Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, November 11, 2017

What Pvt. Clarence Richmond, USMC, Was Up To on the First Armistice Day

Editor's Note:  I thought it was appropriate to recall Veterans, formerly Armistice, Day by honoring a veteran who was serving in France on the day the Armistice was signed.  Pvt. (later Corporal) Clarence Richmond had participated in one of the last actions of the American Expeditionary Force during the war, the crossing of the Meuse River 10–11 November 1918.  This excerpt from his war diary picks up on the morning of the 11th.

Clarence Richmond, USMC
At daylight, we had traveled a little over two miles up the river. The fog still protected us during the early hours of the morning. Along with some others, I began to dig in, behind a terrace that ran along the hillside. This gave us good protection from machine gun fire, which bothered us considerably. The 43rd, however, moved on and helped take a farm house and several other buildings a hundred yards or so ahead of us.

Soon after daylight, a runner swam the cold river and carried a message back to headquarters. We gave him a little cheer after he had made a safe crossing. He was soon lost in the fog.

The ground where I was digging my hole was pretty rocky, which made it hard digging. I had some tea left from the canteen full I had gotten on the afternoon of the 9th. This I warmed over a can of alcohol. After drinking the hot tea, pulled off my shoes and rubbed my feet, putting on a dry pair of socks. Felt much better. I kept well concealed during the morning, and dozed some. Do not know just what all took place. Trench mortars dropped all around us, and machine gun bullets clipped the top of the little ridge right above our heads.

Just up the river from us about a mile and a half or two miles was the town of Mouton. I could see the church steeples.

As noon approached, we became conscious of an unusual quietness all around us. Firing of all kinds had almost entirely ceased. The Germans were not firing even a machine gun, though our artillery continued to send over a shell now and then. The Germans occupied the crest of the ridge along the river, and if they had had sufficient numbers, could easily have cleaned us up. After eleven o'clock, all firing ceased entirely, not a sound any where. Soon everyone was talking about it. No word had reached us yet.

A wounded fellow from our company was discovered, down near the river bank, where he had laid since before daylight. Getting a stretcher, McDermott and I went to him and dressed his wound. He was shot through the hip, and just about unconscious, as a result of his exposure to the cold. We wrapped him in a blanket, and laid him on the stretcher..

While we were getting ready to take our wounded man to the rear, a runner appeared' with the official news that an Armistice had been signed. Most everybody let out a few healthy yells, but I did not. For one reason, didn't feel much like yelling. I had some difficulty getting three more fellows to help me carry the stretcher. The one I did get had to stop every few minutes and rest. I kept urging the necessity of getting the fellow under medical care as soon as possible, for he was badly in need of attention. As we had to go back along the river bank to where we had crossed during the preceding night, I had a good opportunity to see just what we had done, and the hazardness of our undertaking.

It could be seen that the hillside or bluff along the river was lined with machine guns and trench mortars. From their elevated position, they commanded a full sweep of the river, and it was very evident that had there not been a heavy fog during the night, which had made the flares of no avail, we would have suffered greater casualties, if not complete annihilation. Near the small bridge, the bank of the river was strewn with our dead. I counted about twenty-five within a distance of a hundred yards. Several shells had hit directly where we had laid along the bank of the river. Nearly all of one platoon of one of the other companies had been either killed or wounded. All the dead still lay where they had fallen.

Getting our patient across the bridge was our next problem. We had to shift the stretcher to two persons, and the bridge was too narrow for two abreast, also the weight of five persons would make it sink under the water too far. The planks went under a little as we crossed, with just two carrying the stretcher.

Meuse River Site Where Clarence Richmond Crossed the Night of 10 November 1918

On the opposite side of the river, the dead were more numerous. Here we had suffered our greatest casualties. As many as four and five dead could be seen around many single shell holes, and in two or three instances, I saw as many as eight lying around a single shell hole. The sight of all this made me sad, and at the same time breathe a fervent prayer of thanksgiving at being permitted to live through it.

One of my helpers said he was exhausted, so had to get another volunteer to help us. An ambulance soon came along, and we dispatched our patient, and saw him on the way back to the hospital. A dead Major was lying near us, but no one seemed to know who he was.

While we were standing around, some French refugees from a nearby village came along, carrying their scant belongings.

Before we started back to our company, we were given somehow chow at a galley belonging to the 23rd Infantry. We were invited to eat all we wanted, and I for one did not have to be asked the second time. We thanked them for the meal, and started on our way back. We did not hurry any on our way , as there was no necessity for us doing so.

I asked myself the question why had all this loss of life been permitted, when those high in command knew that an armistice was pending. From one standpoint it seemed a needless waste of life, then on the other hand, Germany was not yet decisively beaten, and every blow was needed to make her realize that a victory was not for her. Looking at it from that view point, one had to grant the wisdom of the attack.

Clarence was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the French Croix De Guerre for his heroism for the earlier action of 3 October 1918, in the assault on Blanc Mont Ridge His nephew Robin Richmond traveled with me to  both Blanc Mont and the battlefield described in the passage in 2012.  Robin makes his relative's absolutely outstanding war diary available at:

If you would like to read about other interesting veterans of the Great War just type "Remembering a Veteran" in the search box at the upper left hand corner of this page.


  1. Great read. His thoughts on losses on the 10th and 11th mirror many others. Did the last deaths help?

  2. The dead Major that Pvt Richmond mentions in his account was MAJ Mark Hanna, Commander of 2d Battalion, 356th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division. Richmond's remark reminds us that the 2/356 made the crossing of the Meuse in addition to the two Marine battalions. It was the designated liaison battalion between the 2nd and 89th divisions. Taking heavy losses on the west bank of the Meuse (where Hanna was killed after a couple trips leading groups of his men across the rickety pontoon bridge), ~300 men of the decimated battalion regrouped in the eastern bridgehead and then followed some of the Marines to the ESE. By shortly after sunrise, 2/356 was moving into place between the Marine position along the Ruisseau de Moulin (a position marked by a 2nd Division boulder) and Autreville (now Autreville-St. Lambert), facing N and NE. At this point, the left battalion of the 89th's main thrust moved in to Autreville and linked up. The Armistice was just a couple of hours away. Hanna was awarded the DSC for his several heroic actions along the Meuse between 5 and 11 November 1918. He is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Plot G, Row 21, Grave 32.

  3. A useless operation that did nothing to help in victory as the war was ending. The fortitude of the men who made the attack knowing that the war was ending was grand.

  4. It's uncanny how many men at the front wrote about the unnatural silence, one going so far as to comment he was "stunned by the quiet." Here's more on that and soldiers' reaction to the news: