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Seven Days Leave


HISTORY
of
THE 306th Field Artillery

Seven Days' Leave


ACCORDING to army orders, Y. M. C. A. prospecti, etc., a leave or furlough is a certain number of days' respite from military duties which is usually spent at some delightful resort especially chosen because of its adaptability to vacation enjoyments.

From my personal experience, it is one of those pleasures to which the average enlisted man looks forward with the keenest anticipation, but which in most instances is a very long time in materializing. Further, after several postponements, all for excellent reasons no doubt, the last one being the need of our division to help finish Jerry for all time, I came to the conclusion that a leave is merely a will-o'-the-wisp which even the most fortunate can never hope to attain. But, when you finally do get your opportunity, all previous disappointments are forgotten and it is almost necessary to pinch yourself in order to make sure that you are awake.

In the first place, a furlough invariably commences in the sma' wee hours of the mornin', and our case was no exception. The ten boys from Battery E who had been selected as the first to explore the mysteries of a genuine leave, were conveyed by motor truck, at the unearthly hour Of 4 A.M., to a railway station some twenty-five kilometers from our billeting village, where we became a part of a jolly, laughing detachment of eleven hundred enlisted men, all of the 77th Division. About 10 A.M. the men were lined up and each was given without stipulation, thirty-eight francs to squander as his fancy might dictate. But in addition to this, the government pays absolutely every expense, such as railway fare, hotel bills, etc. This detail being complete we were kept waiting around the forlorn little station in a nasty rain which continued to fall throughout the day, and it was not until late in the evening that our train departed.

Upon ascertaining that second and third-class coaches had been provided for our comfort, the men assured one another that things were surely being done up brown. However, when it came time for our outfit to get aboard, the cars were filled to capacity, and the only alternative was that of travelling de luxe in " V hommes-8 chevaux " cars, called side-door Pullmans by the boys in khaki, but better known in plain English as freight cars, Nothing daunted, and further being accustomed to this mode of travel, the boys in our car secured two bales of straw, whence no one asked nor cared, and after spreading this on the bottom of the car we had the finest kind of bed, and slept much better than our companions who were compelled to sit up all night. At times, you see, there are even advantages in being "out of luck."

The next morning upon arising, we found the sky as clear as an unruffled lake, and that our course lay through the most beautiful stretch of country imaginable. Of course, though much interested in the scenery, the most pleasant part of the trip was the fact that the Supply Company had provided us with " beaucoup " eats. The commonest sight that day was the picture of an olive drab figure, lying complacently on a heap of straw, gazing at the fleeting landscape, and munching a huge slice of bread and jam.

Up to this time we had been given no definite information as to our destination, but as the day wore on, the country became even more mountainous and picturesque. Here an old mill clung to the hillside, its clumsy water-wheel whirling rhythmically as a swift mountain current swept by; there a most beautiful falls dashed madly over the rocks, and fell with a rumble into the valley below.

Finally our train pulled into Aix-les-Bains, one of France's most famous watering and health resorts and the very heart of the "Savoy Leave Area." It was indeed a most pleasant surprise to find that this place had been picked for our leave. Aix-les-Bains is located in the southeastern part of France on the banks of beautiful Lac-du-Bourget, and nestles in a valley almost completely surrounded by snow-capped mountains. These are the famous French Alps and are adjacent to the Swiss Alps of world renown. This city is mainly level, but wherever one looks he sees innumerable hotels and chateaux perched on every conceivable hill and knoll. The place is modern and up-to-date, and shows plainly the influence which the American and English tourists, who frequented it in pre-war times, had upon it and its environs.

At the station a young lieutenant spoke to us, telling us that we were there to enjoy a complete rest, free from all restrictions. We were at liberty to go and come as we pleased, arise and go to bed whenever our fancy dictated-in a word there would be absolutely no check on us provided that each man acted in an orderly manner. Then, in small groups we were sent to the best hotels in the place, and at 12.01 A.M., December 15th, the actual furlough began to continue until 11.59 P.m. of December 22nd. All leaves are exclusive of the time consumed in travel.

Two or three men were accommodated in each room, according to its size, and when I first beheld my quarters, I blinked more than once and had to reassure myself repeatedly that it wasn't all a dream. When a man is accustomed to any kind of hole or shelter for his sleeping place, can you imagine what effect the following scene had on his senses?-a brilliantly electric-lighted chamber, daintily papered, a velvet rug, two of the most comfortable looking beds imaginable, a couple of large lazy armchairs, a washstand with two pitchers of sparkling water, and handsome silk draperies adorning the French windows opening on the square. To say that we were incredulous is to put it mildly. That night I really hated to disarrange the snow-white sheets, and habit almost prompted me to unroll my pack and curl up on the floor. One of the greatest pleasures any of us has ever enjoyed was that first night's sleep. It was luxury raised to the nth power,-and at that I suppose most of us expected to awake the following morning to the bugle's song of " You can't get 'em up, you can't get 'em. up, can't get 'em up in the morning," for as you must know every soldier's dream is of a land of no reveille and no retreat.

Mess ceased to be dubbed "chow," and meals were called respectively breakfast, luncheon, and dinner, same being served in the main dining-room replete with white linen, china, and silverware. The food was excellent and plentiful, and to have your needs catered to by a petite blonde waitress in black gown and dainty white apron, certainly didn't diminish one's enjoyment of the meals. The lisping query in broken English, " More meat, Monsieur?" always met with a spontaneous, " S'il vous plait ! " And to make it more interesting seconds, thirds, and even fourths were always forthcoming. Should one make a request of any French person, the answer invariably is "Tout de suite, Tout de suite," and during our stay we heard this expression so often from waitresses, venders, etc., that we all got the habit ourselves.

The Y. M. C. A. is the institution which cooperates most with the government in leave areas, and which deserves the greatest credit for giving the men on leave an enjoyable time. At Aix-les-Bains they occupy the Casino or "Grand Cercle D'Aix," a building which in pre-war times was one of the most famous gambling establishments in the world. In fact this city was second only to Monte Carlo, so it can easily be imagined what a magnificent place the building actually is. The main structure and grounds occupy nearly two city blocks and eleven years (1899-1910) were needed to build them. The interior is made up of innumerable vast halls, pretentious ballrooms, banquet halls, corridors, and libraries, all welded into a harmonious whole by means of huge arches supported on massive marble pillars. The ceilings are masterpieces of world- renowned artists, some being in the form of life- sized paintings, others being lofty domes of the most delicate and intricate mosaic work. Myriad electric chandeliers lend a dazzling radiance to the already brilliant interior. The general atmosphere and environments are rather those of some millionaire's club than of a place where Uncle Sam's boys may enjoy a corking good time at any hour of the day, and until long past 12 o'clock at night. In fact there is something doing at the " Y " every minute. In one of the wings of the building is a beautiful theater where two performances of excellent vaudeville are given each day. Then one can always run into a couple of movies, a concert, or a lecture, enjoy a game of tennis, or try his dexterity at billiards.

But the crowning events of the week are the tri-weekly dances. The reader will no doubt wonder where the young ladies come from, but as the secretarial and canteen staff of the Y. M. C. A. is partly composed of a group of most charming young ladies, representing many nations, this detail is amply provided for. There are Americans, English, Scotch, French and Italian girls in the group at Aix, and when they burst into the ballroom bedecked in their gayest finery, you can take it from me, it was a sight worth seeing. Of course one must take into consideration the fact that the female species is almost an unknown object in a soldier's life-hence the above ravings.

Naturally another question will arise, "How can so many men get the chance to dance when there are not near enough girls to go around? " This problem was more or less satisfactorily solved in the following manner: each man was given either a red, a white, or a blue tag which he fastened to his shoulder strap. A whistle would then be blown when the music began, and a flag of one of the three mentioned colors raised by the person in charge. At intervals the flag would be changed, and a jolly scramble for the best-looking girl ensued. But if one paid strict attention to that part of the second general order for sentinels which goes "keeping constantly on the alert," he was pretty sure to get his share of the fun.

But in addition to the above forms of entertainment, the surrounding country offers a great many natural attractions. There is the beautiful trip by a little rickety engine pulled by cable on a cog road to the summit of Mount R6vard, where one may observe the surrounding country spread out as in a picture book, and in the background old Mount Blanc raising its proud head to the sky as if gloating over the fact that it is the highest mountain peakin Europe. There are also countless trips which may be taken on foot or by bicycle to the "Cat's Tooth," the ancient Abboye d'Hautecombe which was built in the twelfth century and which is not only filled with wonderful paintings and statues but is at the present time one of the only monasteries in France still inhabited by and kept up for the monks. There is in the city proper, the former palace of the Duke of Aix and Savoie, now used as a town hall, and adjoining this building is a very interesting museum housed in the original " Temple of Diana. " The outer walls are the actual stone walls erected by the Romans about 125 Bc., but the interior was remodeled some-time between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries.

But undoubtedly the hot alum and sulphur springs flowing directly from the mountains have been most instrumental in making this city one of the foremost resorts in Europe. Consequently the bath establishment is a most pretentious building, and at certain hours the American soldier is permitted to bathe free of charge. It was our custom to take a dip every morning in a splendid, white marble pool filled with the most soothing hot alum water. Although no fee was charged, by tipping the attendant a franc or so, one could even occupy a huge white marble bathroom and enjoy his bath in true Romanesque splendor. An army bath usually taken in an icy stream, or in a tent the atmosphere of which is even icier, though the water may be warm, certainly suffers most ignominiously by comparison.

For the man who enjoys his glass of beer or even stronger drinks, there are innumerable cafes, and I must confess that if you were to go in search of one of your companions, more often than not you would find him in one of these thirst-quenching parlors. For those of us with more temperate tastes there was a fine little English tea-room where one might obtain large plates of ice-cream. Yes! real ice-cream scarce as that article is in France. The inexhaustible Y. M. C. A. canteens served at all hours large slices of read, butter and jam, cakes, fruit, hot chocolate, coffee, etc.

It is a striking tribute to the American soldier that, although the four thousand or more enlisted men who were in Aix-les-Bains when I was, were given every liberty, never once did I see a man drunk on the street, or acting in a loud, ungentlemanly manner.

Every good time must end and although it was our good fortune to have our leave run two days overtime, due no doubt to a delay in procuring transportation, the inevitable day of departure finally arrived. We reached camp just in time for Christmas dinner, and there ended the most enjoyable two weeks any of my companions or myself have ever had in the army.
ALVIN P. ZWETOW,
Pvt. 1cl., 306th F. A.
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