Talbot Brewer was born in 1893 in NYC, and died in 1981 in Anna Maria, FL.
Tal graduated from the Collegiate School in New York City in 1912, then graduated from Williams, class of 1916.
He was in Squadron A in New York City, which started in 1884, when 18 young equestrians joined together first as a political club and then as an exclusive troop cavalry – The New York Hussars – known for its fine riding and elegant uniforms. The Hussars came quickly into demand to ride in parades and at the National Horse Show. On April 2, 1889, the group, then some fifty-three strong, was mustered into the National Guard as NGSNY, as Squadron A, the first cavalry arm of the Guard of the State of New York. The Squadron was often called out to escort presidents, governors and foreign dignitaries. Squadron A troopers were sent to Puerto Rico to serve in the Spanish-American war and the entire squadron was called into federal service in 1916 to patrol the Mexican border, where Tal served in McAllen, TX, under General Pershing.
He then joined the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant when we declared war against Germany. He was in Company C of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion of the 77th Division, and was wounded in the Argonne. His outfit two weeks later was part of what became known as the "Lost Battalion", under Major Whittlesey. His replacement was killed in this engagement. At the war's end, he was a 1st Lieutenant. He wrote a memoir about his war experiences. Tal also rode a horse in President Wilson's second inaugural parade in 1917, probably with Squadron A.
After the war, he entered the business world. His first experience was with the Wilton Mfg. Co. in New York, in the cotton exporting business. He left them in 1920, and then joined Henry L. Doherty & Co., who were fiscal agents for public utility and oil companies. He was chief of the employment division, and it is interesting to note that his brother-in-law Walker Evans' first job was with Henry Doherty while Tal was there. Walker did not stay long, and instead went on to become one of the most famous photographers of his time.
Tal retired in 1929, and he and his wife went to Spain, where they lived for a year and a half before returning to Ossining, NY. In 1935, he went to Washington at the urging of his friend Harry Hopkins to work in the New Deal for 6 months. The six months lasted for eleven years, and he did not leave Washington until 1946. While there, he served as a personnel research specialist for the Resettlement Administration, (which became the Farm Security Administration), from July 1935 to March 1942, rising to chief of the qualification section in the personnel division. Again, it is interesting to note that Walker Evans also found employment at the Farm Security Administration. In 1942, Farm Security was abolished by the same law that established the Civil Service Commission, and he transferred to the latter in March of 1942, rising to chief of the interview information service by the time he again retired in November 1945. During the war years, he was attached first to the State Department, then the War Department, and his last act before retirement was selecting American military government personnel for the administration of South Korea, for which he received recognition in an article in either Life or Time magazines.
When he left Washington in 1946, he and his family moved to Tucson, Arizona, in an effort to find healthier conditions for his wife, who suffered from respiratory problems which today would be called emphysema. They lived there during the winter of 1946-47, and when the dry heat actually made things worse, they moved to Anna Maria, Florida in the fall of 1947, where he lived until his death in 1981.
Belatedly, he has achieved recognition for his photography, which had been his avocation since at least his time in Spain. His work was given an exhibition at the Middlebury College Museum of Art in 1998, where it was suggested by Keith Davis, Hallmark Fine Art Programs Director, that his photographs may well have had an influence on Walker Evans. Inexplicably, several of his photographs have surfaced in collections of photos attributed to Walker, particularly in the Hallmark collection. They are ones Tal took while he lived in Spain, and were attributed to Walker's stay in Havana.
TRAINING OF THE 77TH DIVISION AT CAMP UPTON, YAPHANK, LONG ISLAND, NY
September 12, 1917 to April 12, 1918
Received orders on Sept. 11th while visiting my sister at Harvard, MA to report to Camp Upton the next day. Being green, I took them seriously and my brother Wilmot drove me all the way from Harvard to the camp the following day in his 1916 Mercer, arriving after midnight. It turned out that no one would have known nor cared if I hadn’t appeared for several days.
At that point the camp was far from complete and still further from being organized. I found, however, that I was assigned to Company C of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion commanded by Captain George Gaston. He had been active in the pre-war preparedness movement and in supporting the summer officers’ training camps and had wangled a Captain’s commission. He was a well meaning, decent enough man, not too well balanced, highly nervous, and incapable of organizing himself or anything else. Later on, while in training with the British, he had a complete nervous collapse and was removed in an ambulance. In consequence, the organizing and running of the company fell mostly on Paul Cushman and me.
After several days of hectic preparations, the first draftees from New York City began to arrive. Paul Cushman marched the first lot assigned to us from the R.R. station and a more discouraging looking group would be hard to imagine. The Draft Board physical exams must have been a farce. Many were obviously physically unfit and had to be sent back shortly. Every nationality was represented, with the preponderance Russian Jews, Italians, and Irish. They were fed in the barracks by civilian cooks temporarily hired by the Army and bedded down. The first thing I heard next morning outside the orderly-room were loud sobs issuing from a scared Jewish youngster who had a stomach ache in addition to homesickness.
The regular Army had provided 3 Non-Coms per company and our tough little 1st Sgt. Shank was invaluable in establishing some sort of order and discipline. Soon ill-fitting uniforms were issued, temporary Corporals appointed, and things began to shape up in a little more military fashion. Close order drill, physical exercises, and hikes were the first steps in the training.
After several weeks, a British Machine Gun Major, Heywood, arrived as our training officer. He conducted a school for the Division M.G. officers, the first session of which I attended. All we had to practice with were a couple of old and obsolete Colt guns of the Spanish-American War era, known to Major Heywood as the “Joke Guns”. We were taught the British method of stripping and re-assembling the gun while explaining aloud in rigidly standardized language each operation. Eventually we had to do this blind-folded. Also we learned “automatic action” in clearing jams, target and identification by the reference point and clock system, and the tactical use of M.Gs. Thereafter I took over a similar schooling of our company Non-Coms. They in turn instructed the men in their squads under my general supervision.
After several months transport animals arrived. Few of the city-bred New Yorkers had any experience with horses and mules. Some of the Italians and Irish fortunately had handled animals, and they were assigned to Transport, under Paul’s supervision. Sgt. Ervine, a fine Irishman and one of the three regular Army Non-Coms assigned to the Company, an ex-cavalryman, did a splendid job and proved invaluable throughout the whole war.
The three more or less independent M.G. Battalions of the Division received the dregs of the regular Army officers as commanding officers. These men had served for many years without promotions above Lieutenant or sometimes Captain, but with the sudden expansion of the Army they were bumped up to Major or Lt. Colonel. Our first commander, Major William W. Edwards, was probably the best of the lot. He was an ascetic looking, high strung, highly nervous man and a terrific disciplinarian. His strict discipline did the battalion a lot of good, but eventually caused his downfall. One of his idiosyncrasies was to require any officer called to his office to remain at attention with his eyes front, not looking at him but out a window above his desk. If one’s eyes wandered he would command “Look out the window”, and this became a slogan of the battalion. His final disciplinary action was to call all the men in the Post Exchange to attention while they were eating ice cream cones at lunch time while he ate one himself, thereby causing all the men’s cones to melt and dribble on the floor. Shortly after this incident he had a nervous breakdown and was removed from camp in an ambulance. His successor, Major Richardson, was far worse. He turned out to be a despicable little cheat and small time politician who was disliked and distrusted by everybody except a couple of characters of his own breed, Joe McCaffrey and Hall. He boasted about having graduated at the bottom of his class and had remained a Lieutenant for some 16 years. Lt. Col. Winnier, the division machine gun officer, was also a complete fool and failure.
I shared a room at Camp Upton with Lt. Simpson of A company. I had grown up on the same block on West 91st Street with him and for several years gone to the same school so we knew each other pretty well and got along splendidly.
During this training period the Division had a parade on Fifth Avenue and later on a benefit show in one of the New York theaters.
Before the Division’s training was anything like completed, it was ordered overseas as one of ten divisions requested by the British as support. The crisis was caused by the German break-through in March which over-ran Gen. Gough’s V Army and very nearly permanently split the French and British armies and captured the Channel Ports.
CAMP UPTON to FRANCE
April 12 to April 30, 1918
We left Camp Upton on the rainy afternoon of April 12, 1918. After a false start and considerable delay, we marched to the R.R. station where the men were hurriedly loaded on the cars with no attention to unit organization. The officers had sleepers; the men day coaches. The C Company officers were Captain Gaston, 1st Lieutenants Paul Cushman and Henry Ralph, 2nd Lieutenants Rice, McCaffrey and myself. We stopped in the yards across Hellgate Bridge where the Red Cross was supposed to provide supper for everyone, but there was not enough to go around all the cars. A Red Cross woman asked to speak to George Gaston, but it was impossible to rouse him from the stupor he had fallen into after the strain of departure; (discouraging omen).
The following morning we awoke to find ourselves at docks which turned out to be in South Boston. The loading of the men aboard the S.S Karoa started at noon. The Karoa, about 7000 tons, was a British India Steam Navigation Co. ship built for service in tropical waters with an extremely high superstructure for coolness and not suited for the Atlantic in April. This was her first Atlantic crossing, though she had carried Australian troops in the Mediterranean. The crew were Lascars, and the whole ship reeked of curry. The ship was overcrowded with the H.Q. of the 153rd Brigade and units of the 306th Infantry as well as the 306thM.G. Battalion. The officers were reasonably comfortable in staterooms. I had a room with Jim Etheredge and Al Speight, but I’m sure no soldiers ever had as bad accommodations on any other transport. My platoon was on Orlop #2, the lowest deck on the boat, in terribly cramped quarters. Hammocks were provided for sleeping, but even with two layers there was not enough room and some of the men had to sleep on the wooden tables used for eating, games letter writing, etc. Backless wooden benches were attached to the tables. The food for the men was pretty terrible, and the process of serving it even worse.
We sailed in the afternoon, and while we were in sight of land, everyone had to stay below; Lieutenants with their platoons.
The officer’s dining room was very pleasant, on the top deck, and the food excellent. At dinner the first night there was quite a pitch and Walter Young was the first of several to depart in haste. Paul Cushman saved me from seasickness by making me walk briskly around the deck after dinner. I turned in a little dizzy but in possession of all my meals.
The next morning we found that we were in Long Island Sound headed for New York. In the P.M. we picked up two aviators from a stalled sea-plane.
We spent two days in New York harbor waiting for the rest of the convoy and then sailed, escorted by the cruiser St. Louis.
The shipboard schedule was more or less as follows; coffee at 6:30 served in bed by a Malay cabin boy, breakfast at 8:30, boat call and inspection of quarters while the men were at the boats, officers meeting, lunch, another abandon ship drill in the P.M., tea at 4:30, dinner at 7:00.
Twice I was Officer of the Guard. On the first night shift the men had been fed some bad fish and the results were disastrous. At 4 the next morning Paul, who unfortunately followed me, had an awful time cleaning up the mess.
Several days out of New York we were joined by a Canadian convoy, making over a dozen ships in all. Ships that I recognized were the old American liner Philadelphia, the White Star Cedric, the Kashmir of our line, and the Vauban, whose sister ship the Vestris sank in a storm in the 1920’s.
The pleasantest part of the voyage were the evening concerts in the Officer’s Lounge given by a Sgt. Hochstein, a young but already famous violinist, accompanied by Sgt. Deering of A Co. They played beautifully for hours at a time.
While in the Irish Sea, I was having a haircut in my cabin by the Company barber, Troina, when suddenly the whole ship shuddered and we heard two or three dull explosions. One of the British escorting destroyers had dropped depth-bombs on a supposed submarine about ½ mile from us.
On April 27th we anchored in Liverpool harbor about midnight. Next morning the Canadians were landed first amid much playing of the “Maple Leaf Forever”. We docked and unloaded in the P.M. and marched to the railroad station. All were feeling quite heroic until some wounded British Tommies shouted at us “Where have you blokes been for the last three years?”
We were all impressed with the greenness and neatness of the English countryside in the twilight ride from Liverpool to Falkstone before darkness fell. We were awakened at dawn by one of the guards putting his head in the door and shouting “All out; fifteen minutes to the sea.”
Most of Falkstone had been taken over by the Army as a rest camp. The men were quartered in private houses, the officers in a big old barn-like hotel overlooking the Channel.
In the afternoon Paul and I went on a shopping expedition. I bought a Trench coat and boots and then we walked through the old part of the town and out on the cliffs and the beach. The town was full of convalescents in their hospital “Blues.” In the evening a crowd of us had a box at a musical show of sorts.
Early next morning we entrained for Dover and then boarded a channel steamer for Calais while another boat was unloading wounded from France.
Typical rough and rainy channel crossing with many sea-sick. Leaving the harbor we saw two terribly shot-up British cruisers from the Zeebrugar raid.
Landing at Calais we saw our first German prisoners at work and were marched a couple of kilos to the “Rest Camp.” Our men were quartered in a beat-up wooden barracks with no beds but plenty of bugs. The little officer’s canteen was the only clean and cheerful spot. The Portuguese section was next to ours and a Chinese compound, enclosed in barbed wire, across the road.
Paul and I found a room in a French pension, the hotels being full up. Calais was the headquarters of the Belgian as well as the Portuguese contingent, both of which the English despised. We had some trouble keeping our Portuguese bugler, Xavier, out of the Portuguese and in the American Army.
The next day all the extra equipment and uniforms collected at Upton with so much time and trouble were ordered turned in. Paul and Supply Sgt. Jephson were far from pleased, especially with Henry Ralph’s “system” for turning it in which resulted in no end of complications and delay.
A long march the next day to draw gas masks and helmets. Gaston ordered the helmets worn in spite of the heat, which drew amused comments from the Tommies asking if there was “’eavy shelling about.”
The fourth day we entrained for out training sector and the men had their first experience with the “Hommes 40, Cevaux 8” cars. We rode only a short way to Audrique and then started on an exceedingly long hike to Monnecove. C Company made a record by refusing to put any packs on the trucks and having no one fall out. At one of the halts we heard for the first time the rumble of guns at the front.
We reached Monnecove more dead than alive to find that B & D Co.’s were to be quartered in “Elephant-back” huts in the camp proper, while A & C were to occupy farms up a hill about a mile away. My platoon had a semi-roofless barn but were luckier than the others in having a well nearby with plenty of water. All had hay for beds. The short British ration of bread, jam, and tea for supper was rather a shock to both officers and men.
After a day or two of rest, Capt. Lewis and Capt. Debenham arrived and work started on the Vickers gun. Both officers had been with the V British Army which was overrun by the Germans in March. Debenham had been cut off behind the German lines for four days and was the only survivor of his Company. However, he was in much better shape than Lewis. Lt. Col. Winnier, (U.S.), was in command of the Camp and he and Major Richardson had a row with the British officers. Winnier put Tom Harris under arrest for using a short-cut trail from the hill. New Lieuts. Philips, Baird, and Kinsella were assigned to Company C.
The training hours were long and the one hour lunch period hard on those who had to hike up the hill and back. English N.C.O.’s took over the Companies and the officers were under a typical beef-eating Sgt. Major.
Lt. McCaffrey drew horses-limbers. The horses were excellent. Catania had a team of buckskins that made a fine show. Rifles were issued to the men. Rations continued short and a very expensive pig was bought to help fill the men’s bellies.
Marched miles on Sundays to Eperlque for shower baths which turned out to be merest dribbles.
German bombers raided St. Omer frequently. Seemed to start their bombing run from directly over our camp. The only night I did not arise and go out to watch the proceedings, they apparently dropped a dud close by and the other occupants of the hut did flying dives into the hut and on the floor.
After a particularly severe bombing Bill Rice and I rode over to St. Omer on a Sunday morning to see the results which were pretty bad; hospital and ammunition dumps hit and many houses without fronts.
Amusements, such as they were, included visits to “Marie’s” café in Nordlingham to join the British officers in drinking Champagne and stout, “Black Velvet”, an insidious combination, and a little scotch. Capt. Whitehead entertained with “Oh, It’s a Lovely War”, “Goodbye, Don’t Cry”. etc. Also visited with Sim Lynch quite often an Estaminet were we got good omelets, salads and fried potatoes plus wine. Returning from one visit both our horses ran away with us but we managed to stick on until they reached the stable.
Sir Douglas Haig paid the Battalions a visit while we were on the M.G. range and congratulated Walter Gillam.
Then a group of officers including Marsh, Gillam, Paul Cushman, Bill Rice and Tom Harris went to the English front on a training trip.
The so-called “Watten Maneuver” couldn’t have been a worse mess for both the Division and the Company. The day before we spent on the long M.G. range and through some ball-up the men got almost no food. That evening Gaston was sent to the front and Paul took over command of the Company whose morale was at a low ebb. Again, little or no food was supplied, long march, very hot weather, men dropping out. We reached our objective after dark, too late to figure out the firing data and set the guns. Bill Rice neglected to set them the next morning, as he was supposed to do, and the company had a black eye; started our hike back to camp at 1 A.M., and arrived at dawn with the men’s morale at zero. Saw my first plane shot down in flames during the march.
Gen. Pershing inspected the 77th on Decoration Day.
The Non-Coms in my platoon at this point were Platoon Sgt. Herries, Section Sgts. Pearson & Darcy, Corporals Wagonbrenner, Talbot, Fanning & Bachner. From the platoon Fubelli, Humphy, Mccaffrey & Lofgren were transferred to the transport.
To the satisfaction of everybody, Lt. Col. Winnier was relieved from command of the camp and transferred to the infantry.
Tom Harris & Bill Rice brought back reports of Richardson’s behavior while at the Canadian front. First obviously frightened; later, when drunk, boastful and insulting.
After five weeks with the British, we were ordered to move out, rumor had it, to a U.S. sector. Typical ball-up about the British rifles. Day before leaving they were cleaned, greased, bundled in threes and turned in. Next morning we were ordered to draw them again which entailed removing all the cosmoline. Shortly afterordered to turn them in again; more greasy mess. All this on the last morning when we were supposed to pull out at noon. At the last minute orders came through to draw them again, but this time we paid no attention.
Shortly before we left, Capt. Gaston had been brought up before a Board to determine his fitness to command. We all had to testify. The verdict was that he was unfit. On his visit to the front he had been scratched by barbed wire and given an Anti-Tetanus shot, and later on his way back caught in a severe air-raid at some R.R. station. All of this was apparently too much for him as the morning we were leaving, he became ill, rolled on the floor moaning, and was eventually removed in an ambulance.
We left Monnecove at 1 o’clock on June 6th instead of the scheduled 12 noon and did not reach our destination until 10: P.M., marching about 20 miles over steep hills in heat, with the men’s feet blistering badly with no time to give the feet enough attention. The men rolled themselves in their shelter halves and went to sleep in an open field. Officers were billeted in a so-called Chateau about a kilo away and were kept waiting up for a “conference” with Richardson until 1 o’clock. Richardson had less than nothing to say at the “conference”.
We were supposed to march at 6:30 next morning. With their inexperience in making and breaking camp, the men had almost no time for breakfast, such as it was, and no time at all for attention to their blistered feet. Again the day was a scorcher, the roads hilly and dusty, and the water cart did not appear till noon. The two Medical Corps men did their best with iodine and tape at the ten minute halts, but everyone’s feet were in terrible condition and some of the best men had to take to the wagons. Paul was in command, Rice and I riding behind the company trying to keep up the stragglers. About 2 P.M. we reached Crequi where we were to spend the night. There was a brook beside the road and the men bathed their feet while billets were being assigned in barns, chicken coops, etc. The kitchen was set up about a mile from the billets and most of the men slept through till breakfast without bothering to go to supper. Paul and I shared a room in the house of a very decent old woman.
The final day of the hike was a different story. There had been time to take care of the blisters and the men were getting hardened up. The weather was cooler, and the water cart was available. We reached our destination outside Anvins about mid-afternoon with the men singing. Our camp ground was ideal, beside a river, shaded by beautiful trees. Richardson bawled out Paul for pitching the tents exactly where Richardson had told him to, admitted he was wrong later but didn’t apologize. Most of the Officers and men went swimming in the ice cold water and in the evening I walked into Anvin with John Marsh, Sim Lynch, and Bill Flynn, looked at the church, grave yard, and had a drink at the Estaminet.
The following day, Sunday, we were supposed to rest and start at 3 A.M. Monday to entrain in Wavrans. Sunday afternoon while most of the men were on pass and Richardson and Hall were away, orders came to break camp at once and go to Wavrans for the night. We sent the buglers to the nearby villages to sound assembly and were on the road in a little over an hour after receiving the orders, with no confusion, aided greatly by Richardson’s absence.
Entrained at Wavrans June 10, 1918. A & B Co.’s and Headquarters left in first section. C & D Co.’s in second with Gillam in command. It was good to settle down in a R.R. compartment after all that marching.
Because of the disruption of the railroads caused by the German salient to Chateau Thierry, we had to swing far to the south via Versailles, Sens, Wassy, and Toul to reach our sector, taking most of three days. At our stop at Toul on the third day we were served coffee, U.S. cigarettes & chewing gum by our first Red Cross & YMCA girls. The American sector for sure! Late in the afternoon we detrained at Thaone, a pretty little town on the Moselle, much more cheerful than the northwest towns. We marched a few miles to Dogneville and made camp in a field. An Alpine Chasseur officer took the officers in town where he had the closed Estaminet opened up and arranged for our dinner. We were the first Americans seen in these towns and all the French were delighted and cordial. The Chasseur was surprised at the way our men fell in line with their kits and waited to be served at the rolling kitchen and remarked that they were “tres discipline”; he probably expected the wild Americans to riot.
Next morning we took off for Memenil through some fairly rugged country. We had orders to get off the road if a plane came over. Since there was an allied airfield at Dogneville, we were on the hop most of the time. Saw many French soldiers working in the fields, no doubt on leave for that purpose, and several trench systems. The hamlets became poorer and dirtier as we progressed and Memenil turned out to be the most miserable of the lot. A & B had already arrived and were in shelter tents since the barns were too filthy. We did likewise on a hillside outside the hamlet. Paul and I had our tent at one end of the line.
Most of the A & B officers were sent immediately to M.G. school at Moten. French gun carts arrived to replace the British limbers, and we had our first look at the Hotchkiss gun. We were in Memanil for 5 miserable days. It rained two of them which didn’t improve the shelter tent existence. Paul, however, with his French, arranged for three old crones, who had the largest house in town, to feed us which they were delighted to do in exchange for white U.S. bread, jam, sugar, and a few franks. Sunday dinner, when they stewed up the old rubber rooster and broke out the Au-de-Vie was quite a celebration.
One afternoon McCaffrey and I rode over to Epinal, a city untouched by the war in a very attractive setting with the Moselle flowing through it. It seemed very gay and cheerful with very few U.S. soldiers around. Had an excellent dinner with champagne and strawberries for dessert; then walked around town, had another drink or two at a café and started our homeward ride at 10 o’clock. It rained hard on the way but we made camp OK. On June 19 the company officers and four men from each squad were taken in trucks to a French M.G. school at Fraimboise. The transport meanwhile and the balance of the men marched to Baccarat with the French M.G. carts tied on to the rear of the British limbers. En route in the trucks we were shown Gerberviller, completely destroyed by the Germans in 1914.
We found a company of the 305th M.G. Btn., and the Trench Mortar & 37 mm cannon of the 307th Infantry also at the school. The French officers were an odd assortment but friendly and casual. They combined their mess with ours when our civilian cook went on strike.
We were taught the mechanism of the Hotchkiss gun by an officer who had been a teacher in civilian life. Most of the training was on the casual side, chiefly burning up thousands of rounds of ammo shooting the guns but the men gained a lot of confidence in the guns seeing the targets cut down. Most of the French officers were a wild, hard drinking lot, especially the effeminate appearing Capt. Davoust. The aim was to get the training over quickly to get back to the Estaminet.
Paul organized an excellent mess for the men, borrowing utensils from the French and some cooks from the infantry, with Soccoccio in charge. All were well fed and got on splendidly with the French soldiers. Our Non-Coms ate in the French N.C.O.’s mess
On Sunday afternoon Capt. Davoust organized an expedition to Luneville for dinner at the Café de l’Agriculture. Paul, Bill Rice and I together with Reggie Reeves and other 305th officers and three French officers piled into limbers. En route a French Lieut. vaulted onto one of the limber horses, but vaulted back even more quickly when we met up with a French Colonel. Luneville, though very near the front, had remained untouched for some unknown reason.
Most of us deployed for some shopping and then gathered at the café where we had a fine, raucous, rather drunken dinner. Reeves was emcee, assisted by a fat old French reprobate, George, a friend of Davoust. The French attempt to round up some women after dinner was not a success.
As we were leaving, all the French troops were pulling out of Luneville, no doubt for the Chateau Thierry front.
In Fraimboise we witnessed a ceremony in which a French soldier, condemned of desertion, had all the buttons cut off his uniform before being sent to jail.
The farewell dinner with the French after our 10 days was a gay affair, with our tables moved outside under the stars. After dinner we departed in trucks for the Haxo Barracks in Baccarat where we arrived about midnight to the tune of an air raid. We woke up to another and saw one of the planes shot down.
We found that McCaffrey had equipped the part of the company that he had marched to Baccarat while the rest of us were at M.G. school with roll-puttees and over-seas caps to replace the ghastly looking winter caps. Major Richardson informed us that we were to take the support positions in and about Vacqueville that night.
We started after dark with everyone excited, gas masks at the ready and no talking, useless precautions as we found out later. The A Co. runners who were supposed to guide us to the support positions did not show up so we remained in Vacqueville for the night. I had a billet in a dark and smelly ground floor room and Company Headquarters were at the other end of the one street.
The next morning, for want of official information, I got an A Co. runner to guide Sgt. Herries and me to the now vacated A. Co. position on a hilltop to the right of the St. Pol road a mile or so from Vacqueville. There, in a circular trench system, I chose one gun position covering the Pexonne road and the other the valley & ridge to the left. Going back in the P.M. I met the seemingly nervous and excitable Gen Johnson who said that the Germans had observation of the open hilltop, that the guns were to be manned only at night, the men to be kept in the nearby woods, and no one must expose himself in daylight. That night I took Wagenbrenner’s and Fanning’s squads up the hill and set the guns as planned. I made my P.C. in a splinter proof in the center of the trench system.
Rice’s 3rd platoon had positions on a hill to the left of the St. Pol road and the 1st platoon was in the center.
The first night, the only excitement occurred when our own artillery in the hollow behind us let go a few rounds. I went to the guns and found everybody with gas masks on. At dawn we all took to the woods, where the rations had been delivered during the night, except for a sentry at each gun. I caught an hours sleep before breakfast and then went down to town to report
On the third day Major Richardson inspected all our positions with Paul and, without a word to Paul, the next day ordered Paul to D Co. and put Tom Harris in charge of C. The little skunk had always hated Paul, I guess because he knew that Paul saw through him, and acted in a typically dirty way.
After two nights the other section of the platoon, Talbot’s and Bachner’s squads, relieved Harris’ section.
Tom Harris selected alternate positions to my left where I was to go in case of a break through and I made a tour of these. All this time it was extremely hot and trekking back and forth to Vacqueville and around the positions was no fun.
Lt. Philips, whom we had left at Monnecove and never expected to see again, reported back and shared my billet with me.
Since Rice had been sent to school at Moyen, I had to inspect his platoon’s positions also once a day, which I did on horseback most of the way.
On the night of July 3-4, 1918, I was ordered to move my guns to the right of the Pexonne road to emplacements shown on the map but which actually were not there. However, I found two places that would do for emplacements in a pinch and pretty well covered the wire in the valley running down to Pexonne, and installed Wagonbrenner and Fanning. Just as I was dropping off to sleep, what seemed like all Hell broke loose. Wasn’t sure for a moment whether the shells were coming or going, but it turned out that the artillery behind us was celebrating the 4th of July with a barrage with such guns as they had.
Next morning Sgt. Darcy appeared with rumors that the Germans had broken through the front lines, or close to it, and with orders for us to resume our old positions; so, tired and wet, (it had rained hard all night), we slogged back with guns and ammunition boxes.
We had good meals at Co. H.Q. and quite a string of visitors, including Jimmy Fargo and Frank Bangs, as well as officers from our battalion.
The 2nd platoon was scheduled to relieve Lynch’s platoon of Co. A in the so-called “I bis” line, so a couple of days before I went up to look over the ground and arrange about the relief. Rode as far as St. Pol, walked to A Co. H.Q. in St. Maurice and thence, with a guide, to Sim’s position.
The four platoon guns were distributed over half a mile or more along the edge of a thick woods called the Bois du Champs facing Badonviller, still held by the Germans, across open fields. In front of the “I bis” line were a few lightly held outposts. The main Badonviller-St. Pol road ran through the woods and one gun was located on the left of the road. Platoon P.C. was located not far from the road where a French Lieutenant had a deep, damp, dugout. Sim had chosen to live and sleep above ground where there was a wooden bed frame nailed up between the trees with chicken wire stretched across it. He slept on this, as I did when I took over. (The thing was still there when I returned in 1924). Sim being busy working out some barrage data, I toured the four positions with one of his runners. The woods were very thick, easy to miss the trails in the daylight and a real problem to get to the guns at night. Before leaving, I arranged the details of the relief with Sim. Everything went smoothly on the night of July 20. With the two squads from Vacqueville I picked up the remaining two at the support line positions on the hilltop, all hitched up and ready to go, and met the A Co. guides as arranged and they led the squads to the gun positions. I went to the P.C. Runners came in from Bachner, Talbot & Wagenbrenner reporting that they were all set, but Herries’ runner from the most distant gun at the right of the line got lost in the woods. Sgt. Herries also got lost trying to come in next morning, but I got out to his position and got rations to him. I had as runners at my P.C. Sullivan, Ungren, and Underhill. Sullivan had the job of dividing up the rations every morning for the four squads.
Tom Harris, then the Company Commander, apparently never slept, running his legs off covering the whole company front day and night and exposing himself in a fearless but foolish manner. He and Richardson planned new gun emplacements for Herries’ and Wagonbrenner’s squads. Transport men were sent up one rainy night to help with the digging. Had a problem as to how to feed and take care of them. Each squad had to do its own cooking and find cooking utensils as best it could.
The afternoon that the French, who had been supporting us, pulled out, we were ordered to pull in Herries’ and Wagonbrenner’s squads to double up in Talbot’s and Bachner’s emplacements on the left of the line. Then at midnight we were ordered to move them back to their previous position. With luck, we managed it in the dark and thick woods.
Some pioneers were sent up to tunnel under the Badonville road to connect up with the gun positions on its left.
Tom Harris brought Capt. Scott up to my P.C., announcing that he was the new Company Commander.
After 8 days I was relieved by the M.G. Co. of the 308th Inf. under Capt. Hubbell. The relief went smoothly, picked up Herries’ squad, and hiked back to Baccarat, all pretty weary, but had to wait for an hour before Bill Rice showed up with our billets. I was assigned to room with Paul Cushman across the street from the Officer’s Mess.
We remained in reserve at Baccarat until Aug.2, during which time Sgt. Moyer was rather badly wounded in hand grenade practice & Kerrigan was hurt by a detonator explosion in the barracks.
On Aug. 2 we started a three night hike to the railroad at Charmes via LaChapelle, Menil, and Gerivillers, the last a filthy village with most unfriendly people. The second night the pouring rain and pitch blackness made it very difficult to stay on the road at all.
We camped next night in a birch woods outside Charmes and entrained the following night. Company C was divided, a section on each train, to provide protection in case of air raids. Bill Rice went on the first train to assemble the various sections at the destination. We felt sure that we were going to the Chateau Thierry area where the Allies had broken through the German salient, and we were right. We bought a lunch of Champaign and Bar-le-Duc and arrived at St. Simeon about midnight, passing en route U.S. heavy naval guns mounted on flat cars. Got the gun carts, horses, etc. off the train in jig time and spent what was left of the night in a field where Rice had collected the Company. Received orders next morning to take four men and the gun from each squad and load them on trucks by 11 A.M. The balance of the Company and transport were to follow on foot under Paul Cushman and Philips.
After a ride with no stops and no food, pulled up a couple of kilos north of Fere-en-Tardenois in the evening. After getting the men and equipment into the woods Capt. Scott and I crawled into our bedding rolls on the ground and slept.
Fere had been recently fought over and captured by U.S. Divisions and the woods reeked of unburied men and animals. The Germans had retreated behind the Vesle River, leaving behind a tremendous amount of material. Their bottled water and food, in great warehouses, we found especially acceptable.
Talked with a woman who had just returned to her demolished house in search of her mother too old and ill to be moved when the place was evacuated - no trace of the mother.
There were two wrecked U.S. planes nearby, in one of which Quentin Roosevelt had been killed. That night B Co. pulled out for the front on the Vesle. The balance of the Battalions arrived after a 4 day forced march, almost exhausted.
On the night of Aug. 14, 1918, we, (A & C Companies), left Fere, marching through the much battered Chery Chartrevre and pulled off the road and into the woods near La Tuileeris farm, sending the animals back to a more protected spot. Next morning everyone dug an individual funk hole and then collected all sorts of salvage, including German light Maxim M.G.s and U.S. Springfield rifles. While in the woods we practiced shooting the guns until a nearby artillery battery requested us to stop because the German guns started shelling the battery when we fired. Also, I visited the Red Cross and YMCA in Chery to get chocolates, cigarettes, etc.
The Vesle River, where the Germans had elected to halt their hasty retreat from the Chateau Thierry salient, was a very narrow stream running through a deep, marshy valley with fairly high but almost bare hills on the south, (American), side, offering very little cover. The shell shattered hamlet of Mt. St. Martins was on the crest of the hills and Ville Savoyes below near the river. The 32nd Division had reached the Vesle on their advance north. They were relieved by the 4th who lost heavily in their attempts to advance and were relieved in turn by the 77th. The 28th Division was on our right with a foothold in Fismes. Our Brigade, (the 154th), held the right sector of the line next to the 28th but not in liason with it.
One night shells began dropping nearer and nearer to Le Tuillerie Woods where A & C Companies were camped until one hit just on the edge of the trees. I made a dash for the slit trenches and found most of the other officers already there. John Marsh moved A Co. out of the woods and kept them in gas masks for a long time, although there was no sign of gas.
The only position north of the river occupied by the Division was a few hundred yards of railroad cut with a fairly high embankment and a small patch of the wooded area north of the cut leading out toward a German strong point in and around a villa known as the “Chateau Diable”. A company of the 308th Inf. and six M.G.s from B Co. had been assigned to this position for about a week and the 2nd Platoon of C Co. plus 2 guns from the 3rd Platoon were due to relieve the B Co. guns on the night of Aug. 21. On the night of the 19th I took Sgts. Wagonbrenner & Bellard with me and went forward to look over the position. There were still a number of unburied dead to step over in and near Ville Savoye. The only bridge available to cross the Vesle consisted of a couple of large logs with flattened tops. We got to the cut without being shelled.
I went over the positions with Nachazel, but he was unwilling to try to find the 2 guns in the woods on the right in the dark. As far as I could learn, both flanks were wide open with no one to prevent the Germans from filtering in between the river and us.
The way back was a little more difficult. M.G. bullets started to mow the grass in the field on the way to the bridge and we had to take to the shell holes as best we could until the gun ceased firing, and again on the road between Mt. St. Martin and the St. Tuillerie woods Germans began to search the road with artillery. I took a hole in the bank infuriated that they should have picked that particular spot out of five miles of deserted highway. Luckily, the shelling stopped just before it reached my hole.
Started for the R.R. cut on the night of Aug. 21 with Lt. Scratt and six gun squads – Corps. Belmore, Young, Fanning and Ruoff from the 2nd Platoon, Corps. Propheter and Sampson from the 3rd, and Sgts. Pearson and Wagonbrenner. Major Richardson wished us good luck. Reached the cut with no incidents. The squads were led away to their positions by B Co. guides. Lt. Nachazel told me about the German barrage that morning and felt sure a raid was due. Just then a German mortar “Pig” came tumbling in behind us and Nack took off without further ado with B Co.
I went the rounds of the four guns in the R.R. cut till about 3:30 A.M. and had just started a second round when the Boche cut loose with a box barrage. I visited three of the guns and met Lt. Scratt coming in from the right of the line. I sent him to confer with Capt. Frothingham of the 308th Infantry Co. Up to that point there was much smoke and some gas but till then no direct hits. The box barrage stopped at dawn and Belmar’s gun on the left facing down the track got a light machine gun team trying to cross.
I went down the line to find out what had happened. Found that the Germans had completely over-run the infantry platoon and 2 machine gun squads in the point of woods north of the track running out toward the Chateau Diable, capturing or killing the whole detachment and were now holding the area.
Two of the four guns on the R.R. embankment had had direct hits and four of my men had been killed – Collins, Daucette, Galivan & Hill. One man, Fay, was missing and five wounded, Propheter and Thundberg seriously; Hitt, Sherin, and Young lightly. Got the walking wounded evacuated and sent Azzinare to Capt. Scott with a report. Then moved the two remaining guns and divided up the men who were left to man them and also set up a captured German light Maxim gun to sweep the track on the left toward Bazoche. Sniping and light M.G. fire from the flanks and rear where the Germans had infiltrated grew rather heavy.
I crawled into a funk hole in the embankment to write a second message to Scott when Corp. Fanning rushed up to tell me that Capt. Frothingham was pulling K Company out and retreating behind the Vesle. The Captain hadn’t bothered to give me any notice of his intention. I ran down toward his command post and found K Company of the 308th assembled at the entrance to the single narrow path that led back to the log bridge across the Vesle, ready to take off. Sent for the two remaining guns and their crews immediately and they arrived before all the infantry had left. The difficulty was that there were not enough M.G. men left to carry the guns, tripods, and ammunition boxes, so I gave the ammo boxes to the retreating infantry men and, foolishly, one tripod. I then climbed the bank with Sampson’s gun and squad and set it up in such cover as I could find where it would cover the cut and tracks to some extent in case the Germans attacked while the retreat was in progress. Retreat is a polite word for it. The Infantry were running as fast as they could by this time, and the C Company men doing pretty well behind them. When the last of them had disappeared down the path with a good start and no Germans had appeared, I followed with the covering gun. We all got back across the bottle-neck single track bridge without any interference from the Germans who must have been asleep but, to my horror, I found we had only the gun the last squad was carrying with its tripod, plus the two boxes of clips and one other gun without a tripod. The Infantry had thrown away the other tripod and all the clip boxes in order to make better speed.
The woods on the German side of the river were a jungle, offering no field of fire. I didn’t see what good I could do there with my one operable gun and almost no ammunition so I pulled the gun and the men back along the wood road leading to Ville Savoye and set it up on the hillside, covering the road by which we had come with the intention of covering any possible further retreat by the Infantry, and sent another message to Scott.
Pretty soon I saw the relief with guns, ammo, etc. coming over the crest of the absolutely bare hilltop in broad daylight under full observation by the Germans, who started to shell them at once. Two men were killed and another wounded, but the rest came on under the command of Lt. Philips. I placed the new guns with him and waited to take them back into the R.R. cut where the Infantry were supposed to attack and retake the lost grounds. The infantry attack, however, was a complete fizzle. The companies struggled in one at a time with no coordination and lost heavily from German shell fire.
Philips and I had our P.C. in the cellar of a ruined house in Ville Savoye, with the replacements scattered through other cellars while the attack was going on. Lt. Philips was stricken with a terrific stomach-ache and was rolling around in agony, completely out of the picture. By midday I decided that someone had to find out what was going on along the river and what, if anything, we could do to help, so I started out along the narrow gauge railroad line that led from Ville Savoye to the road into the river. As I neared the river I got caught in a pretty heavy barrage. With no funk holes, or the like, for shelter, I lay flat as I could on the ground while shells landed all too close to me on all sides. By good luck, I wasn’t touched. I found out little except that the attack had been a failure. Then went back to Ville Savoye where everyone was surprised to see me, having seen and heard the barrage where I had gone. Then I started to lead one squad, Keefer’s, back into the front line along the Vesle, but the Germans spotted us along the narrow gauge line and started some well directed shelling. They must have had an observation post and a gun close by in the woods. Luckily there was a ditch beside the track and some funk holes to which we all took. One man, Engbarth, was fatally wounded, but was the only casualty.
One German gun, which sounded very close, devoted its complete attention to my hole. Seeing me in the lead, I suppose they assumed that I was an officer. The shells landed within feet of me but I was protected from the bursts by the ditch and the hole, and nothing hit me. I don’t know just how long they kept it up because I was so exhausted that I dozed off after a while, and when I came to, the shelling had stopped. After dusk Philips, who had recuperated, and I got all the guns in to the south bank of the Vesle, where the infantry had their front line, with no incidents. Philips then took over, and I went back to what was known as the “Chalk Quarry” behind the crest of the hills above the Vesle.
There were trenches there with holes dug into the forward wall for protection. We were supposed to be resting in a reserve line, but the battery emplaced close behind and shooting right over the trench almost blew us out of the trench when they put on their nightly barrage, and allowed for little sleep.
After four days of that, I relieved Philips on the line still south of the Vesle. I had pretty bad dysentery by that time but still made the rounds of the gun positions every day, including the two guns that Fisk had north of the R.R. cut in the Chateau Diable woods.
On the way back to the Quarry after being relieved by Philips, I had a rather extraordinary encounter with a Col. Prescott, Regular Army, who had recently been assigned to the division. He asked me about the disposition of the troops in the front line, particularly those in the Railroad cut, and absolutely refused to believe me when I told him that the cut had not been retaken. He became furious, and since I saw that we were getting nowhere, I simple left him fuming.
After 4 days we were relieved by Capt. Hubbell’s Machine Gun Company from the 308th Inf. On the way back, three duds, or possibly gas shells, landed very close to us in the Ville Savoye street. Luck was with us.
We went back to the Dole Woods where the transport was stationed and I shared a shelter tent with Paul. The woods were out of the range of the lighter artillery and I relaxed – ate nothing but rice because of the dysentery – and generally let things slide. The 1st Platoon occupied anti-aircraft positions nearby, but never got a chance at the planes that came over every afternoon and regularly brought down one or more of our observation balloons while the observers parachuted to the ground. The only disturbance occurred when Sgt. Shank hit Underhill over the head with a shoe.
On the fifth day of our stay at Dole a rumor circulated that the Germans were pulling out of Fismes and their positions behind the Vesle. Nevertheless, we were ordered back to the La Tuillerie Farm woods. We made a leisurely move since there seemed to be no hurry. No sooner, however, had we reached La Tuillerie than the rumor was confirmed, and we were ordered forward to cross the Vesle at the only available bridge in Fismes. After a hasty feeding of the men, we started forward. The one road was jammed with the entire Division trying to get to Fismes in a hurry. There was considerable confusion as night came on but we found Doug. Campbell at a runner post and received orders to pull off the road and wait till morning, which we did somewhat further down the hill. By that time it was pouring rain and pitch black. Capt. Scott located a dugout of sorts, and Philips and I shared it with him for the night. The original 3:30 A.M. starting time was put off for an hour or two, and we managed to feed the men, one squad at a time, at Paul’s field kitchen. D Company had gone forward to Fismes, and we heard the bad news that Capt. Walter Gillam and Tom Harris had been killed by the same shell while the Company was stalled at an intersection in Fismes. The road forward was still jammed, but after a couple of long waits, we finally got across the half repaired bridge. We continued north on the east side of a valley leading up to Blanzy-les-Fismes, together with artillery, infantry, & transport pretty well intertwined. We passed the German H.Q. cave used the night before by Brigadier General Johnson, then in command of the Division, where he and most of his staff had been gassed during the night by slow leaking gas tanks left behind by the Germans. This, just after he had issued a memo criticizing the Division for having too many gas casualties. We halted a little south of Blanzy, below the crest of the ridge, and dug into the steep hillside along the road.
Company headquarters were in an iron “Elephant’s-back” sunk part way into the hillside. Gun carts and animals were at the bottom of the valley. Paul brought up the kitchen and urged Scott to let him move the animals a little further back where they would have greater protection from shell fire. Scott in his stubborn way refused, and that night the shelling killed Catania’s pet buckskin team and two other horses. We were in the support with nothing much to do, but Philips & Fiske lightened the boring days with a number of amusing songs and quotations from Shakespeare & Omar Khayyam. Other officers from the front line dropped by frequently to get hot food from our kitchen. Campbell, now Major of the Battalion, visited us daily. Bill Rice was now in command of B company, Henry Ralph having been wounded. Scott and I still had bad dysentery but we went, at one point, and had a good meal with Campbell and McCaffrey at Bn. Headquarters in the former German headquarters cave where the Brigade staff had gotten itself gassed. Another day I went back to the transport location and had a swim in the Ardre River with Paul.
We were told that we were to be relieved on the night of the 15th, but nevertheless at noon on the 13th, we were ordered to put down an indirect fire barrage in support of a combined French-American attack on Revillon and the Petit Montagne. In the early afternoon, without previous reconnaissance, Scott loaded up the men with guns and tripods, and with Philips and I, and led them out on the completely bare hillside under German observation. We found a little trench near the road and parked the men in it for some cover. Scott picked a position in the open, just barely within range, lining up the gun positions with six guns on each side of the road. Philips and I persuaded Scott to take the men back out of sight while we did the computations for the indirect fire with the aid of the goniometers and set the aiming stakes and flash screens.
Then we went back and worked out some final data by candlelight in the Elephant’s back. We were to start the barrage at 5:30 A.M. and continue until 9 A.M. Then, if no word came back to us that the 3rd stage of the attack was to be staged, we were to go back. At 3 A.M. Fiske led an ammunition detail forward, Scott, Paul Cushman, and I following shortly with rest of the Company. We got the guns placed and started shooting on time. When the attack started, there was an amazing display of fireworks. As the sun came up and the mist cleared, we must have been under observation. There were a number of planes overhead, both Allied and German, but they seemed so busy chasing and fighting each other that the Germans failed to spot us. One plane was shot down, we thought an American, but were not sure. We started back over the hill to Blanzy at 9 o’clock and as soon as we had left our position, the Germans started shelling it, accurately and heavily, and also the road back to Blanzy, but we zig-zagged through the fields and had no casualties.
No sooner had we gotten back then we received orders to go forward again and put down an M.G. barrage on Petit Montaque. This meant finding a new position considerably further forward than in the morning in order to be within range of Petit Montaque and advancing with the whole Company carrying guns, tripods, and ammunition under full observation of the German artillery in broad daylight. We had little ammunition left and had to send back for more but started with what we had. We were shelled, but with luck and some right and left obliques, no one was hit. We came to a wooded ravine leading up from Merval. The 3rdplatoon crossed to the far side and set up their guns there; the other platoons remained on the south side. We did not have enough ammunition for a regular barrage and could only fire a clip once every three or four minutes. Every time we did fire, it brought down shell fire near us, but not close enough to cause casualties. Two or three infantrymen brought a badly wounded man into the ravine for cover and first aid and Captain Scott protested violently, fearing that it would attract more shelling to our positions. We were expecting to spend the night there and the men had begun digging funk holes into the sides of the ravine when the order came for us to return to Blanzy. By then it was dark, and we were not shelled on the return trip. The infantry attack which we were trying to support was a complete failure with heavy losses. We were lucky indeed to have had no casualties.
Most unhappily, however, the luck did not last. The next morning at dawn the Germans started shelling our support hide-out in the Blanzy valley and made a direct hit on the hole occupied by three of our best and most intelligent men, Corps. Hehre, Hemburg, and Pvt. Scott, killing or fatally wounding all three.
We were relieved that night by an Italian Division who came through Fismes and across the Vesle with an incredible amount of noise – lanterns, cigarettes, matches, and everything but a brass band. For the first time in two weeks there was no shelling. On any previous night they would have been cut to pieces. After the Italians’ arrival we made our way back through Fismes as quietly as possible and after a few kilos were taken by truck to Arcy-le-Ponsart, out of range of the German artillery. Everybody was feeling happy because of the supposedly sure rumor that we were going to a rest area for re-equipment and replacements. I had a comfortable billet with a bath and clean sheets. Next day I put on clean clothes and field boots, believing the rumor. Next day the transport started south with new mules to replace the losses and at about 7 P.M. we climbed into French trucks, driven by the usual stone-faced little Indo-Chinese soldiers, and proceeded at a fast clip with no stops. The trucks had no springs and the going was incredibly rough. We passed through Eperney, Chalon, and Vitry-le-Francois in the moonlight. Suddenly thereafter, we realized that we were headed north again and the morale sank out of sight.
The Division had heavy casualties on the Vesle and in the subsequent advance toward the Aisne, far outweighing their actual accomplishments. The liaison between Corps, Division H.Q., Brigade H.Q., Regimental H.Q., and down to the poor Infantry Battalions & Companies who had to do the actual attacking was incredibly bad. Orders reached the Battalion and Companies far too late, if at all, to stage the coordinated attacks contemplated by the higher echelons. Consequently, the attacks were usually made in driblets, one or two Companies at a time, with little, if any, artillery preparations and were completely futile.
We finally pulled up in the afternoon outside of St. Mard-sur-Aube and waited in a field for a couple of hours while the French vacated our billets. I drew a billet over a bakery and had fine hot fresh baked bread for breakfast. The men had chicken wire bunks in French Army huts. After spending the day in St. Mard with strict orders for no one to show himself in the open, we started after nightfall on a long, cold, wet march to Verrier where we pitched shelter tents in a steep, narrow gully in the blackness and pouring rain. The next night we hiked again through St. Menehould and Florent where we picked up our guns and equipment which had been brought forward by truck. Marching through the deserted streets of St. Menehould, to my surprise, the men started singing “Keep your head down, Fritzi boy’, showing that the morale was still O.K. Thence we went to a large French camp in the southern part of the Argonne Forest. Something big was in preparation, but we did not know what. Secrecy was strictly enforced. No one was allowed to be in the open during the day.
What was in preparation was, of course, the huge Meuse Argonne offensive with 9 American Divisions stretching from the Meuse River on the right through the almost impassable Argonne Forest on the left – a distance of some 25 to 30 miles – with a French Army supposed to advance simultaneously through the open Champaigne country to the left of the forest, all on the morning of Sept. 26th, 1918.
The valley of the little Biesme River was the dividing line between the French and German Armies. It cut through the forest in roughly east-west direction with high steep bluffs on both sides. The French had a few outposts on the edge of the north bluffs, but their line of resistance was at the edge valley at the foot of the south bluffs in the “La Basse” trench system. There had been heavy fighting in the forest during the first year of the war, but both sides had decided that the going was too tough, and for the past three years both had used this sector as a rest area for worn out Divisions, and no serious fighting had taken place. The day following our arrival in the area we planned the takeover from the French of the front lines. I was assigned the line-of-resistance with two platoons, (8 guns), stretching for about ¾ of a mile along the “La Basse” trench with clear fields of fore across the Biesme Valley to the northern bluffs some ¼ to ½ mile away. My command post was at what was left of the hamlet of “La Placardelle” near the road at the extreme left of the gun positions in an Elephant’s-back hut. My orderly at that time was Angelo Stanco who acted as cook and generally took excellent care of me. All the instructions and orders, however, were in either French or Italian, mostly handwritten and difficult to decipher. It took the best part of a day to make the rounds of the gun positions, see that they got their rations and understood what they were supposed to do in case of an attack. If an attack had come, I would have had no control of the gun squads.
On the following day, Sept. 25, Capt. Scott called me back to the Headquarters camp, a good 4 to 5 miles in the rear, to give me my orders for the advance to take place at dawn on Sept. 26. I was to accompany the 3rdbattalion of the 308th Infantry with my six guns, (two guns under Granzen were assigned to another mission), and report to Capt. Breckenridge in command. I saw Capt. Breckenridge and discussed how and where to join him. Rather than trying to march my men back the five miles to his starting point at the camp, and then back with him to the bridge over the Biesme LaHarazee, an impossible task anyway with ammunition boxes as well as guns and tripods, we decided that he would pick me up at the road at La Placardele which seemed to be the only possible route to the bridge over the Biesme at LaHarazee.
He had orders to supply 20 infantry men to assist in carrying the ammunition boxes, so that was no problem. I assembled the six gun squads with all the equipment near the road and waited for about 30 minutes past the time when he should have arrived. Then I led the men down toward the bridge and discovered that his guides had led him off the road and down a trail through the woods a few hundred yards before reaching La Placardelle. Why he didn’t send a messenger forward to advise me of the change, I never found out.
By the time I reached the bridge, I found that Breckenridge and Whittlesey had already crossed. I went ahead through the jam of troops and found Breckenridge, with only a part of his Company, completely stalled near the bottom of the one very deep and narrow trench leading up to the front along the side of a ravine cutting into the high bluff. The entire 308th Infantry, along with some other assorted units, was trying to go forward up this one and only narrow communication trench, and the congestion was incredible. He said that Whittlesey was somewhere up ahead – he didn’t know how far. The going outside the trench was impossible because of barbed wire and huge rocks. All of the outfits were split and jumbled up and the Headquarters Company was making matters worse by trying to come back down the trench. I ran back, got my platoons, and somehow bulled my way for quite a distance up the trench by walking over other fellow’s backs. Finally, when further progress was impossible, I left Sgt. Bouton in charge of the platoons and climbed forward to see if I could locate Whittlesey. Eventually I found him across what had been no-man’s-land in one of the German trenches. By that time the fog had become thicker than I had ever imagined fog could be and I became hopelessly lost in the maze of French front line trenches. I kept going around in circles for a while and finally ended up almost back at La Harazee before I found the right communications trench and picked up the Company again and led them up the now nearly deserted trench, across no-man’s-land and into the German trench system. In a mile or two we came up with Whittlessey who had come to a halt in a German strongpoint, equipped with dug outs, kitchens, etc.
All this time there had been no shelling and almost no machine gun fire. The Germans had been caught so much by surprise that it took them a good 24 hours to react. The worst enemy was the fog, which held up and confused everything all along the American front from the Meuse to the Forest. It was lucky that the Germans could not organize a counter attack since all our units were so badly split up by the fog and the terribly tough terrain that no one knew where they were or where anybody else was.
We had bad luck that night. Sgt. Bouton was shot through the lung by a jumpy raw infantry replacement, (heard later that he lost a lung but survived). Otherwise, the night was quiet enough. The expected orders to advance did not come in the morning so Whittlessey stayed put. About noon Lt. Col. Prescott appeared and blew his top because we had not advanced at dawn. We then started forward. I and my guns were attached to the un-lost elements of an Infantry Company under Lieut. Aker that was to advance on the left flank. The fog and general spookiness of the morning of the 26th had been too much for a battalion of the Colored 92ndDivision who were supposed to serve as liaison between the 77th and the French on the left outside the forest, and they did not go forward at all. But then, neither did the French who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, advance either.
We followed a path leading forward on the left of the line, knowing that the Germans probably had most of the trails covered by machine guns, but it was impossible to make any headway through the dense jungle-like forest growth. Even on the path the going was very slow, particularly for the machine gunners with guns and tripods to carry. I had two guns with the advance patrol, the others in the rear. Twice we were held up by machine gun fire. Instead of sending out patrols to locate the M.G.s, Lieut. Aker ordered me to use our own M.G.s to clear them out. We set up the two forward guns and fired several bursts in the general direction from which the German fire seemed to be coming. To my surprise, it worked, and the Germans ceased firing. We had completely lost touch with the other elements of the Battalion advancing, we hoped, on our right, and had only a vague idea where they were. When darkness came on, we holed up in an old, long unused German trench, set up guns on both flanks, and prepared to spend the night. It was raining, cold, and miserable. In the morning we continued to go forward and shortly heard rather heavy firing in front of us. In a little while we came up with some medical corps men and an assortment of the rear stragglers of Whittlessey’s outfit. No one seemed to know where Whittlessey and the front line were or how to get there. The best I could get was “up there somewhere”. I left the platoon there until I found out where to lead them and proceeded up a wood road. I hadn’t gone far before I came upon an Infantry officer lying in the path with a bad wound in his back. While trying to get him into better cover, I heard an M.G. open up close by and felt a blow, as if by a baseball bat, on the back of my left thigh which knocked me down. I found that I could walk, but only just, and hobbled back to where I had left the platoon. I’d been hit by one of the M.G. bullets and was bleeding quite a bit. At the platoon one of the medical corps men put a First Aid bandage over the wound. He rather misled and scared me about the seriousness of the wound by exclaiming “My God, it’s gone right through and out the other side.” I sent a runner back to Capt. Scott to ask for a replacement. After an hour or so, the medico got together a group of wounded, stretcher cases and walking wounded, and started toward the rear. I decided I had better go along in their company and left Sgt. Popp in charge of the platoon.
I cut myself a stick to use as a crutch, and with its aid was able to keep up in the three or four mile walk back to La Harazee. Above La Harazee I was put in an ambulance and after a stop for an anti-tetanus shot, was taken to the forward triage in the ruined church at La Chalade. After what seemed like a long wait, the hole was swabbed and a new dressing put on. Then I was put in a truck where I had to stand and taken to the Evacuation Hospital #114 at Fleury. There I was given a cot and hot food. I was exhausted and slept most of the time. I’m vague as to how long I was there, but probably on the night of the following day I was loaded aboard a hospital train of a sort, made from converted French coaches, and had an overnight trip to Base Hospital 18, (the Johns Hopkins Unit), at Bazoilles. There we were really pampered – hospital beds, clean sheets, fine food, and plenty of attention from doctors, nurses, and Red Cross girls. Since I was far from a serious case, I was evacuated after 3 or 4 days to make room for badly wounded cases coming in from the front. I was put on a brand new hospital train, with three tiers of beds on each side, and taken all the way across France to Base 27 at Angers. The officer’s ward was already pretty crowded but the service was excellent. They kept me in bed for ten days before they would let me take a step. After that a Capt. Whitehead of the Marines, (who appropriately had his head swathed in white bandages), and I explored the town and had some enormous and delicious dinners at the “Chapon Fin” restaurant. At our first meal we demolished a large roast chicken. I finished up my hospitalization at a convalescent hospital nearby and then applied for a week’s wounded leave.
A Lt. Ticer from Portland, Oregon, who was released at the same time, and I decided that we would go to Nice, which seemed to be the favorite rest area. To get there we had to go via Paris, where we took in the famous Follies, which seemed to me a much over-rated performance. In Paris I ran across Poultney Corter on his way back to the Battalion after a wounded leave.
The weather in Nice was cold, rainy, and depressing. The place was full of Americans getting tight and generally raising Cain and on the whole, I found the leave rather disappointing.
I got back to Paris on Nov. 10th and had the luck to meet Simpson Lynch, also returning from wounded leave, on the Rue de Rivoli. One was supposed to remain only for 24 hours in Paris but Sim and I decided to overstay our leaves so as to take in the Armistice celebration there on the 11th. The night of the 11th there was really something to behold. The whole of Paris turned out into the boulevards and paraded up and down in a sort of college snake dance with locked arms, singing and screaming.
In order to regain the Battalion I first had to go through the replacement centers at Le Mans and Tours, which turned out to be a bore and nuisance. In Tours I met George Gaston, who bore me no ill will though I’d testified at the hearing in Monecove that he was incompetent. Tours was a depressing place. All the officers who had been found unfit for combat service had been sent there and were wandering around like lost souls. I was ordered back to the battalion, which was what I wanted, of course. Again, I had to go via Paris to get a train east. I left the train at Clermont-en-Argonne and hitch-hiked north on a supply train as far as the Battalion supply dump. There I met Sgts. Moyer, Young, and Bellmar, also on their way back from the hospital. I rode over to Stonne where B & D Companies were stationed with Walter Young and the next day rejoined Co. C at Beaumont. Paul, Ralph, and Schuch were with the Company and I was glad to get back. After a day or two we started the long hike back to the area assigned the Division east of Chaumont. Our first stop was at Buzancy where all but Henry Ralph and I left for leave. We took the long march in easy stages. Henry and I were mounted and I enjoyed the trip. My leg was a bit sore where the saddle rubbed it but not really painful. We did very well for ourselves in the way of billets and meals and I was much interested in seeing the towns, or what was left of them, that had been so bitterly fought over by our own and neighboring Divisions. Our stopping places included Chatal Chehery, where an infantry cook used a barbed wire demolition pipe filled with TNT as part of a base for his fire and completely blew off one leg. Henry and I tried to hold his femoral artery closed, out of which blood was pumping, but without much success. Other overnight stops were at Four-de-Paris, Florent, Sommeilles, Sermaize, and Escaron. At Sermaize we had a festive Thanksgiving dinner with a French officer, his wife, and a teen aged daughter who played the violin very nicely indeed.
We reached Maranville, our destination, about Dec. 2nd or 3rd. It was not a very attractive little town. The chief industry seemed to be a cane factory owned by a M. Bouvret. Also, there was a large old stone Chateau in use as a home for broken down and senile Priests. Here I had my billet in a large but cold and damp room. However, the bed was good. Shortly after arriving I managed to have jaundice; Masssillo brought my meals, chiefly rice, over to me and generally took good care of me.
In January Sim Lynch and I went to Pau on leave. The weather was fine and we took trips to Lourdes and elsewhere in the Pyrenees and found an exceptionally fine little restaurant in Pau.
On returning to Maranville we found that Lt. Schuch, who had been billeted with M. & Mme Bouvret, had met, through the Bouvrets, the Gaboury family, which consisted of Mama, three teen-aged daughters, two younger children, and a, fortunately, usually absent father who was a pharmacist with the French Army. Papa was a religious fanatic who was feared and hated by the rest of the family. He had a pharmacy in Nancy, and when Nancy was evacuated early in the war, he had brought the family to Maranville because of the convent and convent school. Every afternoon M. Bouvret would have Mme. Gaboury and the three daughters over for tea with Schuch, Sim, and myself. The parties were heavily chaperoned but we found that Mme. Gaboury, when plied with a little Anisette, would take to the piano and play the March Lorraine, the Sambre Meuse, and other patriotic tunes with great zest. This gave an opportunity for a little hand-holding on the sofa, and that was all. The girls were really very pretty and sweet. Sim fell heavily for the middle one, Madeline, about 18, and talked about coming back and marrying her. Whenever the father was in town, the show was off. All of this helped the time to pass very pleasantly and improved our French.
I was highly delighted one afternoon at Retreat when the Company presented me with a gold watch. Nothing could have pleased me more.
On Feb. 17, 1919, we left Maranville to go to the so-called Embarkation area nearer the coast. We marched to the train at Bricon on a bitter cold, snowy day. Paul, Simpson, Crouse, and I had a compartment on a captured German car with no heat. I felt pretty sick upon our arrival at La Chapelle-du-Chene and two days later Dr. Bowman sent me to the hospital at Solemne in an ambulance with a 104 temperature with the flu and pneumonia. The conditions there could not have been worse. It was a large Benedictine Monastery in the process of being taken over by the French, supposedly to serve as the “Area” hospital for the new area into which the Division had just moved. The new staff consisted of 2 doctors, 4 orderlies, and 2 French nurses, who were not interested in doing any nursing, to cope with three or four hundred men from the Division down with the 1918 variety of flu. I lay around a hall for a long time before being put in a room by myself on a straw mattress bed with no springs. The French brought around some inedible slop for food. I had to totter down a long cold hall to the bathroom. I doubt whether I would have pulled through if Sim Lynch had not been brought in with a much lighter case of the flu on the second day. We were both moved into a ward with a number of delirious and dying pneumonia cases. He was able to wait on me to a considerable extent since there were no orderlies available. The whole division medical staff was within a stone’s throw but the Medical Major in command had neither the wits or the guts to call on them for assistance. Sim was well enough to write a letter to our Battalion doctor describing the situation and asking him to try to do something about it. The letter somehow fell into the hands of the Major in charge who came storming into the ward to give us Hell. Sim was well enough to sit up and give the doctor back as good as we got, accusing him of being an inefficient spineless so and so. (Sim told me later that he had met the man on the transport going home. He had a practice in New York and when he found that Sim was a New Yorker, he was full of excuses and alibis).
My eye ulcer opened up as usual with a high fever but there was no medication or eye man available. In the course of a week, with Sim’s waiting on me, I did get better and shortly thereafter we were loaded in an ambulance and taken to the Base Hospital at Angers, the same place I had been in when wounded but now staffed by a new unit fresh from the U.S.A. I was the first really sick patient they had had in the Officer’s Ward and I got no end of attention from both the doctors and nurses. It seemed like heaven after Solemnes, with clean sheets, comfortable bed, and good food. Sim again was in the bed next to me with a nice young Atlantan named John Harden on the other side.
A trained eye man, Dr. Reid, took care of my eye ulcer and all was well. After a couple of weeks Sim arranged to be sent home before the Division and left for Bordeau.
My eye healed very slowly and Dr. Reid kept me around the hospital for treatment for a long while. I was up and out meanwhile and John Harden and I had a pretty good time playing around with a couple of cute nurses, taking them out to dinner and dancing. John was very much smitten with one of the nurses, Catherine McCloy, in our ward. She was known as Billie Burke and looked a great deal like her.
Finally I went back to La Chapelle and rejoined the Company. It was then commanded by a Capt. Pennington from the 3rd Division. We also had two fine Lieutenants from the same Division, Joe Rodenbaugh & Adams. The main excitement was Adams’ marriage to the ugliest cross-eyed French girl in all France. Adams was a top-draw Main-Line Philadelphian, very attractive and good looking. His girl in the U.S. had broken their engagement and married someone else and Adams on the rebound had married this rather intelligent but unbeautiful girl. The wedding luncheon was a rare function with all the relatives attending including an old duffer who kept his derby on throughout the meal. (Heard several years afterward that the Adams marriage was a success and that the couple was living happily outside Philadelphia).
At last we got our orders to proceed to Brest for embarkation. We spent three days at Camp Pontanezon and then boarded the Aquitania for a smooth and uneventful voyage to New York where we landed on April 24th.
After a short stay at camp near New York, on Long Island, (Mills, I think), we were sent to Camp Upton where we started. Both officers and men were discharged on May 10. In the meantime we had our “Welcome Home” parade up Fifth Avenue and a Victory Dinner at the Waldorf.
COMPANY C, 305TH MACHINE GUN BATTALION PERSONNEL KILLED OR FATALLY WOUNDED IN ACTION
Harold L. Fiske 2nd Lt. Argonne Forest
Alfred R. Noon 2nd Lt. Lost Battalion
Joseph A. Skratt 2nd Lt. Aug. 22, Vesle
Arthur Beatty Aug. 22, with relief of Vesle
Gustave Becker Lost Battalion
Frederick J. Brenner South bank of Vesle
Homer E. Collins Aug. 22, in R.R. cut
James Cunnane Sept. 28, Argonne
William E. Doucette Aug. 22, R.R. cut
Frederick L. Engbarth Aug. 23, with relief of Vesle
James C. Galivan Aug. 22, R.R. cut
Charles Hehre Sept. 16
Robert R. Hemberg Sept. 16
Columbus C. Hill Aug. 22, R.R. cut
Louis N. Johnson Lost Battalion
Giovanni Limongelli Aug. 26, south bank of Vesle
Charles E. Murphy Aug. 22, R.R. cut
Arthur O’Neill Aug. 24, south bank of Vesle
Garvin W. Scott Sept. 16, Blanzy les Fismes
Frederick Staats Lost Battalion
Sam Steinberg Aug. 22, with relief of Vesle
Robert A. Stewart
Frederick G. Tegler
Guiseppe Troina Argonne
 It appears that my father was wounded on Sept. 27th, and he saw no further action during the war. Eight days later, on Oct 5th, the Battalion to which his Company C was attached for the Argonne-Meuse offensive, led by Major Whittlessey, was cut off and besieged by the Germans, and became the famous “Lost Battalion”. They held out until Oct. 7th, when the siege was finally broken by advancing allied troops, and they suffered heavy casualties. Of an original force of over 500 men, less than 200 survived. According to my father, the officer who replaced him was killed in that engagement.