Moving South (continued from Part I)

When our ten days of strain and pleasure were over, we turned our heads to the front. We traveled by motor lorries and by foot (mostly by foot), passing through the famous belt of destruction which the Germans made as they began their retreat to the Hindenburg Line. We passed through Albert and numbers of other towns which were completely leveled to the ground. Forests, farms, roads, villages, trees and buildings were as completely destroyed as though they had never existed. Great is the power of human destruction!

Destruction Everywhere!

Miles of territory were pebbled with shell holes and mine craters. For forty miles everything was desolation and ruin. There were no civilians in this region - there was no shelter for them. As a matter of fact, there was nothing alive here that could be seen, and even rats were almost extinct. But near the southern edge of this belt where there had been fighting in 1914, the mangled ground once more became green, and I plucked a pansy from the bottom of an old shell hole and set it home. Mark the beauty of a flower in a land of death and desolation! Where this pansy grew might have been the garden of a once lovely bed of flowers.

We marched on. There was great company spirit. The men were loyal and spirited. Officers? Why we claimed to be the best. Among ourselves we were pals. Boyd and myself were the greatest of friends. It was a comradeship much to be desired and almost essential as we neared the famous German stone wall.

The Hindenburg Line looking North .

Passing through this belt of destroyed land, you came to the famous Hindenburg Line, a system of trenches, obstacles, water-way courses, canals, rivers, etc. so connected and defended as to prevent the penetration of an enemy. It is doubtful if a snake could have crawled through some parts of this line and not have been observed. The part of the line that we were to attack was like this: Running from St. Quentin in the direction of Cambrai is a canal which is 80 feet deep, 50 feet wide, and has 12 feet of water running in the bottom of the canal. Nearing a little town, Bellicourt, the canal is cut short by a tunnel, and the water proceeds through the tunnel in the direction of Cambrai. The tunnel is a marvelous engineering feat, built by Napoleon. It is made of stone and concrete, so constructed as to accommodate the flow of water and small barges, with a walk-way on either side of the water. The Germans had made several improvements in the tunnel.

They had installed electric lights, heating apparatus, cook rooms, headquarters, and a first-aid station. In addition, they had built underground passageways to their trenches. The trenches were in three lines, with many dugouts that could withstand any amount of artillery bombardment. The Germans, of course, went into the dugouts if anything like a bombardment ever happened. (This is a little advanced information because we have not yet gotten there.)

Miles of barbed wire and stakes.

On the night of September 27, 1918, we moved up to an area three miles away from the Hindenburg Line. We found here a few old dugouts that could accommodate two or three men each, but most of the men had to sleep in shell holes. We were more or less scattered, but this was best, because the Germans dropped a few shells now and then into our immediate vicinity, and of course a number of men would be killed by a single shell if they were crowded together.

After the men had found a place to lay down and I had arranged sentries in case of a gas attack, my orderly showed me the dugout he had located for Lieutenant Boyd and myself. It was a place dug in the side of a sunken road and barely large enough for two people to lay down. Much to our delight the ground was covered by an old German overcoat, probably forsaken in the retreat to the Hindenburg Line in July. However, it prevented the damp, cold ground from disturbing our sleep.

Battle map of author. Note "Jump-off" lines-see text.

The following morning I studied maps and explained our plan of attack to the men. We were to make the attack in a "day or two," according to the information which reached us. That afternoon I went up to our front line, which was 600 yards from the outposts of the Hindenburg Line, and looked over the ground. I had a good elevated position and could see the Line well. It looked impregnable. Miles of barbed wire rolled up and stretched along the ground, thick, heavy death-trap looking devices. Behind these were three lines of trenches, one hundred yards apart, and then the mouth of the canal and the battered town of Bellicourt. Here and there along the trenches were little mounds of earth, evidently machine-gun nests. All this the Germans had--and we were to take it away from them. After studying the ground a little more carefully, I came back to the company.


I thought I would go to sleep early, so at 8:00 p.m. Lieutenant Boyd and myself crawled in our little hole with the German overcoat. I lit a candle and we ate supper, which consisted of a can of beans, jam, and a half loaf of bread. Then I looked over the maps again. There was the town of Bellicourt, the canal, tunnel, trenches, barbed wire, machine-gun posts, trench mortar batteries, artillery, and headquarters of different German battalions on the Hindenburg Line, all shown on the map. The information was obtained from our spies and from aeroplanes. Boyd talked freely, and he believed we were to make the attack in the morning. It seemed doubtful to me, because we had received no word to indicate we would. It grew chilly, and we took our overcoats to use as blankets and quietly went to sleep.

At 11:00 p.m., a messenger was pulling at my feet and told me I was wanted at Battalion Headquarters. I shuffled out of the dugout, disturbing Boyd, because every move one made the other was sure to feel. At Headquarters, one half mile to the rear, I received orders and further. instructions in regard to the attack. The "zero" hour, or the time we were to go over the top, was set at 5:20 a.m.

It was dark coming back to the company, and things were in the utmost confusion. Numbers of tanks were coming up, cutting off ammunition limbers and artillery pieces moving forward, and were causing the greatest chaos. Hundreds of artillery guns were moving closer to the German lines, all following the compass for directions and none knowing the exact whereabouts of any other company or unit, because it was dark and places were new to everyone. My guide lost his way. It was midnight, the company was three and a half miles from the jumping off-point, and we had to be there at four a.m. to be ready for the "zero" hour.

We walked and walked, falling into shell holes, hunting for landmarks--but we remembered none. I took out my illuminated compass. Yes, the company was north-east from Headquarters. But the company was not there. I decided to go back to Headquarters and get a battalion runner, because my guide was excited and nervous and I was afraid we would never find the place by ourselves. Of course, this could mean I might be subject to a Court-martial. We started in the direction of Headquarters, but again we be came lost. The night was miserably dark and the Germans were dropping shells on us. "Whiz-bang" . . . "Whiz-bang." Discouraged and angry, with my guide crying, we retraced our steps slowly, moving sometimes in circles, passing objects we had passed before, until finally we reached Headquarters. It was one o'clock. A runner took us down to the company in about 20 minutes.


The company was formed in two's and moved across the 3 1/2 miles of barren land until we reached our front line. Then we formed in a thin line on a white tape which had been placed on the ground to help us start off in a straight line. Of the company, there were Lieutenants Boyd, Weed, James, and myself, and one hundred and eighty-five men of Company B lined up on the tape. This line was about six hundred yards away from the first German position. The hearts of our men were brave and strong, but even at that, in the long, fevered seconds before "zero" hour, faces turned pale and I heard one choke of despair.

Seconds seemed hours; minutes seemed years; and time seemed eternity as we lay quivering with excitement on the tape. It was 4: 50 a.m. by my watch, but it had stopped. Why, it was wound up, and it had never stopped like that before. So I had to estimate the time, but it seemed weeks before the crucial hour. It was still dark, with a slight grey dawn in the east, and the bulwark of the German main line of resistance spread like the shadow of death in front of us. We were to give battle.

Suddenly, as if the heavens were rent with thunder, one thousand shells pierced the air, one thousand shells struck the German line, ninety-six machine-guns sprayed the German trenches as a hose would spray a lawn. It was a period of lightning and thunder, a period of terror never to be forgotten. The crash of heaven nor the fury of hell could not have spent greater energy against the Germans. From points along the German line went up two green lights, one hanging from the other. It was their distress signal rocket to their rear: "Save our Souls." It was well they sent up this rocket for they needed their souls saved. Almost immediately, German artillery placed a barrage of shells on our line; and the battle was on.

We moved forward in two thin lines, following the compass, for it was still dark. It gradually grew lighter, and all the while our artillery battered the German line like an angry sea against a pillow of rock. No living thing was possible on the surface covered by this barrage. Again and again we lashed the line, and each shell carried with it death and destruction. Noise was terrific and commands were impossible. Each man knew what he was to do, and he did it until death felled him to the ground. The German barrage hit our line and a few men were lost, yet the rest of us continued the advance.

The American 27th Tank Division.

It became light, and a mist rose from the ground. Unfortunately, in addition to the mist, our artillery placed over us a smoke-cloud to blind the German machine-gunners. But the mist and smoke together made the air dense, and I could see nothing. Everyone was confused; men moved in the wrong direction; the well-preserved line of men that started was now broken; some moved too fast, and as they got ahead were cut to pieces by our own barrage; some were too slow and were hit by the German barrage falling on our tape line.

I managed to keep myself and a few messengers in between our own and the German's artillery fire. We were fired on by German machine-guns, yet the machine-gunners could not see us on account of the smoke; it grew more dense and you could hardly see ten feet in front or about you; the mist, the darkness, the noise, explosions, fire, and the cries of wounded men were fierce. I could not see the men in the company except one runner, Private C. C. Smith, whom I told to stay close by; our artillery barrage now moved past the German trenches, and the two of us moved ahead, jumping into the first German trench. It had been vacated, the Germans evidently retiring to the second trench. The two of us pushed on past the first trench in the direction of the second one.

Will Dietz: 27th Divion tank driver

Now I saw one or two men who had fallen, both our men and the Germans killed by our barrage. We jumped into the next trench and found one of my men, wounded in the back by a piece of shrapnel, guarding the entrance to a dugout. It was long since constructed, supported by wooden framework and steps leading down into a room sixty feet below the surface. I ordered prisoners to come out, but no answer. Then I dropped a hand grenade into the place and after five seconds--"Bang." Now I was sure there were no live ones down there. The wounded man was sent to the rear. Why were not more of my men here? They were near but it was too misty to see them. We went up the trench a few yards, Smith leading with a rifle and bayonet. We came to another dugout similar to the one we left. There was not another grenade between us.

"Fire into the place," I said. Smith lowered his rifle and fired. I listened. From deep down in the dug out came a murmur of voices.

"Come out," I shouted.

"Come out," the runner shouted.

Then faintly came the words, "Kamerad, kamerad . "

"Come out," I shouted again.

British tank going over a German trench

"Kamerad, kamerad." A German came out, passing Smith towards me, with his hands up, clenching his fingers. His face had a threatening look, yet he murmured, "Kamerad." Another German followed him, a gigantic man, and he walked over to Smith, passing his bayonet point and getting very close to his gun. His hands also were up and he too murmured, "Kamerad. "Were there any more in the dugout? I waited a few seconds. The German in front of me grew closer.

"Get back," I shouted. He drew still closer, and I shoved my left hand at his face indicating my objection (my pistol was pointed in my right hand), but it had no effect on him. I glanced to the left, and the big German was lowering his right hand in the direction of Smith's rifle.

My man came closer. "Bang," and I had fired through his right breast. He crumpled to the ground. He put up his hands as if in prayer, moaning, "Mercy, kamerad, mercy, mercy." Tears came into his eyes, and he seemed to grow weaker, but he was not mortally wounded because now he was erect on his knees.

The big German near Smith then started to cry like a baby, as if he thought I would shoot him too. "KAMERAD," he shouted and stepped back from Smith. The wounded man again cried out, "Mercy, kamerad, mercy."

"Get on the parapet," I shouted, pointing in that direction. The big one jumped out of the trench, and the wounded man hesitated a little, but followed.

"Come out," I shouted into the dugout. "Kamerad, kamerad, kamerad," and eight more Germans came out of the dugout, the third one carrying a bag.

"Put down that," Smith said pointing to the ground.

"Mein brote, mein brote," cried the man, with tears in his eyes. Three of our men appeared on the scene about this time.

"Let him have his bag," I said. The ten prisoners were put in single file with their hands up, and I sent them back to the rear under a guard of our men. We moved up the trench, examining dugouts every fifteen or twenty yards, but they had been similarly cleaned out by others. Often they had not been as fortunate as we had been, because in one place three Germans and three of our men lay almost touching one another. They had fought to the death.

We hopped out of the trench and started for the third trench. Now we were in the center of the battlefield. The mist and smoke was clearing away, and I could see that the dead already were laying scattered on the ground. The sighing of wounded men came from my right and left, along with loud cries of agony. Our tanks were on the field. Because of the mist, the tank commander could not see the dead and wounded laying in his path. It happened that in a few instances dead men were mashed flat and wounded men were killed in the thickness of the mist and smoke by the crushing weight of fifty tons of iron. Some men had been killed by the butt of a rifle, some by a rifle bullet, but the vast majority were killed by our artillery barrage. I stopped long enough to ask a wounded man what he wished, and he said: "Pass on, and help some man who can be saved." We passed on knowing the man would die in a few minutes.

A little further on, a machine-gun fired in our direction. Smith and I took cover in a large shell hole. The German seemed to delight in spraying the top of the hole with bullets. Smith lit a cigarette and smoked. He said it was the best smoke he had ever had. The machine gun suddenly stopped firing (the gunner had been killed with a bayonet) . We moved forward again and dropped into the third trench. Some of our men had preceded us, because a number of prisoners were being formed and sent back.

Men from my company and the company on the right had taken the mouth of the canal and captured over two hundred and sixty prisoners in the tunnel. It was 10:00 a.m. now and the main battle was over. I began to collect the company, count the men, make a record of killed and wounded, post sentries to watch for a counter-attack, and make reports to battalion headquarters.

The Germans then began a counter-attack. They could be seen by us far to the right, coming in our direction. But now our machine guns had been brought up, and, these along with the guns we had captured from the Germans, were turned in their direction. It was not long before their lines were broken, men were felled to the ground, and others scattered. Finally they gave up the counter attack, and the battle was over.

Of the killed that morning, there were twelve men of our company, including Sergeant Bailey, Private Teachey, and others; of the wounded, there were forty-five men; and of the missing, there were three. While I was collecting this information, a runner came up and said that Lieutenant Weed was struck in the knee, that his leg was broken in two places, and that he had been carried to the rear. While the runner was speaking, another man said that Lieutenant James had not been located, nor had he reported back to the company as yet. When he had finished, another man, as I listened intensely, reported that Lieutenant Boyd lay dead on the field, his breast having been pierced by a piece of shell.

It was an evening of sorrow and remembrance, for we thought of our lost companions. But not in vain did we suffer, because the Germans had been well-beaten.

American troops burying their dead.

As night came on it grew cold. I could not see to make reports, and it became necessary to establish company headquarters in one of the German dugouts. The one selected had four entrances leading from several trenches down into a big space underground. The underground space was 70 feet deep and was divided into three rooms; in all it was large enough to accommodate 40 or 50 men. In this dugout the Germans had left behind rifles, pistols, anti-tank guns, signal lamps, field glasses, articles of clothing, blankets, equipment, shoe polish, trench cookers, matches, candles, cigarettes and cigars, canteens with rum, articles of food including fresh butter and honey, German rye bread, cheese, sausage, jam, canned beef, and a stove for cooking purposes.

We looked over their letters, maps and pictures from which we gathered considerable amusement and useful information. Yet, as I cautiously went down the stairway, I had a constant fear of striking a wire leading to a mine in which we would all be killed or buried alive. Such fear, however, was groundless, as the Germans had little enough time to get out of the dugout with their lives, much less stop to mine the place.

Mouth of the Canal still the same as during the Great War.

There were officers' quarters in the dugout with good bunks, and I rested that night. All during the night, however, I had a fear of the Germans making a counter-attack again, and, knowing their own ground better than we did, of their catching us at a disadvantage. But above all the horror and fear came a spirit of victory: We had won the day. This was expressed in everything the men did and said. We did not talk of others, except those who lay dead on the ground nearby, because of the pride and confidence we felt in ourselves.

Early the next morning, much to our delight, Lieutenant James came in. He was perfectly well, having been in a lot of fights. Amidst the mist and smoke, he had passed the objective and with a few of his men had slept in a shell-hole that night.

If a statue of gold had come up it would-not have been more welcomed than James, because he was true-hearted and brave; moreover, I did not like to be left the only officer in the company.

That morning we began burying our own dead, and we continued this work until two days later when we went to the rear for a short rest. Although we had buried most of our dead, we did not have time, on account of the number, to bury the German dead. They were buried later by other troops.


On the afternoon of September 30th, my Battalion Commander, now a Lieutenant Colonel, Don Scott, and several other officers of my regiment and myself picked up a German officer on the field who had been taken prisoner the day before. By means of an interpreter, we told him of the reported German method of making soap out of dead bodies. We had been repeatedly told that in an upper room of the tunnel there was such a place, and we intended seeing it with a German officer who might like to explain the reason for such an unusual practice among supposedly civilized peoples.

"Ach, nein," he said. and other words equivalent to a rebuke at any suggestion that the Germans would do such a thing. "We will go down to the place," the interpreter told him.

We entered the tunnel through a gallery leading down to the walkway alongside of the water. Here we walked for fifteen minutes, guided along the walkway by the light of candles, because the electric lights were not in use. (It later developed that if the electric dynamo had been started, the whole tunnel would have blown up--contact wires were attached to the wheels of the dynamo.) We reached the concrete stairs leading up to the room "where men were made into soap."

There was already a sentinel on duty there to prevent too many soldiers from crowding the place. and we ascended into the room. He saluted There were bodies scattered over the floor, two hands cut off laying on a butcher's table, and parts of human flesh, dark and decaying, in big vats or pots presenting the appearance of soup boilers. At least ten men lay dead and mangled in that small room. In the upper side of the wall, leading into the open, was a hole the size of a stove pipe. The German officer could not stand the stench of the room and asked to go outside. When we were out, he explained that the place was used for a kitchen, the vats were used to make soup, and the dead men were due to a shell which had pierced the concrete wall and exploded in the room. His explanation seemed plausible, and I believe he was right, yet he did not convince the commander of our regiment, Colonel S. W. Miner, and the majority of others present.


On October 8th,1918, We again went over the top at 5:15 a.m., taking away not trenches but towns, woods, roads and fields from the Germans. In fact, when we crossed the Hindenburg Line, the war changed from the trenches into the open country, and with the Germans falling back, the so-called war of movement began. It was a fight old soldiers who had fought in our Spanish-American War would remember. We captured in succession Bellicourt, Naurey, Joncourt, Brandcourt, Bohain, Tincourt, Becquigny, Busigny, Vaux Andigny, St. Souplet, Wassigny, and up to Catillon, where the Division was relieved on October 19, 1918.

Hindenburg (Siegfried) Line and nearby towns. Canal mouth is at Riqueval.

On one particular morning we advanced about one mile without any opposition. Presently, as the company neared a patch of brush and saplings covering one quarter mile square, we were fired on. A man next to me was hit twice in the shoulder by machine-gun bullets. Every man took cover, and I tried this plan of attack: Two platoons were to attack to the left of the brush and flank them: one platoon was to attack on the right; and the fourth platoon was to fire from the front whenever opportunity presented itself. The efforts of the platoons on the left were in vain, for they could not get into the brush; the platoon on the right had equally bad success. Every possible entrance into the place was covered by invisible, alert, death-dealing machine-guns. Our artillery had not come up, and we had only rifles and Automatic-rifles to fight with. It was an awkward situation for the company, especially since both the battalion on our right and the one on our left were going ahead, leaving us behind, thereby causing a gap in the advancing line.

Things tanks do best: clear barbed wire, clear bush with enemy machine guns!

I tried to attack again but without success. Immediately, I dispatched a message to headquarters, stating we were held up and needed assistance. Presently I saw, about a mile away, a British tank moving in a direction just south of us. A runner was sent there to ask his assistance, which he willingly gave, starting in our direction. We watched the machine dart into the bushes, pushing down everything in its path and soon disappearing. In five minutes I heard the tank's Hotchkiss guns firing, and I knew the enemy were taken. I went in the path of the tank and found one officer and forty two Germans with their hands up. They had eight machine-guns in addition to their rifles and other equipment. Twelve of the men had been wounded by the tank's gun, and we let the well men care for the wounded. The German officer was very polite He stepped out and saluted as I came up.

"You and your men will go back to our prison pen," I told him after I found he could understand English. Then I hesitated. I would like to take him along in order that we might learn the country in front of us and where large bodies of Germans were likely to be found. It was, however, against International Law to carry prisoners into the fight, so I sent him and his men to our rear under a guard of two men.

The company quickly moved along now and rejoined the front line of advance. We moved about a mile further until we reached a road running at right angles to our advance, where we were held up again. This time the whole line was stopped. In front of this sunken road was a town called Becquigny (France), just northwest of Bohain, and on some of the buildings were white flags. A patrol was sent over to the nearest building to find out the meaning of the white flags. It returned and reported that civilians occupied the houses having the flags, and the people were asking that we not fire on the town. We did as they requested.

At one p.m., a detachment of Germans could be seen leaving the town on horseback. At two p.m., we went over the top again, driving forward about one-half mile, fighting our way against machine-guns, and as we stopped on the forward slope of a hill, we dug into the ground. When we were well located, I sent a runner over into the town to secure a canteen of hot coffee. In an hour he returned with coffee, fried chicken, bread, and cakes. He had been given a royal reception by the liberated French people, and girls, he said, were not bashful in showing their appreciation, as one or two, he continued, had thrown their arms around him and kissed him. He had eaten some of this food and brought this especially for me, so I called Lieutenant James over and we sat down in a little hole in the ground. The food was delicious, but we ate rapidly because something to alert us now began. Unfortunately, just a few hundred yards ahead of us were German batteries of field artillery. They obtained our range, and as we were digging into the ground for rest and protection, the batteries opened and began shelling us.

Lieutenant James now went back to the platoon where he was encouraging his men and helping them get located in the ground. The shells seemed to fall on us unmercifully, hitting every few yards of earth. While I was cautiously watching the fall of each shell, I glanced to my right: A shell hit less than thirty feet away, and I saw two men flung to the earth. Who were they? One was the only officer left except myself: it was Lieutenant James. The other was Private Buck, one of James' men. The orderly attending Lieutenant James, frightened and being temporarily insane, left the field. It now grew dark quickly, and four men were detailed to carry the bodies back of the new-formed lines where they were buried.

We lay on the line all night and stood the whipping given us by the German artillery. During the night, I made visits to the company on my right in order to see that the line of outposts was continuous and that we were well connected up. The unit on my left was a machine gun platoon placed in the line to fill a gap between my company and the adjoining one. I visited them and found that the lieutenant in charge had his headquarters in a house in the village, so I went there to see him.

The French people were in the cellar serving him and several of his men with coffee and thin pancakes. An old father and mother and three pretty girls were there. Their joy was unbounded at seeing Americans (whom they had never seen before) free their country from the arrogant Germans. We could not speak French nor they English, yet we understood each other well. In a conversation of broken languages, the old woman told us that the Germans had carried off some of the town girls, but that her girls had remained hidden in the cellar until the Germans had left the town. After a short talk with the Lieutenant about his outposts, I left the house.

The Germans were shelling the town at intervals. The white flags over the houses which we had refrained from firing on were now crumbling under the explosion of the heavy German shells. Our line of men was just beyond the town, with hardly a dozen men actually in the town. Why the Germans took delight in shelling the place was a puzzle to me. Perhaps it was to punish the civilians who remained in the town against the Imperial German Army's orders. After leaving the house, I walked down a narrow, dark, uninhabited lane and came into a pasture which had been used by the Germans to feed their horses. I thought I would make a short cut back to the company, but it was dark and I lost my direction.

Losing yourself always means trouble and worry, and at first I thought of shouting and calling the names of some of my men. But after a second thought the idea seemed foolish, because how close were we to the German lines? Was I lost in our lines or the German lines? That was a question. Maybe a couple of unfriendly bayonets would stab my throat if I shouted, or a steel bullet would make me pay for the sin of noise. I began to wonder whether I would fall into the hands of a German patrol or be shot by our own outpost sentries. At last, by retracing my steps and following the compass carefully, I stumbled into a hole dug in the ground by some of my men. I was home again, so I lay down in a shell hole to rest.

At 4:00 a.m., a liaison officer came up with the information that we would go over the top again at 5:00 a.m. The company was ordered up from trenches and their newly made holes, packs were arranged, and platoon leaders were given the orders and direction of attack. It was 4:50 a.m.; the company in a 'line of combat groups was keenly awaiting the zero hour. The time grew closer and then within a few seconds of five I heard far back of us a bugle blowing.

What was it? Instead of an artillery barrage thundering over our head, as expected, softly from the distance 'came the bugle notes for" Recall". Every man stopped, waited, and questioned: What was the trouble? Was the war over? Why did the barrage not fall? Had an enemy bugler gotten back of the lines, trying to foil our plans? Many other questions came up, but we waited. In fifteen minutes a runner came from Battalion Headquarters. The barrage was to fall at 5:30 a.m., then we were to attack. There had been an error about the time.

Sharply at 5:30 the barrage fell just in front of us, and we followed it as it moved forward. We were fired on by unseen guns and field artillery, yet we advanced about three miles, mostly through woods and over cultivated land, and then halted, digging in just to the west of Vaux Andigny (France).

Troops on our left had taken the small town there, and the Germans began to shell it. They directed their blows particularly against a church which was in the center of the town.

The rebuilt back face of the church described by the Author.

It was reported that the civilians had gathered in the church, thinking it would bring protection to them. But crash after crash, and the front wall of the church went down. Not only did the Germans shell the church, but, as it drew dark, they had already located our line and placed a most terrific bombardment on the ground we occupied.

Company headquarters was established in a large hole made by an aerial bomb. It could well accommodate a dozen men. Around this hole that night, the German shells made a circle of holes which, as the shells exploded, threw dirt into our place until we were half covered. We were tired beyond compare and quickly became used to the crashes and explosions. I slept through the storm and hell even while dirt covered my face and head. The left of the company line was badly hit. After a few casualties, I ordered the line to drop back about thirty yards and dig in again. Later in the night, a Non-Commissioned Officer was making an hourly round to see that sentries were on the alert. He visited the old left line without knowing it had been moved. Finding only one man in one of the holes he called to him, but there was no answer. He reached down and proceeded to shake the cold body and in doing so got blood on his hands. The man was dead.


The next morning, in crawling from post to post to look over our line, a corporal called my attention to a spot about 600 yards ahead. He said it looked like a German to him. I took up his field glasses and, looking at the object, saw a man with a steel helmet aiming a machine gun in my direction. In less than five seconds I saw three or four flashes of fire leave the gun; almost simultaneously, three bullets hit the earth two feet away from me. Dirt was knocked up so that it fell on my feet. I quickly dropped down and crawled away from the post. After a few more exciting incidents, we were relieved by another company and went back to the rear for a short rest.


We marched back to a place called Brandcourt (France) for a short rest. It lasted only a few days, because on the morning of October 16, we started for the front again. This time the Company numbered one officer and about sixty-five men. We seemed pitifully small, and I personally felt like one who had been robbed of his friends. What was there left but to avenge their death and fight on? Eventually we would crush the Imperial Arrogant Army, the enemy of Christian philosophy and the advocate of military force. The confidence that existed between the NCO's., the men, and myself was the redeeming feature of our mutual grievance. What serious losses we had could never be replaced. Never would there be a reunion of the once strong company. It was cause for sorrow, for as we faced the Germans in the east, we turned our heads with a glance at the setting sun. The west was painted red by the blood of our comrades. Their bodies lay behind us, and blood dripped from stretchers as they were rushed to the rear.

Once more we turned our heads to the east and like a wounded bull plunged for the German lines. There was a spirit with us that challenged the teeth of death and laughed at the jaws of hell. We felt poor in size yet we did not despair; we grew small in numbers but great in strength; our flesh grew weak but our spirit was strong. What we were losing daily in comrades, we were gaining in spirit and union.

On the morning of the 16th of October, we started our march to the new front. It was raining, and we had to travel across muddy, cultivated fields and sunken roads. Four of the men who had taken captured bicycles along to assist them in carrying their packs threw the wheels away, because it was impossible to push them through the mud. It was almost impossible for us to move our rolling kitchens because of the muddy ground and destroyed roads. The mud and weather now be came a jest. "If the Germans have to work as hard running as we do going after them," remarked one staggering chap in the company, "they will be dead when we get there." After a hard day's tramp we halted in a wet, muddy field and lay down for sleep.

Early the next morning, we went over the top in reserve, following the front line at about one-half mile. The front line did good work, took a number of prisoners, and reached a few yards of their objective. It was a difficult day's work. We in the reserve spent most of our time dodging shells, because the German artillery seemed to concentrate on the reserve troops moving up. They soaked the air with gas {chlorine}, so that we had to wear our gas-masks in the advance.

Some of the men were gassed and sent back to the rear. It was a tedious and tiresome advance, and not until late in the afternoon did the front line halt and dig-in. We followed within a distance of two hundred yards and also dug-in.

It was now dark, and I walked over the line of holes the men were making to see if all men were taking cover properly and that sentries were posted to guard against a German attack. About eleven p.m., I found myself a suitable shell hole which only required removing a little mud in the bottom to become a good place to lay.

Hardly had I curled up in the hole when a runner came up with an order for me to go to Battalion Headquarters, about a mile away. The Germans sprayed my path with machine gun bullets. It was dark, muddy, and the route was filled with holes. At headquarters I was told my company would relieve the front line company just ahead of me. It was now twelve midnight.

I hurried back to the company, picked up several NCO's., and went in search of the front line. I found the company we were to relieve along a sunken road running parallel to the enemy line. After looking over the posts and positions of the men I went back to the company, made the proper disposition of platoons, and had them go up and take over the front line. After this was done, I inspected the new-formed line to see that every squad was safe and that we were connected up with troops on our right and left. It was now about three a.m. Again I found a small cave-like space dug into the side of the sunken road. crawled in and began eating a few hard-tacks and a can of condensed milk, for I was hungry as well as very tired.

When I was nearly finished with the can of milk, a runner came up and reported I was wanted at Headquarters again. I crawled out and took a runner with me. When there I was given a cup of hot coffee which tasted better than any I have since had. The orders were that we were going over the top again at 5:15 a.m. By a little candle light, I read over the maps and orders.

Now a surprise overtook me. I was told the artillery would place a-barrage down at 5:15 along the sunken road. The company WAS THERE, and if they remained there they would be cut to pieces. It was now a few minutes after four. I received orders to move my company back one hundred yards until the barrage fell, then to advance, following the barrage for about six hundred yards. Later during the day we would continue the advance to our objective two miles away. But at present, on reaching the six hundred yards, we would dig-in and wait for troops on our right to come up. I rushed out of the shell-torn building and hurried back to the company. Every man was taken out of his post, and we moved back one hundred yards.

We were just in time. The barrage fell as the last man got back, and the sunken road was whipped with high explosive shells. The barrage moved forward, and we followed, keeping about fifty yards back of it. As we got on the crest of a little hill, German bullets began pouring into our lines. Yet we advanced further and began digging in on the forward slope of the hill. Intermittently, machine-gun bullets fell about us, and every man dug as fast as he could. I sent a runner back to the sunken road to pick up my rations which had been left behind.

Calamity Jane. The last American Gun fired in the Great War.

Now I stepped out of the hole selected for company headquarters and looked over the company's line. A few bullets flew past my head, some hitting at my feet. I yelled out a few orders for men to move back and some to move up in order to form a continuous line. The runner came up now, stating the rations were not there, but in its stead he had picked up a large pair of field glasses. As I reached for them, "pop," and uncontrollably I fell to the ground--but quickly regained my feet. A sharp pain was in my right arm near the elbow. I knew what had happened, because I felt a sting where the bullet had passed through the flesh, and an aching pain where the bone was broken. In a few seconds, blood fell from my sleeve on to the soil of France. I had paid a price in the battle, so I turned over command of the company to the senior sergeant, and accompanied my orderly to the first aid station which was more than a mile to the rear.

The 'Y', always a great help to servicemen.


This had happened on October 18, 1918. Within thirty-six hours I was in the Third London General Hospital, London, England, where I remained in bed for three days and then carried my arm in a sling for a month. On December 28, 1918, I boarded the USS. "Louisville" at Southampton, and on January 7, 1919, I hailed the country that gave me birth and to whose land and shore I, as well as all others, owe a debt which we pay in full only when we make the supreme sacrifice.

NOTE: The names of all officers, by grade and home addresses, are listed on pages 50-56 of the OFFICIAL HISTORY OF THE 120th INFANTRY.