About Me

Born August 4, 1894 in Auburn, New York to William and Alice Beardsley Woodruff Hills. Younger brother Carroll Beardsley Hills and younger sister Mary Day Hills. Educated at St. Paul's School, Concord, New Hampshire and Princeton University, class of 1917

Monday, January 12, 2009

Letter written January 5, 1919

Dear Mother-:

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.
With love

Letter written December 28, 1918

Dear Mother -:

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.

With love