two of the others in behind on stretchers, and S----- and the remaining 'blessé' rode in the seat beside me.
Before we had gone fifty yards, I realized that I had some mighty hard driving before we could reach 4-6, the hospital to which the wounded men were consigned. It was possible to see only a few feet ahead, as it was a misty night with neither moon nor stars. Of course we were not allowed to use lights; in fact, the point where their use was first permitted was some distance beyond 4-6. To make matters worse, a great deal of powder-smoke from the batteries had blown out over the road and hung there, making the night more opaque than ever. The road was white and so by going slow we could keep upon it, but it was necessary to locate other vehicles by sound until we were almost upon them. To avoid trucks and batteries, it was just a case of straining one's ears for the slightest sound and, upon hearing anything, to swerve sharply to the right and hope that the other fellow would do the same. Several times I would hear something in the distance, and then, as no more sounds would reach my ears, would attribute the noise to nervousness or imagination, when a big truck would suddenly loom up ahead as though it had sprung from the ground. When we came to the place where the screen stood up black beside the road, steering was simplified, for the screen was easily seen and followed.
Suddenly as I felt that we must be nearing Mourmelon a sentry leaped out into the road, raised his gun, and as I slowed down, pointed the bayonet in the general direction of my chest, saying, "Qui va là?"
"Ambulance Américaine avec blessés urgents", I answered; and we were allowed to pass.
When we reached the other end of the village S---- got out and left me to take the men to the hospital. After a little difficulty because of the darkness, I located 4-6. On the door was a sign that told me to what room I should go in order to awaken the orderly. I broke into his room and practically had to haul him out of bed. Then I had to wait while he leisurely put on some clothes, while I kept trying to tell him in my broken French that it was necessary to hurry.
As we unloaded the 'blessés', I was greatly relieved, when we pulled out the worst case, to hear him groan, for I was sure that I had been driving a hearse, especially since, during the last few kilometers of the journey, he had been strangely quiet, in contrast to his agonized groans at first. The orderly carefully examined the tag on each man before taking him in, and as a result discovered that the silent old soul who had been riding beside me was a "malade" for 12-6. Neither of us knew where 12-6 was located. The only thing to do was to go back to Mourmelon and ask the sentry.
On the way back there suddenly appeared in the road, almost before my radiator, a red, red lantern, waving frantically, evidently in the hands of someone who was greatly excited. I jammed on my brakes and stopped the car just as, with a shriek and a roar, one of those little trains that run on the narrow gauge tracks carrying supplies of all kinds behind the battle lines, rushed by, missing the front of my car by inches, and disappeared into the night. Needless to say, I was petrified.
A few minutes later we were challenged by the sentry on the outskirts of Mourmelon. Overcoming the nervousness caused by his bayonet at my breast, and by his comrades on the front tire, I answered the challenge and asked the question. He could only direct me to the military office in the center of the town. There the sentry was as unable to answer my question as the first had been, but he awakened an officer, who was not only too sleepy to display much interest but knew no more than the rest.
At this stage of the affair my passenger who, I had discovered was being sent back because he had lost his hearing, took matters into his own hands and told me to go down to the other end of the village. As he spoke in a positive manner, seeming to know what he was about, I took his advice. We followed another road out through the woods for some distance. Then I noticed that we were nearer to the batteries than we had been; in fact, they were going off around us. The air was saturated with powder smoke, and the farther we travelled the hotter things seemed to get. It is an awful sensation to be near the front and not know where you are going. I suddenly became aware of the fact that I was travelling I knew not where. If there were any hospitals in this district they were in the hands of the Germans, I decided, and so turned around and went back double-quick time.
By this time both my deaf passenger and I were thoroughly chilled and uncomfortable, so I decided to search around no longer, but report at headquarters for orders. in the office, asleep on a coat, was our lieutenant. I awakened him, thinking that he was one of the non-commissioned officers. Upon hearing of my predicament he dressed and rode with me to 12-6, where we deposited the "malade." It was an early hour of the morning when we arrived back at our barracks.
Every day that was at all clear there was activity in the air on our sector, aeroplanes coming and going across the lines, sometimes German, but more often French---for the French seemed to hold in this district the supremacy in the air.
It was on a bright Sunday that we first saw a Frenchman venture over the enemy's lines flying low. It was irresistibly fascinating to watch the efforts of the German antiaircraft guns in their attempts to bring him down. The effect of every shot could be followed because of the puff of black smoke that resulted from the exploding of the shrapnel. Time fuses are always used in these shells---that is, the shell is set to explode not upon contact but at a certain time; thus, if the artillerymen have made their calculation correctly, the shell will explode near the plane and shower a rain of shrapnel on it. This particular French plane seemed to hover around leisurely over the German lines, paying no attention to the shells bursting around it. Some went wide of their mark, while others were so close that we held our breath expecting to see the machine lunge groundward. However, his errand was accomplished without a mishap and he soon returned to his own lines.
A little later in the same day several of us were lying on our backs in the field in the rear of the barrack building, when a German Taube came drifting over the French lines. He was flying low---unusually low for a Boche; we could distinguish with the naked eye the black Maltese Cross that is the insignia of the German aeroplane. It was being fired upon from a battery somewhere down the line, and we were watching the effects of these shots, when, with no warning whatsoever, some bushes but a few hundred yards from us began to roar and belch fire. Simultaneously a couple of shells exploded close to the aeroplane. The explosion of a French anti-craft shrapnel shell makes a white puff of smoke in contrast to the German black puff. We immediately rushed over to the bushes to investigate and found concealed there a battery, upon a revolving pedestal. This battery had brought down a German plane a few weeks previous.
Shortly after lunch on rather a sultry day a call came for two cars at St. Hilaire. Sort---- and I started out together, each with our car filled with soldiers who were going down to the trenches. Doubtless utilizing our cars as transports in this manner was unneutral, especially since they had the red cross painted on the sides, but from our first day on French soil we all felt that the less neutral was the role that we were to play the better pleased would we be with it.
We were hardly out of the town when the engine on S-----'s car went wrong. We looked it over and decided that immediate repairs were out of the question, and so transferred the men that S------ was transporting down, to my car. Then I proceeded while S----- went back to send a S. O. S. for the tool car and mechanic.
The addition of S-----'s passengers brought my car almost down on the springs, so that I had to drive rather slowly. As we went along I entered into a conversation with the men on the seat beside me. I asked one man what they were going down to do. It was wonderful to see---the sparkle in his eyes as he told me with unmistakably clear gestures that he was going to the first line to throw grenades into the German trenches. It was easy to see by the manner of this grenadier that he was a man who loved his work. One could never forget the way in which he went through the motions of throwing a grenade, and the inflection with which he pronounced the word "Boche." The point from which he did his bombing was but twenty yards from the German lines.
At the turn in the road in the ruined village of St. Hilaire, my passengers alighted and disappeared into communication trenches, to continue their way "up front" underground. I rolled on down to the post.
As I drew up, I noticed that the place was unusually deserted; not a soul was in sight. Hitherto there had always been one or a group of men loitering around above ground. However, I turned around, carelessly letting my car show beyond the ruined building that was supposed to shelter us, without thinking further about the desertion of the place. After shutting off the engine, I went down into the trench where the wounded and stretcher-bearers usually waited. No one was there. I climbed back to the road and was wandering around wondering where everyone could be, when a soldier thrust his head from out of a trench across the road, shouted something at me in excited French, and then disappeared. I hesitated, ignorant as to what he was trying to tell me in such an excited manner. Again he appeared and shouted, and this time I realized that he meant for me to come over there in a hurry. I immediately did as ordered, and, going down into the trench, followed him into a deeper and better protected dugout than I had yet seen in the vicinity of the post. Huddled in this were all the stretcher-bearers and men on duty around the post, crouched silently, with strained looks on their faces, as though waiting for something unusual to happen.
My friend, the English-speaking noncommissioned officer, explained matters to me. The Germans had raised a captive balloon opposite the post so that the observers could plainly see all that took place around the post. They had already dropped one shell in and others would undoubtedly follow.
There we waited for some little time until finally, as no more shells seemed to be forthcoming, we crawled out and went over to inspect the damage done by the shell that had arrived. It had landed in the trench that ran away from the post parallel to the road, taking a goodly number of limbs off a tree by the roadside before it struck. The trench was caved in and practically choked up, and all the telephone wires that ran through it were mussed up. We gathered up as many of the pieces of the shell as we could find and I carried them away with me. They were still hot when we picked them up. The shell had landed a scant fifteen yards from the post proper and had come in grazing the side of the wrecked building in such a manner that it would have connected with my car had I arrived a minute sooner. While we were still looking around for pieces of the shell, wire men arrived and started to repair the wires.
A few minutes later my car was loaded with blessés for hospital 4-6, and I started out. When I reached the hospital, one of my passengers proved to be a "malade" who only needed an examination, so I was ordered to take him back to the post, and, after discharging him, to wait there for further orders.
I found A------ also waiting there, so we sat outside looking for excitement.
It soon came in the form of a couple of French planes that crossed the lines. As it was a misty day, with low-hanging clouds, the planes crossed the lines flying recklessly low, lower than we had ever seen a plane fly over the enemy's lines. They maneuvered around over the German first lines, paying no attention to the German attempts to bring them down. We could hear continually the typewriter-like reports of machine-guns, but whether they were being fired from the aeroplane into the trenches, or from the trenches at the planes, or both, it was impossible to tell.
After this engagement vas finished without mishap to the aeroplanes, as there was no prospect of any 'blessés' coming in for some time, we readily accepted the invitation of a soldier to take us back through the reserve trenches to the line of batteries behind us.
The first and greater part of our journey was accomplished by winding through communication trenches under ground. Finally we emerged from the trenches and walked a short distance through a woods, where we found one of the batteries that we were to visit. It was dug in as though it was to stay in that position permanently. We approached it from the rear, coming up a little path past the dugout where the men had their quarters, and where, also, was a little garden, laid out and cared for by the artillerymen. The men were sitting in the mouths of their dugouts, smoking and chatting, some in their shirt-sleeves, and some with their puttees off. All wore peaked fatigue caps in place of the steel helmet in the trenches. Certainly the life of these men was an easy one compared with the existence of the infantrymen a few kilometers away.
One of the artillerymen went to seek the officer whose permission it was necessary to secure before we could inspect the guns. He came back immediately, followed by his superior, a large, fine-looking man, dressed in the dark-blue trimmed with red of the artillery, who greeted us with a cordial handshake and said that he would be only too glad to show us his guns.
We followed him down an incline into a good-sized pit that was covered with a thatch roof. The dim light revealed the rear of a couple of heavy field-pieces, the muzzles of which protruded from the enclosure through a slit. As the pit was on a slight slope beyond the woods, the gun fire would clear the trees. The muzzles of the guns were covered in a waterproof casing at the time. The officer was most obliging, explaining and showing everything to us, from the method of setting the fuses on the shells, to the deep pits where were stored the powder and shells themselves.
Finally, he led us into his own dugout it surpassed anything that we had ever seen for coziness and comfort. Far under the ground, it was warm and dry, with a little fire-place and a row of books. Another comparison between the condition of artillery and infantrymen was forced into my mind.
After looking in on a couple of other batteries, including one of "soixante-quinze" we started back for the post, this time by a different route that led through the reserve trenches. We filed through, stopping occasionally to chat with a group in a dugout. These men are there only in case the enemy break through the lines held by their comrades down front, so they spend their time amusing themselves as best they can, playing cards, smoking and visiting. One group was gathered around a companion who was industriously playing an accordion.
Soon after we arrived back at the post, I was told that they would need me there no longer since one car would be sufficient. So I started back empty. I had gone but a short distance when 1 met a Red-Cross man running down the road toward the post. He stopped me, and, learning that I was empty and not under orders, told me to rush down to the post at Jonchery for a "blessé" who had just been carried in there.
At Jonchery the wounded man was on his stretcher by the side of the road with the stretcher-bearers standing by. As soon as I stopped the car I noticed something queer about the man. Although one of his feet was terribly mangled by a hand-grenade, he was trying to sit up and laugh and joke with the men about him. He was a cook who had been imbibing too freely. Where he secured the liquor I don't know; he was the first man I had seen at all under the influence of liquor since I had been in the zone of the armies. When he was lifted into the car he insisted on sitting up in his stretcher and continuing his rapid fire of conversation, even though it must have pained him intensely. Before he would permit me to close up the car he insisted on shaking hands with all the soldiers standing about. He seemed tickled to death to be wounded. At hospital 4-6 his jovial manner continued even after they had laid him on the table. An officer told me to wait while they redressed his wound, as he would probably have to be taken to another hospital because of a complicated fracture. After having a hard time with him on the operating table they carried him out and again put him in my car.
While I was waiting I had been chatting with the dentist who was on duty there. He spoke very good English, having studied Dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania. He liked to tell about the jokes that "those fellows" at Pennsylvania played upon him.
The hospital at which I finally left my merry passenger was farther back than any that I had visited since we had been stationed in Mourmelon. The buildings were of a temporary nature and had been erected beside the railroad tracks so that the wounded were evacuated by train. At the time of my visit a hospital train was on the siding.
For long, weary weeks the "fighting" twelfth division had been intrenched in one of the hot sectors of the Champagne country. The country was flat; it was sometimes only thirty yards across "No Man's Land"; and the batteries were numerous. The flat country meant that when the wind was right a yellow black cloud of death would roll over from the German trenches; thirty yards is a very small distance to have between one and one's enemy when war is conducted as it is today. And numerous batteries meant numerous artillery duels.
An artillery duel is not the process of the batteries of one side shooting at the batteries of the other. It consists of the batteries of each side shooting at the men in the trenches on the other side. Some writer has aptly compared such a duel to a fight between four boys, a big boy and a little boy on each side with each big boy hurling stones at the little boy on the other side.
Consequently, there was much rejoicing when the word to be ready to move was passed around. Then there arrived, on a hot dusty afternoon, several grit-covered men or, bicycles, the fore-runners of the division that was to relieve the 12th. The next day all was bustle and preparation; wagons, trucks, carts, and autos of all sorts packed up and rolled away towards the peaceful resting place far behind the lines. For every vehicle that went back another came up.
Then all moving by daylight was suspended. German Taube observation planes came over the lines, flying low, and despite the efforts of the French anti-aircraft batteries succeeded in getting back over their own lines. This meant that everything would have to stop until dark.
About an hour before sunset one could see from the top of a hill a couple of miles back of M------, a great blotch of blue filling the fields on each side of the road. It was a mass of fresh troops reclining on the grass waiting for the dark under which they would creep up to take their part in the defense of the mother land. Here and there a soup-kitchen steamed, as the five o'clock meal was being prepared. Restless officers moved to and fro among the men, exchanging a word with different groups. About four miles away, on the other side of the town, another band waited for the same dark. They were dirty, tired and battle-crusted, yet happy. They were leaving for the long-expected rest.
Dusk had scarcely settled when the double file, moving in both directions, was under way. Our twelfth tramped out in broken ranks. Some pushed themselves along with walking sticks, others swung along with a free gait. All carried all their worldly possessions on their backs in innumerable knapsacks and musettes. All night long there was that same rhythmical tramp of thousands of feet over the hard, well-worn road. Tired, worn-out, dirty, lousy, yet happy were these men. They had put in their time for the present; the war was behind them. Ahead of them were days of rest, beside cool streams where one could bathe and feel clean; days of work, practice and drill, to prepare themselves for whatever new work their "belle France" might demand. To them drill was to be a pleasant bit of recreation after what they had been through. As they marched on, night settled and only dark shadows and the red glows of innumerable cigarettes could be seen.
We turned in that night expecting to be called upon to move at any time, for we were to remain with our division. We were all ready; every movable thing belonging to the section was loaded in to the ambulances, from the typewriter down to commandeered stove. One driver had even grown so fond of the species that inhabited his straw mattress that he took that along: the rest of us were hoping to do better at our next stopping place or else sleep on stretchers.
At two o'clock in the morning the order came. As we had all naturally slept in our clothes, five minutes later the engines were running and the drivers in the seats. After some delay the company was in motion and a few hours later arrived in L-----. We had been assigned the backyard of the widow Cueux in which to park our cars and her stable in which to live. However, one look at the widow's stable was enough we preferred the cramped privacy of our cars as a dwelling The twenty-two cars were parked under a row of thick-foliaged trees which would protect them from the eyes of German airmen.
Our ambulances were scarcely unloaded when an order came for three cars to go to S-----. J-----, G-----, and I were sent. S------ is a town of some importance, situated a few miles behind the lines yet within range of the Boche artillery. The farm of S------ is just outside the town and was the headquarters of the general of the Sixth Army Corps and his staff. The farm was reached after an hour's run and we were told by a pompous-looking second lieutenant to wait. The farm of S----- was a very pretty spot. There was one large building which seemed to serve as a sort of dormitory and office-building; and at right angles to it was another whose use we were unable to determine.
There followed a weary, hungry wait, for we had obtained only a couple of hours' sleep the night before and had eaten no breakfast. Inside the building a meal was being prepared and we looked in curiously to see if there was any chance of getting something to eat. The door led into a small kitchen where two orderlies and a chef were engaged in making coffee and preparing a breakfast. When we asked for some food we were flatly refused; it was all for the general we were told. We then looked into the next room and saw a small, round table, covered by a tablecloth on which several places were set. It was here that the general partook of his breakfast. After looking around we went back to the kitchen and again demanded at least a cup of coffee. This time we were successful, and a cup of coffee was drawn from the general's own pot for us, and a thick slice of bread was cut off from the general's loaf. The bread was the same that is baked for every soldier, save that it was fresh; but such coffee we had not tasted for weeks---it was all coffee.
After a few minutes the pompous individual who had first told us to wait, came in and ordered us to bring our cars up to the door. He wore the uniform of a lieutenant in the dragoons; riding boots, and breeches of blue, a close-fitting jacket of black with a high, white kid collar, and many nickel buttons; and on his head was a cavalryman's fatigue cap. Then we learned that our mission to S----- was to move the general's kitchen outfit back. A host of orderlies began to bring out everything in the way of kitchen equipment that could be conceived of. All through the process of loading we were hindered by the fact that the lieutenant absolutely refused to speak his orders, even though J----- spoke perfect French; he gave them all by means of signs and grunts. After a great deal of trouble the three cars were loaded, and we were ready to start.
It was a short run over poor roads to B-----, the village in which we were going to unload. It was here that we met one of finest fellows I have ever known. He was a bicycle despatch-rider, only a boy, yet he had been at war since the outbreak of hostilities. His face was young and happy, yet his steel helmet bore an ugly hole and his gallions on one arm denoted two periods of service in the first line, and on the other two wounds; they had gotten him each time that he went up. The boy spoke perfect English, for before the war he was helping his father in the business of importing American gloves. He invited us to have a bottle of wine with him and his friend. So the five of us sat under a tree in the yard of a little inn and talked of New York and America. Only the dull booming of the guns in the distance kept us from forgetting that there was a war. We met this lad several times later during the following week and then saw no more of him. A bit later we were back at L------ and days of rest began. It was scarcely four o'clock on a beautiful, gray, snappy spring morning. In a dirty, cold, little stream many scantily clad figures were splashing the cold water on themselves, laughing and shouting as they performed their crude toilet. The banks of the stream were strewn with parts of blue-gray uniforms and men dressed in the same color loitered about. Soon a bugle was sounded and they hurried across the field to the different barnyards where the respective companies of the regiment had located their mess outfits. A cup of black coffee out of the big, portable kitchen, and a hunk of army bread awaited them. This constituted the morning meal. It was served at five o'clock. Immediately after this they would have to don their equipment and make a three-mile march to the drill grounds. At ten another meal would be given them, and then another at five.
About a hundred yards from this stream was the row of trees under which our twenty ambulances were parked, so we were awakened every morning as the soldiers left. After about the second day we began to tire of the resting period, for, after our cars were overhauled, there was nothing to do all day except lie around. The second day we amused ourselves by watching the different companies march into the village. We constantly recognized friends we had met in dressing stations and communication trenches out on the front.
One of the big events of the second or third day of our rest occurred at about four-thirty in the afternoon. First the roll of drums was heard in the distance, at which we and all of the loitering Frenchmen ran out to the street. It was the regimental band of the 67th marching in at the head of one of the last detachments of troops. For us it was a wonderful sight. Hitherto we had seen our regiment only when fighting. These musicians were the same men who carried the wounded from where they fell, back to the dressing station where we received them. As the band swung up the dusty road all instruments were silent, the drums only rolling out the marching time, and then, as they entered the village street, they burst into the "March of the 67th." No military march will ever appeal to any of us as that one did.
Every evening as soon as our supper was finished we held a sort of reception for the soldiers in back of our cars. Sometimes nearly a hundred would gather around and listen to us talk and try to talk to us. They were very much interested in watching a couple of our drivers work out with a pair of boxing gloves which had been brought out with the section. This boxing grew to be a regular event each evening. A crowd of a hundred or more soldiers of every type would gather around and watch us box. At first they were content to let us do all the fighting, but finally two of them asked if they might try it. They took it very seriously and we could only get the best of friends to fight each other. Usually they would start out very softly, just tapping one another until one of the fighters would happen to land a fairly heavy blow, when the other would start in hard and they would go at each other hammer and tongs until one of them was tired or disabled. One night one of the fighters, a stocky lad of about twenty-two from the Midi, received one of the most beautiful black eyes that I have ever seen. One of his comrades produced a two-franc piece and started to apply the international method of placing something cold on the swelling. He pushed a little too hard, broke it, and the contents ran down the man's face.
After it became too dark to box J----- and A----- would produce their mandolin and guitars and the whole crowd would gather around some car and listen to them play. The Americans by no means did all of the entertaining, for that part of the 67th Regiment which was quartered with us at La Veuve boasted entertainers ranking from a talented barber to an opera-singer. The barber was the most amusing of the lot. He was called Charlo, which is the French way of saying Charlie Chaplin. We learned that he had earned this title because of the imitation he gave of the real "Charlie", whose fame has spread to all parts of France. He would stand in the center of the circle and sing bar-room ballads and trench songs in a manner that caused his comrades to roar with laughter. There was another man who had sung on the opera stage but had ruined his voice during his two years in the trenches. Nevertheless he was always ready to sing.
When it became time to go to bed we shook hands with each of the Frenchmen with whom we were friendly and wished him a good night. Then they would wander off to the barns in which they were billeted and we would retire to our cars.
Among the crowd that came over to see us were two soldiers who spoke perfect English and who had lived in America. One was a boy of about twenty-two who had worked in San Francisco. He had mastered a wonderful amount of American slang which he used on every occasion. He also swore very well, but with a decided French accent. There is nothing more comical than a man who has a good vocabulary of regular American cuss words that he uses with a foreign accent. Whenever we had any difficulty in speaking with anyone, he was called upon, and proved a willing and proud interpreter.
Our other English-speaking friend was an older man, who had a family. He had served as foreman in a factory in Bay City, Michigan and in Saint Louis. He knew more English and less slang than his comrade. This man told a singular story of how he had become involved in the war. Seven years before the outbreak of hostilities he had emigrated to America and had worked hard and saved his money. After seven years of hard work he had risen to a good position and had saved a considerable sum of money, enough to enable him to take his wife and children and make a long-desired visit to the land of his youth. The ocean was crossed and the family were enjoying a quiet summer rest on the seashore in Southern France when the call to arms came. His class was called to go into training and was soon sent to the front. The anxious family joined relatives who had never left France and prepared to wait for the war to end for their husband and father. And so the foreman of a Bay City barrel factory, clad in a lousy blue-gray uniform and a steel helmet, carries despatches between an officer's dugout and the firing line, and wears the War Cross of France on his breast. He said that he was content where he was and glad of the opportunity to do his bit. As to whether he would have left a good position and a long-established home in the land of his adoption is a different matter.
One day after we had been at La Veuve for about a week, a sort of committee, consisting of those soldiers whom we knew best, waited upon us and through one of the interpreters rendered an elaborately prepared invitation. The substance of it was that, as we had been entertaining them at our camp for the past few evenings, they would like to have us come to their billets the next. The following evening after dinner the same men returned to conduct us to their quarters.
After a two-hundred-yard walk through a back yard and a barnyard, we arrived at the barn in which they were quartered. The entrance was off a courtyard which sloped towards the center, where there was a filthy pool of water collected. All around the court soldiers sat, having their evening smoke and chat. We were greeted by most of them and some arose to accompany us into the building.
The barn was not a large one. We climbed the ladder against the farther wall and found ourselves in a loft dimly lighted by candles. No ordinary means such as bottles were employed to hold the candles. Several bayonets had their points stuck in the floor and in the other end, made to fit over the muzzle of the gun, the candle was inserted. The faint light glimmered and flickered on the bare walls end the straw roof. The floor was covered with straw save for a small bare spot in the center. Lying and sitting in different positions on the straw were quite a number of poilus, typical men of the trenches; small fatigue caps set on the sides of their heads, coats thrown open displaying here and there a scarlet sash. Carelessly wrapped puttees, rifles, bayonets, and munition belts, hung on the wall, formed a fitting background for the scene.
As we filed up the ladder they arose and greeted us with a warm handshake and a cherry word of welcome. We were invited to share seats on the straw. Settled more or less comfortably, chance was offered to take in the details of the loft. The straw formed a strip around the outer edge of the floor about as wide as a man's bed should be long, so that the soldiers slept side by side around the room with feet towards the center. At the head of each bed was the knapsack that contained the personal belongings of its owner. Every man had his souvenirs or trophies near his floor space; all types of German and Austrian shells unexploded, German saw-bayonets, rifles, and trench-knives, were collected by the different beds.
Soon a poilu distributed tin cups to us, and behind came another lad with a canteen from which he filled our cups with wine---not the thick, red, sour wine of which we had grown so tired, but light rose wine, so called from its color. It as a mixture of red and white wine. Then followed pastry, such pastry as we had not tasted for a long time. Where they procured it I don't know, for we had unsuccessfully scoured the town for something of the sort. The deliciousness of this excellent pastry, washed down by the cool, refreshing wine, was increased a hundredfold by the spirit in which it was given, and in thinking of the unselfish sacrifice on the part of the donors who must have purchased it with their five-cents-a-day pay.
Refreshments finished, a few solos were given by different troopers and songs of the 67th and the fighting 12th were sung. Then A------, who had brought his guitar along was called upon, and he sang "An Irish Lullaby." Two men in the room besides Americans knew what he was singing about, yet it was well received. J------ followed with a clog and the program was closed by a couple of boxing matches. We retired to our cars that night wondering how we could show those kind-hearted, simple troopers how much we enjoyed and appreciated their hospitality. However, all our plans for a return entertainment were blocked by the unexpected.
When the 12th Division was taken out of the trenches in the Champagne country near St. Hilaire and St. Souppt, its one paramount thought had been of the rest to come. All during this rest another thought obsessed the mind of every trooper,---that the 12th would have a chance to take part in the next grand offensive of the allies. They expected it, for were they not one of the crack divisions of the French army, and were they not being given a rest? Yes, to a man the division hoped and prayed for the day when this offensive would begin, so that they could throw themselves upon the Boche and drive him back---back where he belonged. They had even agreed on the Somme as the place where the offensive was to be, on the Somme near Amiens.
And so all during our rest we were taught to look forward to "le grand offensive sur le Somme." We, too, grew to believe in the idea, and we, too, hoped with all our hearts that the day would soon come when we could pack up and leave for a scene of action. As for the day when the offensive should start, rumor had not settled that so definitely, but most of the wise ones thought that we would have two or three weeks rest. According to that reckoning we would get back into action between the 14th and 21st of June.
It was on the tenth of June that the bubble burst. I was on guard duty and so happened to be around the office when the order came from headquarters that we were to he ready to move at noon that day. Our lieutenant told us at once that we were, of course, going to Verdun, because it was too soon for us to be needed on the Somme. Back of all the fond hopes that the men of the division had of going to the Somme, had flitted a little shadow. This shadow had been Verdun. Since February the great battle had raged and every man in the French army knew what a hell it was. Those who had not been through it had vivid pictures of the horror of it all painted on their imaginations by the tales told by their comrades who had taken part in that noble defense. They knew that division after division had "gone in" in the full glory of its fighting strength, and that division after division had "come out" a mere remnant of its former self, fifty per cent of its men killed and wounded. They knew that a division lasted about eight days at Verdun.
My first thought when I heard the news was that I certainly had a sad bit of news to break to my French friends. However, a few minutes later a few of them wandered over to camp, and by the down-hearted look upon their faces I knew that they had received their orders.
"And you?" they asked.
"We had orders to be ready at noon" I replied
"It's the same with us," was the answer.
"Our lieutenant says that we go to Verdun," I said.
"Oui, c'est juste, Verdun," answered one of the poilus with a sad look in his eyes.
The remainder of the morning was spent in busy preparation, getting ready for the departure. Just at noon, when we were all ready, a messenger arrived with orders that we were to leave at four o'clock the next morning for B------, a little town on the road to Verdun. All misgivings were confirmed; the Somme was not for the 12th Division for the present.
The 67th was to march at three o'clock that afternoon to St. H-----au T-----, where they would entrain. It was a miserable rainy day, so their march promised to be anything but cheerful. From noon up to the time of departure, our friends one after the other dropped around to say farewell. One chap with whom I had talked several times came around with his entire collection of souvenirs, including some especially rare Austrian shells, and gave them to me, saying that the march was long and that they were heavy so he would have to part with them. I thanked him, took a snapshot of him, shook his hand, and never saw him again. As I didn't know his name I could only identify him by description, but I don't think that he ever came out of the Verdun sector.
At about three o'clock several of us went down the road a way from under the shelter of a big tree watched the regiment march away. They were a pretty sad-looking lot as they splashed along through mud and rain, but as they passed us nearly every man forced a smile and shouted a farewell.
We spent only one night at Vaubecourt, receiving orders to leave the morning after our arrival. We packed up hurriedly and were all ready for an early start. But once ready, a problem presented itself, for the enormous number of troops, transports and trucks that choked the road made it practically impossible to get our group of twenty little cars on the road in any sort of order. While it would have been easy for one or two cars to get into the procession, it was a different matter to slip in a solid convoy of twenty-three cars. At last a slight break presented itself, but before we could get in the Twenty-fifth Artillery started to roll by. Our lieutenant promised us that we would follow them, so we patiently waited at the wheels of our cars, ready to start on the second. However, the 25th Artillery seemed composed of more guns and ammunition and horses than I imagined there were in all France. It seemed as though that line of horses tugging at the rumbling guns with their erect riders in the dark blue capes was endless. Impatient as we were, it was interesting to watch them dash by, and wave. at the artillery men who joggled along on the gun carriages and munition wagons. Finally our chance came and we started, though at a snail's pace.
Again we encountered the 67th. This time they were sitting along the road, resting, arms stacked. We crawled slowly by them and finally reached Erize la Petite. Here for the first time we saw material evidence as to our destination, for at the crossroad in the center of the village was a signpost bearing the inscription:
We were guided to a chateau on the outskirts of the hamlet, where we parked our cars. A room in the house was assigned for our office, and a loft in the barn for our sleeping quarters.
For the past few days there had been a terrible scarcity of cigarettes in the section, and as none could be purchased in Erize I decided to walk about two kilometers to the next village, which was a general's headquarters. After locating some cigarettes I strolled through the town. The road that led into the town ended abruptly in the center of the village. Perpendicular to it was another road, so that when the main road ended one was offered a choice of turning to the right or to the left. All the traffic seemed to have chosen the left, for in that direction the ruts were deep and the road well worn, while to the right the road ambled away like a country lane, scarcely showing signs of use. This was explained by the hand on the sign-board, which pointed to the left, labeled "Verdun."
At the turning point I hesitated. To the left was dust and confusion; to the right was green, open country and fruit. I chose the right and soon reached the outskirts of the town where I sat down by the roadside to rest and enjoy the view. I had been there but a few minutes when two soldiers strolling by asked me if I wanted to go with them, just where I was unable to understand. The three of us walked up a road several hundred yards, when we came to a hillside that was covered with rows and rows of graves, each marked by a little wooden cross, each bearing an inscription telling the name of the occupant, his regiment, and the day on which he had fallen. Some had more elaborate plates and inscriptions, placed there by their families. Not a few of the officers' graves had been decorated with beautiful wreaths.
My two comrades wandered up and down between the crosses, carefully scanning each one as though searching for a fallen friend. Naturally it had a depressing effect on them which they could not conceal; for the foremost thought in their minds was that in a day or two they would be hurled into the great turmoil at Verdun where regiment after regiment had been battered to pieces, and where a man's last resting place was marked by a stench, not by a cross.
Then we passed to some graves that gave my new-found friends some satisfaction; they almost seemed to enjoy looking at them. For here were buried hundreds of Huns, each grave marked with the name of the fallen German in identically the same manner in which the French graves were marked. I wondered if, over on the other side of "No Man's Land," the bodies of Jean and Jacques were being treated with as much respect as were those of Hans and Fritz in this little graveyard.
Across the road were more rows of graves but there were no crosses here. At the head of each grave stood a white slab of wood upon which was painted the star and crescent in black. Underneath were weird African names. My first thought was that they were Turks who had fought by the side of the Germans, but the Frenchmen assured me that these men had marched with them, so I knew them to be colonial troops of France.
That evening, two stretcher-bearers, w with whom we had worked at the post at St. Hilaire, stopped at our quarters to make a call, with two of their Red Cross dogs tugging on the leash. One of the men was happy and proud, for a recently-earned War Cross hung on his breast; he had won it, on one of the last nights the division was in action in the Champagne country, for heroism displayed in bringing back wounded comrades under intense shell fire. The dogs were wonderful specimens---Belgian policedogs, especially trained for Red Cross work.
The men were anxious to give us an exhibition that would show what their dogs could do, so we eagerly followed them to a large field just outside of the town. This field was between a quarter and a half-mile across. The farther end was covered with shrubs and dense underbrush. The group of us stood on the road, forming an improvised screen between one of the dogs and the field, while one of the stretcher-bearers started across the field at a trot. The other one, who was holding the dog, asked us to imagine that a battle had swept over the field upon which we were gazing, and that there were a few hundred wounded scattered about. It would be the duty of the dogs to locate them. Soon the stretcherbearer had disappeared in the underbrush at the other end of the field, and, after giving him a few moments in which to conceal himself well, his comrades released one of the dogs.
The animal started on a diagonal course across the field, tacking back and forth, so that he covered the whole field. We watched him until he disappeared in the underbrush Meanwhile the other dog was crazy to join the hunt; he pulled at his leash and pleaded pitifully with his eyes. Then suddenly the dog in the field reappeared on the dead run, with something in his mouth. As he came up to his master we saw that it was the Frenchman's hat. The dog was again put on the leash and man and dog started pell-mell across the field, this time in a bee-line, the dog in the lead showing the way. He led his master straight to where the stretcher-bearer was hiding. They then invited one of us to try the experiment, so B------ went out and hid. This time the other dog was given a chance, and after a short hunt, he returned with B-----'s hat.
These dogs were invaluable in the early part of the war when open battles were fought, but in these days of trench warfare their usefulness has decreased. There are only a few hundred of them in all France, while Germany has several thousand.
The next morning we were awakened with the news that we were to move up to Dugny, a village four kilometres south of Verdun. It was in this village that we were to live during our sojourn in the Verdun sector. We were again delayed in starting because of the crowded roads; this time they were filled with the transports that were taking our division up.
Back in Revigny I had an interesting talk with a member of the crew of one of these big transports. These cars have solved the question of the movement of troops for the French. They are monstrous trucks with canvas-covered tops and isinglass windows. The seats are arranged similarly to those in a street car or motor bus. Each transport is in charge of a crew of two men, and the cars are grouped in convoys. The driver to whom I talked said that his convoy operated between Revigny and a point six kilometres behind the front near Verdun.
We finally started, but it was just a case of joining the string of traffic and ambling along in low-speed the entire distance. We were forbidden absolutely to pass anything; for one side of the road must always be kept clear for staff cars, ambulances on duty, or any other swift vehicles that had orders to hurry. Also, for this, the last stage of our journey, we were ordered to break up our convoy into groups, so that if a spot on the road were shelled or bombed the whole section would not be placed out of commission. We were all mighty glad to feel that our journey from Champagne was almost finished and that we should soon be at work in the most interesting spot between the Vosges and the sea.
Dugny is a typical small village of Northern France. The street upon which we parked our cars was already crowded with ambulances. It was, however, a wide street, running between two lines of buildings; barns, houses, and stores being mixed together so closely that they seemed to form just two long buildings flanking each side of the street. At the end of this street was an old Norman church with a picturesque square wooden tower. This had been cleared out and converted into a hospital, or rather a sort of clearing-house for wounded. All the buildings in the town were utilized for the quartering of soldiers, officers, and drivers of the ambulances and cars that filled the town. As was mentioned above, Dugny is about four kilometers south of Verdun.
When we arrived in the village there was some talk of what work we were to do, as there were two runs operating through the town: one from Fort Tavannes back to Dugny, and the other from Dugny back to a base hospital. The Tavannes run was being handled by the French section attached to the division that the 12th was relieving, while the run from Dugny had been taken care of by an English section for the past three months. The logical run for us to take was that to Fort Tavannes, but disconcerting rumors were flying about to the effect that our cars were too small and light for the work, and that the authorities were anxious to keep the Americans in the rear.
Learning that there was no work to be done that day, several of us decided to try to get a glimpse of the surrounding country and, incidentally, see something of the artillery duel that seemed to be going on. Even before we had arrived in the village we had heard the roar of artillery in the north, but after our arrival, although the bombardment was more intense than anything that we had heard before, it was not so intense as I expected we would hear at Verdun. In fact, the veterans, who had been on duty in the sector for some time, told us that it was one of the quietest afternoons that they had had for weeks.
The best place from which to see what was going on about us seemed to be a large hill a short distance outside the village. Toward this hill we directed our steps. It was rather a hard climb up, but there were several large shell holes and other things to make the trip interesting. In one place we came across a small wire fence inclosing a space of a couple of yards in area. In the center of this enclosure lay a large German high-explosive shell which had arrived without exploding. It was evidently too dangerous to tamper with and had been so inclosed to prevent anyone from coming in contact with it.
Once the top of the hill was reached we were repaid a hundredfold for any trouble we had encountered in making the ascent, for the view of the Verdun valley that stretched out before us was perfect. Our hill was part of the range that lay behind the city. In the distance was another range and in the valley between the two was located the much-battered, much-coveted, much-talked-of city of Verdun. A slight rise hid the lower part of the city from our view, but the higher portion was plainly seen with the twin towers of the great cathedral rising majestically above all. Several dusty, white roads crossed the valley, all fairly well occupied even in the afternoon. There were, however, no long convoys, for everything was broken up into groups, a precaution always taken in daylight traveling. Away to the right there wabbled over hill and through dale that little narrow-gauge railway, the only railroad connecting Verdun with the rest of France. At regular intervals, as far as the eye could reach, stretched a long line of sausage-shaped observation balloons containing the men who directed the gunners in their attempts to batter that far away line of hills where the Boches were intrenched. Here and there we would see a sudden puff of smoke as a hidden battery spoke. Yet these puffs were not numerous, for things were strangely quiet, even more quiet than when we had first arrived in Dugny. And the Germans on their distant hills---they, too, were quiet.
Soldiers with whom we talked agreed with the earlier statement that this was the quietest day in weeks. The rumor was even circulated that the battle of Verdun was about over, and that the Germans, discouraged, were moving their big guns to the Russian front. On the other hand, there were veterans of the battle who ridiculed the idea that all was over. It was implied that if we would climb again the same hill that we had ascended during the afternoon, just as dusk was falling, we would see a great deal more of the battle than we had witnessed under the glare of the afternoon sun.
It was twilight when we again ascended the hill. Light as it was, the roads were more crowded than they had been in the afternoon, and a little engine wheezed over the narrow track. Then, as dusk settled, the big sausage-like balloons began to descend one by one, until all were down. The darkness had put an end to their usefulness for that day. These observers were scarcely down when the German batteries on the faraway hills, knowing that telescopic eyes were no longer fixed upon them, began to open fire. Hardly a moment later here and there all over the valley batteries began to flash and roar; the French were answering gun for gun. The night's gruelling duel was on. The spectacle of the French heavy artillery in action was an unforgettable one. It seemed as though the entire valley was full of batteries, for constantly flashes would come from new and unexpected places where one would never dream that a battery could be placed. Far away across the valley the sky was illuminated by star shells and the many-colored signal rockets. In the meantime the roads had become choked with troops, wagons, autos, and artillery pieces, all going up or coming back under the cover of darkness. As the roar increased, we knew that the rumor of the afternoon was groundless. Decidedly the Battle of Verdun was not over.
Upon returning to our quarters, certain of us were told that we were to ride up to Tavannes the next morning in order to learn the roads. We were to handle the Tavannes run after all!
The hour of departure of the car upon which I was to ride was three o'clock. Those of us who were going up in the morning slept in our clothes, so as to be ready as soon as we were awakened. Despite the racket of the bombardment we managed to get some sleep before the time to start. At a little before two the drivers who were going with the first group were routed out. It seemed as though they had scarcely gone when our group was called. We descended the ladder from our loft and stepped out into the blackness of the street. A hundred paces down the road were parked the French ambulances upon which we were to ride. Wandering down there, we were invited by one of the French drivers to step in and have something to drink.
To enter their quarters it was necessary to go through a dark passage into a stable, so it was only after stumbling about a bit that we reached the room where breakfast was "being served." A group of men stood around the stove, drinking out of their tin cups; several were ready to start, with their sheepskin coats buttoned up and their helmets strapped on; a couple of others had apparently just come in from a run and were throwing off their coats. The room was dimly lighted and smelt as dirty stables smell. Horses could be heard through a thin partition as they stamped in their stalls. As soon as our cups of tea and rum had been gulped empty we went out, and, feeling to see that our gas masks were dangling at our belts, and pulling down our helmets firmly, climbed up beside the drivers of the different French ambulances.
We got under way at five minute intervals so as to avoid having two cars travel together. The route led down the village street a block or so and then transversely through a narrow valley until it finally emerged into the main road near the railway stations. Soon a crossroad was reached, down which we turned. This led to the village of B-----, through which we passed. Then, crossing the Meuse and going over a hill, we ran along a level road until the 'Octroi" of Verdun was reached. Here our route branched off through the woods, skirting the city of Verdun.
By this time day had broken and we were in the midst of the French batteries. The road that led through these woods on the outskirts of Verdun was in fearful condition, full of shell-holes and torn up by the hoofs and wheels of innumerable horses and trucks. Instead of slowing down for this stretch of road, the driver at my side tore down the slight grade at such a rate that the big Jeffery ambulance swayed all over the road. In explanation he turned and said, "Always go through these woods as quickly as possible, for they are full of French batteries and so are constantly shelled by the Germans."
After running the gauntlet of the woods we turned to the right and followed a straight road that was in better condition, although on each side of it were wrecked buildings. One shop was particularly noticeable. It had been a store where one purchased grave stones. The whole front had been of plate glass for display purposes. The frame which had held the glass was broken and warped, the glass was scattered all around in minute pieces; the whole face of the building was caved in, and here and there parts of a tomb stone protruded from the mess.
Soon a fairly large, well-battered brick building loomed ahead. Parked in the shelter of an embankment across the road from it were several staff cars. The place was called the "Cabaret Rouge," and seemed to be a post of some importance. Passing the "Cabaret" we started up a long hill, all the while getting more into the thick of things.
Well up the hill the driver stopped the car behind two others that were already parked, and telling me to follow him, threw himself into a ditch beside the road where a high embankment would protect us from German "arrivals". The drivers of the two other cars were already there with the Americans who had accompanied them. It was explained to us that it was always necessary to wait in this spot until a car came down before completing the journey to the fort for the shellproof tunnel there would only hold three cars. This was the last sheltered place before reaching the fort.
Although our position was obviously a protected one it was rather nerve-trying to one new to the Verdun sector. The road stretched down the hill between fields that were alive with batteries, among which German shells were falling regularly. A small body of khaki-clad African troops appeared out of the ground and scurried across the open to the entrance of another trench. The firing was blended into one great roar. Now and then a soldier, wounded in the head or arm, would hobble by, his bandages stained with fresh, red blood.
We were told that if a man could walk he was forced to go on foot as far as the "Cabaret", in order to have as few ambulances as possible running up to Tavannes: for while a man on foot can pass the dangerous places down in communication trenches, a car must always be above ground. A hundred yards up the road was an officer's staff car, lying on its side in the ditch. It was completely smashed and riddled with bullets.
As we lay there against the embankment the drivers of the French ambulances told us a great deal about the run. They were astounded to hear that we only ran one man on a car. When one of them was asked why they always carried two, he answered by going through all the motions of being hit and passing out cold, saying, "If that happens to one of us the other can take the wheel." This explanation gave us something to think about, but did little to cheer us up.
Finally an ambulance came down the road and we started up. When the top of the hill was reached there was a short stretch of level road that led to Belvue farm, which consisted of a heap of ruins, some piles of lumber, an enormous amount of debris, and a few dead horses scattered about. It stood at a fork in the road, one branch leading to Eix, a town held by the Germans, while the other wandered off through a woods to Tavannes.
The latter branch was a terrible road, leading through a terrible place. The woods were called the "Woods of Death" and were well worthy of the name. The farm was scarcely passed when the air was filled with a terrible stench,---the stench of rotting flesh. It was nauseating to one entering it for the first time. On each side of the road were dead horses in various stages of decay, some quite fresh, while others were raw, fly-covered carcasses. A few of the poor beasts had evidently collapsed in their harness, but most of them showed wounds. The forest was barren; it contained no living thing save perhaps the grim men who passed through the communication trenches in its bowels. The trees were no longer trees, they were spars---dead, black spars, with all foliage and branches shot away. Scattered on the ground was wreckage of every description; pieces of automobiles, of wagons, of carts, and of artillery. Helmets and other abandoned equipment was littered about. The ground was torn and gashed by the explosions of hundreds of shells.
Through this terrible, desolate, awe-inspiring yet disgusting place, passed the miserable little road that we were following It was full of shell holes, the most of which no attempt had been made to fill . As we jolted along over hill and through valley, the firing grew even more intensely loud than it had previously been. Invisible batteries were all about and German "arrivals" were not infrequent. At one spot a small column of soldiers suddenly appeared out of the around on one side of the road, ran across it and disappeared again into the ground on the other side. When a trench crossed a road and necessitated going above ground they went on a run always. Two years of war had bred the spirit of self-preservation in these men.
At last we turned to the right (I marked the turn by a shell-torn Jeffery ambulance, a duplicate of the one in which we were riding that lay abandoned in the ditch), went up a slight grade, passed over a piece of road in even worse shape than that we had previously encountered, and rolled through the heavy stone gateway of Fort Tavannes.
Just inside the gate was a deep, wide ditch, crossed by a flimsy bridge, across which we shot into the mouth of a tunnel, formed by a massive stone arch under a huge mound of earth. The tunnel was long enough to hold three large cars with enough room between them to load. Tavannes like other forts on the battle line had no guns mounted within the fort itself. It was nothing more than an old-style fort, well battered by German artillery, which was used as a sort of a base for the trenches in that immediate district. As our cars were quickly loaded we did not remain there long.
The wounded came out of another larger tunnel, separated from the one in which the cars were standing by about ten yards of open space. The opening of this second tunnel was blocked up, save for a narrow passage, by logs and sandbags. The first time that I crossed this open space the shells were falling pretty fast; so, as I hesitated at the mouth of the tunnel, I had a silent debate with myself as to whether I should walk or run across. Never before had I felt such a strong desire to run, yet I did not want to make myself look foolish to the soldiers about, so I started to casually saunter across. I was about half-way to the other tunnel when a soldier called out to me to run, which I willingly did. As soon as I arrived in the shell-proof, or abris, as the French call them, he reprimanded me for the carelessness of spending more time than was necessary in the open. After that I ran when common-sense or fear told me to run, and noticed that the soldiers all did the same unless burdened with a stretcher. The poilu has learned that he is in the trenches to fight the Boche, not to display nonchalance.
The car upon which I was riding was filled with assis or sitting cases. Just as I was about to climb to my seat beside the driver, a non-commissioned officer stepped ahead of me and took the place, leaving nothing for me to do but climb in behind with the wounded. There were eight or nine of them, packed in like sardines, all miserable with wounded arms, feet, heads and so forth, and smiling as only a man can smile after he has spent a couple of weeks in the trenches where there is not even water to drink to say nothing of washing. All were covered with the blood and scum of battle. It was an opportunity to be able to ride in such close contact with these philosophical, silently-groaning men; but I could not appreciate it at the time, for, besides the odors to be endured and the undesirability of being cooped up in a closed box while passing through "death wood", I would lose a chance to observe the road over which I knew I must drive that night. Several of the wounded were dark-skinned men who wore the olive-drab colonial uniform. They were dirtier and more miserable-looking than their white allies.
The rear of the car was closed up tight, and we started out of the tunnel, turned to the right and banged over the shell-torn ground of the fort across a bridge and onto the road. I sat in the rear and watched the route as best I could through a slit in the canvas. As we swayed and jolted over the rough road I realized how a wounded man must suffer while being transported back. The self-control displayed by the men with whom I was riding was in keeping with the French spirit. The slightest bump meant agony to each of them, yet they sat with closed fists and clenched teeth, letting out only an occasional irrepressible moan. The colonials, true to Arab nature were more inclined to give vent to their feelings. Anxious to find out from whence they came, I put to the one who seemed to be suffering the least every question that would give the desired answer. For a while my broken French was unintelligible to him, but finally a gleam of understanding flashed across his dark face, replacing for a moment the expression of suffering, and he answered the single word, "Soudan".
At last we completed our run without accident, and rolled up to the Norman church at Dugny where the wounded were to be unloaded. After helping the men out of the car I went back to our billets to await breakfast. The meal, typical of all that were to follow at Verdun in its scantiness, consisted of coffee and bread.
That evening our work really commenced. The first assignment was to carry the brancardiers of our division up to Tavannes to relieve the men of the division that was to go out of the trenches. We were to spend two nights in getting them, up taking eighty men each night. This meant that each of the cars doing the work would have to make two trips, as only half of the men had been shown the road. The other men were to ride on our ambulances in order to become familiar with the route.
It was about eight o'clock and fast growing dark when we started out, at five-minute intervals, for where we were to get the stretcher-bearers. D----- rode with me. We had scarcely passed the church when he discovered a French airman battling with a Taube almost above us. It was a temptation to linger and see the end of that twilight battle in the clouds, but we had to hurry on. It was slow travelling, since it was what is known on the front as "change night"; that is, a body of troops was being relieved. Every kind of vehicle crowded the roads, raising a cloud of dust that added greatly to the difficulty of driving.
At Houdainville the men we were to carry up were collected by the roadside, waiting. We had hardly stopped before our car was loaded. A moment later an officer gave us a signal to start, and we were off towards the gates of Verdun.
Despite the fact that all movements of troops took place at night, the enemy, we were told, always seemed to know exactly when "change night" is, for on that night they invariably bombard the roads over which the troops and supplies are passing. This night was no exception. As we slowly worked our way towards the front, we ran into a bombardment that surpassed anything that we had ever seen.
It was a most helpless feeling to be in the midst of it all, with the roads blocked as they were. We were hemmed in both from the front and rear by wagons, trucks, artillery and troops. Ordinarily an ambulance would not be sent out at that hour, but we were doing emergency work; those brancardiers had to be transported up. Occasionally there would be a mix-up ahead somewhere and the line of traffic would halt and wait for twenty minutes or so while the wreckage of a couple of teams was cleared away and the road made passable. A good number of German "arrivals" could not help finding a mark on a night like that, for to hit the road was to work destruction of some sort. It kept me on edge continually to work my way along, straining my eyes, blowing on my little shrill whistle, and shouting. When we wanted to pass a string of wagons, artillery, or troops, we would blow the whistle and shout, "A droite!"; and then the call would be carried on down the line as each element swung to the right, "A droite!" "A droite !" "A droite!" growing fainter and fainter in the distance.
As we stopped in the frequent traffic jams we had an opportunity to observe the men who plodded wearily by on their way to the rear. Nearly all were smoking; it is good policy as a precautionary measure on "change night", for the tiny red glows of the cigarettes warned a driver that troops are approaching long before his strained eyes would see their figures in the dim light. Their faces as we saw them in the poor light were strained and haggard; yet they often smiled, for they were indeed fortunate to come out of the mill at Verdun on their own legs.
After we passed through the woods beyond the city, the roads were even more crowded than they had been, until the Cabaret Rouge was reached.
When I had gone over the road in daylight, I had noticed batteries drawn up in the ditch beside the road, their barrels sloping upward in position to shoot directly over it. At the time I wondered, as I looked down into the muzzles, how they could shoot without hitting vehicles passing on the road, but had dismissed the matter with the ridiculous theory that the road was kept clear when they had orders to fire. Now, as we started up the hill, I noticed that they were blazing away, yet no gendarme appeared to tell us to stop. I didn't know what to do, as it seemed impossible that those guns would clear us. Yet the road was not blocked. In no easy frame of mind I started on by, giving a blast on my whistle as we approached the first battery, then immediately laughing at myself for imagining that it would be heard above that inferno of noise. As we went by the battery, crouched down in our seats, a couple of guns let go with a roar that nearly split our eardrums. I instinctively slid down as far as I could, expecting my car to be blown off the road. But of course the shells easily cleared us, and we continued breathing a great deal more easily. From then on we were in a nest of batteries, until, after making the run through "death woods" as quickly as conditions would permit, we arrived in the tunnel at Fort Tavannes.
Everything was confusion within the fort. The passage beyond the tunnel was choked with Red Cross wagons and mules. The wounded were coming in pretty fast and the brancardiers were just taking hold of things. We unloaded our passengers and started back as soon as we could get a clear way out of the fort.
Going down the long hill to the Cabaret, I burned out both my foot-brake and reverse bands. Simultaneously, a battery in the ditch beside the road opened fire. The noise was deafening, the flashes blinding, and the concussions nerve-shattering; they beat against us with the fury of a gale. All down the road the batteries opened up and kept up the fire as fast as they could reload.
This burning of the brake and reverse bands was disconcerting, because all during the evening we had been laboring under that apprehension of being lost which always takes hold of one when starting out in a new sector; for the wrong turn may lead one to the enemies' lines, and not being able to reverse would make matters much worse since it would be almost impossible to get out of a bad place. But after a good bit of trouble we got back to Dugny, and, leaving my car, switched over to D------'s for the second trip.
This trip up was accomplished a little more easily, as we knew what we were up against and were able to profit by the mistakes of the first. At the Fort we were told to wait, as they had some wounded for us to take back. In the second tunnel the wounded were waiting. Almost every inch of floor space was crowded with stretchers upon which lay bleeding, groaning men. The Red Cross men were going among them doing their best. New wrecks were being constantly carried in and taken into the surgery that adjoined the tunnel, and those who had been given first-aid were being carried out to the ambulances.
One of the men who was to be put in our car was in the worst condition in which I had ever seen a human being. Every part of his body had been punctured, and he was swathed in bloody, dripping bandages from head to foot. His whole body was torn to ribbons, even his hands and feet. How life could linger was a miracle. As he breathed the blood gurgled in his throat and lungs. He seemed to be conscious, yet made no violent outcries, simply breathing laboriously with that terrible gurgle. As we shoved his stretcher into the car one of his arms slipped off the stretcher and caught between it and the side of the car. He made no cry, nor did he seem to notice it, as we pulled the stretcher out and laid the mangled member across his body.
Day was breaking when we unloaded our wounded at the church in Dugny.
The greater part of the next day was spent in getting my car back into shape, so at about seven in the evening I was ready to start for Houdainville to take up the second contingent of stretcher-bearers. M-----, who had joined the section that day, rode with me to learn the road and to help me out should I again have trouble with my low speed. He was an old hand at the game, having been out with Section Three for a long time.
Things were about the same as they had been the night previous. The shelling was just as heavy, although perhaps the roads were not quite as congested. M------ was delighted with the run as a sporting proposition. He said that, to his knowledge, for excitement it beat anything that any American Ambulance Section had ever handled. Several times it was necessary to stop and adjust the low speed, but it held out all right.
As we were returning from our second trip, just after we had emerged from "death woods", a soldier stopped us to inquire the way. We drew up to the side of the road overlooking a stretch of open ground that lay between the road and the woods. Behind us stood, amidst its debris, the building on the "Ferme de Bellevue". The road stretched down between the batteries, and coming up to it were two ambulances. I was leaning out of my car to talk to the soldier, looking right at the open space beside the road, when with a flash and a roar a good-sized shell landed right in the center of the open spot. A great spurt of dirt, stones, and smoke shot high into the air. If it had been carefully planned that we were to see an "arrival" on that spot the arrangements could not have been better. The other two ambulances were farther away than we were, yet we afterward learned that S-----, who was driving one, had been struck in the helmet by a piece of shell, while a soldier who was riding beside K------, the driver of the other car, had his face cut open.
We again arrived at the church at about three in the morning. I turned in, dead tired, hoping to sleep until noon, but I was routed out before seven to again go to the fort on a call.