The purpose of this website is to present Parts I and II of a book written by my father, John Francis Williams II, just after "The Great War." My wish is not just to provide his story in a modern form for his future generations, but also to stimulate additional understanding of both the culture of the world then, and to reflect on the world in which we find ourselves today.
John Keegan, a renowned historian, (The First World War, published by Vintage Books) has stated correctly that the Second World War was unquestionably the outcome of the First. The legacy does not stop there, having consequences even to this day. It strikes me that to interrupt this pattern of violence, we must understand more of who we are as individuals and how we respond to our leaders and to each other--and sooner rather than later. I hope that what my father gave us will help that effort. Keegan's book is an excellent comprehensive reference for The Great War.
My life's partner, Barbara Carson, and I took trips in Belgium and France in 2005, identifying with precision the places where my father actually was and where he fought during the war. Based on that trip, I have added details and pictures of this most important epic in our history, with the hope that this will offer some additional understanding to the readers. Hyperlinks have been scattered throughout to link pictures, maps, and bits of information that may be helpful for visualizing Dad's military and technical terms (i.e., trenches, outposts, howitzers, gas, etc.). Placing a mouse over the photos will show additional details. Finally I have included a brief historical perspective on that time.
Many of the photos are in the public domain and can be found at:
and we have added our own personal ones.
The reader may wish to ignore any and all of the links, so that the import of the story flows unimpeded.
Trench fighting in the Great War
This account was written in the spring of 1919, after returning to the United States. It was not published, being in need of editing, so was filed away with other mementos of World War I .
The story covers many instances which took place in the front lines during the Great Allied Offensive in the summer and autumn of 1918. The writer hopes to convey the magnitude of the spirit of the American soldiers and the great sacrifices they made. He was in the thick of it.
Now, 56 years later, he thought the story should be brought to light. An appropriate place would be to put it alongside the OFFICIAL HISTORY of the 120th Infantry. This was also written in 1919 and published in a limited edition by his old friend and companion, Major John O. Walker. The account is dedicated to those who fell in the field of battle.
J.F.W., Pacific Beach, California 1975
On May 8, 1918, the advanced school detachment of the Thirtieth U.S. Infantry Division boarded the U.S.S. George Washington, docked at Hoboken, New Jersey.
One of the first things we did was to fill out postal cards marked, "The boat on which I sailed has landed safely overseas," addressed them to our friends, and deposited the cards with the postmaster on the dock, who, when later he received the cable message of our landing, would immediately mail them. The next thing we did was to find our cabins and to examine carefully the port holes to be sure no light could pass through at night. No one knew to what port we were destined, and strict secrecy had to be preserved, even on board.
We moved out in the afternoon. When we reached open sea, the weather was good and the sea was smooth, promising an excellent trip. The big ship took a zig-zag course, so that should a submarine spy us, we would have changed our course before he could up and fire a shot at us.
Leaving Hoboken N.J. May 1918
At night we had to keep quiet. Only the sawing of the boat could be heard as it cut the ever-resisting waters. No shouting or band playing on deck was allowed, no smoking after the sunset, and nothing that would float could be thrown overboard. But in the evenings, down in the hull of the boat, could be heard music, concerts, and singing. Former actors who now wore the olive drab mounted platforms and showed us what skills they had. Here at night, surrounded by darkness, secrecy, and danger we reveled, mainly to throw off the gloom the deck above presented.
We were alone, unescorted except for two similar boats, until about two days out from land. To our delight, we saw American flags waving rapidly over five submarine destroyers. These were fast boats, and they darted in and out of the convoy like humming birds around a mayflower. Yet now we were in the danger zone; submarines were everywhere; double watch had to be kept up both day and night; we slept in our clothes, and one hand constantly clung to a life preserver; each man had an assigned spot on the deck on which he was to stand if the ship were hit; we had an abandon-ship drill morning and evening; we looked out into the deep sea and thought what a lovely thing it was to die on land. If we were ever to get on land, we should never worry of shot and shell. We would get a decent burial, or at least a hole to crawl into when death stared us in the eye. The night before we landed, the moon was full, the ocean smooth as a table; everyone said it was just right for a submarine attack. Some say that a few men went to their berths and slept. I am not offering any arguments for either side of the case, but one thing certain is that everyone had a life preserver snugly tied around him.
At 4:00 a.m. we were suddenly awakened from a sound slumber by the furious alarm--"an attack. I darted from my cabin and ran through the hallway of D deck which was crowded with men moving in every direction to get to their assigned places on deck. Suddenly I was thrust aside by a tough-looking gentleman who said, "get out of the way, I'm the ship's engineer". His job was more important than mine, so I moved aside. In a few seconds every man was in his place, the ship was doubling its speed, and an expert later said this alone saved us. The submarine had spotted us some distance ahead, lowered itself again,
figured our speed and course, but on rising to fire found itself too close and immediately had to submerge. One of our destroyers was left behind to kill it . . . like an eagle hovering over the body of a snake.
With the rising of the sun came an almost equally glorious view--the land of southern France. We were sailing into the harbor at Brest. The hillsides sloping to the sea were painted with a green velvety cover, and farm lots checkered the countryside. Nothing seemed more beautiful. This part of France, that is, Brittany, was famous for the roses it grew before the war; now the country was cultivated with crops--every inch of the ground, and women and old men labored by the sweat of their brows. As we landed, little children in wooden shoes ran to us and wished to hold our hands as we marched along. But instead we gave them pennies. We were stationed in an old French garrison, sometimes called Pontanezin Camp, which had been built by Napoleon. The walls surrounding the place echoed the martial air of that rugged period.
We were here five days awaiting over land transportation. Then we traveled two days and three nights until we arrived at Langres. This town, in the eastern part of France, was located on the top of a hill overlooking miles of beautifully cultivated territory.
It was far back of the fighting lines, yet it was a veritable fortress and a commanding military position. It was here in 1870 that the French made their final stand against the onrush of the invading Germans. And the French were successful at this place! We, as an advanced school detachment, were split up here. I was sent Fort de Pennaynie, which was more of a cave in the earth than a fort.
Lewis Automatic Rifle
Here I studied the Lewis Automatic Rifle, the Colt Automatic Pistol, and some minor tactics. I fired the Lewis rifle well, and at first made a good record with the pistol. two weeks of this, I was sent to the Army After Infantry Specialists School at Langres where I studied all kinds of grenades, both ours and those of the Germans. We threw live ones in practice, and even went into rehearsals of an actual trench attack with live hand and rifle grenades, Stokes mortars, and 37 mm. guns. At night, flares and rockets were used, and with the interest we put in our practice it seemed all the more real and interesting.
37mm Gun "The One Pounder"
This last course continued for two weeks, after which time those taking the course were ordered back to their respective divisions. But something Was in the way--Paris, and we stopped there two days. It is proper to state here that a person can never appreciate France fully until one goes to Paris. Concentrated in this place is the culture and expression of the French people. I visited famous cathedrals, the Notre Dame de Paris, and others; the Eiffel Tower, a few museums, theatres; The Academy of Music; and last and even best, The Tomb of Napoleon. I saw several places where shells had fallen in Paris from the German long-range guns, reportedly 70 miles away. One shell had landed in a church where the blood of the victims still stained the floor and even bits of clothing were left there, although the disaster had taken place several weeks previous to our visit. The people in the city were gay and confident even in war, and the girls were very affectionate.
Americans enlisting in Paris
My division was stationed about 200 miles from Paris, near Nordausque, not very far from Calais. When I rejoined my division, they were undergoing strenuous training under experienced British officers and non-commissioned officers. They had been going through assumed open-warfare attacks, under assumed barrages, and although I thought I would be able to teach them a thing or two from school, I was surprised to find they knew as much as myself.
To the company now had been added another officer, Lieutenant Gordon Boyd of New York City, making seven in all: Captain Walter Clark, Jr., 1st Lieutenants Parish, Boyd, Sams, and myself, and 2nd Lieutenants James and Weed. At this time there were 236 men in B company, plus the seven officers named. By a program of long and tiresome marches, we moved North, going from place to place, billeting in barns, vacant houses, etc and often in "dogtents" in pastures, fields, and woods. There was greater concealment camping in woods which had to be taken into consideration, because enemy aeroplanes could detect bodies of men on open ground. And of course it would not be best for the Germans to know where we were, because they would then know when and where to look for us when we got to the fighting line.
One day I was ordered to go to the front line in advance of the company for two days instruction. I carried with me Sergeant Graham Bailey, a keen and very brave man. We went by motor to within four miles to the front line where we were met by a guide who led us to the headquarters of a front line battalion. We were told to remain here during the day for concealment, and at night we would follow another guide to an outpost in the front line.
Flooded out trench at Ypres
That afternoon I walked around where I could not be seen from the enemy lines. I stood in a strip of territory that had been drenched with shells and blood since the war began. The lines here hardly had changed for four years. Both sides had battered each other without either giving way, and the fight on this front had gradually worked down to what was known as a "quiet sector". Yet as I moved about cautiously in this land of death and desolation, a flash of light from a camouflaged battery in the ground rose unexpectedly near me, and I was shaken like a leaf in a storm. A shell passed rapidly overhead, whining, and driving madly in the direction of the German trenches. When this vibration was over, everything was quiet again, and I felt as though I were the only person in a place destroyed by fire and earthquake.
Yet the ground was full of men, sleeping in the daytime, and fighting at night. This place was three miles southeast of Ypres (Belgium), and this front at that time was held by British troops. However, it had been assigned to our division, then attached to the Second British Army commanded by General Sir Robert Plummer.
That evening at dusk a guide took us to an outpost in the front line. It was held by a British company; and when we arrived, Sergeant Bailey went to the Sergeant Major's dugout, and I reported to the Captain's dugout. There was to be a raid the next night on the German trenches by a Scotch battalion on our left, which proved later to be unsuccessful. This of course was the main point of interest. The British officers were very friendly; the Captain offering me part of his small supply of whiskey, which I refused. (British officers were rationed one bottle of Scotch per week; we were allowed none.)
The Captain was sending out a patrol this night to determine the presence of Germans at a certain point in front of the post. I told him I would like to go with the party. It was one o'clock in the morning (no one, of course, was allowed to sleep at night in an outpost) when the officer in charge decided to take out the patrol. We took up a formation like this: Two corporals with rifles and bayonets ten feet in front; the British officer and myself with pistols just behind; five men in single file behind us with rifles and bayonets. All carried hand grenades, and all crawled along the ground. The British officer notified all men left back in the post when and where we were going, and when and where we were expected back, so that they would not fire on us by mistake.
We moved out about a hundred yards in front of our lines, in and out of shell holes and around shattered stumps of trees, yet we kept our formation, and if you could have seen us then we would have looked like a double headed serpent crawling through the grass
(like this: . . . . . : :).
Nearby were the ruins of an old canal which was used now as a watering point for rats. If nothing else lived in No Man's Land, the rats did; and occasionally a splash in a pool of water would attract our attention. The night was quiet except for this and the occasional rattle of a machine gun several hundred yards to our right. Alongside the canal was a slightly elevated mound of earth, probably thrown up by the explosion of a shell, and covered over in part by a pile of dead brush and an old stump. This was the point we had to examine. We were getting near the place, when suddenly, whiz--whiz, and a German star-light burst over head. The two corporals in front were standing; I was on one knee ready to move forward; others were in different positions. It was as light as day, but we all stood motionless until gradually the light fell to the ground and extinguished. The Germans had heard something (us) and sent up the light. But when it was out, everything grew quiet again, and we advanced closer. As we came within a few yards of the place, they sent up two more lights. stopped motionless as before, and finally everything grew quiet once more. We listened carefully for a few minutes, and presently, to our satisfaction, we heard them working near the suspected place: someone was erecting barbed wire. As far as our mission was concerned, it was completed. I thought maybe we should have gone closer, catch them and bring them back, but the British officer didn't think so, and we quietly moved back to our trench. No one was hurt--not a shot was fired. Now I asked the officer why we didn't go closer and he said: "When you have been 'it twice like I have you won't be keen either." And I thought he was right; yet I realized as never before that the war had to be won by men fighting and not just staying in trenches.
Duckboard very near 30th Division trenches
When I rejoined my division, it had moved to the vicinity of Watau (Belgium). Here we were given our permanent camp behind the lines where we were to come every time we were relieved from the front. The area was within the range of German long range artillery, but we received only a few scattered shots. One shell fell in Division Headquarters, killing one and wounding three. However, we were well located and did not mind being turned over by a shell once or twice during the night. The roads leading up to the front were screened--that is, a brown and green screen was hung along the side of the road facing the enemy. The Germans knew the road was there and could shell it at any time, but they did not wish to waste ammunition on it unless they knew we were there. The screens were put up to prevent them from seeing us as we moved along in large bodies.
It is impossible for lack of words to picture the ruins of the once beautiful Ypres. Mere photographs or picture post cards do not do the place justice. No city was ever pillaged or destroyed as this one was. Millions of shells had lowered its walls, and buildings of priceless value were crumbled like dust in a storm. I often heard huge shells passing over head and watched as they hit, powdering the few remaining brick walls in an endeavor to find the hiding places of Allied troops.
Yet in this city of ruin, and in defiance of the engines of destruction, stood a wall at right angles to the famous Ypres-Poperingue Road with the letters Y PRE S. All walls of the large building were down save those bricks supporting this significant word. Among all the ruined towns and cities of France and Belgium none compare to the desolation of this Flemish city. There is a sympathy in its ruin that appeals strongly to the imagination. Shells and bombs have carved a piece of architecture that cries the horror of war. The ruins of dead Ypres cry out for revenge.
This war was different, I thought, from any that had ever been fought. In the past, armies had met and one army was beaten; but in this war, the Allied and German armies had met and had been in close contact for four years. They were in touch along a line running from the coast in Belgium to the border of Switzerland, over three hundred miles long. At times when a big push was being made, the line would sway like a rubber band along. the front that was affected.
This part of the line then was known as the War of Movement. Along the line that did not move, the sector was known as the War of position. The fighting around Ypres then was known as the War of Position. Back at Road Camp at Watau (Belgium) the same officers were still in the company. We were the most congenial set of men you can imagine--never the least bad temper as was shown in some other outfits. We respected our commanding officer, Captain Walter Clark, Jr., and we really had mutual admiration for one another-specially for Lieutenant Boyd whom we greatly liked. He had tact and ability and knew how to get along with both officers and men.
About July 15, 1918, an unfortunate thing happened. I was detailed away from the company to take charge of a line of trenches about four miles back of the front line. The trenches were unoccupied, but my duties were to guide incoming troops and, in case the Germans broke through the line, to assist in the defense of this line. Lieutenant Parish was taken sick with appendicitis and sent to a hospital in England. He was never sent back to us during the war. Captain Clark was ordered to the Army Staff College at Langres, France. He also never rejoined us during the remainder of the war, but it was his deepest regret he could not go into action with us.
Now there remained only Lieutenants Sams, Boyd, Wood, and James. The company was ordered to take over a front line trench July 25th, 1918. Of course I was full of enthusiasm and wished to rejoin them, especially as I had had the longest service and would take charge of the company. I saw Colonel S. W. Minor, our Regimental Commander, about getting relieved from guide duty, but he objected on the grounds that he did not have another officer to put in my place. Finally he consented, and I rejoined the company on July 26th. The order was that I would take command of the company when we were relieved from the front, six days hence. I now was given my old platoon which relieved a British platoon in a trench about fifty yards long, with two smaller posts, one to the right and one to the left, several yards intervening, with, of course, a German trench in front of us. (See the Ypres area map.)
Company headquarters was in the basement of an old Chateau, battered to the ground, some distance back of us. The ground in and around the place was putrid and covered with shell holes half-filled with stagnant water. The vermin in the water fed on a green slimy growth that also seemed to be the delight of huge rats. In previous fighting in this area, dead bodies of men had not been properly buried but, since the emergency existed, simply covered over by a foot or two of earth with small wooden crosses erected which bore their names. Often shells had struck graves, which further helped in the process of decomposition, and in this connection it often happened that a man had to be buried several times.
In all, the atmosphere had a characteristic stench which all British and American troops serving in this sector will well remember. There were also remains of a few trees shattered into splinters or uprooted from the ground by the passage of shells. In the daytime there was no movement, and the place was as serene as a tomb--still, lifeless, and deathlike. At night the lines bristled with the rattle of machine guns; movement took place; horse drawn limbers brought up rations and water; carrying parties on foot took provisions to the front line trenches; inspections were made; patrols were sent out to examine our barbed wire; and occasionally we heard an overhead rumble of a howitzer plowing its way through the clouds in search of more important game behind us. Then also a "Very-light" would be fired up from either side whenever noise was heard, giving further proof of the claws of death scratching in No Man's Land.
As I said before, just in front of my post was a German trench estimated at two hundred yards distance. Nothing was known of the size of this trench nor the number of men in it, but this much was known because we could see it: a few yards in front of the German trench was a "pillbox" made of stone and cement which presented the appearance of a dome barely lifting above the ground. It was covered with earth and had two openings, one leading to their trench, the other, a small one, overlooking our trench. From the opening facing us, they fired a machine gun, much to our annoyance, because we were unable to return the fire to advantage due to the thickness of the walls. However, we succeeded much better than the British in that we were more active and fired on the enemy more often. By measurement on the maps, the pillbox was 180 yards away.
I well remember the night we came up to take over the trenches from the British troops. In the dark and confusion at company headquarters, I could distinguish a stretcher containing a British Captain. He had been shot just under the heart that night trying to destroy the pill box. I remembered having met him several days previously, and he had struck me as being a man full of grit and determination, a very capable man. I regretted seeing him there, as his case seemed very serious.
This same night his sergeant had pulled him back to our trench, and now he was being rushed to a first aid station in the rear.
It was the night of July 31, 1918, and the German machine guns were fanning our parapet when my Battalion Commander, Major Don Scott, came to our trench. He was a handsome officer and very popular with the men, and a very aggressive and energetic commander. In coming up to our trench, he passed through a barrage of bullets and was very indignant at the presence of so much German activity. He suggested that a patrol go out in the daytime (when everything was supposed to be quiet), capture the Germans in the pillbox, and put a grenade under the machine gun. He spoke to me rather casually about it and I agreed it was possible, if everything was quiet.
At 9:00 a.m., August 1st, a sergeant and I crawled out to reconnoiter the ground. The day was quiet, and I saw only one German moving into the pillbox. Had he seen us, we would have been killed, because we had no cover on the open-level ground while he had the protection of the trench. I could have shot him, but that would have spoiled our plans, as others would have observed us. We came back. I reported everything was quiet and the raid was possible.
Plans of attack were offered me. I well remember that night in the cellar at company headquarters, several British officers explaining to me, by the light of a little candle, how to make the attack. Some had one idea and others had quiet different ideas. It was interesting after the conference was over how a trench-mortar officer came to me and whispered in my ear that one or two stretchers should be taken up with us. All of their different advice seemed very good, yet I assured myself that my plan was best. I intended to take ten men with me and had something definite for each man to do. My plan would be confusing here as it involved the lay of the ground.
Believed to be the very pill box the author raided - see link above
On the morning of August 2, 1918, we started in single file from our trench, crawling slowly, with me leading as I knew the route better than the others. We advanced in this way
about fifty yards and waited. It was a damp morning, raining slightly, with an unusual amount of firing on both sides and considerable movement of men. I saw one man go out of the pillbox; later three went into it. They were unusually active, and the eleven of us, even flat on the ground, presented a big target. The thought constantly ran through my mind--we would all be killed. From here I saw two other German pillboxes: one to the right of our attack at one hundred yards, and the other just behind and to the left of it. More movement of our party, as large as it was, and our lives would be lost. I sent all the men back except Corporal Ingram and Private Teachey whom I knew were the bravest men in the party. The three of us then proceeded crawling, hardly moving a few blades of grass or splinters of trees in our path. I lay flat on my belly and moved along by the motion of my hands and knees. Occasionally I looked back and could see Lieutenant Boyd's head and others peeping above the parapet in our trench. They were watching our progress.
As each piece of dead wood cracked under my weight, I stopped for fear of being heard. That made the movement slow, taking us two hours to go one hundred yards. As we neared the place, I could hear voices speaking in sharp, military phrases. Someone was giving orders or directions; occasionally I could hear a noise like a pan or plate being struck. It was 11:30 a.m.; probably they were preparing to eat. We were moving to that part of the post between the two openings, and for that reason could see nothing. We were now about ten yards from the place, and we lay there fully fifteen minutes, listening to the noises inside and thinking of what to do. I estimated there were six men in there; and back of the pillbox in the trench were more than that number. Also I assumed the other pillbox one hundred yards to the right was occupied. We had crawled into a desperate situation which I did not like. Once I thought of running back to our trench and starting over again some other day, because it is not easy to die alone, accomplishing nothing. But even in running back we would have been shot down like rabbits by the men in the pillbox who would have heard us. That idea was impossible, and I dropped it.
We agreed by whispers, among ourselves, to rush the pillbox, kill the enemy, then get back to our trench. Corporal Ingram and myself had pistols, and Private Teachey had a rifle and bayonet. Each of us had two grenades, and each had one in his left hand ready for action. We had to fight or die, or maybe both. The moral conscience spoke up, saying, "Is it best to kill rather than be killed?" Certainly there was a fear, both physical and moral.
We pulled the pins from the grenades quietly I slowly dropped the safety lock on my pistol and said, "RUSH". The fight was on. "Ach" . . . "ACH" . . . "A-C-H". My grenade went into the opening facing our trench. Teachey and Ingram dropped theirs into the opening adjoining the trench. Five second intervals, then, "Bang!" . . . "BANG!" . . . "B-A-N-G!" . . . in rapid succession. At the same instant a German leaped from the opening. Teachey's bayonet missed its mark- the man fell into his trench. "Come out!" I shouted. "COME OUT!" all three of us shouted. No answer. Ingram circled the pillbox. It was useless--they could not come out after the explosion of the grenades, because they were dead or dying. "Pop. . . pop." We were fired on. I felt blood in my throat--but I was not hit. Should we go back? "Pop" again from the trench. We would die like dogs here. "Let's go", I shouted to the other two, and we ran for our trench and cover. But did we all run? Teachey was with me. "Pop-pop-pop-p-p-pop"--the gun on the right opened up. I fell into a shell hole --then into another--then another. Would I get back? No. Was Teachy safe? He was there with me. Why didn't Ingram come on? "Pop", barbed wire had caught my sleeve and I jerked, leaving a bit of woolen olive drab on the wire. I reached our trench with Teachey.
It was a great relief getting back, because my wind was gone and I Could not have run much farther. A runner was already in the trench with a message for me to go to headquarters to make a report of the raid. Ingram had not gotten back. Lieutenant Boyd bravely went out to find him, but nothing could be seen or heard. He was lost, probably dead. He was killed or badly wounded or else he would have followed us. His body lay near the German trench, and he never came back. The Germans did not use the pillbox after that. Before dawn the next morning, we were relieved from the front line and sent back to Road Camp near Watau, Belgium. It was a much needed relief, as all the men were tired and hungry.
But getting back was no pleasure. Worn out and very disagreeable in general, my platoon lost its way in the dark. We had eight miles to go, and here we were at a cross-road that was being shelled by the Germans, hardly two miles back of the line. I was furious, and the poor guide manfully took the brunt of all our criticisms from mine down to the men carrying the stretcher at the tail end of the column. However, we managed after going a long way around to find some vacant huts where we lay on the floor and slept until noon. Much to our pleasure, that afternoon we went to the bath-house for a shower. Especially was this welcome since we had not taken off our clothes for nine days!
After a few days of many exciting little incidents in which a party of us went in search of a spy, a few novel air raids were made by the Germans, a balloon was set afire, and a visit was made to our Battalion by His Majesty, King George of England, and other events too numerous to mention, we went back to the trenches.
King George V, who later decorated the author at Buckingham Palace
This time at the front we held reserve trenches about two miles back of the outposts. There was very little of interest here except, of course, being shelled, gassed, watching our artillery-men work, and witnessing aeroplanes fight. I had company headquarters in what was known as Belgium Chateau, a once beautiful dwelling with trees, driveways, walks, pond, and other settings making up the beauty of the home of a Belgium nobleman. The trees reminded one of the after-effects of a cyclone, but they were much more splintered. The walks were partly dug up by shell holes, the pond filled with uprooted trees, frogs, and vermin. The building itself against the skyline was rugged, torn, and falling apart. The ceiling of the first floor was now the roof of the house. The crumbled walls and timber had increased the protection of shelter in the cellar by the very thickness of the debris overhead. A few splinters of mahogany wood, pieces of wall paper, and bits of paintings could be seen in the mass of broken marble and stone.
In the moonlight the place had a haunted, dilapidated, uninhabitable atmosphere. The cellar of this place was company head quarters. Our duties here were simply gas and sentry duties, fire at enemy aeroplanes with our machine guns, and be ready to go to the front line at a minute's notice. I remember about two o'clock one morning, a gas sentry woke me up by banging a bell and blowing a horn. I rushed out of the dugout--the cellar of the Chateau--put on my mask and could see the white misty-looking gas floating about. The Germans were shelling us with gas shells. I carefully placed blankets over the entrance to the dugout to prevent the gas from getting in. The attack lasted only ten minutes or a little more; soon the breezes blew away the gas, and I returned to slumber.
The next time in the trenches was a little more interesting. We held both a front line and a support line trench and were just behind the outposts. Just as we took over the trenches, Lieutenant Sams was detailed to a Corps School for four weeks, so that now there remained only Lieutenants Boyd, Weed, James, and myself. My experience in this tour of trench duty included several visits to the outposts. Boyd also gained quite a lot of experience in this way, and on one occasion he led a patrol from one of our outposts and came back with fourteen Germans. He had also killed one--leaving him dead in his own trench. This gave Boyd a big reputation, because the prisoners were the first the Battalion had taken. The patrol Boyd had taken out numbered only nine men.
The support line of trenches, remember, were sometimes as dangerous as the outposts, especially when there was artillery firing. Most every evening the Germans would whip our trenches unmercifully with gas shells and shrapnel. This bombardment never touched the front line, because the Germans were afraid of a shell dropping short into their own lines. It was our greatest satisfaction, though, when the British artillery back of us retaliated. The whistle of shells and the rumble of howitzers over our heads sounded like music--when it was going in the right direction.
About the middle of August, we received information that the Germans were falling back and evacuating a bit of undesirable ground in front of us, including the famous Kemmel Hill far over to our right. As a matter of fact, the plan of retreat was to swing back as on a pivot, using the ground in front of our battalion as the pivot point. But we thought they were going to drop back in front of us also.
The company was still in support, yet I managed to visit near enough to watch the fight. The Battalion to the right advanced several hundred yards, keeping good formation, and cleaned up a nest of machine guns. That night I went down to the new line where our men had taken to shell holes, and our engineers were up with barbed wire and entrenching tools. Thirty yards back of our new line of outposts, I passed a German dugout that had been used as a machine-gun post. Just outside of the door lay a dead German: He had fallen flat on his face with his right knee drawn to his waist. His hands lay under his breast still clutching his rifle. He looked like a man crouching, ready to jump, for his head was raised slightly facing us. I moved around to the back of him. His close-cut hair was covered by a sky blue cap with a little red band around it, his uniform was dirty and covered with mud, and he wore heavy black boots. I came a little closer and intended to search his pockets, but, as my fingers nearly touched him, I thought maybe it was a trap or there was mine set under the man. Often that had happened, so I decided to wait until morning when it would be light.
The next morning I was there, but too late, for an officer just in front of me had taken a beautiful Iron Cross from the dead man, together with letters and photographs of his people and his identification tag. His name was Hein Muller. Nearby was another German who, when hit, had fallen on his back into a shell hole. There were two feet of water in the hole and, if he had not been killed instantly, he had been drowned, because, his head was nearly submerged in the water. A burying detail was sent for, and I left the place.
The following day I visited the trench formerly occupied by my platoon. I was surprised to learn that the Germans had blown up the pill box we had raided two weeks before, and it was now unoccupied by either side. It was a great satisfaction to us, because the place had always caused trouble. We had one other trip in the trenches, with the usual excitement, but in all we lost only one killed, one missing, and eight wounded. About the first of September 1918, we received word that we were "going south".
Most of the men were interested and glad, because we had been hearing of the great fighting going on there. And we had been in a quiet sector, wishing to get out of the trenches and do real fighting in the open. It was the consensus of opinion that this was the only way to win the war. Every man felt he could lick three Germans in open warfare.
A program of marches now began, and after a week we reached a town called Ascheau, in France, which had its full share of champagne and girls. We stayed here about eight days, and during this time we had inspections, strict close-order drill, and rehearsals of open warfare attacks with criticisms afterwards. Discipline was increased, with close watch over men who showed a tendency to lag or disobey orders, and punishment was given where needed. In all, we developed a high degree of discipline and efficiency. The result of this short period of training was shown later.
In the evenings when our work was over, there was a reaction. We made ourselves merry, cast off our worries, and enjoyed a little gaiety. Officers in my Battalion frequented a cafe in which two pretty girls served as waitresses. Their father, who owned the place, stood for more mischief than the average American father would have allowed. The girls were attractive and, in addition, readily expressed their affections for Americans. I can very well remember how the younger one, although she was only fourteen years old, learned to
say in English, "Good bye-e-."