20. Gillancourt


Chapter 20


0UR STAY in Bettancourt was of short duration and, ere long, the Battalion was swinging over the white roads with Bettancourt and St. Dizzier fading from sight in the rear. Steadily we reeled off the kilometers arriving at last at Gillancourt which, as it turned out, was home to us for two months and shares a place with La Panne in our memories. The date was the fourth of December and from then on, for a month, it rained every day but that did not interfere to any extent with our daily drills. When an order was read at Retreat one evening calling for volunteers to accept clerical positions without being transferred out of the Division area, a number of men took the opportunity to get out of the mud. Most of the men who volunteered did not return to the States with the Battalion and a number did not return with the Division. The billets in Gillancourt were fairly comfortable and some of the men were able to get themselves nicely settled in rooms with some of the peasants. One of those so fortunate was Finton Timothy, of B Company, who lived with the village carpenter, M. Hoogany, and little did Tim dream at the time that, years later, it would again be his good fortune to visit Gillancourt and call upon M. Hoogany and his daughter. No, children, he didn't marry the daughter. It was very gratifying to him to find that he was not forgotten and he was accorded a royal welcome.

Beaucoup Sam Stewart, our Y.M.C.A. man, put forth every effort to make things pleasant. He had one of the one-story French barracks fixed up as a combination Y hut and theatre. It was here that we again saw our old friends, the Argonne Players. We also recall hearing our own Lee Ayres who could sing with the best of them. Sam always tried to get as much as possible for the men and his slogan was "Beaucoup for the Boys" which usually turned out to be a bar of chocolate for a squad but that was all right. Groups clubbed together for special feeds at the houses of the peasants and the dinners generally were built around chicken, which had been purchased earlier in the day. The story goes that Major Peake was very much incensed because chicken was not served at the officers' mess. He raised particular hob with the Headquarters cooks about it and roared, "If my men can get chicken why can't the officers?"

It was sometime in January 1919, that the news of the death of former President Theodore Roosevelt reached us. The Battalion marched to the drill field for a memorial service. I can see the picture quite clearly in my mind's eye and it impressed me as being a fine sight but, oh, how wrong I was. The guides were ordered out ahead and, as the outfit swept toward the Major in Battalion Front, he turned his back on us and roared, "Take 'em back and come up again, that's rotten."

Speaking of the Major naturally brings to mind our Battalion Adjutant, Lieutenant Ellis. The story is told of how he tried to get by the guards one night wearing a garrison cap, which was non-regulation in France. The guard held him off until the corporal and then the sergeant of the guard had been summoned. It was explained to the Adjutant that it was most difficult to recognize him dressed as he was, whereupon he replied that he was only testing the guard and was pleased to find them so alert. On another occasion he tried to take a rifle from one of the guards and he found himself in a ditch with a mouse on his eye.

One evening there was quite a commotion in the entrance to one of the C Company billets. A D Company guard was trying to place Flynn under arrest. He and McLean had been out together and were trying to get back to quarters very quietly, the time being after taps. McLean got away but the guard followed Flynn into the billet. We did not think so much of the D Company guard for being so insistent and told him so, but he said he had no choice in the matter as the Adjutant had turned out the guard and that he was standing out in the road waiting for Flynn to come out. We persuaded Flynn to go with the guard and the next morning Lieut. Gorham got him out of the guard house bright and early. Lieut. Gorham gave the entire Company a nice little talk at Reveille, saying, in part, that we had been together long enough to look out for each other and not to run away and desert a buddy who was getting into a jam. In so many words he told us to have our fun but not to get caught.

After the rainy period the weather turned very cold and snow covered the countryside. The afternoons were taken up with athletics in which every man took some part. Boxing gloves had been supplied and the outstanding exhibition was the match between Hughie Cuff and Salvation Nell.

During our stay in Gillancourt General Alexander reviewed the Division and Capt. Downing, who had recently been assigned to C Company, agreed to get the entire Company drunk for Christmas if we put over a snappy review. Needless to say the Captain was stuck. He was as good as his word and, after a fine Christmas dinner of roast pork, which he paid for, there was provided all the beer the outfit could drink. The skipper proceeded to fade out of the picture so that he could honestly say he did not see anything that took place.

Many of the incidents that occurred in Gillancourt have slipped from our memories with the fleeting years, but most of us will recall with a touch of sentiment the day we bid our faithful old Hotchkiss machine guns a fond farewell and also the day we turned in our Colt automatics that had hung so patiently on our hip bones - those trusty old weapons that we had cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more. Never again were we to hear the command "Raise Pistol". The day also arrived when we turned in the Bolo knives but there was no wailing or shedding of tears. One day, however, before the pistols were to be turned in, an inspection was held by an Ordnance Inspector. He did not like what he saw with the result that the afternoon was spent cleaning pistols. The writer was one of the very few who were excused. When my turn came to be inspected, I put on a very snappy exhibition of the Manual of the Pistol as set down by General Pershing, wherever such things are set down. The Colonel said, "Return pistol, soldier. There is one man whose pistol I know is clean by the way he does the manual." It was very fortunate for me that he did not take a squint down the barrel, for a great big rust spot would have winked back at him. It was just the old army game and the Colonel fell for it.

Lieutenant Parker happened to be in command of the Company at that time and, as Ed Zwisler, our First Sergeant, was away in the hospital, with no definite information as to whether or not he would return, Lieut. Parker promoted Sgt. Russell to the grade of First Sergeant. That night there was a party. Just how it all came about I am unable to say as I was not at the party, but I was in formation at Reveille the next morning. Russell was there, too. He had also been to the party. Someone had taken a piece of charcoal and had drawn in the diamond under his sergeant's chevron and, not satisfied with that, had underscored it with several black lines. Apparently when Russell found what had happened he tried to rub it off and it smeared into the cloth. In addition to that, he was sporting a shiner and, with his shock of black, touseled hair and flushed face, he was quite a sight. When Lieut. Parker came down to take the Company, Russell did sort of a half right face and reported the Company, tossing off one of his famous salutes with the fingers of his glove going in all directions, after which, he scurried around to the rear and kept out of sight, which was a good thing for all concerned, as it was next to impossible to look at him without laughing. Well, he continued as First Sergeant until one day, as he stood talking with Capt. Downing, Private Mushkin approached and asked if he might speak with the Captain without the First Sergeant's permission. Almost before the Captain could speak, Russell said, "I thought I told you that you could not speak to the Captain!" Drawing back his fist he knocked Mushkin into the road. When Downing recovered from his astonishment he said very quietly, "You're under arrest, Sergeant." After a court martial, Russell was reduced a grade and transferred to B Company. In the meantime Ed Zwisler had returned from the hospital and, when he got his old job back, an awkward situation was cleared up.

We had a lad named Lacey, who showed up at the billet after having imbibed a bit too freely. He was blubbering and nursing a black eye. He said McGee had no right to do it and who did he think he was and so on but, after sitting there for a while and bawling, he said, "Aw, hell, I guess I had it coming", and he went back to rejoin the party. Of course we can't prove that all these black eyes came from the same source.

Sickness broke out in A Company and they were marched up to the edge of the town and placed in quarantine in a French barrack. In C Company, Morrell was carried out of the billet with spinal meningitis. He had been in the same billet with the kitchen force so, therefore, they were quarantined and the rolling kitchen and all utensils were condemned. A new kitchen and equipment were ordered and a volunteer kitchen force was called for. Some of the new re-placements from Wisconsin, among them Charlie Herbert and Hillenbrand, did such a good job that the officers retained them for the officers' mess. Morrell had been gone some time when it was reported that he had died and, as mail arrived for him, it was marked deceased and held in the Orderly Room. One afternoon a group was standing in the road when someone said, "Is that Morrell coming or am I seeing things?" Sure enough there he was, plodding along with a full pack on his back. Naturally when he came up he inquired about the surprised look, whereupon one of the boys exclaimed, "Morrell, you're dead. If you don't believe it wait until you see your mail." Morrell got a good laugh out of it but admitted that he would have been dead if he had not been in the army. He had been given four injections of serum at a cost of sixty dollars for each injection. He said that if he had been home there would have been no chance of getting the serum and he would not have had the money to pay for it.

There came a call from Battalion Headquarters one evening for a couple of men from each company and Charlie Levers and Wanner reported from C Company. Later that evening a dejected figure entered the billet and sat down on his bunk. Slowly and reluctantly equipment was gathered together and blankets rolled. After watching the proceeding for several minutes the question was finally put to Wanner, "What's up?" With scorn and disgust in his voice, Wanner replied as he gazed sadly around the room, "I'm a G.D. M.P. But they tell me I am going to be a wagoner," he quickly added, "so that it won't be so bad." And so Wanner went out of our lives and we have not seen him since.

The weeks slipped by and we seemed no nearer to going home than we had ever been to it. The day came at last, however, for us to shake the dust of Gillancourt from our clothes and, on the evening of February ninth, 1919, bed sacks were emptied and the billets cleaned out. What a collection of candlesticks fashioned from tin cans! Reveille was set for two A.M. but very little sleeping was done in the cold billets that night. Shortly after two the companies were on the road and formed but we were ordered back to do a little further policing.
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