THE narrative of adventure, travel, combat, and escape, which composes this volume, is the straight-forward work of a straight-thinking young American. Cornelius Winant gives a clear assessment of the great movements in which he had so chivalrously borne a part. Perhaps he had no thought of the manuscript ever going beyond his family, which now, in response to the natural wishes of many friends, privately distributes the account in printed form.
Four boys with their mother and father composed the Winant family. The house on 71st Street must have re-echoed to the gay laughter and happy comradeship of these four devoted brothers.
That was in 1900, when our soldier-narrator was but a little child; it was long ago, before the boy had left the endeared home for boarding school, before they had graduated from Princeton, before the catastrophe, in which each bore a distinguished part, shook the world.
The boy at St. Paul's School was ever eager and his virility, shining through a somewhat slender frame, his great personal charm, and his ardent family affection all made him a cherished companion. Though as a small boy he had a fine physique and excelled in all athletics, he later must combat the drag of a defective heart, so that his school and college careers were somewhat interrupted. At the time of his death, Dr. Hibben, the President of Princeton, telegraphed to his mother: "Your son has brought great credit and honor to his Alma Mater and commanded the respect and affection of all who knew him." His school comrades, masters and boys, make similar tributes, recalling his markedly affectionate spirit which surveyed the world with trusting friendliness.
The reader will quickly become involved in a narrative which takes him, with Cornelius Winant, after his prompt will-to-enlist, through the early ambulance days, through a winter at Monastir, to the western front in the French Army, and twice into the harrowing experiences of German prison camps.
The quality of the account is an utter fairness, as utter an uncomplaining courage, marked throughout by a boyish, naïve, selfless delight in the game. Of his terrible journey to the Dutch frontier he writes : "I remember thinking, as I was going along this road, that in spite of the hardships it was darn good fun, and I appreciated it at the time."
From 1916, Neil's life was one of tremendous strain and later of disability, increasing to discouragement. In his brief career, he tasted the crowded hour of glorious life. He loved not his life unto the death,---indeed it was his prevailing disappointment that he had not given more, though he had risked his all. We, his friends, find consolation in the belief that the eager, wistful boy, so bruised in this transitory world, has moved on to God's nearer presence in a fairer and freer realm.
S. S. D.
Concord, New Hampshire.
EARLY in June, 1916, I took the old Rochambeau sailing for Bordeaux. We had a very pleasant, uneventful crossing and on arriving in Paris I joined the American Ambulance Field Service. For some reason I was at that time in an awful hurry to get to the front, and could not enjoy the few days I spent in Paris getting my papers and waiting for an opening in one of the sections on active service.
William Barbour had been wounded at Verdun in Section Three, so I was sent out there. I took the train to Bar-le-Duc, arriving there in the afternoon. I went to the automobile park and got a ride for a few miles toward Verdun in a French ambulance. No one seemed to know where Section Three was or to care very much about finding out, as it was late in the afternoon. I spent the night on the floor of some newly-built barracks, listening for the first time to the distant roar of cannon. It would die down for a while and then burst out with renewed violence. The next morning the French ambulance took me over to Section Four of the American Field Service. At that time they had the Mort-Homme section on the left bank of the Meuse. Their chief, Frank Perry, was kind enough to drive me over to a hillside near Nixéville where Section Three was camped.
It was a beautiful day, with many planes in the air and numerous observation balloons of both sides. They were a pretty worn-out Bunch of fellows I met in the section, and well they might have been. The work was extremely hard and they had to do it under the constant nervous strain of bombardment.
That evening I sat for a little while on a hillside just back of Verdun, which commanded a view of a large part of that semicircle of front. When far enough back to be out of range, a modern battle at night is quite beautiful and thrilling: the continual flashes of guns, the different colored rockets and starshells shooting up---some of which remain in the air unbelievably long, lighting up the lines---the great red bursts of arriving shells which during a barrage fire seem to make one great continuous flame, and with it that fearful but exhilarating roar of battle. It is a grand spectacle but when one thinks of what actually happening there, it is too appalling to seem real.
Those last few days of June saw the final desperate drive of the Germans in their great offensive against Verdun. I believe that in that offensive the German army was at the height of its strength. The Russian campaign had been a series of triumphs, Serbia had just been annihilated, great tracts of land and enormous numbers of prisoners taken, and all at comparatively small cost---due to the fearful lack of fighting equipment among the troops opposed to it. The division we were attached to ---the 129th, mostly Chasseurs Alpins---held the Fleury secteur. That town had been taken and retaken until only a few loose bricks remained. It was the nearest the Germans ever came to Verdun; they never succeeded in breaking through. The division was in action there only about a week, but the casualties on both sides were enormous.
Verdun itself gave one a glimpse of what happening on that desolate semi-circle of front. Deserted streets, houses gradually crumbling under the bombardment, and at night the streams of wounded and dying coming to the emergency hospital in the northeast corner of the city. Formerly this building was a large residence with a courtyard. After dark that yard would be quickly filled with row after row of stretchers, each with its human burden, many in agony, some beyond that, and me cheerful at the idea of being out of it for while a while. Shortly after we left that secteur a shell made a direct hit in the courtyard, which was filled with wounded awaiting treatment.
I found afterwards that the quiet patience of those wounded French soldiers was equaled only by their bravery in action. The section was carrying the wounded back from a subterranean dressing station at Bras to Verdun, and from that temporary hospital on back to a regular field hospital at Balecourt. The shelling was very heavy on the road to Bras and as it was about the only way to bring up ammunition and supplies to that particular section of the front, the road was often very much congested, especially when something was hit and blown all over. As the Germans were on the outskirts of Bras and as the road was in plain view, everything had to be done at night---and without lights.
Our French lieutenant, DeRhode, was one of the bravest and finest men I have ever met. He was rather delicate-looking and I don't think he was particularly well, but he was always just where he could help most and I know his influence had a tremendous effect on that more or less willing but entirely undisciplined group of Americans. Barbour was the only one badly wounded, but several others were scratched by shell splinters or shrapnel and most of the cars showed éclat marks. I arrived in the section at the psychological moment, after the worst was over and only a few days before the division was relieved.
We left the region of Verdun July 2nd, at the time when the British and French combined were launching their great Somme offensive. That offensive, together with their lack of success, obliged the Germans to cease their attacks upon Verdun. After breaking camp at the Bois de Nixéville, we went back in convoy through Bar-le-Duc to Ligny-en-Barrois. We stayed there about two weeks, and as the cars were in awful shape, spent most of our time getting them fixed up. Some of the fellows who had been at the front a long time got leave to Paris. Ligny was quiet and restful; somewhat full of mud, but that wasn't unique in French towns. We spent most of the evenings in cafés talking to the soldiers. That fearful show they had just been through, which accounted for fifty per cent of the division in dead and wounded, was still very vivid to them.
The division was too depleted to return soon to one of the active secteurs of the front, so we were sent to the Bois-le-Prêtre and Pont-à-Mousson secteur in Lorraine. It was beautiful country and we had enough leisure time to take long walks and enjoy it. Enough cars were stationed at Pont-à-Mousson to take care of a normal amount of wounded or sick, and the rest would remain at a little village called Dieulouard, seven or eight kilometers back. Pont-à-Mousson was shelled at fairly frequent intervals, and it was decided to keep part of the cars and men out of range as long as there was no immediate need of them. Most of us preferred being in Pont-à-Mousson, as we were quartered in an attractive little château and were served excellent meals; they were cooked by one of those wonderful old Frenchwomen one occasionally found along the front, whom shell fire, death, and destruction could not budge from their homes.
As ours was an active division, all sorts of rumors were current concerning French attacks on a German offensive in the Bois-le-Prêtre and the Wvre. However, nothing of consequence developed in that district during the rest of the summer. Occasionally there was shelling and a few trench raids, but that was all. Our work was active enough to be interesting, but it was not really confining. We had time to visit the trenches, incidentally about the best-equipped on the front, climb the Côte de Mousson from which we could see Metz on clear days, and generally lead a pleasant enough life.
Sometimes on a quiet day one would forget the fighting, only to have it suddenly and vividly brought home. I remember one particularly beautiful and quiet morning. It was my turn next to roll (as we used to call driving). A German plane was flying quite high over Pont-à-Mousson. Suddenly there was a crash and in a minute or two the telephone rang for an ambulance. A soldier had been hit in the head by a splinter from the bomb, and when I arrived they were trying to bandage his head to stop some of the flow of blood. The nearest hospital where he could be operated on was at Belleville, some ten kilometers back. I did not know whether to take a chance on hitting a few bumps by driving fast or to take it easy. After seeing the way he was bleeding, I thought speed was the only chance. I made that hospital as fast as any Ford ambulance possibly could; but when I arrived and opened the back, I saw there would be no use in an operation.
One night we had a couple of visitors from Paris. Mr. Andrews, who was head of the Ambulance, brought out Mrs. Vanderbilt, who had been very much interested. After dinner the Germans obliged by putting on a little act, and shelled the town at the same time. A rather amusing thing happened that night. "Bluey" (Ralph Bluthenthal) went up to a poste to get a man with a bullet in his arm. The fellow wasn't very badly off and sat on the front seat with Bluey. On both sides of the road coming back were the support line trenches, and as Bluey was going fairly fast, due to the shelling, and without lights, due to his proximity to the Germans, his right front wheel accidentally dropped into a trench and the ambulance stopped so quickly that the poilu beside him hurtled through the air over the radiator and landed on his feet. Bluey was somewhat surprised, but was prevented from taking the air route by the steering wheel. No one was hurt, but that was rather a typical illustration of the unexpected things one encounters when traveling at a good rate of speed without lights. Bluey had several funny things happen during his ambulance career. At Verdun he swung off the road one time to avoid some artillery and plunged over a big bank which he had not seen. The ambulance landed standing on its nose, or rather, radiator. Bluey, landing on his tin hat, was scarcely bothered at all. He was going up to get a load of wounded and the car was empty at the time. I must add that every one loved Bluey and he was one of the finest fellows and soldiers I ever met. He was killed about a year and a half later in the aviation (Lafayette Escadrille) when his plane caught fire.
About the middle of September we received instructions to be ready to leave on the next day. The following morning we started, and were due to arrive at the automobile park in Versailles the next afternoon. For a convoy of ambulances that meant pretty fast traveling. Those convoys were always good fun, particularly the stops. All the cars seemed to be running perfectly those two days. We were all delighted to have a change, and already a rumor was going around that we were on our way to Salonika. One of the horrors of war was being stuck in one place and being gradually bored to death. We stopped at Chalons that night and arrived at Versailles the following afternoon, somewhat ahead of schedule. Of course there was the usual long wait, but we finally left the cars in the park and got to Paris in time for a good dinner. I don't recall exactly how long we remained in Paris---about two weeks, I think---but we always were supposed to be leaving the next day. I guess it was just as well for the section that eventually we did leave ---those farewell parties were getting to be a strain. The cars were all crated and shipped and we finally took a train to Marseilles. Then we had to wait another week for a boat going to Salonika. However, we did manage to enjoy it. I guess there was every nationality and race in the world represented in that city. It is cosmopolitan anyway, but it was doubly so during the war, with all the various Allied and colonial troops. The swimming was fine; and near the beach and overlooking the water there was an excellent restaurant called "La Réserve." It was then early in October and the weather could not have been better. The lure of the Mediterranean coast is strong enough anyway, but the idea of adventure and risk which went with the war made everything more intense.
After we had been in Marseilles a week, we were told one afternoon that we would sail that evening. We collected our belongings and went down to the dock. It was not a very large boat; and as we arrived, a number of Anamites (French colonials from Anam, who look very much like ordinary Chinese) were boarding her. There were about seven hundred in all; they and we, about twenty-five Americans, were the only passengers. Those Anamites were hardly ever used as active troops, but were useful along the roads making little rocks out of big ones, etc. From what I observed en route, I don't think the high military or naval authorities in France were very much concerned whether that boat reached Salonika or not. Except for my personal standpoint, I don't altogether blame them. I think now that if it had been a betting proposition, the odds would have been very much against us. It was about a week after the Gallia, a French army transport, had been sunk with the loss of a large part of a regiment. In fact, I imagine that for Mediterranean shipping that fall was about the worst time of the war.
The ship turned out to be a German boat which was grabbed by the Portuguese when they went into the war. It was manned by Portuguese sailors and an officer or two under the command of a French captain. There was a very high wind the evening we got aboard, so sailing was postponed until the next day. With the exception of our section leader and French lieutenant, we were quartered down in the hold with the Anamites. The air down there was something appalling. I had often heard the expression about cutting it with a knife, but I never saw a case where it could he so literally applied. Gasping we staggered up on deck the next morning, and after considerable negotiating between our lieutenant and the French captain got permission to sleep either on the floor of a little smoking-room or on deck. We finally got under way, and the comedy of the trip commenced almost immediately. As we got out by the Château d'If, a Greek boat was coming in. Signals seemed to be balled up and both ships went full speed ahead; the Greek boat got across our bow literally by inches. Then our heroic captain got out his megaphone and called the other fellow every name he could think of in several different languages. The Greek captain bellowed in reply till out of earshot. As this precious cargo was not given a destroyer, they decided to see if a gun mounted at the stern would work. I think the gunner felt it would be safer to be hit by a torpedo than to fire off that old gun. Anyway, it never went off.
We sailed along the French coast, zigzagging as usual to Toulon. Then we turned southeast to Corsica and south by Sardinia to the African coast near Bizerta. The number of sailors on the ship was very limited, so we were used to watch for submarines: two in the bow, two at the stern, and two on the bridge. That gave us each about four hours a day, and as it was thrust upon us we could not help observing a considerable amount of wreckage at various points along our course. We used to have submarine drill. Any one with a gun could remain on deck, the rest were supposed to go below. All of us would have preferred the deck, but we had only a few rifles with us. One fellow had a pistol and asked permission to stay on deck. This was granted, but we never figured how he could either hit a periscope or otherwise effectively destroy a submarine with it.
After we had been out several days (the whole voyage took us eight days), some of the Anamites were taken ill. One died and was buried with military honors, the captain getting off the usual line about "dying for the Patrie," etc. Two more were ceremoniously buried the next day. They were obviously in the grip of some plague. Thereafter a number were regularly dumped overboard at night entirely without ceremony. The disease turned out to be spinal meningitis, and we were very thankful not to be still living with them in the hold. I didn't hear the exact figures, but about half of them got it; and about half of those who developed it died.
I suppose our poor captain thought he was sure to be torpedoed on that boat sooner or later, so he might as well enjoy himself as much as possible. Anyway he was one of the very few Frenchmen I have ever seen who was full all the time. Of course he would get worse in the evening, but his record in the daytime wasn't so bad. Some wit suggested that he thought he was attending a wake for the Anamites all the trip.
We sailed along the African coast to Tunis and then headed for the southern end of Greece. One night I was watching on the bridge; we were then passing through the Ionian Sea, which is at the mouth of the Adriatic and, of course, a place where we had to be particularly careful about submarines. Even enemy destroyers sometimes came out from their base, which was said then to be located at Trieste. I saw the outline of a boat some distance away. It was very dark, but I could see it was low and not very large. It might perfectly well have been a submarine on the surface or an enemy destroyer. There was a lone Portuguese sailor on the bridge steering. He couldn't understand English or French (at any rate, my French), so I called down to our lieutenant, who also saw the boat and immediately went to wake up the captain. He had retired in his usual condition an hour or so before. After great difficulty he was aroused. His eyesight was not particularly good at that time, but he finally saw the object and, after mumbling that he did not know what it was, fell into a stupor again. We decided it was the grace of God alone that was guiding our boat. The weather was perfect and it was beautiful sailing, particularly when we reached the Aegean. The sky and stars at night seemed so very near. We passed islands varying greatly in formation and size, and finally one morning at dawn we saw Mount Olympus, the snow at its peak slightly tinged with crimson against a perfect blue sky. Soon afterwards we were sailing into the harbor of Salonika. That harbor was quite picturesque with the funny little Greek fishing-boats and the numerous destroyers and battleships, not to mention the Mauretania, which was then being used as a hospital ship.
Several times on the way down we had passed ships at night, all lit up. We used to call them "the Fall River liners." After the Germans torpedoed a couple, however, they were kept as dark as the warships. Their lights, which were supposed to make them immune from attack by various Red Cross agreements, were no protection; on the contrary, they made them an ideal target.
Salonika, like all the towns in Macedonia and vicinity, is typically Turkish in its architecture. From the harbor it looked very attractive to us after our voyage. There was then a dispute as to whether we should be quarantined with the Anamites. We were finally let off from that, as none of us showed any symptoms. We were, however, made to camp by ourselves a short distance from the town. As nothing developed, we were allowed to circulate after a couple of days. Our cars had to come by another ship, which didn't arrive for another week or so. In regard to the various nationalities represented, the streets of Salonika were like Marseilles, probably even more diversified. Sections of that front were held by English, French, Italians, Serbs, Greeks, Albanians, Russians, various colonial troops, etc. The cafés did a thriving business and there was always a band concert in a little square, which would be crowded every afternoon. There was a movie with Charlie Chaplin the principal that week. We took walks up the barren hills north of Salonika, and from them there was an excellent view of the city with its mosques and turrets, the bay and Mount Olympus in the distance.
A sad accident occurred there. While crossing a street one of our section was struck by a British staff car traveling very fast. He never regained consciousness, and died the next day. As he was one of the best fellows in the section, we all felt it a great deal.
The ship with the cars finally arrived, and we started as soon as they were unloaded and ready to run. We traveled northwest through more or less mountainous country. The going up some of those grades was very difficult; there was one pass in particular, where every ambulance had to be pushed up by half a dozen of us. We passed through Yanitze-Vardar and in the evening reached the vicinity of Vodena. We lined up the cars at the side of the road and slept in them. We often did that, and with a fairly good stretcher and enough blankets it was very comfortable. You could hang a lantern over your head and read yourself to sleep as though you were at home in bed. A Russian regiment was camped near us. Discipline in the Russian army at times was rather severe. I remember that morning seeing some young peasant get a whack from an officer's stick which set him bawling like a baby.
The country was barren, but rather striking and beautiful. It was very mountainous, with occasional large valleys. I imagine if the Turk hadn't occupied it for so long, some of the land might have been cultivated. Most of the houses were made of some sort of baked mud, wood being very scarce. We reached our destination near a town called Sakalavo early in the afternoon, and set about pitching our tents, etc. We were situated in a long valley which ran from northeast of Monastir down beyond Florina. This was the ancient plain of Pelagonia. To the west was a ridge of mountains separating northern Greece from Albania, really a continuation of the Pindus on the south and the Schar range on the north. That mountain chain, which assumes different names in the various localities, forms the backbone of the Balkan Peninsula; it faces the Adriatic on one side and the Aegean on the other. Across the Monastir valley to the east there is another range, the Niga, between us and the Vardar. The Kaimakchelav (height, 8,255 feet) was the highest and best-known mountain of this range. It had been mentioned very frequently in the communiqués of a month or two before, when the Allies were retaking it from the Bulgar-German forces. Flowing down about the center of this valley was a little river called the Tcherna. It finally emptied into the Vardar down toward Salonika.
This was early in November and the valley had recently been retaken by the French from the Bulgarians reinforced by German troops. There were many evidences of the recent fighting, particularly around Negossani. The Bulgarians had been pushed beyond Monastir, but held the top of hill 1248 just north of it. The lines were about two-thirds of the way up and the enemy could not have been better placed, both for purposes of observation and for strength of position. Neither side had more than patrols in the valley itself, which was perhaps three miles wide, the actual fighting lines being resumed on hill 1050 across the valley to the east. The little town of Sakulevo had been pretty well flattened out, but there was a fairly large tent hospital there. For the first few weeks we evacuated wounded from that hospital to a hospital near the railroad station at Vodena. The railroad ran on up to Monastir, but north of Vodena most of the bridges, culverts, etc., had been blown up by the retreating Bulgars and Austrians. Nearing Vodena the road ran along Lake Ostrovo, which is one of the largest in that part of the Balkans and, being surrounded by mountainous country, is quite beautiful. Camped across the Tcherna from us were two Russian divisions, part of which we had passed on the way up. They had arrived about the same time we did. Every evening that great group of some twenty thousand men would sing hymns for half an hour or so. The airs were rather weird and melancholy, but I have never heard anything quite so impressive.
The first part of December we moved up into Monastir. Most of the civilian population had remained and the first week or so the shelling was not very heavy. During the week before Christmas the bombardment got worse and worse, and large numbers of civilians as well as troops were killed and wounded. The chief nourishment of the inhabitants seemed to be warmed goat's milk and a thing called "yogourt." That is a kind of sour milk concoction, about the consistency of ice cream. It is an acquired taste but we all got to like it immensely. There were numerous little shops like the patisseries in France, whose main business was serving yogourt and hot goat's milk. We used to have special ones we liked. These, one after another, were blown all over the street. There began then a great exodus of civilians. It was rather tragic to see them along the road ---men, women, and children, either carrying their movable belongings in carts drawn by oxen or on their backs. They had no place to go, but were on their way. They were taken care of to some extent at various towns far back from the front. I remember on Christmas Day itself we received a tremendous volume of presents from the enemy in the form of high explosives.
The south entrance to the town was particularly dangerous. The road crossed a bridge, and that point and an intersection a little way beyond were perfectly "repered" by the enemy. All the ammunition and supplies came up that way at night, and under bombardment that road would get in a frightful mess. With two or three mules or horses hit and blocking the road at that corner it was n't pleasant. Usually we used to go by there about as fast as we could in the dark without any lights. We would go in and out often in the daytime because they wouldn't bother about a single ambulance, but the general rule was to use that road only at night. One time, coming into Monastir, I saw they were shelling the road, so I opened her up and sailed across the bridge. About fifty yards beyond I met two caissons, each drawn by four horses abreast; they were at full gallop, took up the whole road, and were coming right at me. I didn't have time to swerve, but in some miraculous way they separated enough to let me through, hitting my mudguards on both sides.
At first our particular section of the town was comparatively free from bombardment, but that was only temporary. Our ambulances, which were concealed as much as possible in the street, were continually being struck by shell splinters. Rody Montgomery was working on his car one time while a little girl looked on. He heard a shell coming and dove underneath. It blew the poor child into small pieces, but the only damage Rody sustained skinning his nose in his frantic dive. At this time we were carrying wounded and sick from Monastir to a large evacuation hospital at Florina, some twenty miles south.
Just after Christmas an ambulance was requested over in Albania, if it could get there, to be stationed at Koritza. On December thirty-first a fellow named Imbrie and myself left the section and went to Florina, where we spent the night and quietly celebrated New Year's Eve with an extra quantity of good old pinard. We started early the next morning, accompanied by a staff car (also a Ford) which contained a brigadier general and a couple of other officers. We had the privilege of carrying most of their luggage in our ambulance. Both their car and ours we knew would need some pushing before we reached the summit of the Pisaderi Pass, which crossed the mountains separating our valley from Albania. There was considerable snow on the road, but it was not deep. We had to do a lot of pushing, sometimes helped by stray detachments of troops who were either crossing the Pass or working on the road, but we finally made the grade, reaching the summit around noon. Once across the Pass, the staff car went on ahead, as it could make better time over that beaten track which could hardly be called a road. It led through streams which were almost deep enough to float the car. We had a couple of rifles swung in a conspicuous place beside us. The country was wild and deserted. It was infested with bands of robbers called comitagi, who would hold you up and like as not shoot you for half a dollar or a couple of tins of sardines. Having arms on display often served to prevent any enterprising highwayman or group from attacking.
We finally reached a town called Biklista where we stopped to look around and refresh ourselves. The country we had come through was mountainous and more or less barren, and almost entirely uninhabited. Perhaps it was because I always do like mountainous country that it appeared quite wild and beautiful to me. Biklista was only thirty miles or so from Florina, but with crossing the Pass and that excuse for a road it seemed a long way. The town was much like those we had been through in northern Greece, but there were less Turks among the inhabitants and most of them appeared hardier and better-looking than the mongrel breed we had seen in other parts of Macedonia.
Our destination, Koritza, was some twenty miles farther on. As we were getting near that town we came down into a large valley. Some of this land looked fertile enough, but very little of it was cultivated. Toward evening we finally reached Koritza. Only one car, that of our lieutenants, had ever been there before and ours was the first ambulance. Crowds of natives gathered around whenever we stopped. We had supper at the hospital and slept there.
It was a town of some ten thousand inhabitants, among whom the French were trying to instill a patriotic spirit and raise an army. It was certainly a grand army. Coxey's couldn't have compared with it. The troops were dressed any way they saw fit, and with their different tastes and means there was no lack of variety. A former comitagi chief had reformed and turned patriotic. He was probably the leading citizen. He was a perfect picture of a big, powerful brigand, dressed in the costume of a hundred years ago and carrying numerous knives and revolvers.
It was surprising to be greeted in English by several of the natives who had worked in America and returned home. The barber, in particular, who was enormously proud of his modem barber's chair, had spent a number of years in New York. We had very little work to do. However, we were advised not to do much walking outside of the town limits, as some of the natives did not feel very friendly toward the Allies and would occasionally pop off stray soldiers. We did have one hard job getting some wounded down from a place near Lake Presba. We couldn't get the ambulance all the way there and had to carry two or three on stretchers quite a distance. One fellow had a bullet in his lungs and his breathing was awful. A couple of months later we heard that most of the famous Albanian army, consisting, I think, of two regiments, deserted to the Austrians during an attack.
One day about the end of January our lieutenant suddenly appeared with a couple of fellows to relieve us, and Imbrie and I rode back with him. He arrived after noon, so we only had time to reach Biklista that evening. We were cordially welcomed there by a jovial old captain, the médecin chef. He produced some specially good pinard for dinner and we went to bed much cheered at having left Koritza, where we had been both lonely and bored. We thoroughly enjoyed the ride the next day, arriving at the section just after lunch. They had moved from Monastir a day or two after we had departed, as the shelling was so heavy it was certain that there would be casualties, and the work could be carried on just as efficiently if our living quarters were out of range. They were ordered back to Negossani, an entirely deserted and, for the most part, obliterated little town, some six or seven miles south of Monastir. There had been quite a large battle there the preceding fall and the house in which we were quartered was about the only one which was of any use. Two or more cars were always stationed in Monastir for emergency cases, and we would take turns on that duty. As many of us as were needed would drive up there, starting before dawn so as to be out of the city on our way to Florina before it was daylight. Delays at the hospital often made this impossible, but it was the general rule. We would get back to camp from Florina about lunch-time. If there had been an attack or a trench raid or other activity, we would make another trip in the afternoon; but until the offensive was resumed in March, that was rare. That valley was beautiful early in the morning. We would usually be on our way to Florina with a load of wounded when the sun rose, covering the snow-capped heights of the Schar Mountains with a crimson glow. The weather was cold and raw at times, but the snow never got very deep or lasted long in the valley.
The poor poilus in the trenches on hill 1248, however, were almost always in snow or slush. It takes some of the heart out of French troops to be shipped away from home. They were terribly homesick, and I think more than half of the Allied armies were laid up at different times with that tropical malaria. That is really a frightful disease, often killing people within twenty-four hours of the first symptoms. Of course it was n't by any means so bad in the cold weather, but it had undermined the health of a great many of the troops. In the winter frozen feet was one of the most prevalent illnesses. That can be very serious at times, making amputation necessary; and often when it is apparently cured, the feet will become swollen and very painful on any long march.
February was quiet enough, but toward the end of that month there were unmistakable signs of preparation on the Allies' part for the resumption of the offensive. Reinforcements of artillery, great quantities of ammunition---and, of course, rumors of what was coming. The front was held by the Allies as follows: the French on the left from Albania across the heights north of Monastir and the valley to hill 1050 at the east. That hill had recently been turned over to the Italians; next to them came the Serbs, and on the right the British held the line from the Vardar to Struma and from there to the Aegean Sea. The whole Armée d'Orient was under General Sarrail, who from what we heard should never have held that command.
On the fifteenth of March the whole section moved up into Monastir. Another American section had come down and was sent over to Albania with a new French division. The bombardment all along the line started on the sixteenth and continued all that night and till afternoon the next day, when the infantry attacked. Several of us being off duty (the wounded could not get down from the mountainous battlefield until evening) walked over to a hill at the southern end of the town and watched the attack with fieldglasses. The day was stormy and the mountain was covered with a thin blanket of snow. It had stopped snowing, however, shortly before the attack started. The creeping barrage fire was beautifully executed all the way up, the troops walking in a deployed formation behind it. They took the enemy's trenches almost without casualties. They found the front lines full of Bulgar dead and wounded. Toward the crest they met real resistance from some German shock troops who had been sent down in support. The whole crest, however, was taken, the infantry of our division pushing on beyond and taking a great many Bulgarian prisoners. As a matter of fact, quite a large number had come across when our bombardment started, long before the infantry attacked. The French division on our left and the Italians across the valley were checked, unfortunately, and our infantry had advanced into a somewhat precarious position. They turned around the German support trenches to face north, but were then suffering heavy casualties. The Germans counter-attacked several times that night and the next day, but could not recover their lost ground, except, of course, in certain points where the advance had been carried too far in proportion to the rest of the line and the troops found themselves in dangerous pockets from which they withdrew to the newly established general line. The casualties in these counter-attacks were very large on both sides. The position of the Central Empires and their ability to send crack troops rapidly to a front where they were particularly needed, while it took weeks for Allied reinforcements to arrive, was one of their greatest advantages.
We had a new poste de secours now, called the Grande Roche. The road to it ran northwest around hill 1248. There were some French batteries along the road which shot right over your head, and nearly burst your ears if they went off as you were passing. Later I was to get very used to that din, but in the artillery almost every one used cotton in his cars when close to the guns. That poste of ours was a pretty ticklish one, as it was in easy machine-gun range, and we had to be both quiet and very careful about showing any light. The first night of that attack three or four cars were detailed to carry wounded from that poste to the hospital in Monastir and on back to Florina. The shelling of Monastir these days was much the heaviest we had yet encountered. The badly wounded were sent down the mountainside to our poste on stretchers strapped to a mule's back, one stretcher on each side. It must have been agony for some of those fellows. I don't know if it was much better when they got in the Ford ambulance, as we could not help dropping into shell holes occasionally. It was hard enough to see the road at all, let alone the holes. I was waiting at the poste talking to our section chief, Lovering Hill, when we heard a large quantity of shells sailing over into Monastir, apparently without exploding. There would simply be a pop like a small firecracker. We thought the Boches must have some awfully rotten ammunition. Maybe Lovering guessed what it was, but I did n't. It had begun to snow again and there wasn't a breath of wind stirring. I loaded my wounded and started back to Monastir. There was a funny smell in the air, which grew stronger as I neared Monastir. One of the section coming out stopped and said they were shelling the town with gas. It was difficult enough to drive a car without lights at night anyway, but it was almost impossible to do so with one of those old gas-masks. The gas was n't thick enough to kill or seriously hurt any one, except in the immediate vicinity of an exploding shell. The enemy kept up this gas bombardment all the rest of the flight and part of the next day. Of course they mixed high explosives with it. The remaining civilians, who were not equipped with masks, were the chief sufferers. The agony of a bad gas case is about as cruel as anything I ever saw.
Our section had extraordinary luck during that attack. We were quartered in a house, the majority sleeping in a large room on the ground floor, the remainder in two smaller rooms upstairs. There were besides a dining room, a kitchen and a sitting-room. The first night of the attack, when Monastir was being shelled with gas, four or five fellows off duty who were sleeping in the large room were suddenly wakened by a terrific crash. A large gas shell made a direct hit through a small window in the back of the room and didn't explode. If it had, they would n't have had a chance. Our quarters and the cars were objectives, among many others in the town, for enemy artillery fire. The next day the shelling was intense and we moved our quarters temporarily to the hospital. I do not mean by that that the hospital was any less shelled, but there was a large dugout there and we had none. Shortly after we moved, the wall in one of those smaller bedrooms upstairs was blown in.
The heavy fighting lasted three or four days, and while a few of the first objectives had been gained, the offensive as a whole was a sad failure. Losses were out of all proportion to the ground gained, and the main objective of breaking through the enemy's line, capturing Prilip and then cutting the Berlin-Constantinople railroad became out of the question. Russia had started to crumble and the Russian troops which had been near us at Sakulevo and formed part of the Armée d'Orient deserted. The Italians on hill 1050 met with no success at all; and while the British reported minor victories, it was apparent that they also had accomplished nothing of consequence. The Germans seemed to know exactly how the offensive had been planned and just where to concentrate good troops; also, their artillery had been heavily reinforced. During those few days our work was quite exhausting and we had very little time for sleep. It was hard to keep from falling asleep driving, particularly on that long ride back empty from the hospital at Florina. When under fire or even just carrying wounded, one was keyed up to some extents but on the way up again, sleep was almost overpowering.
Monastir had been a city of some sixty thousand inhabitants, but I should be surprised if there were more than one or two thousand left. Large numbers had been leaving all winter, and there was a final great exodus after that gas shelling. Also a large number had been killed or wounded. The wife of Sir John French, former Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, used to go up quite often with a couple of helpers to distribute bread. She was hit in the head by a shell splinter and killed instantly. One of our section took her body back in his ambulance.
As the front quieted down and it was no longer necessary for all of us to be on the job in Monastir, we moved, and camped in tents on a hillside several miles back. German planes used to drop bombs once in a while on our encampment, but otherwise our quarters were out of danger. The German planes had become quite active on our front. It was about this time that Henry Suckley, who used to be in Section Three and was sent down as chief of the section over in Albania, was hit by an aeroplane bomb. Though he was mortally wounded and in agony, he never complained, but smoked a cigarette on the way to the hospital and died shortly after arriving there. In the attacks he had been through with Section Three he had always been an example of courage and of capacity to do any amount of work. His loss was a great blow to all of its who knew him.
When America went into the war in April, all of us wanted to get into the actual fighting, but unfortunately we had to wait for fellows sent from France to relieve us. While the entrance of the United States into the war on the Allies' side may have been welcome, the morale of the French troops was never so low before or since as at the end of April that year.
The offensive on the Salonika front, which was, of course, a side issue, had been a failure; Russia had collapsed; Roumania had declared war on the Central Powers only to be immediately and impressively conquered; and lastly, the great Soissons-Rheims offensive of April sixteenth had not met with anything like the success hoped for. After the lessons of Verdun and the Somme, where enormous numbers of men had been sacrificed for small gains, the French decided to attack on a wide front approximately thirty kilometers from Soissons to Rheims. They took the ridge of the Chemin des Dames by assault and advanced in other sections of the line. The casualties, however, had been appalling and the whole country was aroused. The Germans had known in advance and been prepared to meet every move, and treachery was not only suspected by the army but must have actually existed. The primary objective had been Laon and the railroads converging there, but after the first few days those plans had to be abandoned. There actually were a couple of regiments which mutinied. Nivelle, who after Joffre's retirement had been made Commander-in-Chief of the army because of his fame at Verdun, was succeeded by Petain.
While I seem to be digressing a good deal from the Armee d'Orient, these events were, of course, reflected down there with consequences directly affecting us. The Germans became more confident and their sympathizers in neutral countries were bolder in trying to help their cause. The Greek king had always been thought pro-German. At any rate, Athens and all except the northern part of the country apparently was, particularly so now that the Allies had met these last reverses and seemed to be getting the worst of it. The sympathies of the neutrals followed very closely the course of arms. The Greeks could not very well overlook the obvious failure of a great and costly offensive in the northern part of their own country. However, the civilian population of that part of the country which as occupied by the Allied army was very much in favor of the Allies. Whether this was voluntary or because of intimidation, I could not say. Old Venizelos had been stirring up patriotic feeling and sympathy with the Allies, maintaining that their cause was that of democracy. He had finally declared a separate democratic state, and recruited a division of Greek volunteers who actually fought with the Allies. They weren't anything startling as troops, but the idea was all right. However, there was the possibility of the regular Greek army's becoming hostile in the rear of the Armée d'Orient.
As I have mentioned before, while parts of Macedonia might be fertile enough, it had been too long under Turkish domination to be productive. Thessaly was the principal producing land of grain and other agricultural products. The government at Athens took this time to refuse the Allied army the right to obtain the supplies it needed. With the continued activity of submarines in the Mediterranean, it was both very costly and dangerous to send all supplies from France. Consequently the relations of the government at Athens with the Allies became decidedly strained.
During April and May the front at Monastir, in fact all along the line, had become fairly inactive, enlivened occasionally by small attacks, bombardments, etc. The members of the section who wanted to were allowed to go down to Salonika for a couple of days, usually three or four at a time. I went down with Lovering Hill, and certainly enjoyed getting back to a little civilization. We did some shopping, had a few good meals with vintage wines, and came back. It was a break in the monotony. Also, it let us out of one ordeal. Lovering had been cited (for, I think, the fourth time) for his work during the winter, and particularly during the March attack. I was, also---with several other fellows. During our absence at Salonika the General had come around to pin on the croix de guerre, so we avoided the doubtful privilege of being kissed on both cheeks by a bewhiskered old general.
A little way out in the valley and on a line with our camp an observation balloon would always go upon clear days. One of the greatest sports in aviation was shooting down enemy balloons, and the Germans certainly used to pick on that poor observer. However, every time they would shoot him down he would go up again in a new balloon. He certainly had a lot of nerve. He made four or five trips to earth by a parachute. One beautiful clear morning two German planes suddenly appeared from behind the mountains, the foothills of which we were camped on, and swooped down on that balloon. Both started shooting at it, and the observer, who was equipped with a machine gun, returned their fire with so much success that one of the German planes was disabled and forced to land. The balloon had caught fire ---they were using incendiary bullets---and the poor fellow in it waited a few moments too long in his combat. Either the parachute had been burnt or just didn't work, for when he finally jumped with it he dropped like a rock.
The weather was beautiful that spring and the German aviators, particularly the bombers, made the most of it. In May our division was relieved on the Monastir front. Two regiments of the relieving division marched up to a small deserted village off the main road a mile or two south of Monastir. It was a beautiful, clear spring evening, and while they were there, waiting for it to get dark enough to proceed into the lines, a squadron of ten or twelve German planes came over and dropped a tremendous number of bombs, killing or putting out of action several hundred men. There was something very demoralizing about air bombs. When under shell fire you had usually realized you were in for it and were more or less ready, but the other thing would come on you suddenly when all seemed peaceful.
About this time the first of our relieving parties arrived from France---I think there were five---and Bluey, Tom Potter, Tom Buffum, Henry Palmer, and Frank Baylis left.
On arriving back in Paris, they all enlisted in the Lafayette Escadrille. Thereafter every few weeks two or three more would wander down When our division was relieved at the front the relations with the Greek government at Athens had about reached the breaking point. Our division, with some other troops, mostly colonial, Zouaves, etc., was then ordered to occupy Thessaly, at least the fertile portions of that state, from which most of the Greek farm products came. A French ambulance section relieved us at Monastir and we journeyed south with the division.
Those trips were always great fun. We drove down through Vodena and Veria, keeping considerably west of Salonika, and after a two days' run reached Katerina, which is situated just north of Mount Olympus. We had passed through very picturesque mountainous country, which became less barren and more green and wooded as we left Macedonia and got nearer to the old Greek border. We reached Katerina around the first of June, and remained there ten days or so. The town was only a few miles from the Aegean; and as we had practically no work to do and it was already very hot, we often used to hire an old hack and drive over to the shore for a swim. It was a most delightful spot, with snowcapped Mount Olympus rising majestically beyond the deep blue waters of the Aegean. From Katerina we went southwest around mount Olympus to Elleson, and across the mountain pass near that town which Xerxes had used in ancient Greek history. We came down into the great fertile plain of Thessaly. It is a large irregular square---for the most part entirely flat---surrounded on all sides by mountains and extending sixty miles or so in each direction. After traveling fifteen or twenty miles across this plain, we came to Larissa, which is the largest town in that region, having a population of about twenty thousand inhabitants. We arrived there in the evening, some of our division and some colonial troops having reached the town early in the morning.
The entry of the troops had been a prearranged affair and the Greeks were supposed to welcome them as entirely friendly forces The Greek garrison was drawn up in front of the barracks under the command of a brigadier general. A regiment of French infantry marched up and the colonel advanced and saluted the supposedly friendly Greek general. As he did so, he was shot dead. That was the signal for the Greeks to open fire, which they did at close range, taking the French completely by surprise. However, the French troops had seen too much fighting to remain surprised long, and as soon as they began to get busy there was nothing to it. After a few of the Greeks had been slain the rest broke and fled. There were about fifty French soldiers killed. During that day and the next there was occasional sniping, but even that died out.
We were quartered in some wooden barracks, where we set up our cots and made ourselves comfortable. It was terribly hot most of the time. There wasn't any work of consequence. Fever was less prevalent here than in Macedonia, and of course there weren't any wounded. The great marshy tracts where the Vardar empties into the Aegean near Salonika were the chief breeders of malarial germs. All through Macedonia even the children had greatly extended stomachs, which were caused by more or less chronic malaria. That was not nearly so prevalent among the inhabitants of Greece proper. All the troops were supposed to take three tablets of quinine (five grains each) every day. As a matter of fact, very few of our section took it; and up to the time I left, none of the section had a bad case of fever. Two or three had comparatively mild cases.
Larissa was only thirty miles or so away from the Vale of Tempe, so Jack Clark, Dan Sargent and I decided we should visit that place so famous in mythological history. We found a fellow in town who owned a Ford (naturally we did not go joy-riding in our ambulances) and made a bargain with him to take us over there. He was rather a wild driver and when we were apparently miles from nowhere, he hit a big bump and broke his steering rod. Several French soldiers happened along and, as luck would have it, told us there was an army blacksmith with a forge less than a mile away. He welded the broken rod together and we started on our way again. It was a beautiful drive, with the mountains in front, between us and the Aegean: Pelion, Ossa and Olympus, heights 5350, 6398 and 9790 feet respectively. The Vale of Tempe is a narrow gorge between Mount Olympus and Mount Ossa. It is a little over four miles long, and through it runs the Peneius River, the largest, in fact, the only real, river in Thessaly. The vegetation is luxuriant and the precipices on either side are very steep and high. It reminded me of our Ausable Chasm on a larger and rather more picturesque scale. The road led in many places along the ledge of a precipice and with our eccentric driver and recently patched steering rod, our thoughts were often less on the scenic beauties than on getting ready to jump. About half-way through we finally came to an inn and had lunch. After lunch we took a beautiful walk along the riverbank, and the ancient flivver managed to hold together on our way back in the evening.
I must say we were not over-enthusiastic about the natives in that part of Greece. Some centuries B. C. Thessaly was quite a place, but the inhabitants must have been going downhill ever since, and that was a long, long time ago.
Another expedition that Jack Clark, Coleman Clark and I took was down to Volo. That is the port of Thessaly and all the northern part of Greece proper. It is a town of about twenty-five thousand inhabitants, situated on the Bay of Volo. It is both a port and a seaside resort. There is a railroad from Larissa to Volo and we caught an early train which took a couple of hours, the distance being about sixty or seventy miles. The hotel we went to appeared excellent to us, though of course at that time we were not very exacting. After lunch we hired a sail-boat and took a beautiful sail around the bay. The colors of the water and the sky seem very vivid in the Aegean. The tyrant Jason, centuries before Christ, is supposed to have lived at Volo and it was from there that the Argonauts started on their eventful voyage. The town seemed crowded, probably many of the inhabitants of the plains of Thessaly visited there for a vacation and relief from the terrific heat. In the evening we wandered along the promenade by the shore and it was delightful to be in a thoroughly peaceful and unmilitary atmosphere. We spent the night there and enjoyed the luxury of being really clean and sleeping between sheets.
This visit in Greece had been a fine vacation for us, and the first part of July we were ordered back to the front. We retraced our steps back to the valley of Monastir but this time we were attached to a Serbian division up in the mountainous country (the Nija range) east of that valley and hill 1050. The Serbian front extended at that time from the Italian lines at hill 1050 to the British on the Vardar. Of all the Balkan peoples we saw, the Serbs stood out far above the others. They are a race of born soldiers, very brave and very hardy. They had been almost exterminated in that fearful retreat without equipment and without supplies when the Germans under Machensen conquered the whole of their country in the early part of the winter of 1915-1916. There was only a remnant of their army left but nothing could ever break the spirit of those rugged and heroic troops. There was very little activity on that front in July and August, and consequently little work for us. There were occasional wounded but most of the fellows we took back to the hospital were sick, malarial fever, of course, predominating. About the middle of August some new recruits arrived and at last it was my turn, with some others, to return to France.
Our trip back was infinitely more pleasant and swift than the trip down. We got on an Italian ship at Salonika which had been a real passenger vessel. The quarters were comfortable enough and our chances of arriving in Italy seemed pretty good, especially as we had a destroyer escort. Because of the numerous ships sunk by submarines in the Aegean and Mediterranean, they had worked out a system which minimized the danger. This ship sailed at night only. It lay in a harbor during the daytime and then started out again at dusk, always accompanied by a destroyer. The first night out of Salonika we sailed as far as the island of Skyros, where we remained during the day, then by one-night stages to Melos, Navarin, Corfu and across the Adriatic to Tarentum. At Corfu we saw a very much shattered submarine being towed in. At Tarentum there is an outer and an inner harbor. As we went through the narrow channel separating them, we passed very close to the Leonardo da Vinci, Italy's greatest battleship, which lay on its side like a huge dead fish. It had been blown up by German spies, who hoped both to destroy the battleship and to block the channel. In the latter, however, they failed---but only by a small margin. We landed from a tender near the station and found we could get a troop train for Paris early the next morning. I suppose there always was a lot of poverty in that part of Italy, but to see civilians rowing around that filthy river harbor picking up bread, etc., which, with other refuse, had been thrown overboard from ships, brought it vividly to one's attention. We slept on the beach that night and started for Paris the next morning.
There were seven or eight of us crowded in a second-class compartment. We were particularly warned against sitting on the roofs of the cars. Apparently when the system of sending all the French troops to the Armée d'Orient by way of Italy went into effect, quite a number of soldiers had been killed on the tops of the cars going through those low tunnels. We kept on the east side of Italy till we reached Foggia and then crossed over to Naples. It was evening when we reached Naples and we passed through Rome at midnight. The following afternoon we passed Pisa and soon afterwards stopped at Livorno (Leghorn). They let us spend the night there. It was very refreshing to take a walk and get a good dinner. We had been living chiefly on Chianti and bread since we got off that boat, and while that is excellent fare a little variety is pleasant sometimes. The greatest treat of all, of course, was to see some attractive and well-dressed females wandering about, such as we had not laid eyes on for almost a year. The next day we entrained again, arriving at Genoa in the evening and Marseilles the following day. Jack Clark and I were sick of that slow-moving troop-train, so we got off there and amused ourselves around the city until we took the Paris-Marseilles express.
I had in mind the aviation, but I couldn't pass the test; so I decided on the artillery school at Fontainebleau. By enlisting in the Foreign Legion, an American who had been to college or had some education could be sent right to the officers' training school at Fontainebleau, which was probably the best in the world. At the time I reached Paris there was some hitch about admitting any more Americans to Fontainebleau, but it was expected that they would again be taken in with the classes entering later in the fall. It was obviously a much quicker and surer way of being trained in artillery and getting into action than enlisting in the American army and going to one of those training camps in the United States.
I then found myself with some time to wait, probably a month or two, so I decided to go home for a visit. I spent a couple of hectic days in Paris making my plans and thoroughly enjoying our return to civilization. I took passage on the Touraine sailing from Bordeaux. I stopped off at Tours for a day to see my brother Gil, who was then in the aviation school there. At Bordeaux I met Jack Clark, who had suddenly decided to take a trip home also, and Ted English. The Touraine was delayed a couple of days in sailing, which we spent very pleasantly at Arcachon. It was great to get back to America and see my family and a number of friends, but I had gotten too much interested in the war to stay away long. I stayed three or four weeks, as I had planned, and I was rather glad to turn back to the real thing and not have to listen to a lot of nonsense about it.
I sailed back on the Adriatic in an American convoy. First we went up to Halifax. The ships, seven or eight in number, were all painted like zebras or in some other fancy way for camouflage and one of them was one of the famous mystery ships. They were usually fast modern destroyers which were rigged up to look like old tramp ships. They had cabins built on their decks, underneath which were the latest and most efficient naval batteries. Our crossing was uneventful. Near the Irish coast we were met by several destroyers which accompanied us into Liverpool.
We stayed a couple of days in London. One night Jack Clark, Walter Woodruff and I went to the theatre. During the performance it was announced that a German air raid was expected, but very few people left and after the theatre we had quite forgotten about it. We walked across Piccadilly Circus and stopped in a restaurant. We had just ordered some food and drink when there was a tremendous crash, shattering some of the windows of our restaurant. A large Zeppelin bomb had dropped just outside, making a huge hole in the street and killing several people. We were occupied trying to calm a couple of very excited women who had been sitting near us, one of whom had been wounded by a shell splinter from a British anti-aircraft gun in a previous raid. That bomb which dropped unpleasantly near us was a very lucky shot, as it was the only one we heard of which landed in London. That happened to be the night on which the Germans sent out half a dozen Zeppelins to blow London to bits. I think our friend was the only Zeppelin that got over England. The rest got out of control in a sudden storm. One landed in France; another, when last seen, was headed south over the Sahara desert; and, according to reports, two were lost at sea. Thereafter the fear of Zeppelin raids and what they could do with their enormous bombs was greatly diminished.
We ran into Lovering Hill in London, and he returned to Paris with us. We crossed the Channel from Southampton to Havre, which was the passage best protected and most frequently used at that time. As it was a beautiful October day, four of us decided to hire a car and drive to Paris. We stopped at Rouen for lunch and reached Paris in the early evening, where we had a delightful fish dinner at Prunyer's.
Jack Clark and I enlisted in the Foreign Legion. The physical examination gave us a good laugh. At that time the French army would take anyone who had two legs, and even a good wooden one, I guess, would have gotten by. Anyway, the examination was perfunctory, to say the least. One of my friends, who is very near-sighted, was taking the same test at another time. He started to remove his raincoat, but the doctor said that was not necessary. The doctor did ask him to read some letters across the room. He could not make out even the large ones, so in passing him the doctor remarked that it might be well to have his glasses adjusted. However, I am not sure that their system of taking everyone who was willing was not superior to ours. That same friend of mine, after. graduating from Fontainebleau, was turned down by the American army. He was then immediately given a job by the French as instructor of American officers at Saumur.
We had to wait a couple of weeks for a new class at Fontainebleau. We started in about the middle of November. There were four other Americans in that class. The course took only a little over two months and it certainly was a lot of fun. Theoretically you weren't supposed to go away more than every other week-end, but I don't think I missed one Saturday night and Sunday in Paris. A number of my friends were already over, mostly in the air service, and they would quite often appear in Paris over Sunday. Our course at Fontainebleau was very practical and interesting. We used to go out in various parts of the country and work out problems of orientation, map reading, placing batteries, angle of fire from some landmark to where the enemy was supposed to be, range, weather corrections, etc. It was frightfully cold that winter, which was the only disagreeable feature. We took turns serving the gun and directing fire in practice. We went through practice gas attacks and were given a demonstration of liquid fire, which was about the only thing I never saw used on the front.
One of our chief diversions was the riding. Each time we would get a different and some what more difficult set of horses. With the French, there does not seem to be any happy medium in horsemanship ---they are either very good or very bad. Practically all our class belonged to the latter group and some of the fellows spent almost as much time on the tan-bark as in the saddle. Some days when it was n't so terribly cold, we rode around the Forêt de Fontainebleau. Jack Clark and I thought it vas both uncomfortable in the barracks and too much trouble to keep things just right, so we got a couple of rooms at a little inn nearby. We were first attracted to that inn by the delicious rhum chaud they would produce on cold evenings.
Toward the end of January we had our exam examinations and all except a few awful boneheads came out as aspirants. That is a sort of student-officer who has a second lieutenant's job but isn't commissioned till he has served several months and shown himself worthy of a commission. It is a definite rank in the French and German armies. I drew the 236th Field Artillery with the regimental depot at Moulins-sur-Allier, situated a little below the central part of France. I spent a week there, and then got a ten-day leave on my way to the front. Just before I left Moulins I got a letter from my brother Clint, who was a captain in the American infantry, saying he was located at Saint-Aignan, which wasn't very far away over toward Tours. I took a train over there, arriving around eleven o'clock. Most of the town was in bed at that time, but I found an American sergeant who suggested I inquire at some farmhouses back down the railroad track. After walking half a mile or so, I saw a light in a farmhouse. I went to a side door next to the lighted window and knocked. Who should open it but Clint himself!
I spent a week in Paris on my way to the front and of course had a marvelous time. Gil was also on his way to the front with the First Aero Squadron. I thought I might as well take a joy-ride along with them to Toul and went out to Le Bourget field. However, several of the planes were not in shape to start that day, among them Gil's. As a matter of fact, Toul wasn't anywhere near Rheims, where I was going, so I would have had to come back in the train anyway. I took a very early train, after bidding a proper farewell to old Panam the night before, and journeyed out to Muizon with, I must admit, some slight misgivings as to what I was in for. I could understand French fairly well, but I was afraid my inability to speak it easily and fluently would be a great handicap. Also, I realized that my knowledge of practical artillery was very limited. At Muizon I reported at the Etat Major (headquarters). From there I with my luggage was driven up in a wagon to within a very short distance of the battery. The captain was an old timer, a regular with over twenty years service. He was a nice, quiet old duck who knew his job to perfection. There was a second lieutenant and another aspirant. The latter, who was rather a "Mother's boy," was not liked enough by the officers to be invited to their mess. Consequently we ate with the non-coms. I was really glad, as the conversation at our mess, while somewhat limited as to subjects, was quite lively and amusing.
I must say I never saw any cause for complaint about the food in any of the Allied armies. Of course sometimes during a big attack things could not be sent up, but I always thought it was remarkable how seldom that happened. The French probably did not have as large rations as the British or Americans, but they made up for it by cooking what they had a lot better. Also our wine rations served the double purpose of keeping the troops both healthy and contented. Practically every fellow who did not drink the wine on our French army rations got either jaundice or boils or other illness due to digestive troubles. The great majority of the army who drank wine kept in shape to endure the most trying conditions of trench warfare. Two fellows were all I ever saw drunk in our battery. They came back that way from a visit to Muizon and they were elected to do every dirty job necessary for a month or two afterwards.
I arrived at the battery about the fifth of February, after the very severe cold weather of that winter was over. We had the secteur from Courcy on our right to Loivre. We were a couple of miles northwest of Rheims, Courcy being practically in the outskirts of Rheims. The Germans held a wood-covered hill, Brimont, directly in front of us, the lines running generally northwest from Rheims to Berry-au-Bac. We slept and ate in dugouts, which were protection against éclats (shell splinters) and shrapnel but none against a direct hit. There was a deep abri which we all used in heavy bombardments when we weren't returning the fire ourselves. The captain used to give us the objectives, and the other aspirant and I took turns figuring the range, weather corrections, etc., and going up to an observation post in the lines, telephoning back (when the wire wasn't cut) what was going on and, as nearly as we could tell, where our own fire was landing.
One of the first days I was in the battery, a staff officer I hadn't met called up that observation post and I answered. I learned afterwards that when he heard the strange accent he thought the Germans had taken the post; this caused some anxiety at headquarters. The incident was enlarged upon, of course, creating considerable mirth; and while I was not much pleased at receiving prominence among the officers in that way, I could not help appreciating the joke myself. As a matter of fact, whenever my accent was noticed afterwards they usually went out of their way to be decent and considerate.
There was no very heavy fighting on any part of the front that winter, but it was no secret to anyone in the early part of March that the Germans were preparing a final great offensive. Their supplies were getting lower all the time; many of their crack divisions had been annihilated and had been replaced by boys too young and inexperienced to make good troops America was landing thousands and thousands of men, only partially trained but excellent material; the Allied artillery, which had been vastly inferior the first two years of the war, was now considerably superior to the Central Powers. All these factors forced the Germans to try to gain a decisive victory in the field and to stake everything on that last great effort. Obviously prolongation of the war would be disastrous to them, and their advantage lay in their mobility and their central position, which enabled them to concentrate troops very rapidly at strategic points. I think there was a general order throughout the French army to prepare for open warfare. At any rate, the captain used to take our lieutenant, a couple from the staff, the other aspirant in our battery and myself out to practice directing fire without the use of maps or anything. We had an observation post (this one was way back of the lines) with a telephone. With his glasses he would pick out a wagon moving along within range, or a couple of Boches, or a place where a machine gun had been located; then he would give s only fifteen seconds or so to size up the distance angle, etc., and open fire on it. It was great fun really, the system being to get the object in a bracket and then close the bracket. This was accomplished by setting one gun to fire at a longer range than the object appeared and another at a shorter. Occasionally, of course, the long shot would still be short of the object and vice versa. I once spotted a cart with a couple of Boches on front and some boxes and things in back, and the first shell happened to land right by them. The horse gave a mad leap and started off at full gallop, one of the Boches falling off and the cart dropping most of its load along the road. It was funny to see some old Boche who was plodding along sleepily suddenly wake up and start sprinting for cover as one or two of our shells dropped near him. Lieutenant Stalle was directing fire one time, and in haste gave a range which landed the shells between our own first and second lines. The infantry naturally took exception to that, sending word back to lay off. Stalle had been aspirant in our battery and I took his place, as he was promoted----about the time I arrived---to a sous-lieutenant on the staff. He was an exceptionally nice fellow and went out of his way to be friendly to me.