I haven’t done a great deal of writing lately but have the excuse of having been
busier than ever before since I landed in France. We are on service in the busiest sector of the whole line and as you can imagine there is no little to be done.
I think that perhaps if I told you what a day’s work is like you can get a better idea of the way we live and the work we do.
We are billeted in a woods about 8 kilometers (5miles) behind the line, at least that is our base of supplies and where we go back after service. Take day before yesterday as an example: I woke up about 8, had coffee and saw that the car (ambulance) was alright. Lunch or dejeuner was at 10 and at 10:30 the ten cars on service that day start out and go to the town which is our reserve post.
There we live in the “Au Cheval Blanc” which in its day must have been quite an inn. Now, however, it has no roof, the walls are mostly gone down to the 1st story, and the windows stopped with sandbags and stones. The thing in its favor tho is that it has an elegant big vaulted cellar into which all of us can get at once.
As soon as we arrive the three first cars get their directions and go on to the advance posts. Today I am at one called “Ferme –“. We go out from the town of the Cheval Blanc three streets that look like a war photo of “stricken France” and take a road that winds up a hill along the edge of a valley and then cuts up thru a ravine like our glen to the Ferme, which is on the edge of a plateau. The road through its entire length is protected with brush camouflage both above and on the sides. There is artillery firing on both sides which seems at times to raise your helmet right off your head. All along the road are big paper signs “Route battu. Defense de stationner.” (Battle area. No parking) Hence one hurries a little. The Farm itself is at the head of the ravine as Elmer’s would be to our glen. It might have been a farm once but now they might just as well call it the stone quarry or the macadam road in the making. It resembles these more.
The post itself is in a cave about 100 meters from the Farm. We put the car under a bank and go quickly to the mouth of the cave around which a number of men are standing, none very far away. The door of the cave is about as conspicuous as a woodchuck hole but inside it is immense. Without exaggeration you could put our house in it three or four times over. You go down thirty or forty steps and there you are: room after room but here and there with a candle by which you can see men stretched out sleeping. Some in groups are talking in low tones or playing cards; others eating, always with a knife out of a tin can. We go to the head of the brancardiers and find that just then there aren’t any wounded, talk over the news in a mixture of French and English and sit down to wait. Sometimes we sleep on a brancard and other times we go outside the door and watch the farm become further macadamized. There is a whiz over your head and a geyser of black smoke blacker than ink jumps a hundred feet out of the ground with a bang that cracks your head. Everybody ducks, says “Sale Bosche” or something like that and stands up to wait for the next one. Sometimes the whiz sounds too close and everybody slides head over heels on top of everybody else down the steps, and when the shell has gone to nearly the same place, all get up and laugh at each other.
By and by we get our load, put them in the car and go back by the Cheval Blanc where we tell another car to come and take our place. We take wounded on to the hospital about 10 kilometers away and come back to the C.B. where we wait again for our turn, usually about an hour, just long enough to get doing something or just asleep at night. At night, driving is more difficult since the roads are absolutely full of artillery coming and going, re-supplies and men. This keeps up all the time until the relief cars come up the next day at about 11 o’clock when we go back to the cantonment, have lunch, spend the afternoon cleaning ourselves and the car, have dinner and go immediately to bed. The next day we are usually in service again and it is the same things over again with variations.
I was writing this in the cave I told you about but had to stop for a load and now with everything finished am back again at the cantonment.
I have never exactly told you what the section consists of. There are 20 cars, 10 Packards and 10 Fords. There about 35 drivers, a French lieutenant , an American lieutenant, 4 French mechanics, 2 cooks and 4 or 5 other Frenchmen who do odd things.The drivers are all American volunteers like myself. Ranging in age from 1 older than you are to 1 younger than Carroll (his mother was, in 1917, about 50, and his younger brother was about 17). Most, however, are between 20 and 30. As an average they are a wonderful crowd and as sporting as they make them, perfectly willing if they are told to drive a car right over to Berlin and get the Kaiser.
The next time you hear anyone say anything against Billy McCarthy (from Auburn, New York) tell them what you think of them. In the last two months I have seen him do things that not 1 out of 10 men who criticize him would even consider for a minute. Takes his life in his hands to help other people and beside all that live a life that Sir Galahad himself would have not the slightest kick on.
This letter is a long lot of stuff about the way we live, and I hope it interests you. It isn’t very well expressed tho for I never was strong on that. If you want to get a better idea get a book called “Bullets and Billets” by Bairnsfather. If I had written it myself there will not be a truer expression of my own sensations. Substitute only an ambulance driver for a machine gun subaltern and you have it cold.
Good bye now, love
About my address: The one on the back of the envelope is for the censor and mine at present, but may change. All my mail is forwarded from Morgan Harjes and there is only one day’s delay. I think you had better keep writing me there since anything on the way when my address changes is as good as gone. Paul