Monday, January 12, 2009
I think the last installment of our continued story left me as advanced billeting officer in the vicinity of Gisors. Well, I and two other boys finally got the regiment all placed and settled in a little town called Chambord. Every thing was very exciting for just then the Bosche had broken thru and were still coming and it was believed that we were going to be used to make some sort of a counter attack along with several other divisions we had seen. Hence no sooner had the division arrived than we worked for about a week on open warfare and then set out for the line. Every bit of baggage was cut down to absolutely the low limit, the officers were allowed but twenty pounds total and the men to one blanket and their regular equipment. We even had orders that the horses should be led and not ridden so that when we finally arrived everything would be fresh that mattered. Our route lay up towards Montdidier from Gisors, passing thru Beauvais, a beautiful city where later I had some splendid times. We halted for two days at Thieux and then started into line. Never will I forget the first trip I made up. The Germans had been more or less stopped and the artillery fire had become proportionately greater as it does under such circumstances. At night the whole sky seen from a distance was one continuous flickering flash of white fire, not for a few minutes but always. We left about 6:30, by we I mean myself and two guns (155 mm.)with their crews etc., planning to get to the battery as soon as the darkness would let us. Within an hour we had gotten to where our long range guns were and from then on it was a continuous performance for the ten kilometers further to our position. I had had an idea that I knew what heavy fire was but this was a revelation. The road for a good way led thru woods and what wasn’t in that woods in the way of artillery never existed. They seemed to be behind every tree and in every conceivable place. The noise was so great that to speak to any one you had to get right beside him and howl in his ear. However, it helped in that you couldn’t hear what was coming after you. There were long guns that yelped and sent a shell over that sounded like a soul from hell with its shriek.There were big, short fat ones that went floom! and sent a ton or so of metal over to the Bosche with a noise like a slow freight. And everywhere 75’s (75mm guns) going on continuously with their crack and growl. It was wonderful and somehow so inspiring that somehow you didn’t mind the danger or discomfort - for it was also raining – at all. We took up a position that looked to me like suicide itself on TOP of a hill and finally a little before daybreak got the guns in and began to add our part to the fuss.There were no organized positions. The sector was too new and ours was simply an old farm laneway behind a hedge overlooking the village of Wells Perrennes. The whole thing was about two inches deep in water when we started and every time the old boys went off a shower of liquid mud would come out from under the trail spade (the trailing portion of an artillery piece which rests on the ground for stability in firing) and cover the gun crews and executive and worse luck by then I was executing. Just about dawn too, to make things a little more pleasant Jerry started in on the town with 210’s (210 mm.guns) and we watched the houses go up in dust in spite of the rain and wondered if he was coming after us. He didn’t tho and we had breakfast of rum, bread and chocolate sitting on the powder boxes in the rain a little later.
There seemed to be no limit to the amount of firing they expected of us. Five hundred (rounds) a day with a 155-mm. Howitzer is a large order for any battery but we thought that we were lucky if that was all we had to do. Usually about the time we thought that we were finished along would come a call for a barrage or a C.P.O. (order from a command post?) and when those were over it was time to begin work again.
After about a week of this I suddenly received my orders to report to the Ammunition Train for duty and discovered that I had been transferred. At first I wasn’t at all well pleased as I liked the battery work very much and we just had things running nicely. I didn’t find out until later that the Am.Train was known unofficially as the suicide club but soon discovered that it might well be. Taking twenty-odd three-ton trucks loaded with shells, powder and fuses to some battery and delivering it without trouble or confusion when the Bosche are doing their own little bit of shooting took, I found, a vast amount of head work and planning. Ammunition is the one thing that can’t be held up and has got to get there and it is up to you to do it and no one but yourself cares how you do it as long as they have it to shoot. However I had rather a splendid touring car to ride about in and little or nothing to do in the daytime.
About how we lived and more detail about the work I wrote you a great deal. How Reg, the Dr. and I lived and kept house in Beauvoir in an inverted style living at night and sleeping during the day.The Cantigny fight there was the only thing out of the regular fun but the work was steady, hard trench warfare. The weather throughout with the exception of the first week was perfect and we used to come home in the green and pink dawn and toast the new day in a glass of port and go to bed and sleep until noon. Thru it all tho there was the element of uncertainty for we all expected the second attack to come at any time and mostly we expected it thru us which wasn’t pleasant to contemplate.
Well this is all now so good bye.
As Kipling says there is “another mocking Xmas past”, and although it wasn’t nearly as bad as last year’s it was far from pleasant or anything that I would like to go thru with again. This year at least I had the advantage of being with friends which is something, while last year I had just arrived in a new outfit and knew practically nobody. However, try as one may somehow you can’t seem to put any cheer into Christmas away from home. It is easy enough to celebrate the armistice as a victory or something of that variety but Christmas falls flat. Moreover the environment this year wasn’t particularly of an inspiring nature. The Germans, tho I have a hunch it is their big day, weren’t at all enthusiastic in their demonstrations and rather naturally we didn’t do things for the children as we did in France. We staged a horse show in the morning and a large egg nog party. Some seven gallons being consumed without great effort or effect. In the afternoon we had a motor exhibition and an extraordinarily large amount of punch which held its chief merit apparently in its ability to depress. Our dinner at evening was rather splendid from the point of view of decorations and food, and there were thirty officers present. The room was draped with evergreen and on the table were three little very much ornamented trees such as we used to have on the table at home. Somehow tho everyone got more or less engrossed in his own thoughts and the excitement did not run high. Such was the day and I am tremendously glad it is over. As I said tho, it was an improvement and perhaps after a few more years I may begin to enjoy it again.
I hope you had the party at home just the same and everything went off in O.K. style, for certainly that is an occasion and one that I enjoyed always almost more than any other. I managed to go back to Coblenz a few days ago and got some presents for you all but the means at hand for sending them are still lacking as I don’t want to risk them by the ordinary mail and I am not yet able to register them. This peace time warfare somehow isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. True enough there are no more flaming, roaring dawns or hideous nights but after all that you can’t imagine how time drags – every day is just about like every other day and you feel pretty sure that the days coming are going to be just about like the ones just past. War is a horrible thing and I never want to see any more of it but nevertheless there is a terrible fascination in it. You may lie down to sleep and sleep peacefully until late the next morning or you may never wake up, or again you may be waked up in ten minutes and start on something absolutely different from anything you have ever done before. I suppose that as a matter of fact it is the lack of thrills and excitement now that palls but certainly there is something. On the other hand I am living more comfortably than I almost ever have anywhere else. The Major, a Capt. Delong and I have three rooms, two small bedrooms and a huge living room which is all hung with at least 20 heads of very good deer, boar, etc., and finished in dark wood and light blue of which very little shows. The house is owned by two splendid old ladies who treat us as tho we were their children.
I am enclosing another little picture of myself which I had taken back in Picardy last July at a little place called Beauvoir where we all had a wonderful time and were very happy even tho the fighting just there wasn’t exactly what one would term quiet.
This is about all there is to tell you just at this minute but I will write you again very soon and in the meantime will continue my serial story.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
This is another break in the serial I am running but I have gotten tired telling what has gone on and am full of what is going on. We crossed the Rhine at Coblenz on Friday the 13th of December at five minutes before midnight. That somehow sounds to me to be very unlucky and just now the worst thing that I can imagine happening to myself is to have to stay where I am for a long time, which certainly looks to me as tho it might happen. We are finally settled in what appear to be our permanent resting places for the occupation. Ours in a town called Kilgert (sp?) about fifteen miles or so from the Rhine in a country that resembles the Adirondacks and New Jersey rolled into one. Fine high wooded hills and lots of splendid red sticky mud. Not one redeeming feature. All the inhabitants that are left are engaged in the absorbing pastime of making the mud into little ornamental pipes and marbles which they bake and sell to the unsuspecting. I am sending you some specimens for Xmas as they are the only things I can get hold of. Some day perhaps I may get back down to Coblenz from where I may be able to send you something nice. By the way if you can think of anything nice that comes from this part of the country, Germany I mean, let me know and I will send it to you. I doubt it tho for I haven’t yet seen anything around here that I would care to carry away. I don’t blame the Dutch much for invading some other country. It took them away from home. As you can see I am very low in my mind today and probably will be for some time if it is anything like last Xmas. Somehow a whole year’s homesickness seems to catch up with me at this time of year and makes me feel like jumping in the lake. I know too now why they call it sunny France: like everything else in life it is purely a comparative matter. France is a whole lot sunnier than Germany. We left Verdun on a perfectly beautiful day the 21st of November and since then I have seen the sun exactly three times and those have never been for more than ten minutes. That is why, I suppose, that the Germans have such pink and white complexions; there is no sun to tan them.
I am enclosing some orders which give you an idea of what the 1st Division did. It is the only division that was ever cited singly by the commander in chief and this order deals with probably the most disagreeable fight I was ever in. This is all now.
Good bye. With love
The reference in the last paragraph above is to:
General Orders No. 201, dated Nov. 10, 1918, from the General Headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces:
“1. The Commander in Chief desires to make of record in the General Orders of the American Expeditionary Forces his extreme satisfaction with the conduct of the officers and soldiers of the First Division in its advance west of the Meuse between October 4th and 11th, 1918. During this period the division gained a distance of seven kilometers over a country which presented not only remarkable facilities for enemy defense but also great difficulties of terrain for the operation of our troops.
“2. The division met with resistance from elements of eight hostile divisions, . . . The enemy chose to defend its position to the death, and the fighting was always of the most desperate kind. . . .
“3.The success of the division in driving a deep advance into the enemy’s territory enabled an assault to be made on the left by the neighboring division against the northeastern portion of the Forest of Argonne, and enabled the First Division to advance to the right and outflank the enemy’s position in front of the division on that flank.
“4. The Commander in Chief has noted in this division a special pride of service and a high state of morale, never broken by hardship nor battle.
“5. This order will be read to all organizations at the first assembly formation after its receipt.
“BY COMMAND OF GENERAL PERSHING”
Since we have not moved lately and are still hold down the village of Salmroh (sp?) I can continue the travels and adventures of one P. Hills. I think I was at Beaumont in (illegible) at the last writing doing a touch of artillery observation.We lived there, another lieutenant called Hatch and I, for over two months. For quarters we had a splendid dugout underneath the building the O.P. (observation post) was in the top of. It was proof against anything except the very largest shells and happily very dry and fairly warm. There was too a French O.P. nearby and the two of us messed (ate meals) with them and in fact imposed on them generally. We worked our duty in eight hour shifts since one of us had to be there all the time. I would go on at four in the morning and stay till noon when Hatch would appear and stay till eight at night when I would relieve him again and so on. The night hours were naturally by far the worst for we could have no heat or light except in the little cubby hole where the telephones were and cold wasn’t the word. Moreover outside of the regular fire works there was absolutely nothing to watch. It was just a question of keep looking and wait for something to happen and usually nothing did. Sometimes tho things would get livelier and livelier among the rifles and machine guns and then up would go a rocket of one variety or another and we would turn on all the artillery and try to see what the results would be. Some nights would be very quiet with hardly a cannon fired from ten at night until morning, others would be fairly lively almost all the time with things coming and going in fine style. However, the fire in that sector was never very heavy unless there was a barrage on and they happily were never of very long duration.
About this time it became fairly evident that the Bosche were going to attack somewhere and it was going to be a real attack since already there had been identified on a great many parts of the front units that had come from Russia. We talked about it unofficially quite a bit wondering where it would break and officially every defensive measure possible was taken all the way from Switzerland to the North Sea. Then finally it did come, about as far from us as it possibly could be and it was then that Gen. Pershing made his famous offer to Marshall Foch, and we were taken.
I was sent ahead to billet the second Battalion of the 5th (Field Artillery Brigade of the 1st Division) principally I suppose because I could speak French and also because I needed a vacation. I had been in the O.P. for two months without a break or change of any sort. Three other officers had been there with me but somehow the business hadn’t agreed with them and they had been given something a little less strenuous.
It was then that I passed thru Paris and had one day there. We were to billet in the vicinity of Gisons and it was to that town we (the billeting party) first went. It was a wonderful part of the country, by far the best I had ever been in with the City of Gisons wonderfully medieval and interesting. Wasn’t there sometime in history a Black Knight of Gisons? If not there should have been. For the place is just suited to him. Black towers, a big, dingy narrow cathedral, very narrow streets and a million crows all around.
This is all I have time for now with love Paul
Sunday, December 7, 2008
This has got to be more or less of an interlude in the sad story of my life for it is an occasion. In fact one of the few ambitions of my life have been realized for yesterday we came into Germany, that is real old Germany that always has been Germany.We were, as you remember, in Luxemburg until yesterday when we started and went down to the river Moselle along which we followed until we finally crossed some little stream the name of which I don’t quite remember and were in the ancestral home of the squarehead. It was really quite a thrill that one had and if anyone had told me a month ago that I would be in Germany today I should have put them down as quite mad. We followed along the river to Treves (or Trier, in German) and from there came over to where we now are, a village called Salmohr, not far from Wittlich. It is the invasion of Germany but vastly different than I ever had any idea it would be. I am sorry that we did not get into their towns as the Bosche went out the other side to the accompaniment of machine guns, falling walls, the black smoke of melanite and dust and noise, but this way is very much more comfortable. The invasion is more in the way of pleasure trip than anything else. We arrive and billet just as we did in the French rear area town.The inhabitants are not at all ill disposed and nothing in the world can keep the glorious American high ranking buck private from making friends with every and anybody. Ten minutes after they were in Germany the streets were full of Heinies and Americans swapping cigarettes and having the time of their life. The Dutch can’t cope with the situation at all. There seems to be some mistake. For here are these soldiers whom they have heard were such savages and brutes treating them better than their soldiers would.
As a matter of fact the people can’t do enough for us and the feeling against the Kaiser among them is tremendously high. It may perhaps be different in some other parts of the country as we go farther in but just now the feeling between the invaders and the invaded is thoroughly amicable to say the least.
This is about all now --- I will write more later
I think the last installment left us at the battle of Gondrecourt.That finally ended or rather the weather ended it for us for the snow got so deep that the carriages could not move and things in the maneouver line became impossible.Then I went to school which school was at Gondrecourt itself. That wasn’t bad at all, more or less of a vacation from the point of view of physical exercise but rather strong on the mental effort. We learned a lot of things we knew already and a lot more that we did not know. The schedule was usually classes and theory in the morning and firing in the afternoon. The course lasted about five weeks and was very much worth while. During the last week we were there, however, the regiment moved into line and when school was over there I went too. The battery was in the Toul sector near a town called Mandres where battallion headquarters was. No sooner had I reported than I was assigned for duty on observation from which place I think I wrote you quite a good deal.That work was wonderfully interesting and we shot Bosche and shot at Bosche to our heart’s content. It was however a little too risky to be thorough unalloyed enjoyment for two or three times we just stood still and looked at each other waiting for the end to come and wondering what it would feel like. The O.P. (observation post)was under the roof of the least destroyed building in the village of Beaumont. There was a little slit in the tiles to look out of during the daytime and rather a large hole which we looked out of at night.We were quite well equipped having all varieties of instruments and maps and were connected with every battery round and other O.P.’s by telephone. There was plenty to do which helped a bit and made the time pass quickly. During the day we made adjustments on crossroads, etc. over on the Bosche side for all the batteries and when we were not doing that, watched and tried to locate Bosche batteries. When we located one we shot him up and our work consisted in keeping the guns on the target and reporting results. There is certainly quite a satisfaction in locating some Heinie outfit who has been worrying you, proving exactly where he is and then systematically blowing him up. Sometimes, tho, Jerry would get mad and shoot back which was as disagreeable as anything could be. One morning after we had made a raid he was very mad, shooting up most everything in sight but somehow not us and we were shaking hands with ourselves wondering how long it would last when a great big black one went up right in front of the house about 200 yards away. That was the first in that particular locality and we wondered what was up.The next one was in direct line headed for us about 50 yards closer and so the next one and the next with about 30 seconds between shots. Finally one hit just in front of the house, showering dirt all over the place.The corporal and I were looking out watching things and had a fine idea just where the next one would hit. For protection we had some high grade tiles and a sheet of first class tar paper.The situation to say the least was tense. The Corp simply kept on looking and said quietly “And the next one gets us.” I have had some really narrow shaves during this performance but never did I feel as I did while we were waiting for the next one that never came. Why it didn’t come heaven only knows but I do know that during that 30 seconds and the following two minutes I lived a hundred years. It isn’t the things that happen that scare you. It’s the things that might.
This is about all I have time to write about now but I will do some more tomorrow and try to tell you something about how we lived, ate and didn’t wash, which tho it was just our daily existence probably would be more or less interesting.
Good bye With love
Monday, December 1, 2008
This will be more or less in the line of a second installment of the continued story I began in the last letter. As for myself just at present there is nothing new – we are still in the middle of Luxemburg and very quiet but I rather imagine that we will drag out before many more days.
We left off the last time if I remember correctly at the time we left the Luneville sector in Nov. (Paul is here relating his experiences as an officer in the U.S. Army’s First Division since beginning artillery training after receiving his commission. Before the Armistice, censorship prohibited his offering any details of operations or location in his letters home.) Well, we started from there to march to our winter quarters which were in the middle of the Meuse valley, probably the worst locality in France. At least it has that reputation for every time you even mention it to a Frenchman, he shivers, groans and makes some appropriate remark highly uncomplimentary. We were four days on the road and finally ended up in a little place about ten kilometers from Gondrecourt called Chassy. It was miserable, and medieval was the only word that describes it. I think I wrote you about it at the time for I was quite impressed and depressed also. However we started out almost immediately on a series of maneuvers which kept our minds off anything else. I don’t believe I ever worked harder or had longer hours in my life as did also all the rest of the division. In speaking about it still the men call it the Gondrecourt war and insist that it was without doubt the hardest battle they ever endured. There was one advantage, however, in that it made everything that ever followed it seem easy. That kept up until the first part of January with a welcome relief of one day off for Xmas and one for New Year’s. The weather was also in keeping with the whole performance as it alternately rained and snowed the whole time with now and then a day when it got so cold that it was almost impossible to breathe. The climate of the Meuse is more like that of Auburn than any place I have been since I left the village of the plain. I remember one day in particular we left Chassy to make a reconnaissance at four the morning. It gets light about eight at this time of the year. It was raining blue blazes and the roads were an absolute glare of ice. The major was along and all the officers of the battalion together with an immense detail of men carrying all the artillery instruments known to man. I have a hunch we looked something like the children of Israel coming out of Egypt. We rode away like blazes as the place of business was a long way off and of all the rides I ever hope to take that one wins. You could see absolutely nothing and we were supposed to be following the major. Every once in a while you would hear some one go down swoosh! Great cursings and howling would follow but those still up never stopped a second. Everyone that I saw afterward took one or more spills during that ride. Well, some of us arrived finally, the major unfortunately being one. I can see him yet as he stood there in the grey dawn with the water running off his nose and the slush into the top of his boots cussing everything under the sun and us in particular, for most of all we were late, and the others from the other brigade had gone on somewhere else. We were till noon getting that whole detail together and then having messed around for an hour or so we rode home again in the dark. Such was life but as I said everything after that seemed easy.
This is about all now but as the Ladies Home Journal says “will be continued in our next number.
This is, I think, about time to wish every one a merry Xmas tho it seems queer.