During the fall of 1915 there were rumors of a great offensive to be made somewhere along the line. Although we were within sound of the guns we knew little of what was going on and often read in New York papers of events that was news to us, days old. Early in September we received orders to evacuate all of our blessés who were able to go. Then there was a great scurry, filling out the military papers, getting out the equipment and bidding farewell to the poilus who had been so long with us and to whom we had grown so attached. We waited expectantly every day for news of a great battle until on September 26th the official communiqués announced that, preceded by a heavy bombardment, the French had advanced in the Champagne region and had taken many prisoners and trenches. We were prepared to receive a load of wounded at any time.
September 29th we were notified by telegram that a trainload of wounded would arrive at five o'clock the next morning, and we were ready when the ambulances began to arrive from the station of St. Mard in rapid succession, each one with three wounded. One man died at the station before he could be taken off the train. The long corridor was filled with wounded, wrapped in blankets lying on stretchers, and as rapidly as possible the blessés were carried up to the wards, the worst cases first. In less than three hours from the arrival of the first patient the last of the 128 was put to bed. Extra cars and drivers had been sent out from Neuilly else we never could have handled the task so rapidly.
A large man lay in the corridor, his head so swathed in bandages that all of his face that could be seen was a nose, a pair of large moustaches and a pair of keen gray eyes. I picked up the head end of the stretcher and our Belgian radiographer, Deschamps, the foot end and we carried him up two flights of stairs. He grew heavier and heavier until, as we reached the bed our aching arms had some difficulty in raising the stretcher sufficiently to make the transfer to the bed. As we were struggling with our task we were startled to hear a voice roar at us out of the maze of bandages and blankets, "Brace up there! Brace up." Our patient turned out to be a colonel who spoke perfect English, a magnificent specimen, 6 feet 4 and 245 pounds weight. As soon as we learned his rank we hurried and prepared a private room for him.
Every patient was then examined and dressed. Some were in desperate condition and had to be operated on at once. There were some terrible wounds, especially the jaw cases. It does not seem possible that a man could be alive with such wounds. One boy was shot through the shoulder at close range, then the ball tore open his neck and carried away a good part of the lower jaw, floor of the mouth and tongue. He was a nervous little chap and suffered greatly. He was fed by a tube introduced into his nose, but did not look as if he could survive.
Another, boy was shot through the face sideways, the piece of shell tearing away a large part of the lower jaw and half his tongue. A fringe of lower lip hung down almost to his chest. He cannot speak, so writes notes asking for something to drink and whether he will ever be able to speak again. He is wonderfully brave and patient and after having been fed a few times he took his tube, funnel and pitcher of milk and insisted on feeding himself.
One fine young fellow has his leg shattered and gas gangrene has set in. It is too late to save him. His mother arrives from Paris. He sees her entering the door, cries out "Mama" and holds out his hands to her. She rushes to him and folds him in her arms-her only son. He expires before long but with a peaceful smile on his face.
We are busy as can be, for as fast as a round of dressings is completed we must start again, as they are so quickly soiled. When we get a chance to think it over, anger takes possession of us---rage that boys and young men, the flower of the land, should thus be struck down and mutilated in defending their country and dear ones from the merciless greed of the Kaiser and his cohorts.
The stench in the ward is beyond description. One of our old patients is helping with the dressings, and although he has been wounded four times and has gone back again to the trenches, the smell is too much for him and he vomits repeatedly but always returns to help.
The saddest cases of all are the blind. Dr. Scarlett comes out from Paris to do what he can for them, but too often their eyesight has gone beyond hope. It is heart-rending to witness their hope when they recover from the anaesthetic and believe, now that they have been attended to by the American doctor, they will be all right. They get some one to light a cigarette for them, laugh and crack jokes. Later on when the consciousness that they are doomed to everlasting darkness comes to them, they are magnificent. Not a whimper, a word of sorrow or self-pity passes their lips. They meet their fate with the noble fortitude of the race.
The nurses are working splendidly and are at their best now that there is plenty of work. The first night was a terrible one, but we managed to get through it with a liberal use of morphine. Almost every patient is bad enough to require a special nurse in civil practice, and for our 52 patients in a ward we have three nurses and one auxiliary. There are no trained orderlies, but the convalescent soldiers rapidly become apt helpers. If war brutalizes soldiers, it certainly does not show itself in the attitude of the French soldiers to each other, as no one could be more solicitous and tender than are these poilus of their fellow comrades.
And so it goes on. A few die, those who were hopeless on their arrival. The village priest is called and gives them the last rites. Gradually conditions improve, the blessés suffer less and the stench in the wards diminishes. But just as we feel relieved that no more of our blessés are going to die, the danger of secondary hemorrhages arises. These come on suddenly and without warning, as the infection reaches and ulcerates an artery. One night I was called to the ward hurriedly and by the light of a lantern was appalled to see blood pouring out of a man's mouth. The poor fellow was choking and blood poured all over the bed. There was no success in trying to see where the blood came from. A shrapnel ball had struck him in the face alongside of the nose and traversed the neck and the blood poured out of his mouth too fast to sponge it out and see by lantern light the source of the bleeding. A finger in his mouth felt a hole in his hard palate through which the blood poured and the finger was used to plug the hole until the blood could be cleaned out and the wound packed. By this time the blessé was white as a sheet, sitting up in bed covered with blood. Two tears rolled down his cheeks as he said "Merci," kissed my hand and settled back on his pillows.
This afternoon as I was shaving an Algerian who had his upper jaw smashed by a bullet, I heard a splashing sound and an old chap came staggering into the salle de pansements with blood pouring out from a great hole in his face. He started to bleed as he sat up in bed and, knowing that I was in the dressing room, he came in there after me, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Vigorous packing stopped the hemorrhage for the time being but later on it was necessary to tie the external carotid artery in his neck. We call this poilu "grandpère," for, although he is only thirty-nine, yet he has only a fringe of gray locks around the edge of his bald pate A Chinese bullet fifteen years ago carried away a part of his nose and a piece of German shell took away most of what was left and a large piece of his upper jaw. When he was wounded, grandpère crawled into a shell hole and packed his wound full of mud to stop the bleeding. He is a Breton fisherman and makes long fishing voyages to the Canadian banks. He knows two English words, "Cod fish" and "Whisky."
After a varying length of time in the hospital the blessés are evacuated. The slightly wounded ones go to their dépôt, where they receive permission to visit their families for a few weeks before their return to the trenches. Those requiring further treatment are sent to convalescent hospitals in Paris or its suburbs. The hopelessly crippled men go before a Board and are reforméd, that is, the war is over for them. They go home and do what they can to make a living. Partially disabled soldiers are placed in the auxiliary service, where they are assigned to work in accordance with their capacity as drivers, railroad helpers, kitchen assistants, hospital orderlies or workers in ammunition factories.
Some of our wounded speak English quite well. A bright young fellow from Soissons who had never been a hundred miles away from home spoke English and was glad of the opportunity to improve his knowledge of the language. He had learned English in the college at Soissons and the result was a striking improvement over the success of an American boy learning French at an American college. At our request he wrote out a story of his experiences in the war, the first part in French and the "most interesting part of the story" in English.
I was at my home north of Soissons when the war broke out. I was nineteen years of age and I did not expect at that time that I would be called to the colors.
The first of September, 1914, French troops retreating from Charleroi had just passed through our village when cries of terror resounded in the streets, "Les Allemands, les Uhlans." We heard in the distance the clatter of horses' hoofs and some minutes later the Belgian lancers, then the artillery passed at full speed. It was a false alarm. The "Boches" were our friends, the Belgians.
After this my mother, who did not want me to remain in the village during the invasion, made preparations for my departure. In the evening as we learned from the dragoons, the last troops in retreat, that the Germans were only 12 kilometers away, I bade my parents farewell and started on foot for Paris. All night long I walked. It was a terrible night for me. Behind me the cannon thundered over our poor villages and the glare of flaming homes, burned by the enemy, added a note of horror to this first vision of war. I trudged all night long with death in my soul, 43 kilometres, thinking of my family in the hands of the enemy. I began to understand what war was. A year later I had to understand it more.
I was ordered to report to a regiment at Paris, and then was sent to a camp for instruction. Sickness delayed my departure for the front so that it was not until June that I joined my comrades in the trenches of the Aisne. Our regiment held a secteur violently bombarded day and night, only a few kilometres from my home town.
By the middle of August we were ordered to the Champagne region to prepare for the approaching offensive. There we dug by night new trenches and "boyaux." Our lines, 800 meters distant from the enemy, were moved up to 400 and even 300 metres. During the day we dug our old "boyaux" deeper.
On September 20th we learned the decision of the Commander in Chief. We were going to take the offensive in a few days. When our turn came for guard duty in the first line we sewed the traditional square of white cloth on our knapsacks, which would denote our presence to our artillery and prevent our being shot by our own men.
The twenty-second of September at five o'clock in the morning we took our place in the first line. Two sections of my company were on guard and the two others were at rest in the dug-outs. As for myself I fell asleep at once in a dug-out as I was very tired. Suddenly about seven o'clock an infernal noise awoke me all of a sudden. The "seventy-fives" near us fired all at once and in about an hour all of our "seventy-fives" were engaged. The Boches replied. The "seventy-sevens," "one hundred and fives" and "one hundred and fifties" were rained on our batteries but without effect.
A sergeant entered our dug-out all excited, "Here is the order," he said. "The offensive has started, the bombardment will last three or four days. The seventy-fives will fire today, tomorrow the heavy cannon and on the last day all the artillery will fire at the same time. At the attack you will be the first to go." His words are received without a murmur. We then crack jokes as the Boche shells continue to fall above us causing some caving in of the ceilings of our dug-outs. At last towards midday the Boche quit firing. As for us, our bombardment became more and more intense.
The third day of the bombardment must have been a terrible one for the enemy. Shells of all sizes threw up into the air for hundreds of feet pieces of rocks, trees and material of various kinds. The explosions of our "75" and "155" and of our aerial torpedoes on the enemy's first lines confused our brains and upset our stomachs.
The twenty-fourth of September we learned that on the next day at nine fifteen exactly our company would be the first to attack and take the first line of the enemy's trenches. The news hardly surprised us as we expected it. Some of us were chosen as "trench cleaners" or "zigouilleurs" and received a strong knife and a Browning revolver. The "trench cleaner's" duty is during an attack to kill all the enemy hidden in the dug-outs who would be able to shoot us in the back.
During the night we prepared our sacks, containing three days of reserve rations and saw to our square of white cloth which would guide our artillery.
Here I speak English for the most interesting part of the story.
Twenty-fifth of September. It is eight o'clock in the morning. We are ready. With our sack we have also two musettes; one for grenades and cartridges, and the other for chocolate and bread. To our belts are hung a set of small tools and a "pochette", holding the masque and pad designed to ward off the asphyxiating gases. Last, we each have two "bidons" of a capacity of one litre apiece.
For myself I also carry a board two meters long which I am to lay across the foremost enemy trench to allow the passage of my comrades. In the right hand, my rifle.
It rains, and this depresses us a little; but we are accustomed by former duties to all the caprices of the weather and rain is not going to hinder our determination.
Our lieutenant calls the section together. He tells us that we shall be the first to move; we are to be the regiment's first wave of assault. We are told to leap over the parapet at fifteen minutes past nine and to then march straight before us in the direction of Sommepy-Vouziers, in short, towards the north. "I know," says our lieutenant, "that there is not one of you who will show any sign of weakness." Our glance suffices to convince him that, every one, we are proud to attack first, and that, among us, none shall recoil. "Tomorrow morning," continues our lieutenant, "we shall have forced the lines of the enemy. We shall be at Sommepy. It will be Sunday and we shall attend high mass which will be celebrated by soldier priests in the ruins of the church." Saluting, we return to our arms.
The rain falls, drizzling yet heavy. The bombardment becomes more and more violent, the bursting of our terrible 75s falling from far before us, often into our own trenches, bringing danger to us from our own comrades. We feel a great enthusiasm course through us more and more; among us there is not one who glances back with regret upon other days in this hour of death. Each gazes, on the contrary, frankly towards that future which looms up as red as the blood which is soon going to dye that "plateau." Everyone thinks "our life would have been worth something for would we not have aided in saving our France from danger?" We smoke a pipe; we speak of the terrible moments that we are about to live and which we foresee as less terrible than the reality.
At last! nine o'clock has come. The section files into the "parallèle," a trench with steps dug during the night before our first line to aid the movements of the appointed hour.
"Du courage, mes enfants," cries our lieutenant; "regret nothing; think of that future which is dawning so beautifully for France, that future which will be your glory and your recompense. Not one of you will retreat. The moment has come for us to drive the invader from our land and to restore those innumerable ruined places which you will see on your way. Remember that you are soldiers of the glorious Thirty-fifth Infantry Regiment of Belfort."
The lieutenant lights his pipe; we put bayonet to rifle, musette to back and adjust our helmets.
Five minutes past nine * * * the artillery is increasing its range. The attack is going to begin. How very long seem these moments.
Ten minutes past nine * * * Ready, mes enfants, to the escaliers! We embrace; fathers gaze for a last moment upon photographs of wives and children, confide to them their last thoughts as they press kisses upon them. * * * Unforgetable minutes, of which still the memory horrifies yet fascinates me. Once more I see a fine, heavy-bearded comrade of the "Bresse" embracing his sergeant as bearded as himself while he mutters, "An revoir, et non adieu." This scene is chiselled into my memory.
Fifteen minutes past nine! Our lieutenant climbs the parapet of the trench and, raising his sword: "En avant mes enfants, and good luck!"
From this moment, cruel minutes passed through my mind for not having full consciousness of the reality, I lived as in a dream, asking myself always if in this hour men were surely about to spill each other's blood. Here is best what I remember:
My comrades and I marched rapidly toward the Boche trenches, head lowered and throwing the body forward at each whistling of an obus. Now and again I raised my head, glanced around me quickly and then shrugged down into my shoulders.
Strangely, I had no fear, yet I knew that soon the figure of Death would be stalking among us. Always it rained, and this rain formed a mist through which the aeroplanes were indistinguishable. "That's going to make it bad for the artillery," thought I. On each side I saw our lines advancing, staggering, winding, tottering and again advancing. So, we stumbled forward for a hundred meters amongst a clattering riot of bursting obus of every caliber. Yet none near me had been wounded. Helas! How trivial was this vision to that which we were to later see.
Suddenly (I found myself among the first), I heard cries, "Forward, faster, run." Faster we ran, so that it was necessary to wait for one or two. The line must be straight to penetrate the first Boche trench.
Then indeed broke a hailstorm of iron. I saw my comrades coming up to me with heads lowered, I heard the spiteful tac-tac of the German machine guns (mitrailleuses) and, at the end of a few seconds, I remarked that we had before us at least ten mitrailleuses. I ran back quickly, my lieutenant was down, mortally stricken, among many other soldiers. Close to me another threw out his arms, wheeled around and fell. From all about me came cries. I was conscious of the reality. Before my eyes was unfolding one of the most terrible scenes of modern warfare.
All this last occurred in the space of two or three minutes. Thicker now the bullets rained around us. Comrades sank down beside me uttering always guttural cries.
The obus were beginning to burst above our heads. Always I advanced. A great hatred of the Boches surged through me and a fire of blind rage flashed into my being. Our first wave was fast becoming less dense. Many already would never answer again to the call, but I saw others coming up behind us and that gave me renewed confidence.
I was losing breath; the board which I was holding in the left hand prevented me from firing. I slackened my pace. Two comrades rejoined me; one had already fought a long campaign, the other, like myself, was in the first attack, and showed signs of fear, I thought. The first ran doggedly forward, superb, thinking of nothing. I had never seen the Boches in their first line of trenches; he had seen many. Coming up to me, he cried, "Have no fear, 'Mon petit gars,' and follow me; 'ça ira'!"
The second arrived and closed up with him; I did the same. There was no more sound of the mitrailleuses, so that I cried: "All goes well!" At that same moment, I felt a violent blow in the head, I wheeled and staggered, * * * I was blind ; a feeling of whirling fire spun through my brain * * * I was blind!
I thought myself lost and let my rifle fall. Then whispering a last adieu to my poor mother, already widowed by the war; a faint prayer to the Virgin, I fell.
How long did I lie there knowing nothing? I cannot tell. But the struggle must have raged tremendously around me. When at last I came to myself, I found myself mixed in a pile of other wounded lying at the bottom of a deep hole that had been made by a bursting obus.
I could see nothing, absolutely nothing, and I was bleeding profusely from the nose, mouth and forehead. There was hardly any pain. Continually, the obus burst around us. The German mitrailleuses never ceased their infernal chattering; ours remained mute; our mitrailleurs being nearly all killed or wounded.
About the hole to which I had been carried, the Corporal Brossire had rallied a few men to preserve us, if possible, from massacre at the hands of the enemy, in case they reached us. I remember that he placed upon me the dead body of a corporal as a protection from projectiles.
Many times the Boches tried to reach us, but they were always repulsed, grace to the courage of this Corporal Brossire who could always, in a tragic moment, find those words which put added courage into the hearts of his men. Wounded in the skull, he continued to command and to scorch with a glance those who spoke of retreat or surrender. "We will die here if we must," said he, "but never will I give up these wounded comrades."
The situation becomes more and more critical. After two hours of incessant and unequal fighting, the corporal and his men resign themselves to that beckoning figure of Death which has for so long been reaching toward us. They fire no more; their arms, grimed with mud, refuse to answer to the trigger. The Boches, in their turn advance in quick rushes; now, they have only thirty meters between themselves and us. "Don't stir," cries Brossire; "act as if dead, every one of you; they will pass attention, here they are,"
We wait, two, three, four seconds during which I can hear the pounding of my heart. What is happening? Suddenly one of our mitrailleuses makes itself heard behind us. It is at its maximum of speed and the bullets whistle above us, rushing to sow death among that advancing group.
A cry from the corporal, "Saved, mes enfants, it is Meyer; he is working for us." The brave Meyer, a sergeant mitrailleur, alone by his piece has in a few moments turned our terrible enemy.
Toward three o'clock I was found by a soldier who was carrying to the rear his wounded adjutant and who had found me in his path. Seeing me thus blind, he had offered to lead me to the rear before starting again for the front.
Once in our trenches, I was confided, with other wounded, to a party of Boche prisoners, who, under careful guard, carried us upon their back through the "boyaux" up to the first "Poste de Secours." Among these was a Bavarian who spoke French as well as I and who had not the grace to admit a defeat which now showed itself so certain, and who even dared to criticise our mode of attack, stating that we should be forever hated and despised by neutral nations when they would learn how terrible had been our bombardment.
I reached the ambulance very tired, twice I had fainted on the way and felt capable of nothing more. The morrow, I was in Châlons, where I was operated in the right eye, and later sent to the Ambulance at Juilly, where, at the hands of gentle American women, I received the tenderest care. On the 14th of October I was operated on and after a long treatment with many irrigations, I feel well now.
Here I end my story, in the course of which I have wished to forget no detail nor to imagine anything.
It will be a day of dullness for me when I will leave you and those ancient walls of Juilly, inside of which during my unhappiness, I found such beautiful days.
The change from being a staff surgeon to Médecin-Chef had its advantages and drawbacks. Along with the authority suddenly imposed on one and the opportunity of running things as one thought best, this position brought with it responsibilities and the unenviable position of having everything disagreeable that arose put "up to the Médecin-Chef." The greatest drawback to the position is that one is deprived of the intimate contact with the poilus.
In the system of hospital management one man, the Médecin-Chef, is given full authority and made responsible for each and every department. This system has its advantage as the hospital is conducted by a medical man and the friction that often arises in civil hospitals between the medical staff and the office, is eliminated. At the same time a heavy task is imposed on the Médecin-Chef. He is responsible to the government for the welfare of the wounded entrusted to his care, must superintend the treatment and see that the military papers are properly filled out. Then there are the countless details of the surgical department, viz., the keeping up of supplies and equipment, the discipline of the hospital, the engaging of nurses, etc.
The housekeeping department comprises the supervision of the kitchen, store room, laundry, and the work of the house cleaners. Some of our food we buy in Paris and bring out in a camion. The meat and bread are delivered from the town of Dammartin, milk is purchased from a country dairyman, and butter, eggs, fresh vegetables and cheese we buy in the Saturday market at Meaux. Complications are constantly arising. The camion breaks down just as it is needed to haul supplies. The milk delivered is found to be sour and cannot be used. The turkeys were delivered at the hospital unplucked and the kitchen staff are sore because they have to pluck them. The poilus complain that the meat was not properly cooked and upon interviewing the cook he blames the coal, which at $20 a ton contains a goodly amount of dirt and rock. Some of the nurses refuse to eat rabbit and kid after they discover what they are. Two of the cook's assistants have a fight and the row has to be straightened out. Then the pump breaks down unexpectedly and for two days all the water has to be carried upstairs in buckets. A fire breaks out in the laundry, burns up a lot of the wash and a laundress has a hysterical fit.
Splints and fracture boards are needed and the village carpenter and blacksmith must have the appliances explained to them. A stove in the theatre smokes and it is found that the smoke stack has two elbows and doesn't draw properly. No stove piping is to be had ready made and it will take two weeks to have it made in Paris. Milk is being spilled on the stairways as it is being carried to the wards. By close watch two culprits are caught and sufficiently admonished. Telephone communication is suddenly cut off without any explanation and remains cut off in spite of a telegram of protest. We have gotten so used to having our electric lights go out that we are prepared for it and have a plentiful supply of candles and lanterns.
After such a day with perhaps half a dozen operations, the Médecin-Chef's labors are not over. There are the bills and vouchers to look over, as the Médecin-Chef has to approve of the expenditure of every franc.
The wounded nearly always arrive at night, usually several hours later than the time announced. At first we used to wait up for them but found it was a better plan to rest and be called by the night orderlies when the first ambulance arrived. The Médecin-Chef then had to superintend the job, see that the blessés are properly handled, undressed and bathed, look over their injuries, assign them to the different wards and decide whether immediate operations are necessary.
A trip to Paris was often a mad rush to get things attended to. A day in Paris might pass like this: An effort to arrange that some of our heavier supplies would go out by train encountered at once "red-tape" and uncertainty of train service. Two hours were spent trying to get a dozen beds. After going a long way to a wholesale place and choosing the bed we wanted, found that it was only a sample. They said they couldn't make any more because their workers were mobilized and it is difficult to get iron. The Germans hold most of the iron mines. Then went miles across Paris suburbs to order some iron tables and by chance landed on a bed manufactory. It was a disreputable looking place but the proprietor agreed to make beds at thirty francs each. Then to the instrument maker to get the surgical knives which had been left there to be sharpened and found that they had been sent by mistake to Ris-Orangis. No screws for Lane plates to be had but they could be made by hand for a franc apiece and it would take a week to make six. The proprietor explained that they had been in the habit of getting such things from Germany. This is a sample of how difficult it is to get things. I have to hurry to a meeting of the Juilly Committee at the American Ambulance at Neuilly. Mr. Robert Bacon is there and a talk with him inspires me to greater effort.
Arriving back at Juilly after dark my troubles were not over for the day. Some convalescents were to be evacuated and three of them were intoxicated. We had remarkably little trouble with the soldiers drinking. Considering the hardships and sufferings they had been through, an occasional lapse would not have been strange, and the absence of drinking showed the fine discipline in the French army.
This offense of being intoxicated had then to be thoroughly investigated. The next morning the three delinquents, looking very sheepish, are called into my office and admonished. They all confess their fault, were sorry and were pardoned. It appeared that they got the liquor in a little village a mile away. We went to the village and accused the woman in charge of the wineshop of selling liquor to the soldiers. She denied it but when confronted with one of the soldiers then tried to put it off on her fifteen-year-old daughter. The mayor was then hunted up but as he was absent, we called on the acting mayor. He was a little peasant disturbed at his noonday meal of a savory ragout and salad. In reply to our complaint, he agreed that it was a grave offense and would act as we wanted. What did we want him to do? Close the "bistro" for eight days. All right, he would do so if we would write out a complaint and an order of closure. So back to the hospital we went and wrote out the two papers, and then back to the mayor's. "All right, I will attend to it tomorrow as today is Sunday and perhaps there will be customers there." "So much the better," he was told, "and it must be attended to at once." But then he wasn't dressed. No matter, we would be glad to wait and drive him over in our auto. So at last it was attended to. The mayor dressed, went along with us, gave the orders forbidding any sales for eight days. The incident is closed but had a salutary effect on all concerned.
France has ever been famous for her good cooking and the stress of war has not broken down this admirable characteristic. To a Frenchman meal time is an institution to be enjoyed with a zest and a touch of the artistic. The soldiers are well fed and, except in time of heavy action, have plenty of well-cooked food. Some of the 4000 hospitals used for wounded soldiers at times have difficulty in providing certain food for the wounded. Chickens and butter are sometimes difficult to obtain or are beyond the reach of the hospital's finances, but bread, eggs, milk, vegetables and meat, in moderate quantities, are usually available.
The prices of food, transposed from kilograms and francs into pounds and cents, that we paid in 1915-16 were:
Beef and mutton, 28 cents a pound.
Chickens, about $1.35 each.
Rabbits, 75 cents apiece.
Bread, from 3 to 4 cents a pound.
Butter, 35 cents a pound.
Eggs, 35 cents a dozen.
Potatoes, 2 cents a pound.
Beet sugar, 10 cents a pound. Later the price went to 24 cents and sugar was difficult to obtain in large quantities.
Coffee, 38 cents a pound.
Milk, 5 cents a quart.
Rice, 8 cents a pound.
The total daily cost of feeding each individual in the hospital, patients and staff, was 56 cents a day.
On Thanksgiving Day we were as American as could be and the staff celebrated the day by having roast turkey stuffed with chestnuts and a huge pumpkin pie. As Thanksgiving day did not mean anything to the poilus we concentrated our efforts in preparing Christmas and New Year's entertainments for them.
The French winter is nothing to be proud of. The first week in December it was so cold that some of the soldiers in the trenches had their feet frozen. By the middle of December it was too warm for an overcoat. By Christmas time it was freezing again. There was little snow, but it rained nearly every day. It grew dark at 3:30 in the afternoon and our lighting bills increased considerably. Things are rather quiet in the bad weather, and apparently the two lines of trenches settled down for the winter, each one with the feeling that the other is unable to break through their line.
The Christmas celebration was a great success. The wards were decorated with strings of colored paper running from the walls to the electric lights, the walls were decorated with wreaths of ivy and bunches of holly and mistletoe were hung in the windows. The wooden frameworks for suspending broken limbs were festooned with ivy. Altogether the effect was very pretty.
On Christmas eve the boys from the college sang for the blessés. Some of them had very sweet voices. They had a small but heavy organ which they carried from one ward to another and one of the professors played the accompaniments, making a goodly number of discords. Nevertheless, the soldiers enjoyed the music hugely.
On Christmas morning there was much handshaking and exchange of "Bonne Noël." In every ward there was a tree decorated with imitation snow, tinsel and candles. Every soldier received a bag containing simple gifts as writing pads, socks, pipes, candy, etc. A huge Ambulance driver made a realistic Santa Claus and amused the blessés as he distributed the presents.
Our wounded colonel made a gracious speech, which one of the staff took down in shorthand. Of course it suffers from being translated, but is worth recording.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the American Ambulance of Juilly:
"In the name of my wounded comrades and in my own name, I beg to thank you for your delicate thought in giving to us the illusion of our absent family by this Christmas celebration. I desire also to express to you our appreciation of the devotion and science of the doctors and the professional skill and devoted care of the nurses who have carried to the bedside of the wounded the charm of their grace and their smiles. Thus have you lightened our sufferings and saved most of us, myself among them. I certainly represent all the wounded when I say that we shall never forget the devoted care which you have given us. I ask you to applaud 'un triple ban' in honor of the Ambulance." (Here the assembly followed the Colonel's suggestion and clapped hands in the French fashion.)
"Christmas recalls to us very sweet memories. As children we placed our slippers in the chimney place and prayed to the Christ child or to St. Nicholas to bring us the toys that we wanted. The next morning, with our happy parents, we had the joy of finding the gifts that we longed for. Later on in life, we have enjoyed the customary midnight gaiety, and Christmas has always been the fête day for the children and family.
"We are very appreciative that the staff of the ambulance has created such a family atmosphere for our Christmas day.
"As these days go by we must remember that our task is not yet achieved and that we should by our patience and will hasten our recovery so that those of us who can, and that will be most of us, shall engage again in the unfinished combat. On this question, you must believe, no matter what you hear, that victory is certain and that in the months to come we shall drive back the Boches. We shall impose the terms of peace, a victorious peace and prevent them from again committing their crimes. You can be certain of the future that nous les aurons."
The dinner was extra good with turkey and cranberry sauce in plenty. There was music by local talent and by some professionals who came out from Paris. A cinema rented for the occasion gave some excellent moving pictures and there were games for the convalescents, as bean bags and ninepins. Fortunately there were no very sick patients, so all could enjoy themselves.
On Christmas morning I was called into my old ward and presented with a handsome smoking set. At the same time one of the blessés read in a loud voice the following speech.
"Je viens au nom de mes camarades remercier Madame et Monsieur le Docteur Judd et ses distingués collaborateurs des soins dévoués dont vous nous entourez. Mr. le docteur vous avez quitté vos blessés avec regret. Vous, qui les soignez avec la sollicitude d'une mère; vous, qui veniez pendant certains nuits apporter votre science à plusieurs d'entre nous, vous étiez un père pour tous. Elevé au grade de médecin-chef, l'inquiétude de ne plus recevoir vos soins nous attriste. Heureusement votre successeur se montre d'un dévouement à toute épreuve et tous nous remercions et nous nous écrions ensemble.
"Vive la France!
At the same time they presented L. with a beautiful bouquet of roses.
New Year's day is highly esteemed by the soldiers, and we had the same sort of a celebration without the trees. The presence of 600 soldiers just back from the trenches made quite a little excitement in the village.
On Toussaints day the soldiers' graves in the little village cemetery were decorated. We made up a procession, doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and convalescents and marched to the cemetery, the nurses carrying wreaths. The French show a marked reverence for the dead. The soldiers' graves are close together, but each one is marked with a little white cross giving the soldier's name and military station. The Algerians' graves have a foot board with a star and crescent on it and the graves are placed obliquely heading towards Mecca. Graves are scattered thickly over parts of France and no one has been allowed to remove the bodies of their relatives. That must wait until after the war.
At Commencement time there were exercises in the College. A play was cleverly carried off. The French are born actors. Monseigneur Marabeau, the bishop of Meaux, graced the occasion with his presence. He is a successor to the famous Bossuet and is a striking personality. Tall and of commanding presence he is every inch a leader. He made the rounds of the hospital and shook hands with every poilu, inquiring of their home town and gave each one a "jolly." He must have traveled extensively in France, because he seemed to have a bon mot for everyone, making jokes about their districts and causing many a laugh.
The French priests have certainly shown up well in the war. We hear that there are 8,000 in the army. There is a heavy burden on those who are not in the trenches, as the labor of caring for the sick and poor has greatly increased. The soldiers as a rule are devout Catholics and most of them go to mass when they are able. The war has brought about a spiritual awakening in France. Widows and mothers who have lost their husbands and sons turn to the church for comfort and strong men facing death look to the church for spiritual strength to meet the great test. The director of the college is a militant churchman, and is with the army at Salonica, where he has been wounded and promoted for bravery.
July 14th, the French great national holiday, was one of the most inspiring days we have lived through. We learned that there was going to be a parade of the Allies' troops, so we came in to Paris to see it. Our view point was the roof of the Hotel Crillon, looking down on the Place de la Concorde. The square was black with people, leaving only an open space for the troops to march through. Down along the Champs Elysées they came, over the spot where the guillotine stood, through the Place, past the obelisk and up the rue Royale. All the Allies were represented. There were of course the poilus with their steel helmets and blue uniforms, foot soldiers, bicycle corps, cavalry and Algerian troops and an artillery detachment with the famous soixante-quinze. English, Scotch, Irish, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops represented Great Britain. A Belgian company was there and Russians, the biggest men of all. Italian soldiers with their waving feather plumes made a natty appearance. Even Servia was represented by a few troops and the Annamites from Franco-China.
The crowd went wild and cheered themselves hoarse and the sight was inspiring to everyone. There was not an American onlooker who did not have the feeling in his heart that our boys in khaki should be there marching along with the French and British and the others, and that perhaps they would be by the next anniversary of the fall of the Bastille.
One of the many acts of barbarism committed by the Germans which have arrayed most of the civilized world against them has been the destruction of unprotected and helpless towns and the shooting of civilians. In Belgium and in Northern France there has always been the same old excuse that the civilians had fired on their troops. This has been proved over and over again to be false. In other cases shots were fired but they were fired by accidental or intended discharge of German rifles or Belgian and French soldiers on the village outskirts had fired on the enemy. Even if in some isolated instances civilians had fired on the Germans (which is not admitted and has not been authenticated) there is absolutely no justification for the wholesale burning of houses and murder of innocent men, women and children.
Senlis suffered such a fate and the story of her sufferings may be cited as a typical example of the German policy of "frightfulness." What senseless barbarism to thus try and intimidate the French! No people has greater love of country and home than the French, and Germany's barbarism and inhumanity, far from terrorising the French, made them all the more determined in the defense of their homes and country.
Those who know this part of France will remember Senlis as one of the most charming towns of this region. Situated near the forest of Chantilly, the wooded country furnishes excellent stag hunting and the chief hostelry of the town is named "L'hôtel du Grand Cerf." The interesting little arena, walls and towers are among the best relics of Roman rule in Northern France, while the old chateau of Henri IV and the splendid cathedral furnish a wealth of sightseeing to a visitor.
Nowadays the visitor sees first the railway station burned; only a shell of wall stands, over which waves the tricolor. Nearly all the houses lining the rue de la République have been burned, also the St. Martin quarter.
Some of the walls standing give evidence of former splendor as is the case of the Palais de Justice and some of the large private residences. Those that suffered most were the humbler dwellings of the bourgeois. Even the hospital was not spared. We saw the wall riddled with bullet holes of the machine guns. The bullets had not touched the crucifix on the wall but had surrounded it in a remarkable manner. We heard from the sweet-faced sister how they were caring not only for French wounded but for German soldiers when the hospital was fired on. In the unmolested quarter is a small house on the door of which is written in chalk, "Gute Leute---Bitte Schoenen." The inmates have disappeared long since. Had this anything to do with Germany's very complete spy system? The writing is still there and serves the purpose of a warning and reminder.
On September 1, 1914, the sound of cannon was heard in the near distance, but the inhabitants had no idea of their impending fate. A number of people had already departed, but the Mayor and city officials remained at their post. On September 2nd the sound became louder and a large part of the population fled, some on foot, some on bicycles, others in wagons. The stores began to close and excitement increased. Soon some French troops appeared, fighting in retreat, and crossed the city in the direction of Paris. The inhabitants quickly became aware of the proximity of the Germans when shells began to fall, killing a few people. At four o'clock the German troops of Von Kluck's army appeared, marching through the streets in two columns. At the Mairie they demanded the "bourgomaester" and the Mayor, Eugène Odent, presented himself, and he was at once marched off to the Hôtel du Grand Cerf, where the Germans established their headquarters. The French troops who had passed through Senlis in retreat had posted themselves on the outskirts towards Chantilly and fired on the advance guards of the Germans. The mayor was then. faced with the accusation that the inhabitants had fired on the Germans and this he denied vehemently, as they had no arms and had been instructed to offer no resistance. Then followed the inhuman crimes of the Germans as a punishment for the legitimate attack of the French rear guard. The Mayor and six citizens seized at hazard in the streets, were taken to the suburb of Chamant and, without any trial or opportunity to say farewell to their families, were shot forthwith. Here are the names of the victims:
Eugène Odent, mayor, 59 years of age;
Arthur Rigualt, stone cutter, 61 years of age;
Romand Aubert, tanner, 52 years of age;
Jean Pommier, laborer, 67 years of age;
Jean Barbier, driver, 66 years of age;
Arthur Cottrau, dish washer, 17 years of age;
Pierre Dewert, chauffeur, 45 years of age.
Several citizens, including Madame Painchaux and her five year old child, were seized and forced to march before the German soldiers down the rue de la République, where most of them were shot down by French bullets before the French soldiers on the edge of the forest ceased firing.
The rage of the Germans upon meeting any opposition knew no bounds, and a good part of Senlis was set in flames. To burn a defenseless town they were well prepared with incendiary apparatus, bombs and grenades. A hundred and four houses were burned and it was with the greatest difficulty that the Archbishop Dourlent received the concession that the entire town would not be burned.
"They have fired on us and officers and soldiers have been killed. See, this is the first chastisement, this street that is burning. Tonight Senlis will undergo the same fate and tomorrow not a house will be left standing."
The archbishop overwhelmed at these words replied,
"It cannot be possible that you would commit this crime. They have not fired on you. It is the French army that has been firing on your troops."
"Soldiers against soldiers," replied the officer, "c'est la guerre, but civilians and priests fired on us at Louvain in the street and from the church tower. Here the same thing has happened."
The priest replied vehemently, "I do not know what happened at Louvain, but no one has fired from the cathedral tower here. I alone have the key to the tower since the beginning of hostilities, and I have given it to no one. This morning I climbed up into the tower to see where the fighting was going on so as to be able to direct those of my parishioners who wished to flee. You don't suppose that I am able to carry a machine gun into the tower? I am telling you the truth and will take my oath to it."
The murdering of the Mayor and six inoffensive citizens, the use of men, women and children as a shield for their troops against French bullets, the destruction of a large part of the town by fire did not satisfy the furor Teutonica. Pillage remained for the brute appetite. Houses were broken open, cellars ransacked and they satiated their thirst in drunken orgies. No one was safe from these frenzied Huns. The story of Simon the tobacconist is typical of what happened. On the second of September, towards the middle of the afternoon, a dozen soldiers entered his shop. "A boire," they commanded in their drunken rage. Simon hurried to serve them and, while some of them drank, others helped themselves to tobacco and the small stock of groceries. "A boire, encore et toujours." There was no more wine drawn, so Simon sent his father-in-law and assistant to the cellar for more. "More wine and quickly," and as the service seemed too slow they seized the three men violently crying, "You fired at us." Simon protested that he had not fired and besides that he had never had a weapon in his house. He had no chalice to protest further as he was placed against the wall and shot. The assistant escaped, the father-in-law was one of those placed in front of the German troops as a protection and was mortally wounded. Poor Simon's shop stands there today, that is the ruins of it, marked by the legend on a board "Débit Simon."
And so on, other stories could be told of the killing of innocent civilians.
The ruins of Senlis, the graves of innocent victims and the memories of those frightful days remain as in many a town of Belgium and Northern France an irrefutable record of German criminal wantonness.
The battle of the Marne was stupendous. Visitors who see a part of the battle field by way of Meaux gain but a small idea of its extent but a good idea of its intensity. It was in the region of Meaux that a critical phase of the battle developed when General Manoury's Sixth Army held and began to turn the flank of Von Kluck's First German Army.
The line of battle extended from Nanteuil almost to Verdun, a distance of about 120 miles. The battle lasted from the 5th to the 12th of September, 1914. The distance from the northern to the southern edge of the battlefield may be said to be roughly 50 miles, so that the battle field area may be estimated to cover an area of 6,000 square miles. The battlefield is historic ground. Fourteen centuries ago the invading Huns had been driven back on the field of Châlons. On the day that the French first declared a republic, in 1792, the invaders had been repulsed at Valmy. Napoleon executed some of his brilliant exploits on these same fields.
As regards the number of troops engaging in the battle an official announcement has not as yet been given. The army corps and divisions engaged are known but the impossibility of knowing what casualties had occurred since the beginning of the war, only makes an estimate possible. On the Allies side it is probable that 700,000 men were under General Joffre's orders, It is generally believed, except by the German public, that the Germans were in superior numbers, probably over a million. Compared with Napoleon's time, at the battle of Waterloo there were 60,000 French and 70,000 allies engaged. In modern times at the battle of Mukden there were 270,000 Russian troops and 280,000 Japanese, while in the greatest battle of our Civil War there were about 150,000 troops on both sides.
The first shot of the battle apparently was fired from a German battery at Monthyon at noon on September 5th. Paris lies but twenty-two miles away, and on a clear day the Eiffel tower may be seen from the Monthyon hill top.
The town of Meaux narrowly escaped as the battle reached to its very gates. The bridges connecting the thirteenth century mills with the river banks were blown up to delay the German advance, but the town itself was only slightly damaged by shell fire.
Spread out to the north and east of Meaux lies a rich, agricultural plain on each side of the Marne valley. The villages scattered over this plain show signs of heavy fighting. Houses have been demolished by shell fire and walls are pock marked by bullets. Barcy, Chambry, Chauconin, Etrépilly, Marcilly and Etavigny are all historic names.
At Chambry the Germans had transformed the cemetery into a fortress by piercing the walls with loop-holes for their machine guns. From this stronghold they were brilliantly driven out by the Zouaves. The numerous bullet marks showing on the walls, monuments and tombs of the cemetery give some idea of how fierce the fighting must have been.
Scattered over the fields are hundreds and thousands of graves, each one marked with a little white cross, many with a small French flag and some with the dead soldier's red cap pathetically resting on top of the cross.
The places where the French threw themselves against the invaders in bayonet charges are easy to find as here the graves are thick. Scattered here and there are isolated graves near some village where a badly wounded man perhaps tried to crawl for help and bled to death on the way.
Hung to the little posts enclosing the graves are seen here and there wide mouthed bottles containing written messages. Within these bottles one can read a message from a mother or wife begging for anyone who can to give them information about their missing son or husband. Rarely will their aching hearts learn anything about their loved one. He has been buried unmarked, a shapeless and unidentified mass, or a shell explosion has wiped him out completely.
On a hill commanding a view of the surrounding country is the farm of Champfleury. Here Von Kluck had his headquarters for eight days and saw that the battle was lost, retreat was necessary to save what was left and Germany's dream of world conquest was shattered. The farm house has been repaired since the Germans left it, but it shows numerous scars of bullets and shell fire. The proprietor told us that he left in his automobile for Paris as the Germans were seen coming over the hill from the north. There was no hesitation or hunting for suitable headquarters. The desirable sites were apparently well known. The proprietor, of the wealthy farmer class, had a good wine cellar, which he found thoroughly demolished on his return. In the front grounds stands a cherry tree with an iron chair wedged securely among its branches. This seat must have commanded a fine view of the battle for a staff officer or perhaps Von Kluck himself. On a wall and on a table top are written some pleasantries in German script with allusions to the good times they had had with champagne and billiards and regrets at leaving. These writings have not been effaced, nor has the billiard room, battered and smashed, been changed from the condition in which it was found on the return of the owner.
Beyond Champfleury is the farm of Poligny, very effectually burned by the Germans. The large wheat hangar was used by the enemy as a funeral pyre for 2000 of their dead, and its twisted girders have fallen in on a mass of ashes, broken tiles and melted bones. In this region the Germans used a number of hangars for the same purpose, perhaps because there was no time to bury their dead, perhaps because they did not want their opponents to know the extent of their losses. Frightened peasants who were hiding in their cellars tell of shrieks of dying men who were thrown into the fire.
At Etavigny, where there was heavy fighting, village children presented us with handfuls of shrapnel balls picked up in the fields. The church was badly damaged by shells and lying at the portal is the church bell, rent in twain. Among some blood stained straw strewn over the floor we picked up some exploded cartridges.
Beyond Etavigny, where the Germans made a stand, is a long line of trench now overgrown with grass. There were empty tin cans, bits of clothing and leather to be seen scattered about. Our chauffeur told us that on a previous visit he had found a German boot attached to what was once a leg, sticking out of the ground.
The booming of the cannon towards the east, the little tri-color flags waving over the graves scattered among the growing crops, the shell marked ruined villages, the rolling plains stretching in every direction, are bound to produce in the visitor's mind the question, "Why did not the German army sweep on as they had through Belgium and Northern France and capture Paris?" "How was it that this powerful machine with forty years of preparation was stopped and driven back?"
Among other problems, the military writers for centuries to come will be kept busy on the explanation of the battle of the Marne.
In an analysis of the reasons for the defeat of the world-grasping German plan, the vitalizing moral forces of the armies will ever be preëminent. Napoleon said that "in war the moral is to the physical as three is to one."
The French soldiers were fighting in defense of their country, their homes, wives and children. The British soldier thought of homes a few miles across the channel. The German soldier was fighting a war of aggression, carnage, destruction of innocent towns and civilians. The vain glory of hacking through Belgium and Northern France with superior force, the lust of blood and slaughter could not stand against the moral forces of patriotism and sacrifice that opposed them. Joffre well knew the French soldier in his famous order of the day when he said, "Une troupe qui ne pourra plus avancer devra, coûte que coûte, garder le terrain conquis et se faire tuer plutôt que de reculer."
Table of Contents