1918-9-23 and after–Coetquidan to Parois

Map of WWI front lineSeptember 23, 26 are mentioned in the text

Written in pencil and pen on YMCA paper

ymca stationery 1

CMC 1919-9 ms 1

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            The railroads were overtaxed. Demands after demands were made on all transportation in France. Consequently, to procure a train on scheduled time was an abnormal occurrence in these times of war. When we think of the tremendous burden which the R.R. systems had to bear in France we can be but thankful to say the least. She not only had to see that her own troops were taken to the front, but was an ever ready aid in seeing that the troops of her allies were transported also. It is true that Uncle Sam succeeded in a short time to alleviate the situation by building locomotives and cars for his own use, but he was working at a tremendous disadvantage, so great dependence necessarily he to fall upon the French transporting systems.

We had special trains to carry our troops from the training camps to the front. Ours had been ordered and we were to leave early that night—but the train did not arrive until the two o’clock at night. All out impediments had to be loaded. Tis a job to load all the accoutrements which accompany a battery or company of Field artillery. All the horses, wagons, saddles, rifles, guns kitchen apparatae must be

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loaded. Even at that a company working in good accord can easily load itself in a couple of hours and less time than when necessary.

We had our horses, even though we were supposed to be motorized. All our training had been for motorization, but we were unlucky and had to use the horses during the whole time at the front.

Geur map

Having loaded, we left Guer at 10 P.M. September 23. There were both box cars and regular third class passenger coaches on the train. It was necessary for two men to remain in each car with the horses, and care for them en route. They made their beds and slept at the horses’ heads, and take it from me that when the horses and the two men were in one of the small box cars they were full to the uttermost. The men scarcely

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had room to sleep. Sometimes the horses would break loose and step on the boys while they were sleeping. It took a heavy sleeper to rest with some of these equestrian animals. The stamp, the whinnie, and the kick of some of the big stallions we had were something to battle against.

Always when the train would stop near water the tender would leap with his bucket to fetch a pail of water for the horses. The hay was placed in the cars.

On one car our kitchen was placed. The cooks would travel on this flat open car and cook as we went along. The table etiquette was indeed meagre. We were lucky if we have time at meal time to jump from the cars and chase to the kitchen and get our corresponding quotas of bully beef, etc. Some times the train would give a “toot” and steam out before half the line was fed, and that was allright. The next stop would suffice. Leave it to a yankee soldier to get enough to eat, if enough is to be had.

Occasionally when the train would stop I would run back and visit

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a pal until the next stop. There was nothing like getting acquainted with everything in the train if possible. We would talk about the horses or the landscape. Occasionally someone would yell “Come look at the winding River landscape” or some lad who was more particularly interested in the Madamoiselles along the way would attend them with a persevering eye. Such a one would generally whistle to let the others have a look also. A woman was a precious thing to the boys. The most of us had been separated from women for a year and naturally being human we were always willing to take an interested glance at the fair maidens at the slightest provocation.

Seldom would we speak of what we were going to do at the front. Everyone had that anxious interest in seeing the front. We had heard so much about it. The papers and magazines were full of items about the front. Even editors at home would use their imaginations from descriptions which they read from papers. Poets wrote many

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absurd lines. They sounded very well, but they lacked the real imagery which naturally surrounds a modern battle field. Some would speak of the boys carrying the colors over the top, which had they been in the fray they would not have made such an error. The authors are like nature poets who know but little about nature. One must know a sparrow before he writes about it and so one must actually experience days in a modern battles ere he is capable of sensing the realities of such combats. We would sometimes use our imagination on this trip to the front. However the nearer we cam to the mouths of the Boshe’s Cannon the more vivid our imaginations became. We were not afraid to go further.

We thot we knew where we were going when we started from Coetquidan [the camp in Guer?]. The Americans had a Railhead at Bar le Duc and we were confident that we would terminate our journey at this city. We knew as we came near Revigny and Barleduc that we could not go much further or we would penetrate the Hindenberg line by a new method. We knew after travelling a

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couple of days with but few stops we must be nearing our destination. Then too, we had a map and with but little pains we could very easily locate ourselves.

The nearer we approached the terminus of our steam journey, the more we could see the effects of war. Here and there graves of French soldiers could be seen near the track. These were probably aviators graves, and perhaps they had been buried where they fell. Stockades for prisoners could be seen along the way, and Fritzies with their peculiar shaped caps with the red band could be seen laboring, under the guidance of French guards.

At last our engine let out a long shrill whistle, as if being overtaxed it were glad to rid its self of its load. The word went about that we were there. We arrived at Revigny September 25 after night. There were no lights, save a little fire which a few boys of some sanitary train had built out in the open to keep themselves warm and make the pace have at least a tinge of home life about it. One imagine what a fire means until he must do without it awhile. I noticed that on the march to the Rhine whenever we tarried

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for an hour someone would rush for the powder can and coax a fire with the aid of a few sticks of wood. Just as soon as a little blaze was started a circle of Kakki clad lads would be gathered about it, and if the builder was not careful he would be entirely crowded from the results of his labors.

The next thing to do was unload the train and take to march. We had reached the end of our journey by train, but there was still another which required a double effort on our parts.

The sounds of guns could be plainly heard in the north. In fact it was one continuous roar, with a now and then augmented report made by a long distant gun which was not very far away. We were in the dark moping about using no other senses but the muscular, speech and feeling. No lights were allowed. I do not understand why the sanitary boys were still allowed to feed their fires from the boxes that lay near by. Anyhow we were to use no lights. The horses must be hitched. The driver must be on the alert. Each one had his particular team to look after, and nobody desired to be the last one ready

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to go. Those who had individual mounts had to get their steeds from the car and make them ready for riding. With all inconveniences of the evening and the sharp shrill voice the some in the company we finally managed to start out.

Those afoot followed in the rear. I being one of these know more about the foot-soldiers as Caesar used to call them than those who rode.

We thot certainly from the reports of the guns that we were certainly near the fighting front. It was at the beginning of the big September drive and the Yanks in this sector were throwing over their big supply of ammunition which Kaiser Bill thot at one time would never be. The sky in the north was lighted. Suddenly parts would become more intensely lighted until the rays would be an aid to illumine our way. Now and then a signal would be seen to burst in midair which would intensify the battle scene. Airplanes would fly about above us. The buzz would first be faint and as they came near the [?] noise would become louder and more distinct and then I could hear it fade away in the distance. I did

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not know but what these were German planes. In fact we were all green at the business and were perfectly willing to be quite [quiet] while the bird was passing overhead.

We were not allowed to smoke on the way to the front, since the light from the cigars and cigarettes would disclose our positions. If a marching company could thus be detected, a bombing plane could begin at one end of a marching column and drop bombs until it had played havoc with the whole bunch of men. Then too a plane armed with machine guns would, under suspicion [?] swoop down close to the ground and open fire. The methods were often used by planists. Indeed units of our regiment suffered such a plight once or twice while on the march at night. Such an attack is very hard on the morale of the men and thus we were cautioned on these marches as we approached nearer the battlefields to carful about our actions in this regard.

As we went through Revigny, a town near 8 mi. a little north of east of Bar le Duc. I saw the first effects of war upon French property. I reverted in my war history and determined whether or not Revigny was ever under German control

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in the war, and decided that it was not. The buildings that were destroyed were then bombed or else destroyed by shells from the long range guns. Everything was dead about the village. Parts of the town was apparently intact, and certainly the town was still inhabited, but other than the life and good spirit of my comrades there was no life about the place. The natives were perhaps asleep, since it was approaching midnight as the last part of our company left this station yard.

Being thrown out into the midst of a new country, we were kept guessing as to where we were going. Some said Metz. Others Verdun. Using the North Star as our guide we knew that we ever kept a north easterly direction that night, and by make comparisons of the relative location of these towns, surely we would land in or about Verdun.

There was no chance of a regiment being located in a city. The corps, the divisional or the army headquarters always had the monopoly on the cities. When we heard we were going to Coblenz after the armistice was signed, I knew that I would be lucky if I ever saw the place. We went around Paris, and did

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[missing—actually appears just misnumbered]

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not go thru it. All such is army tactics. Not everyone can be satisfied in the army. If such were the case we would all want to be soldiers.

I had heard a “Y” man lecture in Camp Coetquidan and he had informed us that we would have a long march to the front and further that the most of the marching would be done at night. He further said that we would be very tired, and he was right. When we reached the French barracks that night the bunch was willing to sleep in the road. The boys laid down by the road side while the officers went to provide sleeping quarters for the men. I could have easily slept in the road that night and would have had a plenty of company.

However, after our arrival [unreadable word—‘at’?] these temporary barracks, sleeping quarters were procured for the most of us. We did not arise very early the next morning but when we did we were eager first before eating to discover a stream of water where we could wash. A clear flowing stream passed by near our home and we applied the water freely here.

I inquired of some of the French soldiers here about the distance to the

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trenches. “Oh!,” said they, in their native tongue flavored with English. “The Devils have been retreating so fast that certainly they must be 20 or 30 kilometers from here.” “If this were true,” thought I, “there still remains a big march ahead of us.” I had further reason for my opinion, since the few American soldiers I had met along the way had told me practically the same story.

Anyhow in the afternoon, we had a band concert by our band and after supper—just as soon as darkness had come we resumed our journey toward the front. Everyone felt refreshed after the night’s rest in the French barracks. We were told that we only had short distance to travel, and that kept the spirit high among us pedestrians. Our packs were not very heavy. We had eliminated most everything possible—only the pack and a raincoat was left. So long as we carried that much we were obeying the order which said we must carry packs.

The use of imagination is not enough to tell of the boys as they trudged

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along on these marches after night. We were not ourselves. We had been reared more or less to make our own decisions. At home when we were tired we could [unreadable] a bed and rest and if we desired not to do a thing we were not forced to do it, but in the army one is simply the tool of his next senior in command. What the senior officer commands must be done by his inferior. One’s own initiative on these trips was thrown in the waste basket and his mind had to be an automatic machine more or less that is made only to act at the stimulus of some officer. However practically all one does on such a journey is to think, but he never gets to use the product of this thot. [the last sentence is a bit constructed from an interpretation of the ms.]

The foremost thots were those concerning our destination. Could we arrive there in time to get a little rest? Could we find a place to spread our blankets in the woods where we stopped? Would we arrive before morning? And when could we continue our march? All such interrogations could be heard in the various conversations among the boys. As a general rule we were gay when we started on our journey, but we [were] practically dumb in a few hours

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and then nothing could be heard but the trudge of the men, the clatter of the horses shoes hitting the hard roads. And the report of canons in the distance. The roads in this section were good.

As we neared our destination sudden stops would be made in the line. Parking places had to be found for the carriages and suitable places discovered for the horses. While this was going on there was necessarily many jogs and stoppages in the rear of the lines. Such stops were tremendously discouraging those in the rear, especially when the weather became cool and disagreeable. There was nothing for the pedestrian to do in such instances but continue in movement of some sort by kicking about or by running up and down this road, and generally we were so tired that locomotion of any form was in the least pleasant.

Revigny-sur-Ornain, France to Waly, France – Google Maps Revigny-sur-Ornain, France to Waly, France - Google Maps

Revigny to Waly--smallRevigny to Waly--larger

 

[B marks Waly]

Waly, Lorraine, France--2012

We arrived in a big wood near Waly that night at about 2 a.m. These arrivals in total darkness in unknown quarters was disgusting at times. The wood was damp. In fact it had been raining and the underbrush was still dripping with rain. The roads or

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by ways were all cut up, and the continual dodging about between the trees and stumps was certainly little fascinating to the drivers, but they seldom whimpered.

Of course in all these marches we were very adequately equipped. Our pup tents were ever handy. That night of September 26th my companion and I had an argument as to whether or not we should pitch our tents. The appearance of the sky was suspicious. We decided however that we would not drive the pegs and just sleep out in the open and get all the air that was to be had. But alas! our first bed was a failure. We had been rather hasty in selecting our spot. We were too close to the picket line, and what if some of those stallions should succeed in loosing themselves and come over and tramp over us? We were not long in picking up our bed and finding another spot for it, but this time we made the bright decision to spread the little tent. The decision was bright because the next morning

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when we wakened, shower saluted us. We did not arise very early that morning. In fact we usually remained in our beds until seven or eight o’clock the morning after forced marches.

Common sense must be used whenever possible in the army as well as it should be in ordinary civil life. Army Generals realize that the human body can only endure so much and beyond that, more endurance is but to little avail. I must credit the generals with discretion in such matters. Wherever possible the feelings of the private soldier was considered. It is wonderful though what man can endure at times.

“Pack up we are leaving at nine this morning.” said the Captain.

All was right. We were all quite refreshed after our outing during the night and was ready to pursue our journey farther. We knew that we only had one more lap to make and then we would probably go into position and fire our first 155 at the Hun. That would be our great delight—a thing for which we had

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expended a tremendous amount of effort and time.

As we left the wood on that morning of the 27th, the question struck me: “Why have we come to the front this far under cover of night, and now as we approach our position start out on a bright sunny morning?” That I suppose is one of those peculiar military secrets, known only to a few.

There was no singing on our trip that day. Nobody was frightened, but I suppose there was an undercurrent of this philosophie floating in the mind of each of our boys. Ambulances would occasionally whiz by. An occasional airplane could be seen devastated perhaps by an enemy plane. The real trench—the war fare trenches were seen stretching across the fields as we passed.

We always had to keep to the side of the road in order to facilitate traffic and when the order would come to fall out of our ten minute

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rest period, everyone must fall out at the right of the road.

As we neared our destination, various signs could be read along the road. Occasionally Bosce notice could be seen which showed that they one time held the country. Of course that was pleasing to us, since we knew that we were beating the boys at their own game

Parois, Lorraine, France[Parois is marked by the pin; note Revigny-sur-Omain and Bar-le-Duc to the south.]

Parois, Lorraine, France-2012 [Parois is marked with B]

The evening of September 27th found us at Parois. We were the first part of our regiment to arrive here, and indeed we were only the advance party of our regiment to find [?] ourselves here. The remainder of the regiment was to follow. One battalion was loaded at Camp Coetquidan at a time and since we we[re] the first to load naturally the remainder of the regiment would closely follow us to the rear.

Parois was one time held by the Germans. Indeed they one time swept thru the town much farther South, but gradually they had been pressed back until now they were grappling with the allies in the Argonnes Forest to the Northeast and the Hesse woods to the North.

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            This small town of Parios was a small country place. Only the remains of buildings could be seen. Only occasionally one would find a room which was entirely covered wit a roof. The first night here, I slept in my little tent, but the following day, some troops were moving out and my partner and I looked about and discovered an upstairs room that was roofed, enough so that the rain would not come through. There were no windows in these houses. One might travel for several days in the battle area and never see a window with glass in it. Occasionally one would see where someone had the old ingenuity of greasing paper and placing it over the windows.

The little town was at the confluence of two small streams. I could give the names of the rivulets, but they are French. These streams furnished water for the soldiers of the town. There were no French inhabitants in this section. They had deserted the village long before, and perhaps many of them were taken under German control. What must have been the feeling of these inhabitants of Parois under the domination of the hated agressor? And what must the poor old man and

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woman bear whose only saving were invested in the little homes of the villages which now lay in ruins? I would like to go back to some of these places after the people have reinhabited the country, and have them relate their frightful experiences to me.

A railroad passed thru the place, but it was no longer in use save small portions of it, which was reconstructed after the Huns had been driven back. Railroad guns were to be seen along the tracks. They would be placed in action during the night and during the days they were switched and covered with camouflage, to escape the detection of an enemy plane observer. The camouflage system was wonderful. Deception was so perfect, that it was impossible for an observer to detect these guns unless he came very near the ground. Those big guns would sound like peals of thunder, and the first night or two when firing was at its highest to the north of this little town, when naval guns would play their part at long range.

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            While near this town the enemy prisoners would be marched along the road. Of course it was pleasing for us to gaze at those men, who had ben stripped of all their weapons and in come cases of their belongings! Some of these fellows carried the expression of gratification. They would rather run the risk of being placed in prison camps under the hands of allied soldiers than to face the months of guns. Sometimes only tens of our men would be in charge of as many as fifty German or Austrian prisoners. What must have been flitting thru the minds of these captives? The future was before them, but what of their future? They had heard wondrous tales about the torturing spirit of the Americans. The news had been spread brodcast among the enemy that American never took prisoners. The Huns were afraid of the Yankees, and they had a right to be.

The country about here was devastated to such a degree that it would require years before the land could be put into condition for successful

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tilling. Trenches—miles of them—were dug in the midst of the fertilest fields. Here and there a shell had drop. What had blown a large hole in the ground. The refuse of an army scattered here and yon. What with the houses torn to the ground and many of their friends killed, must have been the feeling of these poor inhabitants?

On the top of the hill just north of the little town of Parois was a region that could suffer but little worse mutilation. I crossed over this for the sake of curiosity just to see the results of a heavy battle, and to be sure the real picture exceeded the mental picture which I had of such a place. One could only receive a mere impression of the meaning of such scenes from magazine pictures. However when one actually treaded on these grounds and study the different features in the reality a lasing and vivid impression remains in one’s mind.

This hill before the war had been covered with a forest, but now no forest remained—only the stumps of

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trees remained and these shattered with bullets and shells. All about the limbs and splinters of the trees lay.

And the shell holes! One could not take more than a few steps before he must doge around a shell hole. This country which was at one time No Man’s Land was litterally torn to pieces with shells. The trenches one time inhabited by the Germans were shattered until one would think that not a man could escape or live there without meeting a violent death. My partner and I as we winded through and between these shell holes wondered when we would ever reach the end of them, but finally we reached a road in the process of construction by our own men and managed to wade mud along the side of this meagre thoroughfare. I remember of taking note of one hole that had been made by a shell which was about 30 ft. in diameter and at least fifteen feet deep. Undoubted there are greater holes to be seen. In fact I later saw one a few minutes after

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it was made by a German shell.

The congestion of the roads back of the lines, would make one think at times that he might be in the heart of some great city. Of course the accompaniments of the vehickles and the sounds of battle made such a fantastical state of mind fade quickly. Any how the roads were blocked so at times that one could scarcely get by with a vehickle of any sort. Sometimes continuous streams of trucks could be seen along these roads could be seen for miles in length, and to make matters all the worse much of the transporting of food and ammunition had to be done under cover of night and since no lights were in use many accidents necessarily occurred.

As a general rule the main roads near [?] the rear lines were in good condition. The Pioneer Infantry and the engineers in this community were set at the task of repairing roads, and with all the heavy and continuous traffic it kept these men busy to keep the roads passable. There were also troops of negroes [two words I can’t read] Argonne station repairing the roads.

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Sometimes I think that these men who were given the task of keeping the roads in repair were not credited enough for the work they did. Take it from me that for the most part these men were in as much danger as most the men at the front. I have seen these men working day after day under the shell fire of the enemy. If there was a target which an artillery man enjoyed firing at, it was a much travelled road and more especially a cross road.

Oftentimes just as soon as a particular part of a road was repaired, over can a shell which spoiled all the work and maybe as a result three or four less Yanks to continue the labor. The engineers were hard workers and labored under the greatest of dangers, therefore give them credit. Quite a number of them joined the army with the expectation of learning something about engineering and construction work, but were consequently placed in the meagre position of breaking stones along the road, or perhaps they shoveled mud to the side of the roads to keep them dry. Give these boys their just dues!

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            There was nothing for the boys to do in and about Parois during their free hours. Tis true that a small group of negroes would frequent the place occasionally and sing some of their favorite songs of Dixie, and perhaps wind up with a dance or some Darky joke. The French soldiers who were stopping over near the town would always take great delight in watching the actions of these representatives of our southland. It mattered not how tired these darkies were there was always some one in the group that would dance and continue to dance until one would think that his heart would stop beating, but still the dancing continued! It seems that a darky can always enjoy himself wherever he is.

Oftentimes along the roads one would see stragglers—always men from the infantry who had lost their company. Perhaps during the night a [unreadable] had been put over and the infantry had gone over the top. Someone was always sure to get lost in such cases. The M.P.’s would do their best in guiding these lost stragglers, but oftentimes these M.P.’s

[end of manuscript]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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