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Phase IV- Along the Vesle


HISTORY OF THE SEVENTY SEVENTH DIVISION
Phase4
Along the Vesle


PHASE IV
ALONG THE VESLE

THE time had come to leave the "training sector." Speculation was rife. Where were they going), Chateau Thierry.) Siberia.) Italy?-even the Philippines were included in the roster of possible destinations. Rumors ran riot. There were two exceptional specimens of logical deduction rampant
in the rank and file at that time, which, placed one against the other, brought one to a dead halt, and obliged one to start anew on one's calculations.

This Division, " said Buck Private, " is in for a lot of action. It has political influences behind it. It contains a host of men prominent in the business, political and social circles of the nation's greatest city. They are all anxious to make a name for themselves and to get themselves tons of glory.

We are going to a hot sector, you bet!"
"Mais non, this Division," argued Bugler Jones, "will never see action. It has political influence behind it. It contains a host of men prominent in the business, political and social life of the nation's greatest city. The nation can't afford to lose them. This Division will never see any action. We're needed at the Mexican Border. "

By August 1st, the Division was again in motion. The Infantry hiked to Charmes, the Artillery to Bayou by easy stages for entrainment. Doubts of the nature of the railroad journey were dispelled, by the presence, on flat-cars on each train, of anti-aircraft machine guns. Chateau Thierry-it was to be! It began to dawn upon the men in the trains when they passed Bar-le-Duc, with sand-bags on its station platform, and with places along the road marked "Abri--60 Personnes or Cave-50 Personnes and. the like. They were going west, and northwest, parallel with the front. The 77th was on the way to real war; it became more evident when all along the line the train passed great hangars, elephantine railway guns on sidings, and French camps of all kinds. Hospital trains, trains with French soldiers coming and going were passed at frequent intervals, and a hurried word shouted from one to the other showed the 77th that these men were battle-bound too, for some of them were veterans of many fights. The Division was hurrying along on one of the great arteries that fed the battlefields.

Detrainment, after a ride of some forty--eight hours, was by night-and then followed the approach toward the Vesle. The impression of much of the country in those parts, to many of the men, was only blackness-for they hiked always by night.


Valley of the Vesle

THE VESLE

"Lorraine was only a boxing match, but the Vesle, that was a real fist-fight, " is the epigram made by an officer of the 77th Division in speaking of the Vesle. "The Hell-hole Valley of the Vesle, " the doughboy soon learned. to call it, from experience. At the Vesle, the 77th Division had its first real tussle with modern warfare, for it found itself face to face with the Prussian of the old days, the Boche who then still harbored his fond dreams of world-dominion. He had received a severe rebuff at Chateau Thierry, but it was only his line that bad been broken, not his spirit as yet. The Vesle he chose as a breath-getting place-and aided by the natural protection of the broad valley, through which the river flowed, he was able to gather his punctured forces, to mass his artillery, hastily to rush up reinforcements, and to postpone the time of his final rout for the brief span of a few months.

The Vesle is not much to look at; a narrow, muddy, snake-like, sluggish-flowing stream winding through a partly wooded valley with more or less steeply inclining ridges on both sides. As a river, it little deserves the name, but as an obstacle to the passage of our troops, it proved more valuable to the Germans than a hundred dozen tons of barbed wire. A military report on the topography of the valley states:-

"The River Vesle has an average width of nine meters and an average depth of two meters and twenty centimeters (about thirty feet wide and ten feet deep). Opposite our Corps front the average depth is probably not over one and one-half meters, with the exception of deep water-holes.

"The widest part opposite our Division sector is fifty feet near the main bridge. The banks are practically straight, and in some places are as high as five feet from the surface of the water. On the Division front, the general contour of the ground slopes down from Hill 210 southwest of Mont Saint Martin. About three kilometers south of the Vesle, the ground slopes very steeply.

" Opposite the 153d Brigade of Infantry, the Vesle runs through a flat, open country; and opposite the western half of the 154th Infantry Brigade, along open, flat country. Numerous small bridges have been located across the river, possible for Infantry use. "

The Germans had established themselves on the north bank of the little stream, in many places throwing spiked contrivances wound with barbed wire into the water, making it difficult to ford or swim. Bazoches and Fismes, both important points on the railroad, which runs through the valley, following the river's course, were in the hands of the Germans. The Americans held as out-posts across the Vesle, the outskirts of Bazoches and of the Chateau du Diable. Boche artillery was concentrated in the valley of Perles and Vauxcere, with the heavy guns north in the draws near Barbonval. Toward the Aisne was additional artillery.
The front lines of the sector assigned to the 77th Division extended parallel to the river, from Morit Notre Dame, St. Thibaut, and through Villesavoye in the direction of Fismes; with the villages of Mont Saint Martin and Chery-Chartreuve in the rear. The Artillery positions were scattered in the area behind Hill 210, along both sides of the main road leading back to Fere-en-Tarden-ois, via Chery-Chartreuve and Mareuil-en-Dole.

TAKING OVER THE SECTOR

The divisions which had participated in the Chateau Thierry counter-offensive had been re-lieved by the 62d French Division and by the 4th Division of Americans. Through the areas just cleared of Germans, the 77th was being rushed-the infantry in camions via Fere-en-Tardenois, and the artillery by night marches through Chateau Thierry. Chateau Thierry, once magnificent, now mutilated, stood a mute evidence of the terrible scenes of only a few weeks before. From there on, the 77th, new to the game, received a pre-taste of the ruin and wreck of war. Battered buildings, shell-marked roads, scattered equipment, carcasses of animals, freshly dug graves, with the hundred and one odors of the battlefields, forewarned the men from New York that this promised to be no gentlemen's war. And toward these desolate, war-torn woods and villages came echoes of the 'Valley of the Vesle: to the ears of the Infantry rushing from Fere-en-Tardenois, and to those of the Artillery, rattling and clanking along from Chateau Thierry through the white dust of the rutted roads, came the full, distant, thunderous " boom-boom-boom " of the " heavies. " And ever nearer drew that sound, until, mingling with the roar of General Mangin's army further north, it became a terrible drumming.
Division Headquarters moved into Chateau Bruyere, also called the Chateau de Fere, on the main road between Fere-en-Tardenois and Mareuil-en-Dole. The ancient chateau stands on a gently sloping hill, so that one side is a full story higher than the other.

When Division Headquarters occupied this building, it had been but recently evacuated by German troops and was in bad condition. Inside and out, there were piles of rubbish and dirt, abandoned ammunition and equipment, and all the Signs of careless living and hasty evacuation.

Traces of the ancient splendor of the chateau in the form of a handsomely framed mirror, a bit of porcelain, or a beautifully carved fireplace, gave one the sensation of living in the lap of luxury.

To be sure, this sensation was entirely dispelled on ascending to the living rooms, where officers spread their bedding-rolls on the floor and hoped they had chosen a spot where the roof did not leak too copiously.

At night, it was almost weird to hear the droning of the enemy planes overhead, and to wait for the moment when they should drop a bomb on the chateau, which, especially on moonlight nights, offered such a shining mark. But never a single bomb struck the building, although a day-light bomb aimed for a truck splashed into the tiny lake of the grounds one-day, and threw a geyser in exploding. Here, for several weeks, Division Headquarters lived and functioned, while the doughboys and the artillerymen hammered the Boche along the Vesle, and finally crossed and started in pursuit of him.


Headquarters, 77th Division

Brigade, Regimental and Battalion Headquarters of the Division's component organizations were always placed, as far as practicable, in locations where they were thought to be comparatively free from molestation, so that executive and administrative work could be performed with a degree of continuity. The strictest of camouflage discipline had to be maintained about such places. These places were often shelled so heavily that organizations were forced to shift. Headquarters of the 153d Infantry Brigade was located in La Tuillerie Ferme, south of Chery-Chartreuve, and for a time at Chartreuve Ferme. In Villesavoye, the 305th Machine Gun Battalion P. C. changed position three times within the confines of the village, while at the Ferme de Dames the 305th and 306th Infantry P. C. were under constant fire.

The Artillery relief was made some time later than the Infantry relief, owing to the fact that the Artillery had hiked. The Infantry was ordered on August 10th, while the Artillery pulled its last gun into position the night of the 17th. 'The 77th "caught the sector on the fly," with very little time given to think or plan over the catch. " Voila, " said the 62d French. " Bon Soir, echoed the 4th-and we saw very little of them after that.

A division of French held the sector to the 77th's left, while the 28th Division of Pennsylvanians were on the right. Opposing the Division during this time, and the subsequent advance, were the 17th, 29th and 216th Divisions of the regular German Army, and the 4th Prussian Guards, a stout array for one American division, new raised into the brood of Mars, to handle.

The night of the 10th-11th, the first relief of the 153d Brigade attempted to reach the lines by marching in single file, about ten feet apart, through the woods north of Chery-Chartreuve, that village being under continuous gas and high-explosive bombardment by 77's and 105's. So intense was the enemy artillery fire on the crest beyond the village that it was deemed advisable not to effect the relief that night. The Infantry for the first time " dug in. "


In Position

"Digging in " at the front, meant one thing. Each man would dig himself, as fast as he could, a hole suitable to his size, either into the flat surface of the ground or into a protecting bank, into which he would crawl, maintaining a sitting posture or prone position according to the nature of the terrain. A shell, in exploding, throws its fragments upward and outward at a considerable angle, and these fragments sometimes travel for hundreds of feet before they finally strike the ground. A shell may burst close to a funk-hole, as the pit is called, and still not injure the occupant, while a man standing upright in the same location woffld be struck by a fragment in its upward path. In filtering toward the front lines, along a road with banks on the side, our men often scooped queer little tunnels into the embankment and dug a funk-bole in it beside. This scheme worked very well and afforded good protection against everything but a direct hit. "Everything is bomb-proof until it is hit," was a- popular saying among the troops.

After the relief had been effected successfully, the night following the first attempt, the men began to grasp an idea of the varied assortment of "stuff" sent over by the Boche. Everything is "stuff" at the front. It's light stuff or heavy stuff, slow stuff or fast stuff; but all of it is undeniably mean stuff.

Here was a course in the ethics of high-explosive society. When a wbizzbang makes an afternoon call, it whistles first, then knocks; and the best manner in which to receive it is by lying prone on the stomach. The acquaintance of other fast company was made. Herr Whizzbang brought along his "lady-friend," Minnie Werfer, whose custom it was first to burst into the most uncouth of caterwaidings, and then into splinters. The minenwerfers were known as "Iron Mermaids," because of the fish-like tails that keep them straight on their course. They are peculiarly disconcerting, as they come through the air with a wailing sob-like whistle, something like a mixture of a locomotive whistle and siren, and they are hard to "judge. " That is, it is diffi-cult to determine where they will land. The whizzbang travels at a high velocity, and the noise of the exploding shell is almost coincident with the shrill whistle that announces its coming. " Tons -of-Coal "I " Jack Johnsons, " " G. I. Cans, " and " Whimpering Willies, " are some of the names adopted for the German long-range greetings-the eight-inch and ten-inch howitzer and rifle shells which make craters as large as eighteen feet in diameter and ten feet in depth. The " G. I. Can" is so named after the galvanized iron cans used in army camps.

But this was not all the Vesle had to offer the men of the 77th Division. There were airplane bombs and machine guns, hand grenades, rifle bullets, flame-throwers and gas shells. These dangers grew more treacherous by night, and were made still more unpleasant by the sultry weather of those hot August days. In this setting, fierce hand-to-hand encounters occurred. Under these conditions, the 153d Infantry Brigade was holding part of the line on the Vesle. The system of reliefs was typical of Infantry reliefs in the American Army. It kept troops of all the units of the Brigade constantly in action, while parts of these units were at the same time in reserve and support. A Battalion of Infantry consists of four Companies. The Second Battalion of the 308th relieved a battalion of the 305th with orders to have two companies across the river along the railroad track. The remaining two companies were kept in support, one near the Tannerie, and the other on a hillside south of Villesavoye. As the Second Battalion went into the out-post zone, the Third and First Battalions of the 308th moved into support position on a line running east and west through Mont Saint Martin and about two kilometers north of Chery-Chartreuve. The Third Battalion then held the right half of this line with a Post of Command in a small quarry near La Pres Ferme, while the First Battalion held the left. Later the Second Battalion was relieved by the Third Battalion, and the former marched back to a position in Pisotte Forest, north and east of Nesles, where it gained a comparative rest, though enemy artillery always fired on the woods. The 307th Infantry then followed a like rotation.


Stops for Chow

During one relief, when the 306th was going out of Mont Notre Dame, Sing Kee, a Chinese, operated a message center in that village while the Germans were bombarding and gassing it at the rate of thirty shells a minute. His companions were wounded one by one and, though gassed himself, Sing Kee refused to leave his post, but ran the message center alone for twenty-four hours. It was only one more evidence of the fact that in the cosmopolitan composition of the Division lay its strength. The twenty-four hours of courage and endurance won for Sing Kee a Distinguished Service Cross.

A patrol of one officer and two men stumbled over a perfectly innocent-looking shell-hole on the night of August 15th, and found in it two Germans with auto rifles, hand-grenades, and two other rifles stacked against the sides of the hole. It was a well-hidden sniper's post. A hand-to-hand struggle ensued; one German was wounded, and the other escaped. Ten minutes later the light artillery was filling that region with gas and high explosive, for it was thought that other shell holes in the vicinity were undoubtedly being used for the same purpose. Such were the encounters in the Valley of the Vesle. It was not a struggle of masses; it was the tussle of man with man.

The night of August 22d, the Germans put down a barrage of high-explosive shells and gas which was meant to sweep the entire front lire. At one point, where the line crossed the railroad track, a detachment of Germans stole up through the cut and attacked fifty men of I and K Companies of the 308th Infantry with " flammenwerfer. " The bright yellow light thrown by the flaming spray of the projectors illuminated the surroundings as in mid-day and caused each man to stand out like an actor behind the foot-lights of a stage. Machine guns of both sides took advantage of the betraying light; in fact, the Germans had brought some of them through the cut to support the flame-throwers. But the life of a "flammenwerfer" is short. The little band-of fifty, by taking cover in the brush at the sides of the cut and crawling through the ditches, routed the enemy and took twelve of them prisoners.

Under the raking fire of enemy machine-guns, and subject to relentless sniping, the 302d Engineers worked each night on the bridges crossing the Vesle, to make them passable for the Infantry. Such activity had to be carried on with extreme caution, as even the sound of pick and shovel, in the quiet of a night lull, prompted a stream of machine-gun and artillery fire. Many were the times when the Engineers, surprised at work, dug in for life. At still other times they joined the Infantry in repelling some raiding party.

While the Infantry, Machine Guns and Engineers faced these conditions close by the river, the 304th, 305th and 306th Field Artillery were pounding away farther to the rear. The 304th and 305th Light Artillery, using the famous French 75 (corresponding to our three-inch rifle), were emplaced behind the first crest which commanded the Vesle, while the 306th, with 155 Howitzers (a short gun of about six-inch caliber with a high angle of fire), had its pieces tucked into patches of Woods, under trees, and in open field positions, artificially camouflaged, to the rear of Chery -Chartreuve.
Scarcely an inch of ground was there which was not fired upon by some kind of German gun. The Boche has a nasty habit of moving his guns about and of changing his targets from hour to hour. A well-known war correspondent writes:-
" The communiques of those days invariably read-'Artillery activity along the sector. Nothing else to report.' The strain of holding a stationary sector for days is always greater than that produced in an advance, and the casualties incurred are always many. There exists none of the exuberance and spirit of a great battle, but there is all the strain and drudgery. "

The main highway leading to the rear was under constant observation by eight enemy balloons, which could be seen hanging lazily against the clouds five miles to the enemy's rear. Despite this fact, the 302d Ammunition Train and 302d Supply Train often sent forward material for both Infantry and Artillery during the daylight hours. Enemy sniper batteries lost no opportunities to fire at the trucks. On our side, the "traveling salesmen" or Corps Artillery, which moved from place to place in the sector, often changing position three or four times a night, sniped at the enemy. The sentry of the 302d Military Police, who was directing the endless night traffic at the Dole crossroads, which was heavily shelled every night, jumped into the air about six feet one morning, when a thunderous report shattered his ear close by. A "traveling salesman" had moved in close to his post, and was " selling iron cigars, " as he put it, when he recovered.

Shells played a number of queer tricks, Most mysterious are those, which did not explode at all, the "duds." A dud comes over with all the pomp, ceremony and animation of a regular shell, then suddenly loses all ambition, and lands with a dull, unsatisfying thud. The failure of a dud to explode sometimes depends only upon the movement of a tiny spring attached to the fuse, so that men are warned always to be careful in the vicinity of a dud. "You all cain't tell me that that boy ain't gonna go off some time, " a Kentucky lad on the way from La Pres Ferme to Mont Saint Martin told his associates one day, while passing a dud on the road, "He's only playin' possum! "

Beginning August 30th, our Artillery placed a destructive fire on Bazoches, that did not cease until September 4th, when the Germans retreated. All day and all night, gas and high-explosive shells were sent hurtling into the town and the railroad sheds, and as most of the observation was accomplished from Infantry Observation Posts, scarcely a shell missed its mark. The town was hammered, stone from stone, until by the 4th of September, no buildings, and only part of the church, were at all intact.

IN THE AIR

In the air, the enemy were much in evidence. It was at a period when the United States had not set its air program into full operation, while the French and British were hard put to it to lend what planes they could spare. The Boche would take almost any chances, even going so far as to circle over the American pieces on bright sunny days, directing the fire of the German guns with great accuracy. Those were the days when the "under cover" whistle was heard frequently, and when guns had to cease firing for minutes at a time so as not to betray their positions.

Chery-Chartreuve was bombed frequently with small bombs, as were Chateau Ferme and other buildings in the vicinity; and to the west of Chery, there is a large volcano-like crater over sixty feet across and fifteen feet deep, made by the largest of " G. I. Cans." The entire 152d Brigade, which was tented in Nesles Wood, the night of August 15th, preparatory to moving into position, was subjected to aerial bombardment twice that night.

There are men in the 77th who would rather dodge machine-gun bullets and shells mixed up in pleasing proportions than listen to the ominous, galloping hum of a Boche bomber in the air on a bright moonlight night. One can hear him coming from afar, until that " hum-bum-bum " seems as though it must be directly over one. Then comes a resounding crash, with no previous sound or warning whistle at all-then another, and two or three more, all in a string, rocking the ground for miles. The delicate, silver-white fingers of searchlights grope the heavens for the monster, while machine guns and anti-aircraft pieces shatter the air. Tiny balls of fire, shrapnel bursting thousands of yards from the earth, mock the moon and stars.

On the front line, airmen flew low over the Infantry positions, firing their machine guns on the men below. Again, planes would send back data regarding the activity of a few men in an exposed spot, and a sniper battery immediately started firing on them. Even one man would draw a shrapnel shell from the Boche. But for every shell fired at the 77th, the Division was assured by its commander, two were being fired in return, and the consolation always took form in the words, "Well, he's getting it twice as badly as we are."

Communication with friendly airplanes directing movements and fire was by means of panels of white cloth spread on the ground. Planes were able to send radio messages to the ground station, but to reciprocate was found impracticable, so this slow panel system had to be employed.

The observation balloons, floating above the trees just beyond Nesles Wood, behind Dole, were fired upon, August 12th, point blank by German artillery. The fragment of a shell punctured the gas-bag of one, forcing the observer to parachute to the earth. Shortly before noon of the same day, the balloon patrol of three planes about the other balloon warned the winch-men that an enemy flier was approaching. "Archies" opened up on the Boche, but he was already circling and dodging above the sausage. He made a spectacular series of dives, dipped, and sent a destroy-ing phosphorus bomb into the balloon. The observer leaped into space, while the Boche galloped away.

On the night of August 27th, a raid against Bazoches was carried out. With the support of the Artillery, the Infantry outdid itself in acts of individual heroism, bravery and courage. The plan was to attack the village, and then to hold it from the flanks with a platoon of Infantry and two heavy machine guns in position on each of the four outlying corners of the town. To the east of the village, the 154th Brigade was to be extended along the railroad track until its left flank reached the woods lying to the south of the railroad. A company of Infantry, a detachment of Engineers and Divisional Artillery were to accomplish this task. Machine-gun Battalions were to be used in support.

The night of the raid was warm and clear, but almost pitch-dark, except for the light thrown by the twinkling of stars in a sky that was almost indigo. Long before daylight, the Artillery began laying a heavy box barrage around Bazoches. Behind them, the Infantry heard the reassuring roar of the " lights " and " heavies, " their cannoneers toiling, and before them the still more encouraging " crash-crump " of the shells bursting in Bazoches. A counter-barrage was laid by the Boche, and the din grew to be ear-splitting. Rockets and lights shot up against the dark sky from both sides, illuminating the landscape for miles about. Shortly before dawn, the Infantry went forward. Machine guns, Chauchat rifles and grenades added their rattle and crash to the uproar. One of the riots in the Hell-hole of the Vesle was in full swing. This little action is a record of supreme sacrifice on the part of many men in the 77th.

As the platoons of Infantry advanced toward Bazoches, it was most difficult to maintain communication, and detachments had no other way in which to keep contact, except by runner. While delivering a message from 306th Infantry Headquarters to an advanced platoon, Corporal James J. McDonald was caught in a barrage of high-explosive shells and machine-gun fire, and fell, wounded. He was picked up by a party of Germans and taken to an advanced dressing station, where his wounds were bound by a German surgeon. McDonald, who was recuperating, watched his chance, and in the confusion attendant upon the bringing in of some more German wounded, he slipped out of the dugout in which the station was located. By ducking into shell-holes, and taking cover whenever he heard a movement, he recrossed to our lines, bearing information, which he had overheard in the dugout, that the enemy intended to surprise and capture two of the American platoons. His information was immediately acted upon, and the platoons were reinforced.

At about four o'clock the same morning, Company G, 306th Infantry, was forced to lie flat for five minutes when the Germans threw up flares, by the light of which they send hand-grenades into the men. The flares burned out. A hundred yards further on a stream of machine-gun bullets met the men, and they crawled for some distance until they reached the outskirts of the village. Four Germans jumped up from the cover of a machine-gun nest, threw up their hands and shouted, " Kamerad. " Sergeant Frederick Stouke, then a private, and another man ran forward to take them prisoners. Two ran off. Stouke killed one, but the other escaped. Then for ten minutes they held the other two at the point of the pistol, under heavy machine-gun fire, and started to crawl back to Company Headquarters. So intense was the fire that Stouke sought shelter behind a wooden barrack with his two prisoners. Most of his equipment had been shot from him and the man helping had become separated from the party. The Germans kept firing at that barrack all daylong, and it was not until eight o'clock that night that Stouke found a chance to move. Meanwhile the Boche, under cover of darkness, set fire to the barrack, and one of the prisoners made his escape during the excitement. Stouke overpowered the other, who made as though to help his comrade, threw him across his shoulders, and began the weary tramp to Headquarters once more. Bullets sang all about him. His prisoner was shot in the face. He finally reached the railroad track, and stumbled into Headquarters with the wounded Boche.

Water was often the main need in fighting during those hot August days. "Bring as few men as possible, with water, " read one hasty message sent back by a detachment of the 308th Infantry.

The raid on Bazoehes was supplemented by firing from Stokes mortars, and by a thermit attack launched by the 30th Engineers. The mortar filled Bazoehes with smoke, screening the operations from the enemy, while ninety thermit-projectors threw thermit and burning oil on the road north of Bazoches and on Haute Maisons, above the village. The white-hot thermit, as it was thrown in all directions from the exploding projectile, made a great pyrotechnic display.

In the companion action about Fismes, a second lieutenant of the 307th Infantry found him-self and his company suddenly subjected to very heavy artillery fire. His four superior officers had become casualties and the company was severely depleted. The lieutenant rallied his shattered forces and led an attack to cover the flank of his battalion, so that it was able to strengthen and consolidate its position.

Of like nature is the story of Corporal Joseph A. McAllister, who, the night of August 27th, led his squad of 307th Infantrymen against an enemy machine-gull nest at Chateau du Diable near Fismes. After all his men had been wounded, and he himself was suffering from wounds, lie withdrew, collected a new squad of men about him, and advanced again on the machine-gun nest. He was driven off three times. Finally he and his little squad crawled up on the gun, driving off part of the crew and killing the rest. A Distinguished Service Cross fell to the corporal for this action.

LIAISON

Liaison of every nature was employed at the Vesle, for communication of any kind was subject to constant interruption, because of the enemy's excellent observation. The telephone, radio, runners, dogs, and pigeons were used as the conditions warranted.

In the Artillery the runners were mounted, in the Infantry they went afoot. "Poor little devils" the British were wont to dub these fellows who wormed and squirmed their way around in the trenches, over shell-torn fields and through tangled woods. One runner with the Infantry was accustomed to taking a short-cut in going from Regimental to the front line. One day, the little runner had occasion to guide a lieutenant through the path. The lieutenant later looked up the route on the map and found that his runner had been crossing "No Man's Land" for fully half a mile every night!


Services Were Held in a Shell-torn Church

From way back in the rear somewhere, to the very advance lines, telephone communication is kept up wherever possible. Telephone men at the front used to pride themselves in saying that the lowest buck private in the trenches could get a direct line straight through to General Pershing at G. H. Q. Both in Infantry and Artillery, men went out night and day to connect lines that were broken by shell-fire. A lineman from the 302d Field Signal Battalion on one occasion found his line sagging into the river, with not a bush or twig near to tie it up. The dead body of a German was the only object that broke the contour of the land. The lineman tied the wire to the German to keep it clear of the river! Often telephone men had to feel their way along a line to catch the break, and, as the break was always where the shells were bursting, it was hazardous work. Heavily shelled lines had to be dug under, or laid with armored cable. Centrals were located in all sorts of shelter-in desolate buildings, in dugouts, in cellars, caves, and sometimes only in a funk-hole.

An idea of telephone work at the front can be obtained by following a few of the experiences of the Men in the Field Signal Battalion. Twenty of their men left with the 307th Infantry marched on the 24th of August to a little valley east of Chery-Chartreuve. There, in a hole dug in the side of a cliff, was established 307th Regimental Headquarters, known as "College Point." All the, Headquarters had code names.

There was one line here that was especially hard to keep up. The station was in a cave on the north slope running parallel with the Vesle river, under observation by Boche balloons. This field was shelled so heavily that it was necessary to run six lines from the road on the south side of the hill over the crest and down the side of the hill to the cave. During the night, the line could be repaired, but it was useless to attempt it by day; for as soon as a lineman made his appearance on the side of the hill, he would receive a salute of three-inch shells and one-pounders. If they didn't get him, they'd get the lines. One man was blown off his feet but not injured, while digging a trench for a line, and almost buried in the trench itself. Another party, and this was only one of many sent out, was harassed for several hours by a low-flying plane which machine-gunned it from time to time, as a cat plays with mice.

Liaison agents had many wild rides along the highways and byways of the sector, and where horses or riding mules could be used, these agents were to be seen trotting from position to position all hours of the twenty-four.

Projector and semaphore, upon which so much time had been spent in training, were found more or less impracticable. Much stranger means were used. French message-dogs proved them-selves most faithful under fire, and in certain instances were used with marked success. These dogs were kept under the special care and tutelage of just two men, who petted, fondled and fed them. During an action, one of the dog's protectors was stationed at each end of the run. The message was placed in a thimble-like arrangement on the dog's collar, and the animal was started off. Through all kinds of fire, and over the most impassable of country, these little animals would run, to come in panting and frightened to a place where the other keeper was waiting to receive them.

Where obstacle prevented the passage of animals and men, and eliminated the laying of tele-phone lines, pigeons were sent out from portable cages. A story is told of a carrier pigeon which arrived with a vital message, with one leg shot off by hostile machine-gun fire.

It was Labor Day, September 2d that a doughboy whispered to his companion:
" Gee, I wish we could make that Labor Day excursion up the Hudson with the folks this year!
And then, after a moments mournful deliberation, he added, "But I guess a little raid across the Vesle will have to be good enough, Hank. "
Two days later the Boche fled toward the Aisne, and Hank, and the whole Division, took "the excursion across the Vesle."

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