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

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

In the Doughboys' Own Words: First Action

From In Their Own Words at the Doughboy Center

In the Trenches

In the Trenches, St. Mihiel Sector

Our (first) trench was an old one and pretty well shot to pieces. The first night I was in it, it was verquiet; no artillery at all. The only thing that broke the silence was once in awhile a sniper would shoot at something, and the rats running around sounded like someone chasing after you ... Standing post at night is something—you see there is thirty feet of wire in front of our trench and the posts are put in very irregular. It is almost impossible to find a place where you could see clear through the wire, even in daylight, and at night, every post or broken tree looks like a man and if you look long enough the object seems to move.

The first night I stood post I imagined the trees were men and at times I saw them stoop down and climb over the wire, but after that I was used to it and learned how to tell a man from a tree. If you give a false alarm it means that the fellows who are sleeping in dugouts are wakened and have to come up and "stand to". At the best, the fellows get very little sleep, and if there are any alarms, they get none at all; so the wise Hun has all kinds of ways to coax an alarm, cats are used; and they have whistles that make moaning noises. You hear a cat on the wire and one of these whistles are blown, and you look out and think there is a man cutting the wire, and let her go...It rained only once while we were in and it was bad enough in dry weather, but when you have to stand in mud, it must be hell.

We were troubled quite a little by snipers, stick your head over and zip—they use a high power air gun and there is no flash, so they are very hard to locate.
Pvt. Sam Ross, 42nd Division

A Trench Raid

...The moon was bright but Lt. Holmes crawled up with his men, cut 12 strands of wire, and when the sentry looked out of the post, leaped on him himself. While Lt. Holmes was wrestling in the water in the trench with the first sentry, the second German shot at the lieutenant. Sgt. Murphy killed him with his bayonet. The prisoner was then secured, yelling, "Kamerade", and taken back over No Man's Land.
Reported by Major Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Staff Report 26th Infantry, 1st Division

I want to say right now how I felt in advancing in a front wave for the first time in my life against an enemy...shells were shrieking ominously over our heads and their screams seemed to have a devilish joy in landing to kill some poor unfortunate mother's son...The whining of bullets was enough to make you wonder how long a person could be missed by them...I wiped my forehead and it was sweaty...cold sweat.
Corporal Joe Rizzi, 110th Engineers

An old story...The new recruit asks, "Hey, Soldier, tell me, is it really as rough up there as we are told?" The classic answer, "Yeah, they shot a man up there one day last week."
Pvt. Elton Mackin, USMC, 2nd Division

A Well-Known British Nurse Observes the Doughboys' Arrival

(One day) I was leaving quarters to go back to my ward, when I had to wait to let a large contingent of troops march past me...Though the sight of soldiers marching was now too familiar to arouse curiosity, an unusual quality of bold vigour in their swift stride caused me to stare at them with puzzled interest.

They looked larger than ordinary men; their tall straight figures were in vivid contrast to the undersized armies of pale recruits to which we were grown accustomed...Had yet another regiment been conjured out of our depleted Dominions? I wondered, watching them move with such rhythm, such dignity, such serene consciousness of self-respect. But I knew the colonial troops so well, and these were different: they were assured where the Australians were aggressive, self-possessed where the New Zealanders were turbulent.

Then I heard an excited exclamation from a group of Sisters behind me, "Look! Look! Here are the Americans!"

I pressed forward with the others to watch the United States physically entering the War, so god-like, so magnificent, so splendidly unimpaired in comparison with the tired, nerve-wracked men of the British Army. So these were our deliverers at last, marching up the road to Camiers in the spring sunshine!...The coming of relief made me realize all at once how long and how intolerable had been the tension, and with the knowledge that we were not, after all, defeated, I found myself beginning to cry.
Nurse Vera Brittain, V.A.D.


Wounded Doughboy at Cantigny

In front of Cantigny, in woods on hill. Valley in front with main road from Montdidier to Amiens running through valley. Boche on hill across valley and in town of Cantigny. Heavy shelling; gas day and night. Parks and Wynn killed by shellfire. Relieved Algerians. No trenches, they stopped the Boche there. We are busy all night putting up wire and digging in. The ground is like chalk, easy digging. I've had a patrol out every night, protecting the wire stringers.
Sgt. Tom Carroll, 1st Division

Into the village of Cantigny we go. There remained nothing but ruins. We passed on through to the other side of the village. Here we encountered barbed wire entanglements but it was our good fortune to get through these without any mishap. But once across I notice that the boys are falling down fast. A shell burst about ten yards in front of me and the dirt from the explosion knocked me flat on my back. I got up again but could not see further than one hundred feet. I heard someone yell "lay down." I knelt on one knee and wondered what would come next...

We laid down and started to shoot and it was our good fortune that the second wave reached the place at this time. About twenty Dutchmen came out of the holes, threw down their rifles and stood with their hands up. The doughboys didn't pay any attention to this but started in to butcher and shoot them. One of the doughboys on the run stabbed a Dutchman and his bayonet went clear through him...

The German artillery was in action all the time...I stopped at a strong point and asked the boy in the trench if there was room for me to get in. "Don't ask for room, but get in before you get your [!#%&] shot off," a doughboy said...

We stayed there all that night and the next day, being relieved at two o'clock the following morning, taking position in the first lined of reserve trenches. We ate a cooked dinner at eleven o'clock, that being the first meal we've had in three days.
Sgt. Boleslaw Suchocki, 1st Division
Unpublished Manuscript

We held [Cantigny] for three days before being relieved by another regiment . . . It was three days of h..l, and the third day was worst of all, as the dead had begun to decompose, and our strength was about gone. Twice I was covered up with dirt when shells would cave in the trench but my lucky star was in the ascending I guess. I've had quite a few narrow escapes; once a bullet went through the bandolier of ammunition and coat, but never touched me . . .
Sgt. Hobart McKinley Thomas, 28th Infantry, 1st Division

In late May, the 2nd and 3rd Divisions of the AEF are asked to stop the German Army at the Marne River town of Ch√Ęteau-Thierry

Belleau Wood

Marines After Belleau Wood

Retreat Hell, we just got here!

Come on ya sons of bitches, ya want to live forever?

I have every man, except a few odd ones, in line now. We have not broken contact and have held.

Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.
Various Marines

I was wounded while we were making the attack. I lay on the field three hours after I was wounded...I could not get up and leave without drawing fire, so I lay with the rest of the boys. After it got dark I went to the first-aid dressing station and had my leg dressed.
Anonymous Marine

The German Army Evaluates Their New Enemy

The condition of the [American] troops must be considered excellent. They are healthy, husky, physically well developed men of from 18 to 28, who temporarily merely lack the necessary training to transform them into really estimable opponents. The spirit of the troops is fresh and harmlessly confident. Quite typical is the expression of one prisoner, "We kill or get killed." Casualties of the Marine Brigade [at Belleau Wood] are considerable. One prisoner estimates them to be 30-40%.
German 87th Division
Intelligence Report

In the field, June 11, 1918

Forgive me that I am answering your letter at such a late date, but I could not do so before. We have Americans opposite us who are terribly reckless fellows. In the last eight days I have not slept twenty hours. My company has been reduced from 120 to 30 men. Oh, what misery!
Private Hebel, German 237th Division

Doughboys' Impressions of France

Doughboys with French Civilians

There are so many women [in France] wearing black and the other [women] show what a strain they have been thru. There are scarcely any young men seen except those who have returned minus some part of their anatomy or else in such a physical condition that they are almost helpless. All the men working are over fifty and then there are lots of boys...
Pvt. Allan Neil, USMC, 2nd Division

Talk about a dead town ! Verdun is it.

It appears much as San Francisco did after the fire. Some houses intact, even whole blocks only casually damaged and then—great areas in utter ruins.

For blocks, silence is supreme. Most furniture has been removed but here and there a piano or some such cumbersome article stands had crushed under the weight of a toppled wall.
Pvt. Otis Briggs, 1st Division
Unpublished Manuscript, A COMMON SOLDIER

[In Paris] Went to Notre Dame Cathedral...luckily heard the grand pipe organ. Thence to Hotel St. Anne where military police checked my pass; then to the Madeline - another beautiful church like Notre Dame...Dinner at a French Restaurant, high priced. Visited Place Vendome [and saw the] bronze cannons captured in the Napoleonic Wars. Crossed the Seine over the Alexander III Bridge.

Went through the Louvre with the YMCA. Then visited the Garden of Tuilleries...It started raining... paid 4 francs to stand in foyer of Follies Bergere—quite like our high class burlesque—the lower foyer is a grill and it's some live place. At 10 pm went to bed which was provided by the Red Cross.
Corporal Eugene Kennedy, 78th Division

1 comment:

  1. My father went through gas 6 June at Belleau Wood. He is the Marine on the right in the picture above.