Early in the spring an aviation training camp was established at Plessis-Belleville, about five miles from Juilly. A wheat field was cleared off, huge hangars were erected and, in a few days, a great number of aeroplanes made their appearance. There were a variety of makes, from the heavy, slow Farnam to the rapid Nieuport.
We were officially notified that we were now attached to the organization as the surgical hospital, and we did not have long to wait for our patients. Almost on the first day an aeroplane fell from a great height and two aviators were brought in with broken skulls, one to die in a few hours, the other to recover, partly paralyzed, after a long illness.
The aviators are a superior lot of men. First, they have to pass strict physical tests, and also they are for the most part men of superior education. Some of them are descendants of the old nobility and still cherish inherited titles. Some speak English well and have traveled in America. The flyers are young men, as older men, over thirty, are considered to be too cautious. The French say that to be an aviator a man has to be a little peculiar---that a normal, sane man does not make a good flyer.
Accidents are frequent, five in one day. They are of varying severity. One man got too near a propeller and had half his scalp torn off. Broken legs and arms. are common. One poor fellow was high up in the air when his machine caught fire and he was picked up a charred corpse.
An afternoon at the flying field is a great sight. There are dozens of aeroplanes ascending and descending. Others are soaring around in the heavens at great heights. The aviators dress in a variety of uniforms, which seem to be chosen according to personal taste, as there is no fixed uniform. For cold weather they have shaggy coats of animal skins. The headquarters are located in Prince Radziwill's beautiful château at Ermenonville. The building is surrounded by a moat in medieval style. On a small island in a nearby lake is the empty tomb of Rousseau, where the famous philosopher was buried before his remains were transferred to the Pantheon. The Germans were here in September, 1914, but limited their depredations to smashing in a few closets and bureaus. Some of the servants of the château gleaned that the Germans counted on returning after Paris was captured, in order to enjoy the hunting for which Ermenonville is famous.
After the aviation field had been in use some months word passed around the Ambulance that there were some American boys there in training. We hoped to see them and were delighted one day, shortly before they left for the front, to have a call from Thaw, Prince, McConnell and Rockwell. They were a fine lot of fellows with the quiet modesty of brave men who have done something worth while but do not boast about it. They are held in high esteem and admired by their French comrades, and it seemed as if there could be no better recognition of their bravery and skill. We were sorry not to see Victor Chapman. The French say he is very daring. Norman Prince is a nephew of Dr. Morton Prince of Boston, a well known alienist, and is a Harvard graduate. He is said to have originated the American Squadron as an organization. Thaw is a Yale man and has served in the Foreign Legion. He is about 25 but looks much older. Rockwell was also in the Foreign Legion. He is a Southerner and is tall and handsome. McConnell is also a Southerner but looks as if he might come from New England. Thaw and McConnell are powerfully built, Rockwell is slender and Prince is short and stocky. There is a quiet air of determination and devotion about these men that makes every one of us Americans feel proud of our fellow countrymen.
We said good-by to them with sadness, feeling that it was perhaps good-by and not au revoir. Alas, our forebodings were too true. A few months later only Thaw is left. Rockwell, Prince and McConnell have fallen on the field of honor.
Well are these heroes worthy of the words of Alan ,,Seeger, the brilliant young poet of the Foreign Legion:
"Some there were
Who, not unmindful of the antique debt
Came back the generous path of Lafayette.
Yet sought they neither recompense nor praise,
Nor to be mentioned in another breath
Than their blue coated comrades whose great days
It was their pride to share---ay, share even to the death!
Nay, rather, France to you they rendered thanks
(Seeing they came for honor not for gain)
Who, opening to them your glorious ranks,
Gave them that grand occasion to excel,
That chance to live the life most free from stain
And that rare privilege of dying well."
We soon learned that there are several ways of speaking French. Our blessés came from almost every part of France, and as our ears became accustomed to the French sounds, we learned to tell in a general way from what part of France our soldiers came. The southerners who sounded the mute "e" and the Bretons, were almost unmistakable. Our "Henri IV" from Bearn spoke in such a jerky manner that he was understood with difficulty by his comrades. He always called potatoes "potate" instead of "pomme de terre."
One little Breton who used to make a living by sailing to Dundee with loads of onions, spoke English with a Scotch accent and was nicknamed "Scottie." It was amusing to hear him talk, partly French and partly with his strong Scotch accent. He was shy at first, but gradually became conscious of his linguistic accomplishments, until one day when he was called on for a menial service by one of his comrades, announced that he was "the interpreter for the nurses."
After a while we learned that the soldiers use a good many words not to be found in any standard dictionary. In fact there is almost a new trench language, l'argot des tranchées. One has to learn some of it if he is going to understand what is going on. Paris is usually referred to as "Panam" or "Pantruche." The canned meat of the trench ration is "singe," coffee is "jus," wine is "pinard." A comrade is a "poteau" or "pote." A wine-shop is a "bistro" and so on. The origin of the word "poilu" is not settled. Some say it comes from the whiskered appearance of the soldiers on their return home on leave, others that it was a term applied to Napoleon's brigadiers on account of their large hair helmets. At any rate the term has come to stay, not only in French writings but in English.
One who has worked among French wounded cannot but be impressed with the absence of personal hatred shown by the French soldier against the Germans. They hate the things the Germans stand for, the invasion and devastation of peaceful countries, the destruction of unprotected towns,. the massacre of unoffending men, women and children, the use of gas and liquid fire in war-, fare, but it was rare to find any expression of hatred against the German soldier. In battle the French soldier fights like a man with a noble heritage in defense of his country and family, and it is well known that the Germans will not stand against them in a bayonet charge. But once the wounded German comes into his hands he is treated with the natural magnanimity of the race in the spirit of Bayard. The American Ambulance drivers tell us that they are instructed to carry badly wounded Germans to the rear while the French wounded lie there and await their turn.
I saw at Creil a little tow-headed Saxon prisoner in a hospital ward with twenty or more French soldiers. He received the same food as they did, laughed and joked with them, played cards and it was hard to realize that he was a prisoner. With the Major's permission I had a little conversation with him. He said he didn't know what they were fighting for and that he wished the war was over so that he could go home to his family---that he was called out and had to go with the army or be shot.
The French soldiers are a wonderfully happy lot of men. As soon as they are well enough, they enjoy life, relish their meals, play games, read, sing, listen to the graphophone, make rings out of pieces of shells and other trinkets, or walk around the park. Those who are laid up for a long time with a bad fracture, weave baskets cr make shawls on a wooden frame. It was rare to see one idle. The men who come from the invaded districts, who have not seen or heard from their wives and children for months or years, have a different look in their eyes. It is a sad and thoughtful look. Woe betide any German who stands in front of them in a bayonet charge!
The French are fond of ceremony and their ceremonies of decorating soldiers are carried out in such a dignified and touching manner that they are inspiring. I shall never forget the first decoration that I saw. In the little square in front of the college; two companies of troops assembled. The troops were composed of territorials, old fellows, gray-haired and bald-headed---the country's last reserve. The soldiers formed a hollow square and presented arms, the bugles and trumpets sounded and a wounded one-armed soldier stepped forward into the center of the square, his checks red with excitement and his remaining hand twitching with nervous exhilaration.
The Colonel then read a recital of the soldier's deeds of valor, signed by Joffre, pinned the two decorations on the soldier's breast and kissed him on both cheeks. The trumpets sounded, the troops marched around the square and we all congratulated the proud soldier on receiving the Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire. We saw quite a number of decorations. When we had a lot of wounded from Verdun, sixteen men were decorated at one ceremony and the embrace on both cheeks had changed to a handshake. We had the feeling that every man who fought at Verdun was a hero and should be decorated.
The soldier's funeral is sad and there is such simplicity and pathos that we were always affected, but came away with the feeling that the soldier had done a big and noble thing in giving his life for his country. The funeral processions started at the hospital and filed across the little square to the village church. The blessés were there, everyone who could make it---some on crutches, others with arms in splints and heads swathed in bandages. The village priest intoned the service assisted in the responses by the choir, consisting of one old man and a nun who played the church organ. The ceremony over, all who could walked to the cemetery on the edge of the village. The coffin was usually carried by a detail of artillerymen from the neighboring post. At the cemetery the coffin was deposited by the side of the freshly dug grave, the priest chanted the ritual, each one in turn sprinkled holy water on the bier and the crowd departed leaving flowers on the coffin. No salute was fired, as no powder is wasted. The booming of cannon towards Soissons always brought to us the reality of war.
If the relatives of the dead soldier were present they always stood at the gate of the cemetery and shook hands with and thanked each one of us as we passed by.
The poilu is a practical philosopher in the hospital. If he has lost a limb he is thankful for the one that is left to him. If he is badly wounded he is glad it is not worse.
Someone has worked out in words the philosophy of the French soldier or the "Poilus' Litany" as follows:
"When I am mobilized, I shall either be kept in the rear or sent to the front. If I remain in the rear there is nothing to worry about. If I am sent to the front one of two things can happen. I shall either be sent to a post of no danger or to a dangerous position. If I am sent to a post of danger, one of two things can happen. I shall either be wounded or I shall not be wounded. If I am not wounded, there is nothing to worry about. If I am wounded, I shall either be slightly or severely wounded. If I am slightly wounded, there is nothing to worry about. If I am severely wounded, one of two things can happen. I shall either get well, in which case there is nothing to worry about, or I shall die, and then I can't worry."
One day in the spring of 1916 as we were going into the dining room of the Hôtel du Grand Cerf at Senlis, we passed a French general who was leaving the room followed by several officers. The general was a medium-sized man with a grayish moustache. His strong but kindly face was marked with lines of care. A Belgian in our party exclaimed, "That is General Foch!" so we rushed to the window to have another look at him as he entered his limousine and succeeded in getting a snapshot.
Before the war Foch was well known as a professor in the military school at St. Cyr and his writings are standard works on military subjects. As Joffre's right-hand man he is recognized as the greatest strategist of the French Army. At the battle of the Marne General Foch commanded the Ninth army, and it was at the marshes of St. Gond that he executed his famous maneuver and sent his celebrated message: "My left is broken, my right is routed, therefore I will attack with the center."
We came very near having the distinguished general for a patient at one time. A hurry call was sent for an ambulance to go to an accident on the road not far from Meaux. When our ambulance arrived there they found a fine Rolls-Royce car badly damaged by a collision with a stout elm tree. The passengers were no less than the famous General Foch and his son-in-law. They were both injured but, as it turned out, not seriously. Traveling along the narrow road lined with trees, at a rapid rate, it had been a question of going into a tree or smashing into a peasant's cart containing some women and children, and the chauffeur chose the former. It was a narrow escape for the general and his loss from such an accident would have been most untimely. We offered him the best our hospital afforded but he preferred to go to the hospital at Meaux, where, on account of it being a military center, he would have superior telegraphic and telephonic communication. Our ambulance carried him to Meaux as he wished and returned to the hospital where everyone was disappointed that it did not bring back the distinguished patient.
The next day one of our nurses was at Meaux visiting a patient in the hospital and had the good fortune to see General Joffre and President Poincaré when they came to visit General Foch.
They say that Foch is the master mind of strategy of all France. He is very highly esteemed but for no one have the people the affection that they have for Joffre. Rarely has any man commanded the universal love and admiration of an entire people as does "Papa" Joffre.
Someone brought a copy of Miss Aldrich's book, "A Hilltop on the Marne," to the ambulance and we learned, on consulting the map, that her little village of Huiry was within a few miles of us. One day we started out to find it but, on arriving at the Marne, we could not cross the river as the bridge had been blown up before the battle and had not yet been repaired. Another day we had better success by crossing the Marne higher up, where we found a bridge that had been put in shape again. By following an automobile map, we traced our way along the country roads until we reached the charming village on the hilltop. There was no need of enquiring for Miss Aldrich's home as it stood before us just as she described it with its "six gables, jumble of roofs and chimneys." The "small garden" was there "separated from the road by an old, gnarled hedge of hazel." Apparently we were first mistaken for Cook's tourists for which breed Miss Aldrich has a holy horror and shudders at the thought that four hundred have already registered to visit her nest after the war. When we properly identified ourselves we received a cordial American welcome. The view from her terrace was all that she claimed for it, "a panorama rarely seen equaled," and it is described so much better in her book than I could write about it that no description shall be attempted. With field glasses we could plainly see the villages scattered over the Marne valley and could see the battlements of Juilly partly hidden in a hollow.
From the gifted authoress' vivid description we felt that we ourselves had stood there as she did when the cannon roared, the air was thick with smoke of shells and burning villages and the fading cannon shot told her that the foe was in retreat. Amélie, Aberlard and the donkey were all there, just as described. We saw the wood where the Uhlans had hidden and the road where the Irish scout had fallen off his bicycle when the effects of the large drink of eau de vie de prunes had come upon him.
Late one winter's night at the end of January, 1916, we were aroused by a peculiar roaring sound in the sky which came from the direction of Paris and faded away in the distance towards the front. Along with it we recognized the familiar sounds of aeroplanes and could hear the reports of cannon towards Paris. The next day we learned that Paris had suffered a Zeppelin raid and that these monsters must have passed over our village on their return. A few houses demolished, huge holes in the pavements, a score or so of men, women and children killed in their beds, the French people more determined than ever --- such were the results of the raid. What a stupid method of warfare! Not one stroke of military value accomplished and the raids in England are the best means of stimulating recruiting.
One day we were surprised to see a British aviator walk into the ambulance and enquire if there was anyone here who could speak English. As he had run short of gasolene and oil, he had descended in a nearby field and left the aeroplane in charge of his comrade while he started out in quest of these necessities. He seemed somewhat surprised to find American men and women in the war zone but concealed his surprise in accordance with the tenets of English good form. He did not volunteer to tell us where he had come from or where he was going and we did not think it was polite to ask him. He said, however, that as he was descending he was glad to find that French peasants with their rods for driving oxen did not turn out to be Uhlans with lances.
After supplying his lack of gasolene and oil and taking a hasty lunch, he departed in a hurry, not forgetting his comrade, as his pockets were well filled with bread and cheese.
A few days later came a polite letter from Paris thanking us for our hospitality, so we at least found out his destination.
On Washington's Birthday I attended the banquet of the American Club as a guest of Mr. Benét, president of the club. The dinner was an excellent one, given in the large banquet room of the Hotel Palais d'Orsay and was attended by about two hundred guests.
The finest thing of the evening was the speech of Henri Bergson, the famous French philosopher. He gave an analysis of Washington's character and achievements that was a masterpiece. He spoke in simple language, in clear, beautiful French so that I hardly missed a word. Several times he quoted from Washington's farewell address and from other writings, quoting from memory and using perfect English. There were other speeches in English and French (one by Denys Cochin, Minister of State) but none to compare with Bergson's. To end the evening's pleasure an American read a long, dry speech, which almost spoiled the whole evening.
Some of my letters home were published in the local newspapers. Among other incidents I related that a field hospital was bombed by German aviators and this was kept up on succeeding days, even when the location of the hospital was changed. The publication of this incident brought forth a protest from a local German that it could not be true and a request for further investigation. A round robin published by five American war correspondents, Bennet, McCutchen, Cobb, Hansen and Lewis, about alleged German cruelties in Belgium was adduced as an argument that such accusations were without any foundation. I refused to enter into a controversy at 8000 miles distance and replied that time and history would decide whether atrocities had been committed or not. The inadequacy of a "round robin" of any war correspondents on the German side is very evident, as any acquaintance with the methods of the German staff shows that what the correspondents are allowed to observe is carefully attended to in the German system. The war correspondents on the German side are so carefully chaperoned that they see only what the staff wants them to see. The overwhelming evidence from Belgium and Northern France as to burning, pillaging, rapine and murder of innocent civilians as part of Germany's system of frightfulness will be presented and proven to the world in a way that can not be explained away by German subtlety and trickiness.
Richard Norton of Boston in charge of the American Volunteer Motor-Ambulance Corps attached to one of the divisions of the French armies, made an interesting point in one of his letters concerning Germany's preparedness in the use of poisonous gas. After quoting the Bulletin of Information, distributed to the troops on October 1st, 1915, which states the numbers of prisoners and cannons captured in the Champagne offensive, he says :
"In this notice no mention is made of some very interesting gas machines that were taken. They were of two sorts, one for the production of gas, the other to counteract its effects. The latter were rather elaborate and heavy but very effective instruments consisting of two main parts; one to slip over the head, protecting the eyes and clipping the nose, the other an arrangement of bags and bottles containing oxygen, which the wearer inhaled through a tube held in the mouth. There were several forms of these apparatus, but the most interesting point to note about them is that one had stamped upon it the words: 'Type of 1914---developed from type of 1912, developed from type of 1908,' thus showing that seven years ago the Germans had decided to fight with gas."
One cannot but be impressed with the devotion and spirit of sacrifice of the French people. The cry "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity," a hundred years or so ago made the poorly paid and equipped armies of the French revolution irresistible. In 1870 the same spirit was there but France was poorly led and the poilu never had a chance.
France has made large sacrifices and is willing to make more. "The Germans must be driven out and Prussianism must be overthrown, else our children and grandchildren will be called on to defend France again. Better is it to make further sacrifices jusqu'au bout, for the sake of our children and their children."
The world knows of the steadfastness and bravery of the poilu, but not enough of the women of France. It is safe to say that France could not have held out had it not been for the women. A large number of shells fired at the invaders of their country are made by women's hands. White-haired grandmothers are working in the Red Cross. In the country it is a common sight to see women gathering in the crops. Children, too, of tender years are out in the fields in the cold rain, tending sheep, driving carts and helping with the harvest. It is not only in the way of replacing the men at productive tasks that the French women are so magnificent but it is their spirit which is so much to be admired. Women who have lost husbands, or sons, or brothers, are fulfilling their daily tasks with smiling faces, inspiring with their brave spirit the soldier in the trenches.
The colonel was in command of a body of the famous Colonial troops in the offensive. They left the firing line at 9:15 on the morning of September 25th and charged for the German trenches under heavy shell fire. The colonel felt himself hit several times, but suffered no pain and was not disabled. The German trench was reached and there was some fierce hand to hand fighting. Right into a crowd of his men a bomb was thrown and lay smoking on the floor of the trench. There was not a moment to lose. The colonel seized the bomb and threw it back towards the Germans. As he hurled it away, it exploded and his hand was blown to pieces. He then became conscious of great pain and was evacuated to the rear. When he reached our hospital we found him suffering from twelve wounds. After months of hospital treatment necessary for his recovery, he again reported for duty with request for active service.
One day during his convalescence we went for a drive and, as we rested on a hill which commanded a superb view of the fertile plain, dotted with groves of trees and little villages, the colonel looked out and exclaimed, "Well, this is a land worth fighting for!"
One of our blessés from Verdun was a ruddy-faced, stalwart sergeant. When I examined his scalp wound he showed me his steel helmet with a bullet hole in it and told this story:
"In one of the furious attacks at Verdun we were charging the Germans with the bayonet. Directly in front of me on a little mound was a tall Prussian officer with a great plume in his helmet. He had a revolver in his hand and as I charged towards him, he pointed it at different parts of me, first at my stomach, then at my chest. I expected any moment to receive the ball.
Finally when I was barely two metres away he fired at my head. I felt a blow on my head and my casque was knocked off."
He then paused, so I asked, "And what happened then ?"
He replied, "Well, I kept right on running."
"What happened next?" I asked.
"I took these field glasses off from around his neck and I' am glad to give them to you as a souvenir of Verdun."
A well-known American manufacturer of artificial legs established a branch office in Paris. Thanks to the generosity of friends every amputé goes out of Juilly hospital walking on two feet. The gift of an artificial leg costing 500 francs is a very practical form of charity as it enables a man in many cases to resume his trade and support his family.
A soldier reformé, whose leg has been amputated at the middle of the thigh, comes out from Paris to take the necessary measurements and attend to the fittings. He walks with scarcely a limp and may be said to be a walking advertisement for his firm. Our artificial leg measurer was wounded in the battle of the Marne, near Barcy, which is only a few miles from Juilly. He related his story to us as follows:
"Before the war I was a grocer. I was mobilized at the onset and sent into active service. I went through all the horrors and hardships of the retreat from the Belgian frontier. At times we marched along, sound asleep, and our comrades fell in the road from exhaustion. We didn't know what was going to happen to us. We were at the limit of our endurance. When the order came that we were to make a stand and die rather than give way further, it was welcomely received. Our regiment was soon engaged with the Boches and we went at them with determination in our hearts and the consciousness that we were driving them back from our women and children.
"The second day of the battle we were fighting in the open fields at close quarters late in the afternoon. I was on one knee firing at the Germans, when a rifle ball struck me near the knee and tore up my thigh. I fell over, my comrades passed on and I lay out in the field in a half-conscious condition. I was aroused several hours later by the sound of voices, speaking German. It was dark and in the distance flashes of cannon lit up the night. I was carried by the Germans to the town of Vareddes, near by, where I was dumped on the floor of the Mairie along with many other wounded. Here I lay for three days on the stone floor with some water and a few pieces of bread to sustain me. I saw limbs cut off without anaesthetics. The shrieks of the sufferers were terrible. The odor of my leg warned me that I was in a bad way. Suddenly, on the fourth day, the Germans departed, driven out by the French.
"I was one of six wounded placed in a large truck and sent to Paris. Three of us arrived there alive. We were taken to a hospital. I was delirious but conscious enough to hear the doctor say there was no use in amputating my leg. It was too late. I roused up and begged the doctor to amputate and give me the chance. He agreed. I do not remember much what happened during the next few weeks but I gradually recovered and in three months was out of the hospital. One day, limping along on my crutches, I saw a sign 'American Artificial Legs.' I entered the shop and made arrangements to obtain one. I became interested in the construction and fitting of the leg and delighted when I found I could use it so readily. On account of my speaking some English the manager offered me a position and so now I have changed from a grocer into an artificial leg artisan and I have fitted several hundred legs and know there will be many more."
A reservist of the active army, I was called the second day of mobilization to join my regiment. The 5th of August, 1914, we departed for the eastern front. My regiment formed at this time the part of the second army in command of General Dubail. Our duty was to advance into Lorraine by Sarrebourg. The advance commenced from the 8th of August and on the 14th I found myself for the first time in contact with Bavarian infantry. It is not easy to give an exact idea of my first impressions of combat. It rests in my mind like a dream bordering on a nightmare. The sharp whistling of the bullets, the overwhelming roar of the cannonade, the cries of the wounded, the death rattle, the irresistible, "En avant, à la baïonnette," then the dead bodies, the wounded begging to be carried off the field, the broken guns and equipment scattered here and there, furnish a picture never to be forgotten and impossible to describe in words. I have seen other combats since, attacks and hand to hand fighting, but they have never left the impression on me like the first encounter.
The Bavarians had to retreat. Proud of our first success we marched ahead and on the 15th of August we crossed the frontier singing the "Marseillaise," with our flag unfurled at the head of the regiment. The frontier boundary post was torn up with general enthusiasm and cries of "Vivent l'Alsace et Lorraine." Alas! our joy was a passing one. On the 16th we arrived in sight of Sarrebourg. Saluted by a hail of artillery we advanced now very slowly, marching at. wide intervals, while about us the "Marmites" fell with a deafening noise, marking their passage by large holes, veritable tombs dug by infernal shovels. They were real tombs, because the unhappy victims sleep now their last sleep in these shell holes. Some troops penetrated to Sarrebourg where they were feted by the inhabitants, or at least by those who had remained French. Flowers, cigars, cakes and wines were for them gifts of welcome. These bodies of troops were forced to stop at the exit of the city as the enemy artillery cut them down. For my part I was busy with my section in a field of oats digging individual "abris" which would protect us somewhat against the balls. These shelters were our dining rooms, lounging and bed rooms. Smoking became a delicate operation, a wise art. As to exposing oneself, it was not to be thought of. The six biscuits and the can of meat called "monkey-meat" by the soldiers, were all we had to eat for these two days. During the night of August 18th we were able to retire to a small village several kilometres from Sarrebourg, where we had the pleasure of sleeping three long hours on fresh piles of hay. At 2 o'clock in the morning the arrival of shells in the village announced itself by a tremendous crashing of roofs. It was necessary to retreat and now the advance guard had to pass through Sarrebourg again. The German element exultingly showed their satisfaction of seeing the flight of the red pantaloons by firing on them from the windows with rifles and revolvers. The enemy troops pursued our advance guard and inflicted considerable loss on them. Unfortunately the fight was too unequal. We were overwhelmed by the shells which, minute by minute, followed each other in groups of six. We lacked artillery to cause similar losses in the ranks of the enemy. Retreat commenced at nightfall. What a turmoil! Pursued, confused, we fled on all sides, not knowing where to go. We had to tramp across the fields in the dark night over bad and unknown roads. Miles succeeded miles. At each instant one fell over exhausted soldiers sleeping in the fields or along the sides of the road. These we roused or dragged along to abandon again to their fatigue some distance beyond. Others trailed behind too far where, unhappy thought, they were taken prisoners by the Boches. How many thus fell into the hands of the Germans! The 21st of August we again crossed the frontier, but this time it was to return into France. The frontier post was there, lying in the river bed. It seemed to reproach us now in waiting for the Germans to replace it, to carry it further back perhaps. We will take it again, we will carry back the frontier post to the other side of the Rhine even if it takes our last man!
After several unsuccessful attempts to take the offensive we arrived near the forts of Epinal. Our lines were reorganized and we prepared to undertake a vigorous offensive. On the 28th we drove the Germans out of a nearby village while the chasseurs alpins, who had come to our aid, captured another village in a furious bayonet charge. There I saw, after this combat, one of our soldiers and a German infantryman standing upright against a wall each one of them transfixed with a bayonet and still holding their muskets in spite of death which had done its work some time before.
We now advanced rapidly. The Germans, not being supported by their heavy artillery, were incapable of withstanding our offensive. We passed through villages bombarded and burned all in ruins, not a house standing. Most of them were a pile of ruins. From this débris there was already a nauseating odor of decaying animals, which had not been able to get away; of human beings too, perhaps under those ruins. Early in September we reached the banks of the Meurthe. Tomorrow we shall again be at the frontier. Alas! No! We have to make a detour and go to support at St. Mihiel the shock of the Crown Prince's army, which is resolutely advancing on this side, while to the north our troops are drawing quickly back before the German assault. It has since been said that St. Mihiel and Nancy formed the pivot of the maneuver. It was this pivot it was necessary to defend. Severe fighting ensued at le Grand Couronné, near Nancy. Towards St. Mihiel, which was defended by forts, there were only skirmishes. The enemy attacked the forts. They launched three unsuccessful attacks against the fort of Troyon.
We were called to aid the army at the Aisne after they had driven back the Germans at the battle of the Marne. We arrived at St. Menehould, then we marched to the Camp of Châlons but after one stage we returned. The enemy had succeeded in capturing the fort of Troyon. We had to return to where we were three days before and attack the Germans occupying the village of Apremont.
In the early days of October we occupied the redoubts of the fort of Lionville. There for eight days we had to submit to a most violent bombardment. An entire section of my company with the captain were engulfed in one of the redoubts. It was impossible to rescue them. After such a bombardment the enemy attacked, always in compact masses according to their custom. Their losses were enormous. Mowed down by our machine guns, the heaps of corpses preserved very clearly the formation of columns by fours. French and Germans were on the watch at 50 meters from each other. It was impossible to bury the dead and, from time to time, shells from both sides struck these corpses and blew them into pieces. Cruel profanation.
After a month there we retired about two kilometers in the rear for a rest. There I was wounded in the right shoulder by a piece of shell. I was far from expecting such an occurrence at this time, when I thought I was in safety. I was evacuated and after thirty hours of cruel suffering on the train I reached the hospital where I was taken care of until I reported at my dépôt. I was soon again at the front. Now it was the war of the trenches, a warfare not interesting. I remained there five months without noting a single event really interesting. I saw only one casque à pointe, which one was that of a prisoner. From time to time an insignificant bombardment, the periodical flooding of the trenches with water, the digging that went on, the games of cards at the bottom of a hole, the silence of the night disturbed occasionally by a rifle shot fired by a sentinel who, struggling against the desire for sleep, tries to keep himself awake by shooting. Voilà la guerre en tranchées. Twenty days in the trenches, twenty days of repose.
The first of August, after violent pain, my wound of last year broke open and discharged. I was evacuated to Compiègne and from there to Juilly. At the American Hospital they extracted the piece of shell which for nine months was for me a very troublesome guest. Now I am almost well.
I would fear to offend the modesty of the doctors and nurses if I set forth their merits. Let me simply say that I have found among the Americans who have left their land to come to France to care for their wounded brothers, a devotion, vigilant attention and constant care which makes me admire them and in them admire the great nation, sister of France beyond the Atlantic, the United States of America.
In thanking them all from the bottom of my heart, I terminate my little story.
We cared for one soldier of the Foreign Legion. He was an architect living in Chicago, an American of French descent. There was nothing warlike in his nature but he could not withstand the call of the blood when France was invaded.
I left my home in Chicago in the middle of September, 1914, and boarded the French liner "Rochambeau" at New York. After an uneventful trip of nine days I landed at Havre, where I enlisted in the Foreign Legion.
The Foreign Legion now serving in the war against Germany has little in common with the two world famous regiments stationed in Algeria. While most of our officers were drawn from those regiments only two battalions were sent out from Africa to "encadrer" the foreign volunteers. The remainder were either kept in Algeria and Morocco or sent to the Dardanelles or to some distant colony like Indo-China.
In order to train the foreign volunteers six dépôts were provided. The second regiment had three dépôts--- Toulouse, Orleans and Blois. I was sent to Toulouse where battalion C was being organized and two days after my arrival I witnessed the departure of that battalion for the front. A very picturesque sight it was to see them go, all brave hearts, ready to sacrifice themselves for the cause of France. Each of them was flying on his knapsack the colors of his respective country. Uncle Sam was represented by a good sprinkling of the Stars and Stripes lost amidst a greater number of Russian, English, Belgian and other flags.
After a two months' hard drilling, the dépôt was transferred to Orleans and I stayed there until January 25, 1915. 1 was then ordered to the front with a reinforcement 200 strong.
Our regiment with four battalions occupied a front about two miles long before the plateau of Craonne and the ruined city of that name, where the Germans are so strongly fortified that its capture would cost at least 50,000 men.
I soon got acquainted with the routine of the service. Six days trenches, six days rest. The part of our sector occupied by our company was about 1000 yards from the Germans and was therefore a quiet one. It would have been even more so, had it not been for the artillery of the Germans which daily showered on us fire and steel. No event of any importance occurred during my four months' stay there except the trial by court-martial of nine Russians who refused to go to the trenches. Found guilty, they were executed the next day at dawn.
There I came to know the real "Légionnaire" by which I mean the one from Africa. The following verses which I plagiarize from the comic opera "Les Mousquetaires au Couvent" quite well typifies them. I only substitute the word "Légionnaire" for "Mousquetaire:"
Pour être un brave Légionnaire
Il faut avoir l'esprit joyeux
Grand air et léger caractère
Aimer les femmes, boire encore mieux.
But good fellows after all and ready to help when sober.
We left Craonne in May and were sent to Sillery, a very bad place, where the battalion lost 150 men in one week. We were then shifted over to a place near Rheims and in July were sent to rest in the neighborhood of Belfort.
President Poincaré and General Joffre came to review us and we were presented with a flag which was well earned by ten months of warfare.
After a short time in Alsace, where I got a sight of the famous Hartmanswillerskopf of which so much has been written, we were ordered to Champagne with the whole Moroccan division, of which we were a part, and on the 25th of September took an active part in the general offensive.
On the 26th while entrenched on the plain in front of the "Ferme Navarin" as reserve of the 6th Army Corps, I volunteered in the midst of bursting shells to go and get some water for my squad. On my return I was struck by a shell which fractured my femur, missing the femoral artery by only a hair. Carried away from the field of battle to Souain I spent the night on a stretcher suffering with a terrible fever while the rain poured down. The next day the motor ambulance took me to Châlons and from the re I was sent to the ambulance at Juilly where I found myself again in America. Thanks to the good care which I received my wounds soon healed up and the bone united so that I will be able to walk as well as ever.
To the end of the offensive the Legion, faithful to its glorious past, distinguished itself but was almost wiped out. The original number has very much dwindled and only one regiment is left under the name of Régiment de marche de la Légion Etrangère but it is as eager to fight and die for the cause of Right and Justice as it was on the first day of the war.
One of our blessés was a little rag picker. He was always smiling, so someone named him "Sunny Jim" and the name clung to him. As his comrades adopted the name the little poilu became proud of it and signed himself your grateful "Sanidaime." A German bullet had gone through his temple cutting the optic nerve of one eye but "Sunny Jim" was happy that he had one good eye.
After a few days our little poilu told us about his experiences in the Champagne offensives.
"At three o'clock the morning of September 25th, we left our camp for the 'tranchées de départ.' At five o'clock we arrived at our destination. There was a terrific bombardment going on. We filled our musettes with grenades. The news soon circulated in the trench that we would attack at a quarter past nine. The time passed as we sat quietly on the floor of the trench waiting for the opportunity to measure ourselves with the cursed Boches. At nine o'clock we stood ready. At nine ten we fixed bayonets. Suddenly a short order spread down the line. We sprang over the edge and crossed the barbed wire. As far as we could see on each side of us were our comrades running forward. This gave us courage. We arrived at the first line. There was not a live German there, only dead ones. Our artillery fire had destroyed the trench and we could see arms and legs sticking out of the earth. Some of our soldiers began to fall but we kept on and passed the second and third trenches which were as badly battered as the first. Then out in the open, bullets began to arrive in great numbers, also shells, but we kept on. Suddenly we came across a strong force of the enemy. Now it was time to know how to use the bayonet. We threw ourselves on them and the combat was on, a terrible mêlée. Steel met steel, and steel was driven into flesh until the Germans gave way and retreated. But we did not give them time to get. away. Just as we had advanced about a hundred metres a ball struck me in the head and laid me out senseless. I fell into the ditch along the roadside. I lay there twenty-four hours regaining consciousness several times only to faint away again. Finally during the night I came to myself. I was tortured by thirst. I had two bidons of water with me but I was too weak to raise myself. The next day stretcher bearers passed by and saw us. I was not alone, as a dead comrade lay alongside of me. They looked at us but thinking us both dead they were about to go on when I collected my forces sufficiently to cry out for something to drink. They then picked me up and carried me to Souain where I received the first dressing. From there I was taken to Châlons and after three days I was sent to Juilly. It will be with regret that I will quit this hospital for which I shall always have a pleasant and ineffaceable memory."
I was mobilized the second of August, 1914. As soon as I arrived at my dépôt, we were sent to join the active forces in Belgium. We crossed the Belgian frontier on August 12th, and continued to Charleroi where the little Belgian soldiers fought like lions against the Boches but unfortunately we arrived too late and the retreat commenced.
The retreat was in good order. At one time we were the advance guard, clearing the road in order to avoid ambuscades, at other times we were the rear guard, protecting the retreat of our brothers in arms.
The first serious combat that I took part in was at Moy, a village between la Fère and St. Quentin. From seven in the morning to six at night we held the Germans, although we were inferior in number. Finally overwhelmed by numbers we had to retreat again in the direction of la Fère. We marched two days and two nights without halting and crossed the forest of Nouvion, which was full of Boche ambuscades. At the exit of this forest a detachment of English troops joined with us and on September 2nd the Paris autobuses picked us up and transported us to Nanteuil le Haudoin.
On September 6th we received the order of the commander in chief calling on us to hold our ground and to die rather than give way. The combat commenced on the sixth, about seven o'clock in the morning---a terrible struggle for three days and nights, when on the ninth of September the Boches began to waver in their resistance. That was a good augury for us and we redoubled our efforts, which brought about the retreat of the Germans. The pursuit commenced and continued to Château Thierry. There we had a rest of twenty-four hours and there we had the pleasure of cleaning tip at least two hundred Germans whom we found in the cellars dead drunk on champagne, their favorite drink.
We were then carried by taxi-cabs to a village near Soissons, where we did not have much trouble in driving out the enemy, as they were on the run. In spite of that many corpses were strewn over the ground.
The German retreat continued to Berry an Bac, where I was wounded in the right shoulder by two bullets from a machine gun. I lay on the ground under fire of the enemy's artillery until night fall, when I reached a village, whence I was transported in a camion to the railroad station, where I met a number of other wounded. We piled into freight cars and reached the hospital at Dinan after thirty-six hours.
In six weeks I was back at the front. I rejoined my battalion on the heights of the Meuse. It was now the war of the trenches. The winter was not an unhappy one. There were not many attacks made or received. Each side saved his forces for the spring.
On the thirteenth of February the order was given to attack the crest of Eparges and we drove back the Boches to their last line of trenches, fighting with grenades, rifle buts and even with our fists. We were fortunate in not losing many men and our attack exceeded the expectations of our chiefs. Half of the crest was now in our possession. On the ninth of March we at tacked again to take the rest. The attack was admirably carried out. Our artillery belched forth a storm of shells and the Boches drew back. After three days of fighting all the crest was in our hands save one position, the point X.
In spite of the enemy's counter attacks we remained masters of the crest although the enemy counter attacked seventeen times during the next twenty-four hours. Our losses in repulsing these counter attacks were heavy. In front of our trenches there was a veritable charnel house where our dead and the enemy's were piled up high.
On April 6th and 7th we again attacked the position X, and after a series of assaults the Boches were driven down the hill with heavy losses. Our commandant was killed by a ball in the forehead and shortly afterwards I was wounded by a piece of shell in the left shoulder. I did not see the end of the combat, as I was evacuated by an ambulance to the rear to Dugny, where I spent three weeks in the hospital.
On the first of August we were given a "repos" of forty-five days near Bar le Duc. How delicious it was, especially in August. Soldiers, civilians, women and children---everyone worked at reaping the harvest and housing the crops.
On September 10th we marched to the Champagne front and on the morning of the 25th we took part in the offensive. The terrain, swept by artillery fire, was prepared for us, the troops leaped over the parapet and we took the two first lines of the enemy's trenches, scarcely firing a shot. The artillery had well done its work.
The same day we attacked the second reserve, the last German lines. This terrible combat lasted all day, and in spite of heavy losses, we broke through their defenses and pursued them in the open. At dusk the rain began to fall and hindered our advance. We lay out in the mud all night, hastily fortifying the ground we had taken, and the rain never ceased to fall. What an anxious night amid the groans of the wounded and dying and we working in the rain with sad hearts.
Our patrols sent on in advance reported that the Boches were being reinforced and were fortifying themselves feverishly. At dawn we advanced again. Our captain was killed by a ball in the ear, the lieutenant was struck by a shell and the two sergeants, brave and good comrades, were killed on each side of me. As hardly any officers were left I was obliged to take command of our section as we were to attack the little fort of the bois Sabot.
It was no small undertaking to take this fortress, as it was defended by at least two hundred machine guns, which did not cease to sweep the ground. The soil was well covered with dead and wounded. For two hours we lay flat on the ground under a storm of bullets until our colonel gave the order to take this redoubt at any price. At this moment and as one man the two battalions rose and charged forward and after an hour or more of bayonet and grenade fighting we were masters of this fort. As booty we captured two hundred machine guns, two trench mortars, a pump for liquid fire and two apparatus for asphyxiating gas, besides a quantity of ammunition, rifles, grenades and other equipment.
Our battalion flag was cited in the Order of the Armies and proposed for the Legion of Honor.
The same night we were relieved by a battalion of Chasseurs, who continued the attack. During our return to the rear the Boches bombarded us with gas shells. I was wounded in the head by three pieces of shell, and I was almost asphyxiated by the gas that I inhaled. How long I lay on the ground I can't say. Two hours at least or perhaps less. When I came to myself I perceived a feeble light in the distance to which I directed myself, and had the good fortune to fall on to a "poste de secours," where my wounds were dressed. From there I was sent to Suippes, where I was placed on a sanitary train and sent to a hospital at La Rochelle.
After my wounds were healed, I reported at my dépôt whence I was sent to a section on the Pas-de-Calais, a rather quiet part of the line.
During a month's time we were on more or less good terms with the Bavarians opposite us and exchanged bread, chocolate, cigars and cigarettes until the Bavarians were relieved by a detachment of the Imperial Guard. The Prussians blew up seven mines under the trench where my company was stationed and buried all but eight of my company. Completely dazed, we joined ourselves to a small group of bombardiers of another company and we retook from the Boches 80 metres of trench by grenade fighting.
After being relieved from our position we had a short rest before we were ordered to Verdun.
For nine days in the first line the Boches attacked us twelve times with gas and liquid fire. These attacks with massed troops cost the Germans enormous losses. Our losses were heavy enough from the bombardment of cannon of all calibres, a bombardment never ceasing day and night. How many of my comrades lie there about our positions, still in death! It was a frightful sight to see, the dead heaped up in piles, dead horses, and pieces of caissons and cannon strewn around.
Our trenches were continually damaged by the explosion of "marmites" and for nine days and nights we had little rest. We were always engaged in watching the enemy day and night and in repairing the damage done to our trenches.
On the tenth day we were relieved from the first line to positions further back, where we were held in reserve, but there the "marmites" continually fell. I became an "agent de liaison" and carried orders from the Colonel of the Brigade. I carried on this duty for eight days, when I was wounded by a German shell in both legs, right hand and back. I was carried to the poste de secours, where I fainted. When I came to myself they lifted me into an American automobile having on its side a plate inscribed "don de la Société Hotchkiss." This car carried me to Revigny and from there I was evacuated to the American Ambulance of Juilly, where I recognized the driver who had carried me to Revigny.
I can only render homage to the doctors and nurses who have surrounded me with such good care during my stay here. Homage to America, our Sister Republic!
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