Ambulance 464/Chapter 2
AT HILL 304 AND MORT HOMME
At last the good news has come. Tomorrow morning we are to end this lazy existence and take Section One's place at Dombasle. This afternoon, the Mèdecin Chef piled ten of us into two ambulances and took us over some roads north of Dombasle which we will use in our work there. A few miles from Jubécourt we found ourselves in a thick wood which my map called "Bois d'Avocourt." Soon we veered off sharply to the left, onto a bumpy road where there was barely room for two cars to pass. All the camions and munition wagons are forced to use it because the Boches have the exact range of the main route and pepper it continually. Suddenly, as we were passing a couple of bomb-proofs or abris, a terrific explosion sounded behind us and for a minute we thought it was a Boche shell arriving; but three more bangs followed shortly and we soon learned that it was a battery of 155's at work. Here we were, literally on top of a battery of 6 inch guns which the Germans battered daily, as we could tell by the splintered trees and numerous shell holes.
Yet they were so cleverly concealed that even when they were fired, all that we could see was the flame from the mouth of the gun. We went on to three or four "Postes de Secours" to which we will come soon for twenty-four hour stretches, waiting for wounded and carrying them when they arrive to some hospital ten or twelve miles in the rear. At one place about a mile from the front line trenches, where we stopped for a few minutes, Crowhurst and Faith stumbled into a pile of heavy iron balls with queer caps attached. They carried three or four along for several miles, only to learn later from one of the Frenchmen that they were hand grenades, and would explode in eight seconds after the cap was touched. Here and there we encountered a fresh shell hole in the road and even oftener the traces of an old one which had been filled with crushed stone. Luckily no shells fell near us today but the fellows in another car who took a different road said they had some narrow escapes. I found out later that they always tell you this.
We held an informal reception in the barn tonight after the rat hunt. Some of the Frenchmen in the village dropped in and told several mighty interesting stories about their experiences in the war. I couldn't understand a great deal but I remember they talked a lot about the inside story of the second battle of Verdun, and the sacrifices the French made to keep Douaumont and Vaux. Then they switched to the very beginning of the war, when the Germans first violated the Red Cross laws by concealing machine guns in their Ambulances and driving them up to No Man's Land, seemingly to collect wounded after an attack. After this ambulances were not allowed to go up to the first lines. I only wish that I knew more French for there were lots of interesting points that I missed entirely.
When the party finally broke up, Benney and I went outside to watch the star shells bursting nine miles away, around Avocourt and Hill 304. It is quite a sight to watch them shoot up into the heavens, break forth in a brilliant magnesium light and then slowly descend in a parachute until the flame dies down. I don't suppose we will be so fond of them though, when we get in among them.Some Titusville Heralds came today and I enjoyed the Rural news especially. If I recall correctly, Samantha Babbs of Porkey had an earache and the Royal Order of Oil Creek Township Owls had their Annual meeting. Wiener sandwiches and sauerkraut were served by the young ladies of the Female Department.
I am sitting before a fire in our quarters. It is quite a hot one for I have just put on the legs of an old oak bedstead and the polished top of a wrecked mahogany writing-desk. They burn well and make it much pleasanter here than it was at Jubécourt. Besides, ours is the best house remaining in the village. Practically all of the others fell in ruins during a heavy bombardment last fall. With the exception of a few road-menders we are the sole occupants of the place. The peasants were all forced to flee after the shelling. I understand that the Germans still punish it quite regularly. Naturally our life here ought to be interesting.
When we arrived last Thursday, all of Section One's cars were lined up in the road opposite the cantonment and we had barely time to say "Hello" before they were speeding down the road towards Vadélaincourt. They will be "en repos" there for a couple of weeks. Then came a general scramble for rooms. Bradley and I stuck together and found a wonderful little shack behind the main building. We didn't have possession long, however, for our French Lieutenant had previously chosen it and we were forced to give it up to him. We tried the parlor of the big house after this. It was pretty good except that the ceiling had recently fallen and left several inches of debris on the floor. But this was fine compared to the rooms some of the other fellows had. We went vigorously to work and in two hours had a fairly respectable place for our stretchers. Just after we had finished, two slackers joined us and we ended with a merry party of six in our parlor.
Yesterday morning Ott Kann was on duty at Montzèville and I went out with him to learn the road. It is sort of a relay or half way post between Dombasle and Esnes; and although Esnes is a mile and a half closer to the trenches, still Montzèville gets a good many blessés from the batteries and engineer's posts nearby. The town is in a much worse condition than Dombasle. Hardly a wall remains and the few soldiers who stay in the place, live deep underground in abris. We left Ott's blanket roll in the "Poste de Secours" and then climbed out into the open again to look around a little. We had just emerged when a terrific screech like the tearing of an enormous piece of cloth, sounded above us, a violent explosion occurred in the road in front of us and little stones and "éclat" came pattering down all around, but not before we had tumbled headlong down the abri entrance and were safe underground once more. Three more shells fell outside and then, when nothing else happened for some time, we got our nerve back again and crawled slowly out. We poked around the ruins for a while until we got some distance from the post. Here on top of a pile of stones, once the walls of a little cottage, we gazed at the distant summit of a hill where French shells were breaking instead of German. For the enemy held the crest. This was the famous MortHomme. Craig stopped by soon after this on his way to Esnes, and since Ott was on twenty-four hour duty here and there was no point in my staying with him, I went on with Craig, to learn the road.
It was late in the afternoon when we got started. Immediately upon leaving the village we came into plain sight of the trenches. However, it happened that we were seen far more clearly by the enemy than we could possibly see him. We had to drive over an exposed road along the brow of a hill with the fields on either side of us speckled with shellholes. Opposite us were the Boche trenches showing up in thin, white lines, which were occasionally marked by a puff of smoke from an exploding seventy-five. I experienced the same, shivery feeling here which one often has at home, before getting up to make a speech in school. You try to tell yourself everything is all right, but still you seem to quiver all over. However, from the glances I stole
1. "Kelly's Corner" or "Strafen's Bend," on the Esnes road. Mort Homme (Dead Man's Hill) and the first line German trenches are visible in the distance. A volley of shells can be seen exploding in the field to the right. Edward Kelly was killed just a few yards from here in August, 1916.
1. The house across the street in Dombasle.
We drove into Esnes, the little town where we have our "Poste de Secours," just after sunset, and what had once been peaceful homes rose before us in shattered walls and ugly piles of stones. In the whole place there was no building with its sides still intact, and very few which had any walls at all. It can never hope to be rebuilt. We were forced to drive slowly through the town, for barbed wire, waiting to be hauled to the trenches, lay about in huge piles, sometimes projecting out into the street; and big logs, to be used for dugout supports, were scattered about. Half a dozen fresh shell holes and an occasional arrivé a hundred yards or so away added to the pleasure of the trip. We finally got to the old château where the post is located and had barely climbed out of the car when one of the stretcher-bearers met us, and said two couchés were waiting. We carefully put them in, the brancardiers helping, and then in the dusk drove back with them to the Hospital at Ville. Craig went pretty slowly, in fact, the whole distance in low speed, but the poor chaps moaned all the way.Clark certainly has hard luck. Last night he was driving along the Post Two road in the Bois d'Avocourt when he got stuck in a bad mud hole and had to wait there three hours before any help came. Just as he started on his way again a "210" exploded in the road, forty feet in front of him, splashed mud all over him and shook the whole car. He stopped and sat there shaking, he said, for five or ten minutes. Finally he got his nerve back and went on to Ville sur Couzances, to the H. O. E. And after all this, when he was sitting before the fire in his quarters tonight, his roommate accidentally kicked over a pail of boiling water, resting on the coals. Most of it spilled on Clark's feet, and before they could get his socks off he was badly burned. He will probably be laid up for a month in the hospital.
In the abri of the Poste de
Secours at Esnes.
A little after noon on Sunday the heaviest bombardment we have yet heard started from our nearby batteries. Everyone of them from the soixante-quinze to the "380's" banged away for all it was worth and until midnight there was scarcely a second's interval between the shells. This was the tir de barrage, the preliminary to a big attack which we first thought was French but which afterwards turned out to be Boche against Hill 304 and Mort Homme. This naturally meant a lot of work for us and in the middle of the afternoon six or seven cars were called out and all the others were made ready to leave. (Four is the usual number sent out for our twenty-four hour stretches, three at their posts and one on call.) My own turn came at eleven o'clock when the work was getting heavier. They gave me the Esnes run, the one I had made with Craig and where I am now, waiting until a full load of blessés arrive. Of course we could use no lights and as the road was constantly being shelled I felt rather nervous. We had been somewhat worked up that afternoon when Craig came in from Post Two, having seen ten men shot to pieces just one hundred yards in front of him in the Bois d'Avocourt; and Haven turned up a little later with a tale of a similar happening in another place. Furthermore, there had been a big gas attack earlier in the afternoon and four or five of the fellows had been compelled to wear their masks.
With these pleasant little stories to cheer me, I left our cantonment. I could not see the road, only an undefined streak a shade lighter than the surroundings, and I drove very slowly at first and blew my whistle at every dark spot on the horizon. Sometimes these turned out to be trees but more often they were wagons bearing ammunition and supplies to the communicating trenches from which they are carried forward either by men or burros. It was very hard to see them and I had many close calls not only from collision but also from breaking my rear axle in the fresh shell holes between Montzèville and Esnes. I stopped for a moment at the former post and found McLane there. He had run into a huge log, obstructing the road between the two posts and had come back here to get help. Word had been sent to Crowhurst the mechanic who came out in Houston's car. He arrived just after I did and as we were entering the abri, a shrapnel broke overhead and threw mud and éclat down the doorway.
Eight or ten more shells fell in the town while I was there and since they seemed to be after the convoys of ammunition caissons which flew by on a gallop I also kept up a pretty good speed until I was out of the place. When I passed McLane's car there was a shrapnel hole in the cowl and a piece of éclat in the radiator. Logs were scattered all along the road and the shell-holes became more and more numerous. I managed to get to the château finally and found three grands blessés Waiting for me outside. I drove very slowly and carefully on my return trip, but sometimes I struck a bad hole which I hadn't seen and the poor fellows moaned and shrieked pathetically. I managed to get them into Dombasle finally. Here I found there was no one to relay them on to the hospital at Ville and that I would have to take them myself. So I continued on through Brocourt and Jubécourt to the H. O. E. at Ville where I left my wounded. Then I went back to Esnes again for more and kept on working until four o'clock the next afternoon. I didn't sleep for thirty-five hours and some of the men, those who had been on duty before, went four or five hours more than this.
There were a lot of fresh shell holes just outside of Esnes on one of my trips the next afternoon. I certainly prayed as I passed them with my load of couchés that God would help me back safely, at least to bring my car back without disaster. And I am sure my prayer was answered, for five of our cars were broken down that night and four the next, some of them rather seriously. Two machines ran into ammunition wagons and four collided in the woods. There were also several minor accidents such as running head on into a stone-wall or having a rear-wheel drop off. Of course, this seems like a good many, but I really think we were fortunate in not having any more trouble than we did. You can't expect to come out untouched on roads like these which make the worst stretch at home seem like the Lincoln highway, and with fifteen cars out at once, the majority of them driven by inexperienced drivers. Furthermore, the night was pitchblack and much of the way lay through thick woods. Then there were the lovely starshells which come up every minute or so and after lighting up the whole landscape for eight or ten seconds, die out and leave you half-blinded by the glare.
The result of our two days' work, ending Tuesday night, was three hundred and seventy-seven wounded, carried a total distance of ten thousand kilometers. Both sides suffered severely but very little ground changed hands; and when the whole affair was over the first line trenches were nothing except a mass of shell-holes, and in many places only fifteen feet apart.
I have finally seen what I came over for, and a lot more besides——war, real war, stripped of glory. For what chance has a man against a shell? And how does the awful suffering of trench life compare with the thrilling battles of the Revolution. I don't mean that it doesn't take ten times the nerve and the endurance, but there's the rub, for we have become machines, not men. I know God will protect us over here, but you realize how absolutely weak and helpless you are when a load of dead are brought in, some with arms and legs gone, others with heads and trunks mixed together; and quite often you learn there wasn't anything left to bring.This matter of being under shellfire for the first time and of trying to drive back in the dark from Esnes, gives one a queer feeling. Payne told me on the boat coming over that he wasn't a Christian and that he didn't believe in prayer. But he said to me yesterday that he had prayed for the first time in his life out there on the Esnes road. Just as he was rounding "Kelly's Corner," a "77" landed in the road in front of him. Then two more shells came, one in the field to his right and the other a few yards behind him. "Why, Doolie," he said afterwards, "there wasn't anything else to do except to pray. I felt so little, so absolutely helpless, that I had to ask God for help. I got it too. That fourth shell didn't explode."
I crawled into my blankets here at three o'clock this morning. They sent me out about ten last evening on a special call to Post Two. I had three runs down to Ville with some blessés from a German "coup de main" and this kept me going for some time. Fortunately there was a full moon or I would have had a terrible time in the woods.
I had just enough pep to get up for breakfast and then was sorry that I did afterwards. It was pouring in torrents outside and the old dining-room leaked like a sieve. There was nothing to do but put on our raincoats, and stand there in that deluge, trying to swallow a plate of half-cooked oatmeal. I am afraid that our meals will be below par for a few days. André, the cook, lucky fellow, has gone to Paris on his permission and one of the truck drivers has taken his place. His first meal wasn't much of a success.
At last Section Douze has a mascot. Henny Houston stopped at Jubécourt today on his way back from Ville and got a little mongrel pup from his old friend Abigal in the Epicerie there. It was baptised after lunch with the name of "Montzèville." Such a cute name for a dog.
Cooky calls our habitation on Dombasle alley the "Den of Thieves" and he certainly is right. One would think we had been brought up along with Bill Sykes in Fagin's den. Our development into kleptomaniacs began when Ott Kann hid underneath his bed about fifty pounds of time fuses and unexploded hand grenades which he had picked up near Esnes. We found out about it the same day the poor brancardier was killed, fooling with a grenade at Montzèville and it made us sort of nervous to see Ott sitting on his stretcher evenings banging away on his dainty little souvenirs with hammer and chisel. He appeared quite unconcerned but we weren't. The first time he tried it, the grating sound of the steel upon the brass and iron and the thought of what might happen if he struck a cap, caused us to implore him to stop. Finally, since Ott was immovable, we all turned in, hoping that, if the thing did explode, we would miss most of the fragments because we were lying down. Ott went to Post Two on the following day, and before he returned, his relics were resting comfortably at the bottom of a neighboring well. He immediately suspected Bradley, who was really innocent of the trick, and hid two of his three blankets just as the latter was starting for Esnes, on twenty-four hour duty.
Bradley almost froze that night at the château, and planned vengeance upon his return. Supposing Barney to be the guilty party, from something that he had heard Ott say, he stole his shoes and a dozen packages of cigarettes which Barney had borrowed from Ott's suitcase the day before. Of course, this complicated matters and not even our stretchers were safe after this. My mirror, my sewing kit, and all my toilet articles disappeared one by one, only to reappear a few days later on Cookies shelf or tucked away among Ott's blankets. Strange to say, it wasn't all loss. Several times I have gone to bed with three blankets over me and found five there in the morning. And not a soul in the room would know anything about it. If Crowhurst makes a little paper cutter out of a compression band or perhaps a salt and pepper shaker from a Boche machine-gun bullet, and we feel that it would mean more to us than it would to him, we persuade ourselves that it is really ours and get possession of it at the first opportunity. We thought at first this kleptomania was confined to our own room; but it has spread throughout the section, even to the plutocrats across the street. Stealing has become almost a virtue, as it was with the Spartans; you are a wonder if you can get away with it. But whatever happens, don't get caught.
Barney Faith and I laid in a supply of wood this
It is twenty minutes to ten and we are still sitting around the fire. Crow pulled out his mouth-organ a little while again and is playing every ragtime he can think of. Cook has just received a long expected check from home and is so happy about it that he is practising a clog dance on Ott Kann's bed. Ott is on duty at Post Three.
1. The anti-aircraft "75" on the hill in Ste. Menehould. The audi-phone consists of a phonograph horn, a long hose, and a set of tightly strung wires. With this apparatus an enemy aeroplane motor can be heard ten miles away.
1. Children scrambling for little American flags, which we are tossing down to them from the barn window.
the old château.
I stumbled into the morgue last night when I was trying to locate one of the brancardiers, out behind the château. It had been clear all evening and a beautiful moon was rising above the hill towards Montzèville. But its rays were not beautiful within the morgue. They showed far too clearly the mangled limbs and bodies of a dozen Frenchmen who had been brought down from Mort Homme the night before. Here a rough gunny sack covered the decapitated trunk of a young machine-gunner; and alongside it lay the abdomen and legs of another poor poilu whose feet had already rotted away before a kind Boche shell put him out of misery. Bouvier told me several of them had been stuck in the mud out there for three days after the attack and although unwounded when shells were breaking all around them they had died of hunger and exposure. People at home think that we are making tremendous sacrifices to come over here and do this work. But they are nothing compared to those which the simple, uneducated poilu makes.
When I was little, I used to spend hours over stories of wars in Egypt and France, in England and Russia. And I have thought since then how little truth there was in any of them; the fact that the war had been fought often being the only reasonably true statement. The poilus have started on the same plan; and I presume in ten years a number of books on exaggerated myths of the present war will be on sale. Nevertheless, their tales are interesting, and usually very exciting. We were all gathered in the abri at the post in Esnes last night, seven brancardiers and LeFevre and myself, when one of them sprung this story. He called it, "How the Crown Prince came to Esnes," and he says the affair occurred early in 1915 when the war was still young and crossing the lines was not so difficult as it is now. It happened that the Boches were hammering away at Verdun as usual and were planning their big Spring offensive. If they could get all of Hill 304 and Mort Homme, besides Forts Douaumont and Vaux the game would almost be up for the French on the entire salient. So one dark night in February, the Crown Prince, who wasn't quite sure what forces the French had in this sector, decided to dash across himself in his staff car, shoot down over the hill into Esnes and get some information from one of the General's staff, a major in the French Army, who was of course a spy. The old road from Montfaucon to Esnes was pretty badly torn by shell-fire at that time, but there wasn't a single trench cut through it. They were all burrowed under it. And as for barb-wire, they weren't using any yet on the hill. The prince and two of his intimate friends, dressed in French officers' uniforms and driving a "Baby Peugeot," of Parisian manufacture, crossed the lines in a drizzling rain about midnight after a scouting party had given the "sehr gut" signal. They bounced from one shell crater to another down the narrow, winding road into the village. But they got to the château all right, where the headquarters were then. The three men entered the château, conferred with the major in his private abri and afterwards joked and drank healths with the other officers in the main apartment. But they stayed a trifle too long. The wine had its effect and the Crown Prince began to get a little careless with his French. But only one man had noticed it, for all the others were "happy," too. This was the sergeant on guard at the door. He tried to whisper in the commandant's ear but the old fellow pushed him away; and the colonel wouldn't even look at him. Suddenly the major entered, said that a message had come for the guests and would they please step outside for a moment.This was the last that was ever seen of them at Esnes. But they know that the car carried four men back to Germany instead of the three which it brought over. And the sergeant was courtmartialled for not telling the colonel before it was too late.
It is a few minutes before midnight. I have just returned from my twenty-four hours, which stretched into thirty this time, at Montzèville and Esnes. I dropped asleep last evening in the abri at the former place and when I awoke early this morning I found myself lying fully dressed on a pile of straw with no blankets over me. Naturally I hadn't slept very well, but I felt I had been lucky not to have been called out at two or three o'clock. At seven I went over to the Poste de Secours abri and had breakfast with the brancardiers. They are the same men who were here last week except that there is one missing. Jean Picot, I think his name was, had his hand blown off recently by a grenade which he was trying to unload. He was evacuated to Ville surCouzances but the chances for his recovery are very slight. Monsieur Guerin, the dapper little adjutant, is still here. As usual, he talked to me in English and I answered each time in French. He is quite serious about it, and corrects all of my mistakes very carefully.
Across the street from us was one of the army telephone exchanges. I watched them for some time this morning as they were trying to connect "Dead Man's Hill," Dugout Number Twenty-seven, with a busy Colonel's quarters in the Bois de Bethelainville. I couldn't make a great deal out of the conversation, so I soon left them and went into their kitchen. A middle-aged man with a rough, black beard stood beside the stove which happened to be one of the regulation army kitchen wagons placed in one corner of the room. I shouted "Bon jour, Monsieur," at him two or three times before he heard me. Finally he turned around and looked me over very carefully. Then (I think someone must have told him that an American Section was nearby) he burst out with, "Well I'll be darned. You are the first person from the States I have seen for eighteen months. What's your home town, anyway." He said it all so fast that I could not make him out for a minute. But I came to shortly and then it was my turn to ask questions. He told me that he had gone to America when he was seventeen, and settled in New York City. For some years, along with another Frenchman, he had conducted a well-known hair-dressing establishment on Fifth Avenue. When the war broke out he had debated for some time whether he ought to leave his family or not. But finally he couldn't stand it any longer; and so it happened that he sailed back to France in the fall of 1914. We got into a long conversation; he wanted to know all about America and what had happened there lately, and I was trying to find out more about him. Then in order to cement our friendship he offered me a cup of coffee flavored with a spoonful of their terrible cognac. It took a long time to get it down for it choked me if I swallowed much at once. But excepting his love for cognac, and eau de vie, he was a fine chap. I promised to look him up the next time I came to Montzèville.
At four o'clock I rode up to Esnes with only an occasional shell dropping near; but the French were peppering Mort Homme and I hurried along in order to get to the Château before the Boche began to reply. Fifteen or twenty shells dropped around the post a few minutes after I arrived but I was in the abri by that time.
Chauvenet has just come in from Post Two. On his way out a "210" landed in the middle of the road just in front of his car and a great piece of steel tore through the top of his car not ten inches from his head, and dropped into the back of the ambulance. He did not know that the car had been touched until half an hour later, for he was so stunned by the force of the explosion and so overcome by the gases of the shell through which he was forced to ride that he barely got out alive. Everyone is envious and wishes that it had happened to him—at least they say so.
I picked up a chap near Brocourt today who was on his way back to Mort Homme after his permission. He had walked all the way from Bar-le-Duc that day and was all tired out. He was mighty glad to get the ride for he had orders to be back in his company before midnight. We talked for a while in jerky little sentences; I, using the usual "n'estce pas" and "Comprenez-vous" and he always relying on "C'est la Guerre" for an answer to my questions. At one place we passed a flock of strange birds. I pointed to them and mumbled something to signify that I wanted to know what they were. He simply said "oiseau" and I replied as well as I could that we didn't have any oiseaus in America. He looked rather surprised and muttered something about having always heard that Etats Unis was a queer sort of a place. I discovered when I got back to the cantonment that the word oiseau means bird.Cook relieved me at nine o'clock, saying that three big "boys" had fallen near him as he passed through Montzèville. This was a pleasant send off and I pictured a delightful little journey back to Dombasle. But the stars were out when I started and a sprinkling of snow upon the ground made it very easy to keep on the road. I had only one blessé, for things were quiet in the trenches today.
Harry came in at four this morning and got Crowhurst and me out of bed. Haven's car had broken down near Esnes and we were to go out in 464 to fix it. Coan went along with us. We found it straddling an old stone wall not far from the post. He had wandered off the road and run square into it when a star shell went out and left him in total darkness. The front axle was badly bent and the triangle rod was almost tied in a knot. Of course we couldn't straighten the axle but we put in a new rod in the dark and managed to tow the car home. The blessés with which he had started out had in the meanwhile been transferred to another car and taken to Ville.
Thursday night the blessés from the morning attack began to pile in at Esnes. I went on at eight o'clock as a reserve. The first time down I had one couché who couldn't stand the pain. He almost drove me crazy with his shrieking and yells of "For God's Sake, Stop." And several times when I happened to hit a shell hole or a log accidentally, he actually rose up in his agony and pounded with his bare fists upon the wall of the ambulance. But I knew that I couldn't help him by stopping, and I felt that I might save his life if I hurried. After I got out of Montzèville, he quieted down and I supposed this was because the road was so much smoother. But not until I stopped in front of the hospital at Ville did I learn the truth. The poor fellow had died on the road. Soon after this Haven and Allen collided in the Bethelainville Woods. I took Jim out in my car to get them in. I left him here with Haven to work on the cars and went on by myself to Esnes. It was certainly an awful night, dark as pitch and a sleety rain blowing into my eyes. However, I got through by God's help, passing Dunham's car which was laid up with a broken rear axle just outside the woods. I waited two hours at the post for couchés, Tenney and Houston leaving with their loads before me. Some sad cases were brought in while we were waiting. One fellow, with his foot almost severed at the ankle, lay there without a whimper while they amputated it. Another man with his head caved in like an old cantaloupe, lay beside him. He looked hopeless but the doctors bandaged him and sent him to Ville.
I was doing my best to dodge a couple of shell holes near Strafen's corner (one of the spots the Boches love to pepper) on my last trip tonight when I overtook a poor courier, walking, and pushing his bicycle beside him through the mud. We drivers are not supposed to carry any soldiers and this wasn't an ideal place to stop. But the poor fellow was dead tired and I knew if he felt worse than I did he'd be mighty thankful for a lift. So I pulled on my emergency and yelled to him to throw his bike over the hood and jump in himself if he wanted a ride down to Dombasle . . . . I left him saying "Merci, Monsieur, Merci," outside of the village just at sunrise and went on to Ville with my blessés. I got back to the cantonment at 6:30, having had no rest for more than thirty hours and getting something like five hours sleep in the last fifty. Two of the men had been on duty at Post Two before, and worked for more than forty hours without sleep.A wonderful surprise came today, a box from home. Besides a lot of food which included twenty packages of chewing gum, some crackers and a two pound box of chocolates which disappeared like brancardiers when a shell whistles, there were a dozen magazines, a pair of shoes, a compass which I will probably use more in Paris than out here, and some good photographic paper which I can't get in France. The crackers lasted five minutes, the candy until supper time, and I have one package of gum left. But no matter how fast the stuff disappeared, it was certainly great fun getting it.
While I was snoozing comfortably in my car today, Gilmore started the motor and had driven out of the cantonment before I realized what he was doing. I think he wanted to prove to me that a couché has no easy ride in one of our ambulances, for he went over curbstones and rock-piles and into ditches and shell holes, like those which we run into on the Esnes road. The jar was terrific. Sometimes it shook my body all over; and again when we hit a sharp bump, like the curb, my feet, along with the whole rear end of the stretcher, were thrown twelve inches into the air and then fell with a crash onto the floor of the car.I wonder what the girls back home would think of the love-letter reading contest we had in our room tonight. There were four of us there, Eaton, Payne, Frazer and I, sitting around the fire and having a terrible debate over whether or not the Boston Post had the second largest morning circulation in the country. Eaton swore that it had, because he had worked on it for a month about five years ago. He rashly offered ten to one odds, and all three of us took him up at fifty francs apiece. We intended to prove it by my Almanac which the family notified me recently had been sent by parcel post. Then the conversation switched to girls and old Payne claimed he had the most devoted one in all California. Frazer began boasting about his, and before we knew it, they were pulling out their respective letters and each was trying to prove that his was far more in love with him than the other. Eaton and I were to act as judges. Payne's turned out to be a nice, sensible girl who had just had the measles, and said "Dear Mart," and "Oh I wish you were here," and "As ever yours, Dinah." . . . Frazer's was a bright little thing, very peppy and with lots of interesting things to say. But she didn't rant much about her love, and couldn't have used the word "Dear" more than three or four times in the body of the letter. Eaton wouldn't wait long enough to hand out a decision after this. He pulled open one of his own and it beat the other two all hollow. His beloved began with "Dearest, darling, honeybunchingest, loveydovey Robinson," and filled up the whole affair with such absolute nonsense on how she couldn't stand his absence another minute and how she wanted to fly to him, that we were shrieking with laughter before he had read five lines. He got the prize which happened to be a forty pound pot of lead melted from shrapnel balls. He can lug it back to America if he wishes.
Midnight-In the abri at Post
I was sent out here exactly nineteen hours ago to find Ray Eaton. He had gone to Post Three two hours before that, on a special call and hadn't been heard of since he left there with a load of couchés. Now Bois d'Avocourt is divided into innumerable little squares by dozens of military roads which lead from battery to battery and from one cantonment to another. Some of them are in a frightful condition and we figured that Ray had strayed into one of these and gotten stuck. It was just by chance that I found him. I came to a crossroads, turned to the right when I should have kept straight ahead and discovered his car at the foot of a steep hill. He explained what had happened in a few words. His clutch had given out completely when he started up the hill and after backing down to the bottom in neutral, he found his reverse wouldn't pull at all. And furthermore it would have been extremely difficult to have turned around in the dark upon this muddy, narrow road, especially with the load of blessés which he had. Several times during his long wait he had walked back to the main road, thinking one of the other cars might be passing; but none had come and of course he did not dare to leave his wounded alone for any length of time. I managed to get 464 back to back with his machine and together we changed the couchés. The lower two were easy enough but it took every ounce of our strength to lift the third blessé up to the top rack of the ambulance. After I had closed the back I watched Coan as he tried to climb the hill. Minus the heavy burden he succeeded in making the ascent and a minute later disappeared over the crest. After running down to Ville with my load I came back to Post Three and then on to Two. By this time it was six o'clock, so late that I didn't lie down at all. I put a couple of sticks on the fire and dozed on a stool in front of it until the brancardiers awakened and started their breakfast of bread and coffee. While we were eating I read a letter which came yesterday from Tony Cucuron, the young artilleryman whom I met in Brillon six weeks ago. He had promised then to write to me in English, because he thought it would be easier for me to read. I am quoting it below for I think it expresses very clearly the feelings of a boy, sick and tired of the war. Of course he has made a number of mistakes in grammar but considering the short time he studied English he did remarkably well. Here it is:
Dear sir and friend,
The Thirteenth of March,
The French Front
I am sure you will forget me for not writing for some week. Here as you know we are never free.
It is too difficult and besides we are so tired that we have no courage to write. Now, I am on the front and our guns are not far from the German's trenches. I should not tell you news about my life for you know what it is. Our life, it is sad and dull, and we are awaiting for the end of the war. I am some little happy for I hope and think the day is at hand. It is too the opinion of the whole part. I longe anxiously to return home, my heart aches to be far from my native town.
It is a very sweet country with a blue and sunny sky. After the war I will return home and then end my studies at the "Université de Droit" of Toulouse. I do not know what your feelings are about what I am saying, but I suppose you also are in a hurry to return home or for the less to see the war over.
Perhaps you wish to go to England or to settle in France. I like very, very our brotherland and after the war I wil spend three or six months in London. My dear friend, you see that I keep my promises—I have written. Please write often it is the sincere desire of yours very truly,
1. The gasoline locomotive and train of the narrow-gauge railway which carry shells and supplies up to the lines.
1. Three poilus in a front line trench near St. Thomas.
During the forenoon I waited around outside the abri and since no blessés seemed to be forthcoming, I strolled over to an observation tree several hundred yards distant. It was a big beech, more than sixty feet high, and appeared to have a small screened platform in the topmost branches. When I had climbed up about thirty steps I came to a place where a shell had torn away half of the trunk; but it seemed solid enough so I took a chance and went on to the top. From here I could see for miles over the front, beginning with Mort Homme on the right, then across Hill 304, Avocourt, and the surrounding forest and ending with the plateau above Vauquois. It was wonderfully interesting to me to watch the crude, zig-zag lines twisting in and out among the hills and valleys. I was only sorry that I hadn't a pair of field glasses along. They would have made it easier to see the trenches and some of the "150's" bursting in the valley beyond me would also have shown up more clearly.
McLane who had been spending the night at Post Three, got a bogus telephone message to come up here for a wounded officer and dropped in about noon. Not a blessé had arrived for hours so we talked for a while and finally started to dig for fusées and compression bands in the fresh shell holes behind the post. There was one only a few hours old in which we were particularly interested. We hadn't begun to dig before we discovered that a "gas" shell had fallen here. And it was tear gas at that. Water literally rolled from our eyes and this was soon followed by an awful choking sensation. We put on our gas masks immediately and from then on, until we found the base of the shell, buried several feet underground, we didn't remove the masks at all. We had to work very slowly, for the air is filtered through in such small quantities, that you can't breathe as you normally do when working.
Note. A month later: I carried the steel base, half full of clay, back to Dombasle, and during all the weeks we stayed here it never lost its gassy odor.
A couple of poilus and I had a grand time trying to say a few simple things to one another tonight. We sat before the fire in the damp abri where I am now writing and where the smoke hangs down from the ceiling in a cloud two feet thick. (You have to crawl on your hands and knees when you move about in the room.) While I was getting in deep over some complicated idea which I wanted to impart to them, and was gesticulating wildly to explain it, a brancardier tapped me lightly on the shoulder and said---"Encore des Blessés, Monsieur." I reluctantly put on my heavy canvas mackinaw and went out into the night. The brancardiers had already shoved the stretchers into the car and closed up the back when I arrived. I filled my radiator as usual from my reserve can, (it is still so cold that we are obliged to drain the water every time we stop the motor for more than a minute or so), gave her one twist and started off for Ville.
It was frightfully dark in the woods and every now and then I stopped my car, got out and looked about to see if I were still on the road. At the first crossroads I almost ran down a four horse artillery caisson; after that I kept my little tin whistle going pretty steadily, and fully half a dozen times a shrill return came back out of the night when I saw nothing at all. But at the fork near Post Four my luck failed me. Instead of bearing to the left to go to Dombasle, I missed the turn entirely and headed in the other direction. When I discovered my error it was too late to go back. I had never been over the road that I was now on, and it was darker than ever. I could only see a few feet beyond the radiator cap. But I remembered from my map that it led to Recicourt; and I knew that from there on to Dombasle I could go on the main Verdun-Sainte Menehould highway. I drove very slowly, at times not more than four miles an hour, until I was safely down the long hill leading into the village. There wasn't a truck, not even a ravitaillement cart on the highway and I speeded up to fifteen miles an hour.
I got to Dombasle without any more trouble, stopped for a second at the Doctor's office to tell the man on call to take my place at Post Two, and set off again for Ville. My eyes were very tired from the strain of constantly peering through the darkness and so when I came to the "Eteignez les lumieres blanches" sign on the hill outside of Brocourt (this town is about ten miles from the first lines, and about as close as lights can be used safely) I stopped a minute to throw on my headlights. But in doing so I took all the pressure off the footbrake and a few seconds later, when I turned on the switch and the lights illuminated the road ahead, I found the whole car going rapidly backwards down the hill. I jammed on the emergency brake and all three foot pedals and the car came to an abrupt halt a few feet farther down. I got out of my seat to see where I was, and discovered that the rear wheels of the machine were at the top of a steep bank over which we would have tumbled if we had gone six inches further. I made a silent prayer as we started up the hill, thanking God for saving us from disaster.
At Ville I put the patients into the hands of a couple of attendants who carried them into a large waiting room and after examining the tickets pinned to each of their coats, which gave the nature of the injury, they carried the poor fellows off to their respective wards.
Then I went out into the night again and turned old 464 towards Post Two. It was a great treat riding with my headlights on full blast and I hated to turn them off again at Brocourt. It became very difficult driving after this, and I was almost sorry that I had used my lights at all, for my eyes had grown accustomed to the glare and it was fully five minutes before I could see the road at all. I got along all right for a mile or so after this, but when I neared the long hill leading down into the village of Dombasle, my sight failed me completely. The car seemed to be hitting an endless series of great "thank you mam's" which shot the front wheels high up in the air and brought them down with a terrific crash onto the stony road. To save my life, I couldn't see what the trouble was or what the obstacles blocking the road were. I went pounding on down the hill, hanging on to the wheel for dear life as I bounced from one of these awful things to another. And finally, when a speck of moon peeped out from behind a cloud, I saw what was causing the trouble. There, spread out carefully on each side of the road, at intervals of perhaps twenty-five feet, were piles of crushed rock, ten or twelve inches high, which the repairers had dumped there. I had been trying to straddle these as I came down and would have soon run smack into the bank if my old friend, the moon, hadn't appeared.I am back again at Post Two now, safe and sound. But it is no longer midnight as I headed the first page of today's diary. My watch tells me that I have been writing for two hours. I had intended to go to bed after I had finished this but my good friend Angeron, the brancardier, says no. There are Encore des Blessés outside.
It is eight-thirty, an hour past the regular time for the relief man to show up, and still no one has come. We no longer change shifts at four in the afternoon, as we used to when we first went to Esnes. The Boches have been deliberately firing on our ambulances lately, and we now change runs in the dark, in order to avoid any unnecessary driving in daylight. Most of us would really rather take the run in daytime, for with all due respect to German shells, it is no fun going over the old road in the dark.
I brought my own blanket roll, hoping to have a quiet sleep, but they brought in "frozen feet" all night long and I had to carry them back to Ville. I made seven runs altogether and carried thirty blessés. If I remember rightly, only four of them were couchés. All the remainder had that awful disease "Pied gélé," where the foot slowly rots away, and leaves the bone bare.
I sat in a shell hole outside of the abri for a while this afternoon, watching the Boches pepper one of our "150" batteries about two hundred yards behind me. They shelled it for over an hour, and I had a grand time listening to each projectile as it whistled over my head, and broke a few seconds later in the woods beyond. I discovered, as it grew darker and I could see the flash of the exploding shell, that the noise from this took several seconds to come to me, after the explosion. And more than that, I noticed that the whistle continued for a short length of time after the shell had actually exploded. Therefore I naturally concluded from this that the nearer you were to an exploding projectile, the shorter would be the whistle; and that it would be impossible to hear at all the approach of a very close shell.
At supper tonight the good news came, which we, and especially the Frenchmen, have been waiting to hear for months---"Les EtatsUnisontdeclaré la guerre contrel'Allemagne." One of the brancardiers returning from his furlough in Paris, broke the news to us. We were all below in the abri, making a great uproar over "soupe" (a poilu can make more noise over a plate of hot soup than any other human being) when he came rushing down the muddy stairs and shouted to us what had happened. Soupe was forgotten for the moment, as we plied him with questions and pored over the copies of "Le Parisien" and "Le Matin" which he gave to us. So America was really in the war; President Wilson had made a great speech in Congress and denounced Germany; no longer would France regard her chances of final victory as slim. And each one of those simple poilus wrung my hand, and asked me if I didn't think we would have our troops here soon. I don't believe I was ever prouder of America than at that moment; and as they pointed to a faded old banner, hanging from their smoke-blackened ceiling, in which one could barely distinguish the colors, and I showed them the little American flag, pinned to my coat---we realized that the "Bleu, blanc et rouge," and the "Red, White, and Blue," were one and the same thing.
We talked together, or rather tried to talk, for a long time after the meal was over; finally I went outdoors, for I thought Cooky, or whoever was to relieve me, might be here already. And as I walked through the trees, I thought of many things, of Europe when the war would be over, of home, and if I would ever see it again. Suddenly I stumbled, and looking down to see what had tripped me, I saw a pile of dead soldiers, mangled by shell beyond all recognition. Some had been torn in two at the waist, and of others, very little but the head and shoulders remained. But they were Frenchmen, they had given all they had for France, and they must be treated accordingly. Tomorrow morning the priest would come to get the few personal effects of each man so that he could wrap them up and send them to their respective families. Sometimes these packages were very small, containing, perhaps, only a knife, a few cigarettes, and a wallet; but I have never seen one which didn't contain the pictures of his loved ones. After this a couple of brancardiers will dig a rude grave nearby, the priest will say a few last words, the grave will be filled with earth, and a little wooden cross placed at the head to mark the spot.I hear someone coming now. He has his exhaust pipe disconnected and is making a terrible fuss. It sounds like "Percy Pyne, of Princeton," (name-plate on the car) and if so, then it's Cooky, so "assez aujourd'hui."
I am on duty at Esnes again and am using a few leisure moments, trying to write by candlelight in Le Fevre the chemist's cabin. It was once the vault of a deep wine-cellar, but now, with the ruins of the château piled upon it, it forms a very respectable abri.
Last night I carried two couchés to Ville from here, and on the way back, I stopped at Jubécourt to see if I could buy a little wine which M. Bouvier wants for mass on Easter Sunday. The main street of the village is on a steep grade. I pulled up opposite the Epicerie and leaving the motor running, I wandered around the neighborhood to see if I could get the "Vin Rouge." But when I found all the inhabitants in bed, I returned to the spot where I left the car. To my dismay it was no longer there. And looking about, endeavoring to find what had become of it, I saw several hundred yards down the hill, the indistinct form of an ambulance; I ran down to it and found it up against the stone wall of a house. I thought surely the front axle would be twisted or a wheel taken off; but luckily it had not attained any great speed on the way down, and had hit the wall rather gently. Except for the triangle being slightly bent, the car was unhurt. I suppose the vibrations of the motor running idle finally loosened the emergency brake, and since it was on a steep decline the car had started forward.
I had quite a busy night. The trip to Esnes was very slow on account of the hundreds of ammunition wagons, and companies of reserve troops which blocked the road. Finally I arrived at the post and slept for two hours before I was called out with a "grand couché." I drove pretty slowly but got stuck somehow in a new shell-hole near the entrance to the château. I couldn't budge the machine by myself, so I had to get my assis out to help me. They weren't very enthusiastic about the job, since they. were suffering from their wounds, but they pushed as hard as they could, while I put on the power; and after three or four trials, the flivver climbed over the edge in fine shape. I carried the blessés as usual to Ville, and then returned to Montzèville. All the brancardiers were asleep here. I found a stretcher in one corner and a couple of blessé blankets on the straw. They were bloodstained and dirty, but in the dampness of the abri, much better than no covering at all. I curled up in them and managed to sleep until Craig came in at three o'clock and sent me back to Esnes. They
A quiet part of "No Man's Land" near St. Thomas. The ruins of Servon, a French village now in the hands of the Germans, are visible in the distance. In the foreground is the French barbed-wire, and just beyond, the Boche. Directly behind this can be seen the three lines of the enemy's trenches.
1. The "Poste de Secours" at La Harazee. This station is the closest to the Boches that we ever had. It is less than 300 yards over the hill to "No Man's Land."
The Boches are shelling "Strafen Corner" considerably now. Half a dozen new holes have sprung up in the road itself overnight and there are twenty or thirty more on either side. But the town itself is worse. Every night it is crowded with burros, troops, supplies, and ammunition caissons going in every imaginable direction. I got caught in the jam near the barbed-wire stores last night and had to wait ten minutes until the road was clear once more. I shouldn't want to be a traffic cop in this place. Six roadworkers were killed here by one shell last week, and one of the officers from the post was wounded by shrapnel yesterday.I am down in Le Fevre's abri, waiting for Faith to relieve me. I hope he gets through the village all right. Six or seven volleys of four shells apiece have fallen there during the last twenty minutes. I guess there won't be so many coming when I leave, for they have been working pretty steadily. I hear Faith's whistle outside now. It means back to Dombasle and a good night's rest.
Chauvenet left today for Salonique; he goes on the mail truck Bar-le-Duc, then to Paris and Marseilles by railroad, and finally on a slow little Mediterranean freighter to Greece. I was sorry to see him go. I will never forget our walk together last Friday when we visited the sausage beyond Jouy and ate our meagre lunch of bread and confiture in the woods behind it. Later we walked to the summit of the big hill overlooking Bethelainville. We went cross country all the way, and at one place happened to wander across a lonely rifle range where a company of young soldiers were busy practising. Luckily they saw us in time, and we came out untouched. Further on, at the top of the hill above the village, we got a marvelous view of Mort Homme and could make out very clearly the two lines of trenches stretching along its sides. Beyond lay the Bois de Corbeaux and at its foot the ruins of Chattancourt. To the left, miles behind, we could distinguish the towers of lofty Montfaucon. Fort Douaumont was over the hills on the right, and we could see the outskirts of Verdun which lay hidden in the valley of the Meuse. In the foreground, we could make out the French second and third line trenches, and here and there about Vigneville a "soixantequinze" shot out a jut of flame. The French had a number of sausages up, and we were able to pick out two Boche balloons, far behind their own lines. There were a few shells bursting in the valley and big puffs of smoke rose regularly from Mort Homme. The artillery never seems to stop work here.
Gilmore and I go souvenir-hunting regularly now. We explored the old munition depot yesterday which a Boche aviator blew up last summer. There were 40,000 loaded shells, both shrapnel and high explosive, stored there, and hundreds of empty casings, fuses, and douilles. They all went up together because of one measly bomb. We brought home a quart of shrapnel, and a number of compression bands.
Gilmore has found the tip of a "380," (it weighs about forty pounds) and also enough parts of a "75" to construct the whole shell. Everybody seems to have gone souvenir-crazy. Not only do we bring in all sorts of junk from the posts, but we spend every minute here making briquets, paper knives, aluminum rings, and various do-dads from Boche bullets. Whenever anyone brings in a hand grenade or a time fuse we always take the thing apart. It's taking a terrible chance, but we seem to forget the present and look forward to our happy homes in years to come, with the relics we brought from Dombasle reposing on the mantlepiece. My best souvenir so far is an old cavalry sword I got in Jubécourt. It is over four, feet long, has a wonderful edge, and dates back to 1822. I got it for a franc from an old man who seemed very anxious to get rid of it and all he asked was enough money to buy a bottle of cheap wine. I think some officer left it there by mistake and never returned for it. It is a fine souvenir and I hope I can get it back to America.
There is a little attack on tonight, probably in the sector west of Avocourt. I hope it won't fill up Post Two and get me out of bed around three o'clock tomorrow morning.Just before I started writing tonight, while I was rummaging around my suitcase for a clean pair of underclothes---(I haven't changed them since I wouldn't like to say how long)---I found, in the toe of one of my socks, an egg, which I bought for the party in Jubécourt three weeks ago and never used. Immediately I decided to fry it; I put some mahogany table legs on the fire (they make wonderful coals) and borrowed Gilmore's shellcasing dish to use as a frying pan. I had my Ford pliers for a handle. But just after I had broken the egg, I noticed that I had no lard. The kitchen was locked up securely and all the Ford axle grease was packed away in the White truck. Suddenly I remembered that I had a jar of vaseline, which I had brought with me from America. I dug it out of my dufflebag, rubbed it a little on the pan, dumped on the egg and put it on the fire to cook. Two minutes later I was munching the result, a crisp, savory egg; the slight oil-refinery flavor made me homesick for Pennsylvania. But this in no way prevented me from enjoying it immensely.
Powell came back on the mail truck today from Bar-le-Duc where he has been ever since we left Longeville, recuperating from a severe attack of pneumonia. Before we could tell him about the attacks we had been through and the all too frequent "tir de barrage," he burst out with "Say, fellows, you ought to have heard that big explosion from over the hills a few minutes ago. It must have been a shell going off."
Ott's love for souvenirs almost finished him this morning. It seems that some poilu gave him a little round iron cylinder with two little screws on the end, for a present. He brought it back to Dombasle and told us that he had been given this little thing to use as a gasoline lamp. When he took out one of the screws a queer, yellowish powder came out and he put it in a pan of essence and set it on fire just to see what would happen. Luckily he had enough sense to move away, for the cylinder, which was of course a rifle grenade, exploded and tore a hole in the ground as large as a bushel basket. The French mechanics and Decupert, the lieutenant's secretary, none of whom have been up near the trenches, felt sure the Boches were shelling the village again and wouldn't leave their abri for fully an hour.It rather pleases us to learn that the Frenchmen are just as scared as we are when they go out under fire for the first time. When we were putting a whole new front system on Haven's car near the entrance to the château the night of the second attack, August and Leon were there to help. Every time when Leon would start to use his hammer, August would seize his arm and say "Doucement, the Boches are just behind that house and they will get us with hand grenades if we make any noise." Then, before we were through a heavy bombardment started up behind the church, perhaps one hundred and fifty yards away. And each time that we heard the whistling of a shell someone would yell "Duck fellows, it's a big boy this time." August and Leon seemed to understand perfectly; at mention of the word "duck" they would always disappear beneath the ambulance, and remain there until all was quiet again. To tell the truth however, it isn't much fun waiting around with nothing to do while a car is being repaired. It's bad enough when you are busy working on the car. But when you have to wait for someone else to finish a job, you get a little nervous, especially when they are peppering the road. The star shells also worry one. You feel that the Boches have spotted you each time and you try to figure the number of seconds before a shell will arrive . . . . If we find it is impossible to repair a car sufficiently to tow it back to Dombasle, or even to Montzèville, it has to be left out there on the road to the mercy of the enemy. If they don't shell it, we fix it up the next evening; but if they do, it's Good-bye, Ambulance.
We are to leave soon for "repos," going to some village southwest of here. We may go tomorrow, or perhaps the next day; but at all events, our sojourn here will soon be over, and we will never return. The division has suffered tremendously and they certainly deserve a rest.
Five of our men got the "Croix de guerre" for work during the first two attacks. We had hoped that the section as a whole would be cited, instead of certain individuals being picked out from the rest. But it didn't happen that way. Houston, Craig, McLane, Walker and Gillespie were the lucky fellows. Their citations came yesterday afternoon from the general of the division and we celebrated in the evening with a big dinner.
The sausage at Jouy was brought down this morning by a Boche aviator. I was standing outside the cantonment with "Ott" Kann when the anti-aircraft gun started. Soon we caught sight of a tiny German plane, ten or twelve thousand feet above us. He was heading straight for the balloon, and descending so rapidly that for a while we thought he was falling. By this time the pilot of the sausage had signaled his men on the ground of his danger and the great drum was reeling in wire cable at the rate of twenty miles an hour. But this was not fast enough to escape from the hands of the clever aviator. For suddenly, while he was still a thousand yards above the balloon, he opened up his machine gun. We could hear its rat-tat-tats very clearly, although he was five miles away. Two or three of the flaming bullets happened to pierce the hydrogen bag, and in an instant it was turned into a mass of flames. Before the pilot was able to jump from his basket and save himself in his parachute, he was overcome by the gas and flames. Barney Faith went over afterwards and found his aneroid barometer.
Benney and I were talking before the fire in his room today (they don't cut up their wood as we do; instead, they lug a twenty foot beam into the room, place one end on the hearth and as it burns, shove it further in, Indian Fashion), and Gilmore was attempting to make hot chocolate from a cake which he couldn't shave down with a piece of éclat, when a knock came at the door. He yelled "Entrez," and, as the door slowly opened, we saw an old French couple standing on the threshold. This had been their home six months before, and now they had returned to look upon the wreckage. The woman wept when she saw the shell hole through the ceiling, the broken furniture which we were burning on our fire and the heap of old family treasures lying in one corner. We said nothing, we couldn't say anything; but as they sadly departed, the man muttered, "It is not very nice but after the war we will---" and we heard no more. Benney and I were silent and Gilmore forgot about his cocoa for a few minutes. It had never occurred to us before when we tore a house to pieces for firewood, and carted oft all the books and ornaments for souvenirs, that people like these had actually lived in them or would ever return. War becomes a little sadder, a little more real now, after we have seen what the civilian population has suffered. Before, Dombasle was only a mass of ruined buildings. Now we see in it the destruction of hundreds of happy homes, and the scattering abroad of all the inhabitants.
This week's American mail arrived today. I received four letters from the family, and one from Helen. She tells me the long promised socks have finally been finished. But instead of sending them in the usual manner, she is going to mail them in two separate packages, a week or ten days apart, so that (this is the brilliant idea) if one sock is lost at sea, she will have only one more to knit.One of the new ten inch railway guns passed through town today and fired about fifty practice shots up to the Boche trenches on Hill 304, about seven miles distant. Bradley and I heard before that the affair was going to come off and got down to the tracks just as they began to fire. There were two cars in the outfit, one for the shells, and the other for the gun itself. Great jacks were propped under the south side of the car, presumably to keep it from being knocked over by the recoil. The shells, which happened to be "220's," were shoved from the other car up to the breech in a long trough. The brass powder casings were being carried by hand and pushed into the gun immediately after the projectile itself had been put in place. The men were working well and sending four or five shots a minute, which isn't bad for a gun of that caliber. One of the officers standing near told us if we got directly behind the gun and twenty or thirty feet away from it we would see the shell emerging from the mouth. We couldn't find it at all at first but after a few trials, we managed to locate it almost before we heard the explosion. It looked like a small black ball and appeared to be shooting directly upwards; and if you strained your eyes you could see it for eight and sometimes even ten seconds.
The final orders have come. We will leave Dombasle tomorrow morning and go to some town near Epernay where the Division will be "en repos." Those of us who were not on duty today had to wash our cars again and then load each machine with Ford parts, essence (gasoline) cans, and things like stoves and supplies which we carry from place to place.
Old 464 has sunk way down on her springs with three twenty gallon cans of gasoline and a box of the Frenchmen's tools.
I was on duty for the last time at Esnes yesterday. It was pretty quiet in the morning, when I was poking about in the shell holes behind the château, hunting for time fuses. Lloyd and Harrison came out on Kann's car about eleven, on a camera hike. We had lunch with LeFevre in his abri. Afterwards I asked M. Bouvier if he would take us up into the second line trenches, or at least to the top of Hill 304, but he was a trifle reluctant about it and finally went off somewhere by himself. Another chap, a brancardier named Foker whom I knew fairly well, had heard us talking and as soon as Bouvier left, offered to go up with us. We jumped at the chance and set out immediately. Fully exposed to the enemy, who were less than one mile away, we started up the hill, which commences a few rods behind the post. As we drew near the top we obtained a magnificent view of the whole surrounding country. Before us lay the summit of Hill 304, whose clayish brown soil had been plowed up again and again during the three years the mighty struggles have been waged over it. To the east rose Mort Homme. Along its gentle sloping crest we could distinguish the first line German trenches, and thirty or forty yards below them, the French.
Now and then a German shell exploded in the valley below, just to let us know the war was still going on. We had only gone a short distance beyond this point when it became necessary to enter a boyau or communication trench. No Man's Land lay four hundred yards In front of us over the next slope and although we couldn't be seen here from a German outpost, we had to be very careful; for nothing lay between us and the Boche machine guns in the valley towards Mort Homme. Foker thought it better not to go In the open any longer since there were four of us together and it was a pretty clear day. Walking through the windings of the trench, we descended into the ravine which the French called the "Valley of Death." It got very muddy
1. In a mine under "No Man's Land," fifteen feet from the Boche trenches. Several tons of powder are piled up in the background. Two of the poilus, listening with microphones to the conversation of the Germans across the way, will set off the mine at the proper moment.
1. A mine crater after the explosion. It is more than two hundred feet long. Forty French soldiers were killed here.
It will be hard, leaving our cantonment here tomorrow. For although we will be delighted to have a short rest in some quiet little village, nevertheless our work here has been very interesting and we do not look forward with much pleasure to the repos life of Longeville and Jubécourt.