PRIVATE FRANK LAST (Transcribed by Rick Riehl)
Pvt. Frank J. Last survived his war experiences and, although 50% disabled as a result of being gassed and having a shell inoperably lodged in his abdomen, led a life of service to his country. He received the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, and special commendations for extraordinary bravery while in captivity.
He joined the administration of the VA Hospital in Washington during the early 1920's and eventually retired as the vice president of the VA Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan in the early 60's. He passed away in 1976.
This original account was a combination of trench notes, and later memoirs that Pvt. Last compiled during his military convalescence in 1919. They sat in a drawer for three quarters of a century. Rick Riehl
For most of 1917 I was at Lehr, North Dakota working as a rural mail carrier. In September, when the first draft was called, I was at the depot to see the boys off. Mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of the boys were there also. There was crying, praying, yelling and the band was playing. It was an awful sight. Every mother, father, sister and brother who was there thought that the one who was leaving was sure to be killed at onceno chance whatever of his coming back. It was on a Wednesday. That evening while waiting at the barbershop to have some work done, I found a chance to sell my outfit to Mr. C. J. Rott, who also carried the mail. I got into the chair when my turn came and said to Kowan the barber (better known as Kelly), What do you say about enlisting? Kelly said to me Youre on! I asked him if he meant it and he said he did. The doings at the depot that day had gotten our goats and we thought this would be a good time to show our colors. When Kelly finished working on me he commenced putting his tools away and some of his customers who were waiting wanted to know when they were to be shaved. Kelly said: I am through barbering; we are going to enlist. The people there and a great many more about town thought that we were trying to play some kind of joke on them. Thursday morning I carried the mail for the last time and at noon that day we boarded the train for Bismarck. When we got there we could not find the recruiting officer and later on that evening we talked to a member of Company A, who told us all about the company. Next morning we met him and he started over for Mandan (where the company was maneuvering at a fair) to see the commanding officer, Capt. Murphy. We had our first army feed that day and watched the boys drill. We wanted to get in worse than ever then and the next morning (Saturday, September 22) we were enlisted at Ft. Lincoln by Capt. Murphy. We boarded the Saturday train back to Lehr in our uniforms. A great many of the people there came to us and in German told us how crazy we were for going frei willig, meaning volunteering.
That night the Americans of the town gave us a reception and a farewell party, as we were to leave Monday. A great many who were not Americans were very angry about this party, as they thought that we should not have anything like that. Think of it! Going to fight our Vaterland frei willig!
Monday came and twenty minutes before train time we received a call from Capt. Murphy telling us that we could go to our homes in Wisconsin and catch the Company on their way to Camp Greene, North Carolina. A few of our friends went to the depot with us, but there was no crying, yelling or band playing. We said goodbye and left in a hurry. We arrived at our homes Tuesday afternoon.
Saturday morning I received a telegram from Capt. Murphy telling us to meet the company in St. Paul. We thought it would be impossible to reach St. Paul in time, so we went to Chicago that evening and stayed there until Monday, when we rejoined our Company. After a few days we reached Camp Greene, where we remained until the first part of November, and then moved from there to Camp Mills, Long Island. Here we received our overseas equipment and were sent to Camp Merritt, New Jersey, to await transportation.
On December 14th we sailed on the giant steamship Leviathan (formerly the Vaterland; an interned German ship. This was her first voyage sailing the seas flying the American flag. There was something like thirteen thousand aboard, including 500 Red Cross nurses. We reached Liverpool, England on Christmas evening and from there went directly to Wischeser to a rest camp. We rested at this camp-and also rested our stomachs. We were put on English rations and they werent very good. Ask some of the boys who have been there.
New Years Day we went to Southampton and boarded another boat that sailed up the channel to Le Havre, France.
After our ride up the English Channel in a cattle boat as we called it- we were not in the best of conditions to encounter much hardship. The channel was very rough and the ship was tossed about like a cork. Some of the Napoleon boys know the results. We were all seasick. The boat was very crowded and there wasnt standing or sitting room and there were no pathways either, as they were filled with soldiers who were lying over seasick. Naturally those who happened to be in back of several others didnt make the railing and quarters were anything but pleasant.
We landed at Le Havre before daylight, but remained on the ship until about 6:30AM. That was January second of 1918. We had breakfast- some goat meat and a loaf of bread for seven men and some coffee - New Years morning.
We were then given a sandwich of cold fat mutton to be consumed on our trip. When we landed we received two English hardtack and a piece of cheese. That was our breakfast for that day. We landed and started on our hike through the LeHevre. We saw several ambulances and nurses there, and the people greeted us in warmer spirits than we had been greeted in England. At one place an old French lady and man were trying to raise the stars and stripes as we marched by. They were so excited that it took some time for them to get the flag up. We were glad to see our flag and we did some cheering for a while. After the old couple succeeded in getting the flag up they put the French flag up right beside ours and we cheered again. This pleased the old couple very much. We couldnt understand them very well, but upon this occasion, actions spoke louder than words.
We hiked several kilometers enjoying ourselves pretty well, as everything was new and strange to us. After a couple hours hike we reached our camp another rest camp. We were marched to tents and counted off eight men to a tent. We looked the tents over and found them quite empty- not even floors in them.
We didnt worry very much about the tents as we were more interested in something to eat. We were told that we werent expected there and that there were no rations for us. Noon came and there were eats in sight. Night came and we were promised something to eat. About ten we got some slum that had been burned (we got very little of that) and were told we would have to save some of that for breakfast.
We slept on the ground, each man receiving two extra blankets in addition to the two that he carried. All the while we were at this place we never saw a fire except the one that burned our slum. Being January, the weather wasnt very warm so we didnt sleep to well that night. We arose very quickly the next morning when we were called, not because wed had too much sleep but because we thought we might get warm by jumping around. We then partook of breakfast- the remains of the burned slum, a few hard tack biscuits and a piece of cheese. We got word that we were going to leave there that day so we didnt complain.
About noon we left and after an hour of hiking came to a railroad station. We had to wait here for about two hours because we were to take a special train. While waiting there we saw several German prisoners working about the station. They were all in pretty good shape but didnt seem to be hurting themselves working. After our train arrived, we sized it up and got in. It was a special all right. It was marked 8 Chevaux , 40 Hommes; meaning eight horses or forty men. We had 42 in my car and I think one of the chevaux must have tramped a few boards out of the floor because some were gone. One door was also missing so none of us took sick for want of fresh air. When the Frog train got into motion we got the full benefit of that January breeze.
That night we got some hardtack and some corned willie. We ate all that we got without overworking our stomachs. All night we were very cold, as we were crowded in so that we couldnt jump around to keep warm. So we sat there and took it as it came. I remember that I tried to sit on my feet and fell asleep so did my feet.
After about three days of this pleasure trip through Sunny France we reached LaCourtine and marched to some old barracks where Napoleons army had been quartered. These barracks were made of stone and were very large and roomy.
Some Russian soldiers were quartered here. When the revolution was going on in Russia these soldiers did likewise. The French army was called to quiet them and had to use machine guns on them.
We reached here on a Saturday eve. Sunday morning we were getting some souvenirs. Sunday afternoon we got our barracks bags for the first time since leaving the States. Monday we took a bath and got cleaned up. Tuesday morning we went out for a hike and when we returned at noon we learned that we were to be transferred to the First Division. Dame rumor started at once. Some said the First was in China, others said it was in the Islands, and there were all kinds of guesses imaginable. Some said it was at the Front, or near there. And they were at the Front.
Wednesday noon we boarded another special and bade goodbye to our friends who were not being transferred with us, and it would have been far easier to have counted those who were not shedding than those who were. Not only the enlisted men shed tears, but the officers as well from Col. Fraine down.
How well we shall remember Col. Fraine that last time we saw him! He would cry and then walk along and try to brace up. Soon he would be sobbing again; no matter how hard he would try to keep from it. The Colonel was not alone he had a great deal of company when it came to crying.
I remember when our special pulled up how Colonel Fraine went to some French officials and we thought he was trying to get some better cars for us. We could see that he wasnt talking very gently to them.
Our special pulled out and we were on our way. We had some corned willie and some hardtack with us for the trip. The eats hadnt been very plentiful at this place, as there seemed to be some mix up in the rations, but we were living on promises pretty well and pulled through. We were quite a jolly bunch and always looked at the bright side of things. For instance, we were getting our room and board free, plus we were seeing sunny France out of a boxcar when we were in the car with the door off or the one with the boards kicked out.
The morning of the day we left LaCourtine, I reported on sick call, having a very sore throat. I received some pills and thought that I would be all right. That night I became very sick and as my fever was very high, I was unconscious. Kelly helped me out of that car and I got a chance to lay on a seat in a third class coach that officers were riding in. This seat had no cushions on it, being merely a wooden seat but at that I had a chance to spread out. I was very sick and unconscious most of the way. We were on this trip for two days and three nights.
On January 11th we reached our destination- Hudlencourt. I dont remember much but I know that Kelly stayed with me as much as he could.
I was taken to a hospital at Gondrecourt and the rest of the boys joined their respective companies. On the morning of the 15th they started to hike for the Front. As I lay in the hospital I was continually thinking of them. The later part of January I finally got out of the hospital and was taken as close to the Front as we could get by truck. After nightfall we rejoined our Companies just as they were going in. We lost no time rejoining our Companies in time to get into the lines, but of course we had avoided the long hike that they got.
When we got near the Front we found sentries along the road and in the villages who wanted to know who we were and where we were going. They told us that we had gotten a whole lot closer to the front than we should have gotten with a truck. We had to travel without lights and a good share of the time we were engaged with lifting the truck out of a ditch or similar place.
Shells were flying all over our heads, whizzing in the air.
Myself, as well as the rest of the boys, had gas masks and helmets, but they were somewhere in the truck. If we had needed to put them on, I dont think a single one of us would have succeeded.
We didnt realize that we were in as dangerous a place as we were, and never thought of the gas masks and helmets, which afterwards we learned to put on and put so much faith in.
We were puffing along the roadway every now and then into a shell hole, when a sentry halted us. The driver stopped and the sentry said, Are you men crazy? Do you know what you are running into? Fritzies lines!
We turned around in a hurry, I remember. This sentry told us where regimental headquarters was, and we got back and reported that we were sent to join our Companies. The truck driver was told to hurry and get away from the place about as quick as he could before daylight.
Regimental headquarters were at Beaumont. I was sent to my Company, which was in reserve behind the front. After a few days we were to take the lines and take the day. Our Lieutenant called us out and told us just what positions and posts we were to take that night. When my name was read off it was Last on listening post. Later the Lieutenant tried to explain just what our duties were and said, Listening post means just what it is named; you are out there to listen and when you hear anything that doesnt sound right, let someone know about it. He also told us that we were not to make any noise- the Boches were to make the noises and we were to hear them.
On the way to the Front lines, in the communication trench, we had to go through a great deal of water. Quite naturally we got wet feet and limbs, as for quite a distance we walked through water up to our hips. Shells were falling quite rapidly all around us so we didnt notice the water.
When I got to my listening post I tried to follow my orders as best I could. I didnt move a muscle, and doubt whether I even blinked an eye. I stood there with my rifle ready for action. I also realized that Fritz was not coming around with a brass band. When he came, he was going to also be as quiet as he could be. There was a barbed armament out in front of me. I was sure that the posts of it were walking around and the more I stared, the faster they would bob around.
Every now and then a flare would go up and I could see my post there- as dead as ever. I was seeing things. Ask some of the boys who have been on this assignment and see if they havent seen posts walking around too.
I stood still so long without getting a chance to move that I almost froze that way and commenced to think that I couldnt do anything if I had to. My feet being wet were almost stiff. I was suffering, but up to now I hadnt had time to notice it. It seemed as though I could stand it no longer. I had my rifle up beside me and with my eyes steadfast on No Mans Land I unlaced my shoes, took the blankets out of my pack, and wound an extra pair of leggings around my feet. I slipped a pair of Red Cross heavy wool socks over the leggings. I stood in one wool blanket and my shelter half, and put the other blanket over my shoulders. I had a pair of socks on my hands and then got back to the alert position.
I commenced practicing throwing the blanket off my shoulders, socks off my hands, and when I got so that I could do that quickly enough, I got so that I rested a lot easier.
I was on listening post all night. The next morning I was told that I could take a sleep, and the day shift, or day relief would go on. I tried to sleep that day, but I didnt succeed very well.
Up to this time I had not been accustomed to having rats crawl over me when I was asleep, so maybe I was staying awake to keep them off. I saw a great many of them. They were quite tame and came close to me, although I made several unnecessary movements. They were a lot larger than the ordinary rat that we have in this country, also a lot darker and their fur longer. They looked very much like our muskrats.
That evening it happened to be my turn to go after chow. Our kitchen was at Slestervay. I picked up a heel of bread at the kitchen and put it in my pocket. When we got back to where we fed I sat down on a short piece of board to eat. I happened to drop my hand to my side and there was a big rat eating my piece of bread out of my pocket. Did I jump? Oh no! Well, anyhow I tried to make that rat move. He ran off a ways and stopped off to look at me as much to say, Do you mean it? I tried to make him understand that I did.
Whenever I got a chance to sleep or lie down in the night after this, I often felt rats walking across my body. I have even felt them on my face. I have laid almost rigid when they were on me. I dont know whether I got used to them, or didnt mind them, but anyways they did not bother me very much. I have seen fellows lay hard tack along their bodies on the buttons for the rats to get, but I have never coaxed them to stick around me. As many as there were, I have never seen any killed. We have been told that they are a good thing to have around, and I guess they are, as we might have a whole lot more diseases if it not for those rats; but I still like them better a long ways off.
The Front line at this place was curved enough so that one of our men took a notion to shoot at me, thinking I was a German. A bullet hit in the parapet of the trench right besides me and I commenced looking around. Another bullet hit a piece of tin, just missing my helmet. I felt the whiz of another past my nose. He shot five times at me. I dropped to the ground, stuck my rifle up in the air, and fired five shots as fast as I could shoot. Soon a corporal came down the trench and asked me what was the matter. I told him that some of our own men were shooting at me. He asked me what direction the shots were coming from and I showed him. Believe me, I didnt stand up to show him, but pointed out the direction. The corporal was hugging the ground himself. We werent very anxious to have our own men shoot at us.
The Corporal went back over to the place where the shots came from and asked if anyone over in that direction had been shooting. A big, husky fellow by the name of Bittner answered, yes, I shot at the Boche across there and I got the devil- at least he hasnt shown up anymore. Believe me, I didnt show up anymore until Bittner had been warned. The Corporal told him that he was crazy that he was shooting at his own men, and to be careful hereafter. The next time I saw Bittner we had a good laugh.
We were in the holes for nine days on this trip and then were taken back on the reserve. When we first got in, the Germans were real tame. The French had been carrying their chow over the top and had been allowing the Germans to do the same. We carried ours through the trenches and after we took a few shot at Jerry, he did likewise.
One day we saw a big fat Jerry up on the parapet pumping out his dugout. We didnt get on top to pump out our dugouts and we didnt want to see Jerry up there. We were in the war to shoot every German we got a chance to and we took a few shots at this fellow. He got down into his trench in a hurry, not even waiting to pull his pump in after him. Different times we saw them get up, but after we were in the trenches a few days they kept down.
We had a few raids pulled on us in this sector, and we also pulled off a few. I was relieved of my post at 12:00 one night, but at 2:00am I was awakened. About forty Germans were intending to raid our trenches. They were coming in at the post I had been relieved from. Intending to raid us was as far as they got. A fellow by the name of Phillips halted them and someone muttered something back in German. Phillips didnt like that kind of talk and pulled the trigger of his rifle. The German gave a moan and muttered something else and then they commenced throwing potato mashers (hand grenades) at Phillips. Their hand grenades looked so much like potato mashers that we named them that. Those that were hurled at Phillips might as well have been potato mashers because none of them went off. Phillips fired from the hip and must have hit the fellow in the hand because next morning we found a pistol with the stock badly nicked and blood on it and on the ground.
Flares soon got to going up in a hurry a three-star rocket which at that time was a signal for a barrage.
It was fifty-five seconds after the flares went up that we got our barrage. It was some barrage, as many of us said we couldnt see how even a rat could live through it. Every time a flare went up we fired our rifles at anything that looked like a man.
None of us went to sleep any more that night. I stood post for twenty-two hours without relief and when I got it I was ready to sleep.
When daylight came the Lieutenant and several noncoms went out to see what they could see. They brought back a number of potato mashers, a German rifle and the pistol with a nick in it.
Several officers from all around came there the next day to see where the Boche had tried to get in. As I happened to be on that post I showed them where the wires were cut and the blood of the Boche on the ground just over the parapet from the listening post. Being the first raid it was something new.
The Germans used to signal one another with a noise like a duck (quack) and another would answer quack, quack. At times we would hear four or five quacks. Sometimes they used bird whistles. We soon got wise to this and were on the lookout for ducks, as much as though they had been talking.
We stayed up in the Front lines about eight or nine days and then would go back on reserve while the other Companies went in, and then change about again in eight or nine days.
We had three turns at the Front, also that number at reserve. When we were on reserve we used to get plenty of detail work and at times it wasnt very pleasant. Fritz used to drop a few shells around and among us.
One day a piece of shell dropped about twelve feet from me. I thought I had a pretty close shave. I picked it up and burned my fingers. I dropped it and when it got cool I put it in my pocket and carried it for a while. I got several shaves a lot closer not long after that, so I threw the piece away and laughed at myself.
We stayed at this front known as St. Michael (often called the sector northwest of Toul) until March 15, 1918. We were relieved at that time by the Second Brigade. We lost a few men and several were wounded, but we were quite lucky. There was not a great deal of action at this Front.
The night of March 14 we hiked back quite a distance. The next morning trucks took us back to a training area, where we were to have a long rest and get some more training. We got the training, but I guess the rest must have just left for America we couldnt find it.
After we were out about a week (March 21st) rumor started that we were to go in again, as Fritz had started on a drive and was going to Paris. We were drilling eight hours a day while we were resting. We were told that we were going back and into a large battle this time. We had several inspections for the occasion. Among them were two by Gen. Pershing. We were out twice in front of our billets ready to go, when orders were changed.
Finally one Saturday evening we boarded a French special and after a few jerks back and forth the next morning we got off and started to hike. We didnt know how far, but before we stopped, found out that we passed through the outskirts of Paris that morning, and thats as close as I ever got to that city.
We were hiked all times of the day and night. After we reached a small town near the front we learned that we had come over three hundred miles and had hiked the most of that distance. We learned that we were going where there was real action on the Somme Front.
We saw hundreds of wounded French coming back and at a hospital there we saw a great many going out the back door, but they didnt walk. They were through with the war. They had gone west.
While we were looking through a window we saw a Frenchman when he awoke. His leg had been amputated. He looked up, and then down at his stub, and said: Finnie LeGuerre! meaning that the war was over for him. He didnt seem to feel bad about it, in fact he seemed to feel glad to know that he was through.
We saw some awful sights and, maybe, they did us good. That is, they sort of broke us in for what we were going to have a lot of.
After a few days rest we started out early one evening and after hiking all night reached the Front lines again. The roads were full of shell holes, as were also the fields. We knew that we were at a whole lot more active place than we had yet seen-.the shells were dropping around us quite fast. We lost a number of men that night going in. We had already commenced to think that Sherman was right, but now were convinced that War is hell.
We relieved the Algerians (a colony of France) at this sector. They were pretty well worn out, as they had been up against a pretty hard fight and had been in the trenches for twenty-three days.
We couldnt understand how they could endure it all. They were alive with cooties and left plenty of them behind for us. We had gotten rid of a few on our trip, but now were could get as many or more than we had before. We didnt mind their living expenses as much as we did their traveling expenses.
There were not as many of the French Negroes, as we called the Algerians, who left this sector, as there were entered it when they went in.
We were lucky enough to have a few men with us who could compre and Polly French enough to get along. The French Negroes told us about how many they had lost and were wounded. They had been replaced several times. They left plenty of proof, because there were several pieces of man lying about, and when the wind happened to be in certain directions the air was not very refreshing.
We stationed ourselves along in the trench. It was raining something quite unusual in France! Ha! We were soaked to the skin and there was plenty of water and mud in the trench. We didnt sleep any, because things were a lot more lively around there. Fritz furnished amusement enough to keep us awake. He must have known that a relief was made that night.
After daylight next morning he quieted down a bit, yet sending over a few shells now and then so that we wouldnt forget about the war. We couldnt lie down to sleep because there was too much water in the trench. We didnt dare expose ourselves or Fritz would greet us with torrents of shells. Every now and then there was a sort of a shelf, that is, a pile of dirt left up above the water line in some places. Some lay there and slept and then would change off with others who had been kneeling or crouching to keep from being seen.
That night we made some more shelves. We also had some cold slum about midnight our first since the night before about six oclock. We dipped some water out of the trench with our drinking cups and dug a few holes for the water to run into.
We lost a few men that day and had several wounded. One big fellow by the name of Brunner, a big husky fellow, was badly wounded in the stomach and lost a limb. The First Aid men started to take him back to the hospital, but shortly returned. We asked how they had returned so soon and they told us that Brunner had Gone West on the way. They had rolled him off onto the side of the path because that was their orders. We saw him there a few nights later.
That night a squad went after chow, but only half of them came back. A shell had burst amidst the bunch and had punctured our coffee can so we had nothing to drink that night. The part of the squad that did come back went directly to the hospital. Since then we have not thought very much about the boys being killed or wounded because it became a way of life and did not help.
A couple of days later, while we were all laying in the trench, a fellow by the name of Dickson (we called him Dicky) came running down the trench. He ran right over the top of us and was not very particular about where he planted his hobnails. He was on his way to the Lieutenant P.C. crying, Frazier got killed. Frazier was a fine fellow and a favorite of every man in the company. The Lieutenant thought a lot of Frazier and he went up the trench less particular about where he put his boots than Dicky was.
There was not enough left of Frazier to identify him. Even his pistol was blown to pieces. That one shell did a lot of dirty work. It not only got Frazier but another fellow by the name of Hecklesmiller. Another buddy of mine named McCarthy got a bad stomach wound and lost an arm. On the way to town that night he got gassed and died the next day.
Another fellow whose name I do not remember- we called him Texas- lost both legs just below the hips and had eighteen other wounds besides. His body was not buried, but his limbs were. When we lifted him out of the trench that night he put his hands up on the side of the trench to help us get him out. He said, I wish I could get one crack at those devils before I leave! A couple of days later we got word that Texas had died before he reached the hospital.
Up the trench a little further three fellows had been killed about the same time. They had bunched up, which was very often the case when a bombardment was going on, so as not to be killed alone. Instead of staying spread out as we should have done, we usually bunched up as best we could.
After a few days we began to look for relief. We were under a very heavy strain and were getting part of one cold meal a day. A great many of our men had been killed or wounded and we thought it was about time to feed up and also get a little sleep. One night about 40 fellows whom we had left behind joined us. Fritz had been shelling the reserves and got them started on the way in. These reserves brought along a bunch of rumors, among which was, The First Division is going back to the States to be used as a training division.
We brightened up pretty well because this rumor, like all others, came from a good source. Some fellow had told another that he had heard an officer telling another fellow about it and that it must be true.
A Major from the Third Battalion had been killed and buried. A shell came along and dug him up. He was buried again and again. Three times he had been buried and dug up twice. We used to say, every shell has a mans number. If that were true, the Major had three shells.
We remained in the trenches waiting for relief, but instead of a relief more replacements were being sent up to replace those who had been killed or wounded.
Each day we thought that that night would see us out of the trenches for a rest up. Some did go out. Some were relieved for good. Others went to the hospital, but those of us who were neither killed nor wounded had to stick and perform the duties of those who were missing.
One night an order came from Battalion P. C. for a bunch of men for detail. Word went back that we were sending all the men we could spare but not nearly as many as had been called for. Fritz had been feeding us a lot of gas and often we sat, lay, or walked about with our gas masks on for hours at a time. This was very uncomfortable, especially when it was warm and we had any hiking to do. Those noted details had to be done regardless of how much gas there was around.
One afternoon, while we were lying in the trench, a bombardment was going on. Fritz put over a few gas shells as well. I did not see or hear the gas shells explode and not having any idea that he was sending over gas, I did not have my gas mask on. I noticed the peculiar odor, but for a minute thought it was high explosive. As soon as I found it to be gas, I slipped my mask on, but did so too late.
That night, with a bombardment still going on, the Lieutenant sent a non-com to call for volunteers for the chow detail. I volunteered to go, but on the way back I got very weak and dizzy. I did not know what was the matter. We got to where we met the chow and, while waiting, something black and white started to circle about three feet above the level of my eyes. It kept coming down and down, and I kept going down.
I felt myself sinking and called for water. That is all I can remember.
When I awoke I was in a hospital and men from the medical corps were feeding me pills. They gained the required results. I vomited blood and green matter. I felt very weak and they told me I had been gassed. I dont know how long I had been unconscious, but something like a couple of hours is as near as I can figure it out.
After I had been there a few hours a medical Sergeant came along with a handful of tags. He tagged me and I asked him what that was for. You are going to a base hospital, he replied. I asked him if I couldnt remain where I was for another day and informed him that I would then try to go back to my Company. At first he said no, that they were awfully crowded for room, and then in a few minutes told me that I could stay there one day.
That night, just as it was getting dark, I got up and after getting a handful of pills I asked to go back to my Company. He asked me why?
Up to now several of the boys that had a yellow streak or cold feet used to pretend to be gassed in order to get away from the Front. I told the doctor that I would rather be sick up at the Front than have anyone think that of me. He told me there was too much proof in my case and that he would give me a note stating that it was not the fake gas that got me. I told him I would rather go back to my Company, but would thank him for a note to my Lieutenant excusing me from all details. He gave me the note and I returned to my Company. The chow detail met and I waited until they returned. I went directly to where my equipment lay. I hadnt reported to the Lieutenant, as I wanted to get a few minutes rest.
Somebody must have told the Lieutenant that I came back, because he sent for me to report to him if I felt able to. I did. He said Hello, Last; I thought you had been gassed and that you were in the hospital. I told him I had been gassed, and had been in the hospital, and produced the note from the doctor. I told him that I didnt want anyone to think me yellow or cold-footed and that is why I came back.
After reading the note he said: You go and lay down and if anyone asks you to do any work, you send that person to me. I laid around for a couple days and nights and then reported back for full duty.
We have had another gas attack and one Company (H) of two hundred fifty men sent all but 48 to the hospital. We also lost our gas officer a Lieutenant by the name of Hall. We sent several gassed men to the hospital this same night. The gas affected the eyes most and some of our boys were almost blind.
Still we were looking for relief, and still more replacements were coming up, but they did not replace us. At the end of fourteen days we were sure of a relief, but nothing doing. We only lived on hopes.
One day while lying in the trench on one of our mud shelves built up out of the water, I noticed the dirt crack. It had been raining and I was soaking wet shoes and all. My head was dry my tin Lizzie kept it that way. I watched the dirt crack and crumble down for some time and finally gave it up, thinking it would continue no further, when all of a sudden I became buried alive.
My head and one shoulder were out and if any of the Jerries had been listening Ill bet they heard me calling for help. I soon got it. They threw a good pile of dirt off from me. I thought my legs had been broken, as they felt that way.
The boys jerked me out and shook me up. I thought it quite a joke after I got out and got shook up and some of the dirt off from me. I then sat on the pile of dirt waiting for it to get dark so that I could clean out my trench.
It got dark and I got my trench all cleaned out, when an order came for Last to report to the Lieutenants P. C., which I did, and learned that I was to go to another sector and act as Liaison agent. Liaison means connecting. I was to connect the Company I was in to another one; that is, I was to carry any messages that the commanding officer of the new sector might have for the commanding officer of the sector that my Company was in.
A little fellow by the name of Lee had helped dig me out and said something about the dirt working about him also. That night before I left I told him he had better take my place, as there wasnt any more danger of the dirt caving in on him there. Yes, he replied, but there is a lot bigger gap for a shell to drop in. So I thought it was up to him.
The next night when I brought my first message over I asked how many men had been killed and wounded and learned that Lee had been buried alive and before they got him out he was dead. Also, Count, an Italian, had tapped a hand grenade and forgot to throw it, so one of his hands was blown off at the wrist.
One night I was stationed on an outpost in no mans land about 40 or 50 feet from a German machine gun nest, close enough so that I could hear them talking very low and hear the rain sort of ring on their helmets. I went on duty at midnight and remained there until daylight. It was on an old road with a bank about waist high on one side.
I was on guard and my orders were to shoot anyone I saw if I could handle them. If I thought there were too many I was to fall back to where there were a few more of the boys before the Huns saw me.
I was certainly on the lookout. It was raining and there I stood in the crouching position ready for instant action and ready to get down behind the bank every time a flare went up. There were plenty of dead soldiers out there who had been there since the big battle in March. The Germans had been stopped by the Algerian troops after breaking through on the English.
The Algerians, as I said earlier, held this sector for 23 days and up to now we had been there for going on three weeks so these dead were not very fresh. If I could have seen as well as I should have been able to, I would have had my gas mask on by all means as there was one dead man not more than 12 or 15 feet away, and several not much further. The wind was giving me full benefit of those remains.
The next night we were on a special stand to all night. We had gotten some information and were expecting Jerry over. We were under a very heavy bombardment all night and along toward morning Jerry did start to come- but he went back with fewer men than he started with.
After twenty-one days, we were finally relieved by our Divisions Second Brigade. They lost several men coming in. We actually got out pretty well, but didnt go far when Jerry seemed to locate us and he rained shells on us. We double-timed and after falling to the ground a great many times we seemed to get out of the barrage. We ended up in a big field of nice, tall grain with scarcely a shell hole. The Lieutenant said that this was a peaceful-looking spot and that we had better take a rest because we had been losing men all along the way who were too tired to go on.
We sat or lay down in the growing grain and it seemed so good not to hear that awful rumbling so close, and not to see the field speckled with shell holes. All of a sudden a shell landed right among us. Nobody got hurt but it threw dirt all over us and we got up.
Fritz played about three batteries on us for about half an hour. We were all sure that they must have some way of seeing us, for no matter which way we went they were right at us. We lost a few more men and also lost our way. It would soon be daylight and here we were. We hiked on, every now and then a man dropping out.
About six oclock we reached an old town quite a way back and could travel about that without being seen. We rested and talked about our close shaves. When we got to the other end of the town we found motor trucks waiting to take us back for a rest.
Up to now we had been on the Somme Front and held the sector directly in front of Cantigny, between Cantigny and Villera Tornell. The outpost I have mentioned was on a road right on the outskirts of Cantigny.
We got to our destination about 9:00AM and were marched to our respective billets where we feasted on warm slum, our first for over three weeks. We soon got another meal of beans.
We were an awful-looking bunch. Some had not washed during the three weeks and none had shaven. Our clothes had dried off on the way out and they were stiff with the mud. We hadnt had our shoes off for three weeks and when we got to taking them off, a blind man would have known it without being told. We were all tired and worn out. There was no place to bathe, only to get some water in a tin can and get a sponge bath.
After a couple of days we got a few clean clothes. We were getting a great plenty to eat because so many boys had left the Company and we were still getting full rations. We only got one meal a day in the trenches so of course the grub piled up. We were at Maisonelle and how well everyone who was stationed there will remember it.
We had been out of the trenches for about two days and then began to drill again. When we lined up, the whole Company was not larger than one platoon ordinarily.
The first two days we were out were spent trying to clean up and stand inspections. We had to wash our overcoats, uniforms, blankets, shelter halfs, etc. without water. The few French civies who were living in the town locked their wells so that we could get no water. We were lucky enough to have one officer get us enough for drinking and cooking purposes. The later was unfit to drink; requiring medication first. There were large basins or cesspools around the village that were used to drain the streets when it rained. In these places we washed our clothes and equipment. Our sleeping quarters were old, tumbled down buildings- anything from a house, to a chicken coop, to a hog pen.
Dame rumor was around pretty strong. As soon as the Second Brigade got fourteen days in, we were told, they were going to join us and wed be going back to Gods Country, the USA to be used as a training division because we had the most experience in French warfare. Wed been out just seven days when we were ordered to go back into the battle at once.
Wed had some rest, three meals a day, some drilling, and most of us had gotten cleaned up as best we could. The barber had been busy cutting hair. We had shaved several times, and had read and reread our shirts for cooties. When we saw a cootie we let him know there was a war going on.
We got rid of a few cooties, received some mail, had a chance to write a few letters and notes, and we were in pretty fair shape to go back to the Front again. About dusk we started; the motor trucks taking us up quite close before we hiked the rest. Evidently Fritz didnt know we were coming because he was pretty decent this time- only dropped a shell now and then. We had received more replacements and looked more like a company when we went back in. Those new men had never been up before and as Fritz was unusually quiet, they formed a better idea of the Front before they got into it. Then they changed their minds. We got into the lines without losing a single man. We couldnt understand why we had been 21 days in the trenches and the company that had relieved us had been there only seven. We soon found out that the reason was that we were to make the first drive ever made by Americans over here.
Preparations were being made nightly instead of daily for our drive. Each night they called for details to carry ammunitions and tools. The batteries were getting closer and closer to us. Ammunition dumps were being brought up closer and closer so the artillery could crowd up as the infantry advanced.
Once in awhile a truck got up quite close to the front. I remember one sight of a big truck loaded with ammunition that ran into a shell hole. The axle laid it up so that it could not be moved. Jerry could not help but see it and what a fine target it would be. They could also get an idea of what was going on over on our side. It was too late to get any other truck or means of getting the stalled truck out because it would soon be daylight. So the Doughboys were rounded up in a hurry to cut branches to get the truck camouflaged before Jerry could see it.
Jerry did not make things so exciting for us on this trip to the Front. He seemed rather quiet compared to what he had been. Rumors were afloat that the Germans were running short of ammunition and we were fools enough to believe it. Every now and the some one would say, I found a piece of shell and it had 1918 on it; they are shooting their shells at us as fast as they can make them and will soon be out of ammunition.
One morning Jerry dropped a shell into an ammunition dump about three hundred feet to our left. Things got very interesting indeed. He then sent over gas for two hours straight. We were sending bombardments over to Jerry quite often also, and plenty of them.
Five days passed and we had lost quite a few men, but not as many as the trip before. The Second Brigade relieved us again and we were to go in as support. We backed up for a little ways and settled in among some hills. There was plenty going on around us; a few hours more and it would be over the top at Cantigny for us for the first time. Everybody seemed to be more or less excited or anxious or something. I dont know if one can exactly explain the sensation. A Frenchman once said that it would be like a young man trying to express his feelings when he proposed to a young lady.
The time was set for 6:00am as it would be getting daylight. We turned our hands up very often to look at our wristwatches. Everyone seemed jolly enough, but we all did a lot of thinking. Soon the barrage tore loose, and it was some barrage. The aeroplanes got busy too.
A Jerry came over to see what was going on. He was dropped a short distance from where we were. The German had no more than hit the ground before he was stripped of his iron cross, watch, and ring by souvenir hunters. The barrage kept up steadily. Jerry let us have one in return and got quite a number of our men. Word came from the Front that the Colonel of the 23rd had asked the Colonel of the 18th for a company to reinforce his men. My company was sent up. We hiked about under shellfire in broad daylight, passing through very dangerous places. Gas was coming over pretty strong. We were double- timing with our gas masks on and ready to drop at any instant. We halted in a trench and remained there just long enough to get a little to eat- but we had nothing to drink. We started out running again and about dusk we pulled up close to the Front. We had to go slow because our runner got lost. Every time a shell dropped close by, we dropped to the ground.
We passed a number of dead and wounded men, some of whom begged us for help, but we could not stop to help them as our orders were to keep moving. We had lost some men, but none at all compared to the Company whose sector we had taken. There were just three men left there. I am not certain, but as I remember it was Co. I of the 28th Infantry.
Taking Cantigny was nothing compared to holding it after we got it. The Germans made nine counter attacks and nine times they failed. We didnt know what sleep was as we had to stand to all the time. Every little while this order would come down the trench, Pass it on- Stand to- Theyre coming! Theyre coming. Theyre going to flank us on the left!
This kept up for three days; one continuous rain of shells, no sleep, no eats, and all the water we got was what we took off the dead men by crawling out on the top and taking their canteens.
Men were being picked off to the right of us and to the left of us. Still the wounded who were not able to get back were lying about us in the trench, besides several who had some strength left were crawling down the trench and working their way to the rear as best they could. Some got back and some never did, as we found several dead on the way out. Some were blown to bits and others had just died. It was common to walk near a man or roll him over or give him a touch with the foot to see if he was asleep or dead. Three full days passed with nothing to eat.
The Lieutenant came around the other morning and asked for some volunteers to take a wounded man, whom the other Company had left there, to the rear. It was daylight and there were plenty of snipers on the job, and we thought again. A young fellow next to me and myself said that we would go if two more could be found. We looked at the man that we were to carry back. He had lain in the trench for three days without any care whatever. He had been badly wounded in the left forearm and had another wound in the stomach. He had a very dead look about him right then. A sort of film seemed to have grown over his eyes. He couldnt talk very much as he was very weak. I dont remember exactly what he said but I do remember that pitiful, thankful look when he learned that he was to be taken back to the rear. Soon two more of the fellows joined us and just as we were starting out the Lieutenant said, I am not sending you men. You are going of your own free will. We told the Lieutenant that we understood that. He told us that if snipers started shooting at us we should drop into the nearest shell hole and stay there until night. We were very weak and didnt get along very fast. Every time we heard a shell coming, we dropped our man as easy as we could and also dropped ourselves. Finally we got back to where no mans land had been before we went over the top. It was full of dead Algerians. There were not very many Americans at this place. These Algerians had been killed in March and the first part of April and now it was the first part of June. There was an awful odor all about and a dew that morning held it close to the ground where we had to drop very often among those Algerians who presented a horrible appearance. They were all bloated up to almost twice their normal size, the clothing of some having burst from the pressure. The flies and maggots had been at a great many of them and if we had had anything to eat during the last few days Im sure we would have lost it then and there.
As there were four of us carrying the litter it was very often necessary to step over one of those dead men or on them sometimes. In falling to the ground when a shell came our way we dropped close beside them for protection.
We soon reached the First Aid station and there we found a great many dead Americans- piles of them- who had gotten back for first aid and after receiving it had died before they could be gotten to a hospital. In several cases more shells from the Germans had come over and blown them and the litters they were in into little bits.
The doctors and the medical corps were also all in. We asked for something to eat and drink. They showed us where we could get water and told us where we could find something to eat just around the hill. We found food and plenty of it. There were also plenty of dead ones lying about and yet we lived to get what we were after. We found cans of slum, coffee, and beans. Some were blown up pretty baldy but others were whole. We crawled up and tested some slum. When we found what we thought was the freshest, we dragged it up to a hole and ate and drank. We then found a whole can of coffee and a sack of bread and started back.
We found an old communication trench and started down that. Two fellows carried the coffee on the sack of bread and the other two the litter. We reached our company and one platoon of that company surely ate and drank with thanksgiving. We lay about the trenches all that day. Fritz had let up a little bit but we still knew that a war was on.
That evening our Lieutenant asked if I would go as a guide to get our relief. I said that I would. At dusk I started, following my directions. I got back to where I was to meet our relief and sat down to wait for them. It was only about twelve to fifteen kilometers from the Front- but some hike on what we had been getting to eat and without any sleep for so long. While I sat there waiting I fell asleep. So did all of the others who were there. At the first sound of the trucks I awoke and woke the others who were still asleep. The trucks were very late. When we reached the Front lines it was turning daylight very fast. The officers from my Company were very angry toward the other officers for getting there so late, but they couldnt help it as some of their trucks got lost.
By the time the new relief got settled in it was daylight and we didnt dare go out or Fritz would have blown us to bits. We had to stay in that trench all day with our own company as well as the one relieving us. If Fritz had known it he would have had some fun. Think what a few shells could have done.
Our company knew enough not to expose themselves after what we had gone through the past few days and we had strict orders to shoot any man we saw getting up high enough. We lay there all that day hungry and thirsty. That evening, just before we were leaving , a bunch of the boys returned with a sack full of canned tomatoes. They had gone out in search of food without anyone knowing it and had found a crate of the tomatoes. We divided them by allowing one can for two men so that our hunger and thirst were somewhat checked.
At dusk we started out. After doing a lot of double time marching and losing several men who were not strong enough to keep up, we finally got out and back to a place where Fritz hadnt been dropping so many shells. We had a little rest and a few of the boys caught up to us.
We started out again and about midnight we reached a little town far enough back so that we felt quite easy. We got some warm slum, some cold beans, and some coffee and bread. That was quite a feed for us and we had all expected that we would receive convalescence time after going so long without any. The supply sergeant told us that he had a few blankets and some overcoats that we could cover up with.
Whenever we went into a fight we always left all of our personal belongings and other valuables behind, thinking that if we lived we could go back that way and get them. At some point during this battle, they had been collected and thrown into a pile. After that it was first come, first served. I hadnt gotten anything returned except a couple of letters.
While we were eating a runner came up to the captain and delivered a message. We were to go back into the lines at once. The Germans were making an advance and we were to relieve some French to our left who had been told to go and strengthen some of their lines at Montdidier.
The Major sent a runner to announce that it was impossible to go back that night, but that we would go the following night. We were told to get all the sleep we could, but that proved to be very little. We could not sleep. We were completely exhausted. And then the news that we were to go back before we had even finished a square meal! We were willing to do our bit, but we couldnt understand why we were being kept under this constant strain for so long. It was beginning to gnaw on us, especially those of us who had gone through the entire performance.
We talked about many things that day. One thing we discussed, I remember, was the pro Germans in the U.S. We spoke of some of their dirty
tricks and thought of what we were going through while they were sitting back there reading the newspapers and frowning when they learned that the Allies or us were making any headway, and smiling when they saw, Germans advance in the headlines. They were enjoying what we were suffering for and we declared that the Pro- Germans had better stay clear of us when we got back. I actually believe that every American soldier has said the same thing, but a great many people still listen to their pro- German friends as much as ever.
That evening I was called up and told that I was the Company runner until further notice. We got aboard trucks about 9:00pm and they hauled us most of the way- leaving us at Eselanvillers, from where we started on a hike and landed in a big forest. It was very dark and we had to keep hold of each other so as not to get lost.
When we got out into the open again, Fritz had just started another bombardment. We lay around a hill as close to the ground as we could until it was all over with. We started again and had to go through a lot of gas before we finally reached the lines.
There was an old chateau there and a Frenchman had been on guard at one corner of it. He had just been killed and had fallen against the ruins of the building, which made him appear to be just leaning there.
We took our posts and were told that we would be there for a few days- and maybe a lot longer. There had just been a battle on at this place and there were a lot of interesting things lying around- among them several dead Dutchmen.
This sector wasnt nearly as lively as what we had in the past and we were thankful enough for that, as we could stand the rest we got pretty well after the doings at Cantigny.
I was acting as Company runner and had several runs to make. I found some of them very interesting, especially when there was a bombardment and I had to get a message to some of the officers. Just then there were always plenty of runs to make. Our Company P.C. was in the basement of an old chateau at this place and things were pretty comfortable. This was in the village of Grevense and not more than a week before we settled there, the Germans were holding the town. Being stationed in the town we could walk about during the day without being seen by the enemy; that is as long as too many did not walk about together. One afternoon the Company mechanic and myself took a walk about, going into some of the old, ruined buildings where we saw the deviltry of the Germans.
We went into a very old and well- built chateau which must have been the home of many generations. Although the furniture was very old fashioned, it was very good and costly looking. In the recreation room was a pool table that had not been destroyed by enemy shells. The Huns had broken it. There was a piano that looked as though they had used an axe on it, as the whole front and back were knocked in. All the furniture was destroyed in this way. Several marble slabs were also broken.
We went into an old church but there wasnt much of it left. It was a Catholic church and all of the statuary had been knocked down and broken to bits. Shells had done their bit in tearing up the church, but what the shells had not destroyed, the Germans had broken before they left. Each of us picked up some pieces of ribbon lying around which we intended to keep for souvenirs, talking about the dirty work of the Huns while we observed the gross destruction being carried on by them. The church was hundreds of years old. Many generations had worshipped there, and here it was a pile of ruins and we were standing among them. We visited many places in this village and each represented a silent gruesome story. Were I to go into detail in writing about them, it would make a book.
We found a Hun aeroplane that had been brought down. The engine had been taken out, but the remainder of the plane was there- although pretty badly banged up. We studied different parts of it and each took some little brass signs or instructions printed in German.
After about ten days the Major came into the Company P.C. and said, Dietz, your men have had a pretty hard time of it and Im going to send you back on reserve. There are trenches dug there and all youll have to do is take it easy.
That night we started back for those trenches and Jerry must have known again that we were going out as he sent another storm of shells just as we were going through those dark woods. Limbs and trees were falling as well as shells bursting and we spent a good deal of our time on the ground. Finally we got out and reached a little village that the Major had directed us to. Here we were lost and could locate no one to find out where we were going. The runners were sent out. We stared down the road and found some soldier engineers. We asked them if they could direct us to some trenches near there. No they couldnt, but they could direct us to where there would soon be some trenches.
We went back and reported to our commanding officers and the Company was marched to where there would soon be some trenches.
Upon arrival there we were halted and told to unsling our packs. Then we were lined up and marched by a couple of engineers who kindly handed one man a pick and the next a shovel. Everybody took one; officers as well as privates. After being led by the engineers to where the string was laid out on the ground, everybody dug. There were no lazy ones in the bunch either. We were told that we would have to get done before daylight and would also have to get the dirt camouflaged with the green grain or Jerry would see us working; or see that we had been. We all cussed the engineers as we declared that we were doing their work.
We got down and got the dirt covered and it was just about daylight. We then had our meal, which we enjoyed doubly after our quick work. We then went to sleep and Jerry didnt bother us much as he hadnt yet discovered that we were there. This trench was protected from view by a forest on a hill and we could get around some in the daytime without being seen.
I was sent up to the Front that night with a message through the dark woods alone and got lost. After hiking for a long time I got out and delivered my message. I got back to the woods just as it was getting daylight, but didnt get lost this time.
When I got back we got orders to move to our left and dig in again. After we had dug in a second time we were sent still further to our left to occupy some dugouts in the side of a hill.
Things were pretty quiet here until one night the French artillery pulled in a few batteries among us and then Jerry tried to get them, and of course got some more of our men. After a few days the artillery moved back again. They had been expecting a drive.
With a light bombardment now and then, and a little gas now and then we had it pretty fair here considering what we had had. Of course we didnt have feather beds or meals served to us or anything like that. We had to keep all of our clothes and shoes on as we were subject to call at any time.
We stayed here for about fifteen days and were then relieved to go back for a rest, but still on reserve at Pilant- quite a ways back. Outside of the aeroplanes we were pretty well off here, but they managed to visit us almost every evening. They did quite a lot of damage here, but none to my Company. The supply Company was quartered in this town as well. A bomb landed among some mules and men and both were blown to pieces; also the building that they were in.
A fellow by the name of Brunner (a cousin to the Brunner of my Company who had been killed some time back) was missing. It was known that he had been sleeping near that building. He was found the next day over the top of a high brick wall, lying in a sort of trench with a leg blown off. This bomb had thrown him a distance of three hundred feet.
We got cleaned up at this place and started to drill. That was the usual rest we got. Pilant was a fair- sized village and hadnt been blown up very much, only by the bombs that had been dropped. It looked quite peaceful with beautiful flowers and fine gardens growing in almost every yard. Several civilians were still clinging to their homes as long as they could; others who hadnt valued their homes so highly or who may have been more able to do so, had left. Perhaps those who remained there had nothing else in the world beside their homes.
When there was any news to be given out to the French people, a Frenchman went around with a drum which he beat on the street corners, and the people would then congregate and listen to what he had to tell them, and then hed go to the next corner or settlement. Sometimes this was good news and sometimes bad. One morning just before first call was sounded, we heard a drum not far from where we were and we looked. They appeared to have received bad news, as they all went back to their homes with their heads down and some were crying.
We soon found out that they had been given orders to leave that town as the Germans were expected to make a drive. It was not long until we would see others, each carrying a small bundle, perhaps a change of clothes, going out with their children. An old man with long gray whiskers and slowed down by his advanced age was trying to lead two cows out. They had long horns and were swinging their heads trying to get away. Finally one of them struck the old gent in the face with her horn and he had to let go of her. Then the second grew more impatient. An American soldier ran up and helped the old gent hold it. Several other soldiers ran after the cow that had gotten away and after catching it they brought it back and tied the two together. They helped the old gent get started again. There was a lady with the old man. She was a young woman, perhaps his daughter, and her husband was in the army. She was pushing a baby carriage down the road. It was so loaded with things that she could not see over the top of it, so she had to look along side once in awhile to see where she was going. It was a pitiful sight for everyone except the Huns.
Every house had furniture in it, and some had all of the furniture remaining. We were told to leave everything as it was or we would be court-martialed, which was a very good thing as some undoubtedly would have disturbed things without thinking about what they were doing.
One family left a cow with some of the boys and they had some real milk, as long as we were in this town. Chickens were quite common about the place, but quite naturally there were fewer when we left. If the French people who left there were human, they must have expected that. They also left some rabbits to be looked after. The last time I saw them they were still alive.
About every day we saw some civilians return; maybe carrying out a little bundle, but they were doing so against orders. One family came back with a big two-wheeled wagon and a horse to get a load.
We actually got our mail at this place. On account of my having previous experience with the handling of mail, I was made mail orderly. My duties were to get the mail to the boys in the hospital and to those who had been transferred. Thos who had been killed or had died from other causes I marked Deceased and those were returned. Under the new military postal and express orders a representative from each company was to be sent to the central P. O. I was recommended and was waiting for my call.
On the 3rd day of July an order came out to issue a twenty-four hour pass to ten percent of the company. I managed to get my name in for a pass to take effect at twelve oclock. We were allowed to visit Beauvias. This town was of fair size and about 30 kilometers from Pilant, where we were stationed.
Beauvias was in Picardy . We were furnished with no means of transportation, nor were where any to be obtained unless we were lucky enough to catch a ride on one of the trucks.
We started out on foot. A truck overtook us and took us down the road past a few towns, and then by foot again we went several kilometers further, before we gained another truck. We reached Beauvias about six oclock. The people there were celebrating our Independence Day. Business places were locked up.
The first thing we did was look for a restaurant or café. We wanted to see how it felt to get our feet under a table and to eat like real human beings again. We found out. We could tell you by the sensation felt by our stomachs; secondly be the jostle of our pocket books. We were informed that everything would be locked up at nine oclock, and that no lamps could be lighted after that hour on account of air raids, of which this town got quite a few. Most of the inhabitants of the town spent time in trenches dug outside the town for that purpose.
We went to a hotel and got a real feather bed. When we got into it we sank most out of sight. We all declared we would never get up. We were willing to take a chance on the air raids. We could lie in a trench any old night, but when we have the chance to sleep in a real bed- and when would our next one be?
We didnt sleep very well. The boys who were not on pass also enjoyed themselves. They had ball games and different kinds of races. Some French generals were there who made addresses and we were told of our good conduct in this sector. Citations from the French headquarters were read and posted on our billboards at all company orderly rooms.
When the French general read the citation and made his address he said that the French who had previously defended that sector would long be remembered as the heroes of Grevance. You men are the heroes of Cantigny!
We had been attached to the French army and now we were being released again and were to go back for a long rest.
About the 6th of July we started back and after hiking all night stopped in another small town where we were told that we were to await transportation. We remained here a few days and word came that we were to parade in Paris on the French National holiday of July 14th.
The order was changed after another day and called for one company to be picked from the Battalion to be sent to Paris. They left us on the 12th for Paris and on the 14th at sunset a bunch of French trucks came and got us.
We rode all night and reached a small town about 9:00 on a Sunday morning. We could see the Eiffel Tower in Paris from there. We were then told that we were going into Orleans as soon as some other Division that was there got out and made room for us.
Orleans was an American rest camp and a pretty decent place from what we had heard. We got a little sleep Sunday but no eats as our rations were coming via mules and had not reached there yet- although they had started out a day early. That evening we got a little something to eat.
Monday after getting cleaned up, the Company went out to drill. The French trucks pulled in again and we supposed that we were going the rest of the way to Paris by truck. The rumors were that every man was to have a leave of absence to visit Paris. We waited until evening when we were told that we were waiting for our wagon train. When the wagon train arrived, each man was given two vandeliers of ammunition. We still looked at the sunny side of things and hoped that we had been issued that ammunition in order to make the load lighter for the mules.
We started what we thought was to be the end of our journey to Orleans, but we soon found that we were just commencing a new one. Our rest was still coming to us, and whenever we passed a graveyard we called it a rest camp. We do not always know who or when, but all of us have a pretty fair chance of getting there.
After riding all night again, we unloaded about 10:00 the next morning in a big forest. We were told that it was Belleau Wood, but personally, I dont think it was, because it was not shot up very badly. We remained here for a few hours, trying to get a little rest. We had been very uncomfortable in the trucks, as we were very crowded, and it seemed good to stretch out again. We were soon called to Fall in. We slung our equipment and started to move. We headed down a steep hill with large trees on each side of us. I saw someone lying near he side of the road. The man being so small, I took a second look at him. There lay my pall, Kelly! I looked to see if he was dead- he wasnt. He was asleep; exhausted, as were many others. We, too, were ready for sleep, and it was very hot.
When I saw that Kelly was not dead, but seemed to be resting peacefully, I kept on going, as I did not want to get away from my Company. I could not have double-timed that day under any conditions. We hiked and hiked, and hiked some more. We went up a steep hill and entered another forest, or perhaps part of the same one. This place was very clean and looked like a park.
As we moved further in, we saw more soldiers who had just landed. Some pegs were stuck into the ground with little slips of paper: A,B,C, and we turned in at G. After right dressing for a while, to be sure that we had a straight line, we unslung our equipment and fell out for a rest.
How long were we going to stay here? We could stand this place very well. It was another picnic, only we didnt have the eats. Our kitchen and supplies were coming- but when? We were hungry, and very frequently, the question, when do we eat? would echo through the forest.
After I had rested for a little while, I went to where the paper on the peg said Company A. I knew a great number of the boys there. Ike Malman, a favorite friend of mine, was asleep. I woke him up and we had a little talk. Of course, the first person I asked about was Kelly Kowan. He informed me that Kelly had played out and was waiting for an ambulance. Ike had just gotten back from the hospital himself. He had been gassed. We talked for quite a while about the number of boys who had gone west; boys we knew very well because they had been in our former Company.
Just before dark our kitchen pulled in and we had some half-cooked slum. All lights and fires had to be out before dark, so we had to eat our slum half-cooked, but we were glad to get it. We rolled up in our blankets on the ground, and went to sleep once more.
The next morning, after policing up, we lay around. We were waiting for the rest of our Company to join us. They had been to Paris on parade, and now we would all be going toward Berlin on another parade. This one would be in battle formation.
The next night, about seven oclock, we started out with light packs. It rained, and we were soaked. The roads were very muddy and crowded. We were held up because there wasnt a space large enough for us to get through as ammunition trains and trucks were all mixed up in the road. We were stopped many times, but never long enough for a rest. Often we would move ahead no more than five or six feet and then stop again. Trucks were coming and going. Some had taken the wrong way as there was supposed to be only one-way traffic. It was getting toward daylight, but we had not yet even reached the trenches and we were to go over the top at four thirty a.m.
We reached our field artillery just as they opened up firing, and I for one, will say that they surely opened up! There was a large dugout in the side of a hill and we stopped there for a few minutes for a rest. Our Captain took out his map and looked up our sector. We started again, going down a steep hill. Some boys were right side up when we landed and some were not. We went through an old village but there was nothing left of it except mortar and stone speckled with shell marks.
By this time Jerry was reciprocating our barrage. Shells were flying very thick. Now and then a man would drop, but no one dared stop to see how badly he was hurt. We soon reached the line and just kept on going. We soon saw a bunch of Germans and as far as we could hear, they were all yelling, Kammerad! They were always kammerads when they were up against it, but no one knew when one of those devilish kammerads was going to plug him in the back. A couple of men were sent to the rear with them. As we advanced, we found several wounded Germans and occasionally an American, but we did not lose many this day.
We left our First Aid man binding up a wounded German, and thats the last we ever saw of him. Had a stray bullet or a shell hit him, had some other German done a job, or had he gone back? These were matters of speculation, but nevertheless he hasnt rejoined our Company.
We searched all dugouts and occasionally picked up a few more prisoners. We put them to work carrying wounded men to the rear so they could get help. We made them carry our own men and the wounded Germans as well.
We searched several dead Germans and some of the boys got pistols and watches. One wounded German with a Red Cross on his arm was pulled into a shell hole by a runner and myself because we could not stop long to help him. We kept on advancing and when we reached our objective we dug in. We did not have much to go against, because Jerry had been busy retreating and getting as much of his artillery back with him as possible.
We were not far from another village. We were all very thirsty and hungry. I asked the Captain for permission to go into the village and get some water. He gave me permission but warned me to look out for poisoned water. As I passed through the village, I saw come ruins that were being used as a First Aid Station. Quite a few wounded men were lying about. German prisoners who had been wounded were lying right among our own men. A shell had landed not long before and got several of them. It was an awful sight, but along with it was the consolation that Jerry had killed a number of his own men while killing ours.
I soon reached a spring. There were a number of kammerads there and I took my pistol in my hand. There were also a few Americans about, taking care of the wounded and getting them to the hospital as fast as possible.
I pointed my pistol at a bunch of Germans near the spring and said, Drink. They drank from the spring. Without asking any questions I waited a while and then began to load my canteens. One German helped me. I must have had a dozen or more canteens gathered from the rest of the boys. I waited until the canteens were all full and then, seeing that the Germans were all still alive, I took one good big drink.
I saw a garden a little ways from there and started toward it. I had asked a First Aid man to keep his eye on the canteens and he said that he would. When I reached the garden, about all I could find was onions. I got a big armful of them and then went back to the spring, took another drink and fastened the canteens about me to start back toward my company. I gave out a few onions and drinks along the road.
When I reached the Company a few of us ate and drank. We had some canned monkey meat and our meal consisted of monkey meat and green onions. The captain gave permission to a few men from each platoon to go get water. We all declared that we would never eat onions again.
Later that evening some French went by to our right. They were to go over with us the next morning. It was a pretty sight- hundreds of hundreds of horses dashed by. The next morning about 4:30 we started again, obtaining the same results from the previous day- taking many prisoners and seeing many others who had gone to their own rest camp. The cavalry had gotten many of them and they were now going to the rear. We were again the first wave instead of the second. That afternoon we were in among artillery that we had captured and we were getting our share of shells from Deutschland. I dont think Fritz knew that we were there, but he was trying to destroy his own artillery before it was captured. Some of our men were wounded, but I did not hear of any being dead that afternoon.
That night we had our first feed in two days with the exception of onions and monkey meat. We got some slum that had been out looking for us all day, and when it found us it was thinking of turning sour. Never the less, we were glad to get it. After eating, we crawled up by the Germans. The aeroplanes got traces of us and dropped flares which lit up the whole country. The Huns dropped bomb after bomb among us and many of our men were killed or wounded. There sure was some crying, as there is no man who can say he is not afraid of bombs. We dug in just enough so as not to be exposed- each man in a hole about two feet wide and six feet long. They were just like graves, and a great many men really did dig their own graves here. We remained here all night and until about two oclock the next afternoon.
Some of the boys had been sent out for water. Before they returned, the order had been sent to our Company to move to our left and advance. About the time we were getting ready to move, Jerry succeeded in getting a range on us and we lost a few men in a hurry. When we started out, the Captain told the Company clerk to remain and guide the other boys up to where the Company was going.
He had not gone far when the First Sergeant called to me and said that I had better go back to get them because the Company clerk would not find them. I didnt say anything but I was wondering how I was expected to find the Company if the Company clerk couldnt. I asked the Sergeant where we could join them and he said that he didnt know- the company clerk was supposed to tell me. I found the company clerk and gave him the orders that I had received. I asked him for the directions that he had been given as to where to join the Company. He didnt know!
Just to the left in advance. I laid down in one of the grave-like holes. Shells were bursting all about us and fast. It was a good thing that the Company had gotten out of there or they wouldve been blown to bits. A piece of shell struck me on the knee, but it had slowed and merely paralyzed me knee for a few minutes.
I heard someone groan. I looked around, but I couldnt see anyone. Soon I could make out the boys coming with the water. They had gone a long ways for it.
Where is the Company?
To the left and advance had been our only instructions. How could I tell? We heard the groan again and this time we discovered the source. We went toward it and there lay a man from our Company who had been hit just a few minutes before starting out. He was pretty badly shot up. His right arm was broken and twisted underneath. We straightened him out as best we could, bound him up, and then stuck his rifle into the ground and tied a piece of white bandage to it so that someone would go and help him out.
We traveled to the left and met some soldiers. I happened to know two of them because they were out of Company A and had been in my former Company. I asked if they had seen any soldiers pass that way.
Yes, they said, They went toward a village and some of the boys said they had been relieved. We headed toward that village, but from some soldiers who were there, we learned that no one had passed through within the last few hours.
It happened to be very hot so we stopped under a tree to rest. We were trying to decide which way to go. My directions had said, To the left and advance. That could be one hundred feet to the left or that many kilometers. How could I tell from my instructions?
While we were trying to decide, we saw some wounded men coming down the road, trying their best to get to a hospital. As one of them neared us, we recognized a Corporal; being a bowlegged person, he was easy to recognize from quite a distance.
We started out to meet him. He had been hit with a piece of shell, but had tied himself up and thought he could get back to where he could get help. We asked him where the rest of our Company was. He informed us that what was left of our Company was in the direction he pointed out to us. We saw a lot of dead Germans along the road and knew that something had been doing.
We soon met a new Sergeant who had his shoulder blown off. He knew that if he waited for an ambulance, it would be too late. He emptied most of another canteen. He pointed us to where he had left the Company, but what was left of them was on the move. We kept on moving and struck a ravine between two hills. One hill was very steep and served as good protection from German artillery. This place was being used as sort of a First-Aid station.
Here we found several of our men, some severely wounded and others no worse off than the two we had just met. They were waiting for an ambulance, but none would come before night. We passed our water around as far as it would go and we were glad to give it to them, but what about the poor boys that were still in the game?
We asked these soldiers where the Company was, and they answered the same way the previous soldiers had. When we last saw them they were still going forward, but there werent many left.
We started off after wishing these boys a speedy recovery. Some obviously would never recover, but we tried to cheer them up at the time. They had done their bitgiven their liveswhile some pro-Germans might live in a free country like the U.S.
We went towards some boys in a large grain field and inquired as to the whereabouts of Company C of the 18th Infantry. They didnt know; they belonged to the 16th. We were surely surprised. We were not even near our own regiment
We went to the left and saw some men going toward an old village. As we got closer we concluded there must be water there. I told the boys that if they would wait for me, I would go and get some water, as it would never do to go to the Company with all of our canteens empty.
I started down the hill carrying a
pretty good load of canteens. There was a well there all right, but it was an open one and the bucket had been dropped into it so many times that the water was actually filthy, but there were dozens of men around there who were getting all they could to drink as fast as they could draw it up. They were very thirsty- perhaps hadnt had water all that day. It was very hot. I had had a little water not long before, but I also filled up on this water. I shook as I did so. If I should see a dog drinking anywhere near as filthy looking water, I would drive him away unless I wanted to see him die.
I filled the canteens and started out with a good load. Just as I started I met another man from my Company who told me where the Company was. I waited until he took his turn to drink and fill the canteens, and when he had filled them we started out for where I had left my two pals-and then we headed toward our company.
Our new arrival had some awful things to tell us. The Sergeant-Major and a great many others had been killed. One single shell had blown five men from our company into pieces and wounded several others.
We jogged along, ducking to the ground now and then, whenever we heard a shell sizzling our way. Just as we reached our company, a shell burst right near the captains group. It covered one fellow up pretty well, but no one got hurt. We went to the captain and told of our experiences, explaining about the men we had seen who were wounded and how badly they were hurt.
A report was made and another runner was sent back to where the five men had been blown to pieces. He was to get any personal effects, and identification tags. He came back with a few letters, a few tags, and a watch. Some of the effects on the men had been blown up so badly that they could not be identified. We then got busy and dug in, each making himself another grave shaped hole. With the exception of a few who were place on gas guard, we slept. Fritz didnt bother us that night because he hadnt gotten our new location.
About ten oclock that night our Mess Sergeant arrived on the scene and reported that he had something for us to eat. The problem was that the MPs back of the line, who were getting plenty to eat themselves, wouldnt allow him to pass with the food.
The Captain got busy and secured an order for the mess sergeant that allowed the food to come up. He brought up beans, coffee, and plenty of bread. We ate the beans, drank the coffee, and laid in a good supply of bread (besides what we ate) for future use. We then tried to go back to sleep. It had been and still was raining. I had two loaves of bread that I was carrying for a little group of us. I didnt want to get it wet so I wrapped it up in my blouse and used it for a pillow.
The next morning we were awakened in a hurry. A runner from brigade headquarters came in all out of breath to move to the left of where we were and go over the top. The railroad track was to be our jumping off place and we were to reach there before daylight or Fritz would clip us down as we were going over the track.
We were on our feet in a minute. It had sprinkled all night and all of us were very wet. I got into my blouse and fastened the bread to my light pack.
We got into battle formation and advanced double time. When we got to the railroad track we had to go down a very steep bank. Nobody walked down that incline. Some were lucky enough to stay right side up, but very few. At first I tried to keep my bread dry, but forgot about it in a hurry. This was the morning of July 21st, the day of one of our biggest battles- at Soissons.
The first resistance we encountered was a few machine guns and some infantry. We advanced and took all who were not dead as prisoners. We advanced a little further and struck a row of machine gun nests. Here we lost quite a few of our men, among them the Top Sergeant who was hit in the chest by a machine gun bullet. They were sure cutting the grain about us. We finally reached them and then they were all Kammerads. We destroyed their guns and sent the prisoners to the rear. A young fellow from the South jumped a bunch of them and took 33 prisoners. He got these not even knowing that they were there, and even he was surprised. These German prisoners were making a lot of noise, evidently pleading with us for mercy. Perhaps they expected we were going to kill them, as they were in the habit of doing with their prisoners.
We advanced up a short, steep hill and the Company went up one by one. As the Captain stopped by the bottom, it was my duty to stay next to him since I was the runner. While I was standing there, a shell landed right beside me; so close that I could feel the heat of it. The next moment I was on the ground. The shell had come so close that it had torn the earth right out from under my feet and knocked me down from the torrent of earth that was burying me.
The next thing I remember was trying to get up. I could not hear anything. After I finally managed to get up and shake myself off, I walked over and asked a fellow from South Dakota named Rusty if I was bleeding anyplace. I felt numb all over and did not know whether I was actually injured or not. He looked me over and couldnt find anything. I noticed blood coming from one of his ears, but told him not to be frightened because I couldnt see any wound.
I went and sat down on an old log at the front of the hill and was aware that someone sat down beside me. I dont know who it was for sure, but have every reason to believe it was Rusty. He was our gas NCO and also belonged to the Captains group. While I was sitting on the log, a shell burst about thirty feet in front of me. As was very natural I ducked my head in that direction so that my steel helmet might guard off any pieces of shell coming my way. As I did so, something big landed on my neck. I didnt know what had struck me and yelled, Take that off my neck! No one responded. I was afraid to move for a second after what I had just gone through. Presently I turned my head sideways and saw that it was a mans leg lying across my neck and shoulders. I reached up and threw it off. It was the biggest part of the man who had been sitting beside me. I couldnt stop to examine the man, but think that it must have been Rusty.
I was in an awful state of misery. My hearing was coming back slowly, but there was an awful ringing in my ears. I started up the hill. When I got near the top, down rolled Corporal Gilberts yelling. His whole face had been torn off by a shell that had burst near the top of the hill.
We advanced a little further, having to go through a swamp and jump a creek. I wasnt in the best of jumping order that morning. I fell into the creek and sank into the water up to my hips. The Captain and a runner helped me out and I made some remark about this being my off day. We had gone through one line of Hun infantry and another of machine guns. After advancing a ways we ran into another line of infantry. They were well-fortified and were prepared to hold their own. They were not very close and we could get only a glimpse of them once in awhile.
My hearing had now come back enough so that I could hear orders. We had been given orders to lie on the ground and fire. The Captain had been trying to locate the enemy by field glasses but they were so far off that they were hard to locate. I was carrying a 45 pistol. I fired a few times before the captain suggested saving my ammunition for closer up and surer. I took his advice and only fired when I thought there was a possible chance of hitting my target.
While lying there a shell dropped about a hundred feet from me and something hit me on my left hip. It hurt, of course, but for a moment I thought that a piece of stone had hit me. I took hold of the grass and pulled myself along. The blood was running quite freely now and I soon realized that I had been punctured by a piece of highly explosive shell. I did not know at the time how badly I was wounded.
I got up and staggered down the hill so as to be out of the enemys sight. I removed the clothing around the wound. Trying to walk had been very painful and I was suffering much pain. The blood was running fast and I decided a blood vessel must have been pierced. Two fellows from F Company of my battalion came toward me. They looked at my wound and said they would have to help me to wrap it very tight to stop the flow of blood. Then I guess I fainted dead away.
They wasted a little water in getting me (back) so that I could help myself a bit. I got my first aid packet out and they opened it and bound me up better. It was customary for anyone who carried a pistol to leave it with someone at the front who might use it. Anyone carrying a riffle could easily carry a pistol as well. It might come in handy in close quarters, so I gave mine to one of the boys who had helped dress my wounds and then I started back.
I realized I could not expect help to get back. I started to walk, but at each step I yelled in pain. I got down and tried to crawl but that was worse than walking. I got up to walk again and it was very painful, but I did the best I could.
Soon two Sergeants from my Company overtook me. One had been hit in the forearm and the other in the shoulder by a rifle or machine gun bullet. They took hold of me and we all started on our way to a First Aid station. They held me up so I could get along on one foot.
As we walked slowly along we saw another fellow soldier. He was a North Dakota boy and was very nervous. He had only a small scratch on his hand, evidently from a thorn or barbed wire. Still, he could not get over the idea that he was wounded. We soon saw that he was either shell-shocked or had gone insane, and we concluded the latter.
We all kept going and soon saw the remains of a town in the distance. We started for it. I told the boys that if I got there I could find protection among the ruins while they went back and got someone to come for me.
Up to now we had been going through brush, swamps and woods. When we got out into the open and into a field of growing grain, bullets began to fly about us. We could see no one, but as the bullets became thicker and faster we commenced to feel alarmed. We could not understand why anyone would be shooting at us behind our lines, as we had been going to the rear all this while. We all yelled.
Whether our yelling or their shooting caused them to get up and look around I dont know. Suddenly there were a hundred or more Germans shooting at us from no more than two hundred feet away. My friends dropped me and ran for their lives. I could not run and the fellow who was either shell-shocked or insane did not attempt to.
Even though they were right near us, and we were unarmed, they kept shooting at us. The machine gun bullets were cutting ruts in the earth near our feet. The grain was falling in places as if it was being cut with a knife. At first a great number of Germans started for us on the run, but then some went back and only a few came. These few kept shooting. I suppose they wanted us to throw up our hands, but I had made up my mind not to do that, or to call them Kammerad. In advancing, we had lost our liaison or connection; that is, we had separated and left a gap and in going to the rear we had wandered into that gap.
I cannot explain how I felt or all the things I thought of. Like most of the American soldiers that I know, I had said I would always keep one bullet to use on myself before I would let a Hun get hold of me. Being captured was the last thing I thought of, especially when I was going back to the rear- and with two of our own men. Those few Huns who came up to us kept shooting at us. I yelled at them as loud as I could, Hey! Still they kept shooting. I yelled Hey, again even louder this time. One lowered his rifle and beckoned me toward him, saying Schnell, Schnell. He meant- Hurry up! I turned my hip toward him and said very loud, Nix, shaking my head at the same time. My breeches were soaked with blood and he could easily see that I was wounded.
He came closer and gave me a jerk that was by no means gentle. My blood boiled to think of having a Hun jerking me around, but I soon found out that this was nothing.
He mumbled something in Dutch, and it must have been something that wasnt in the dictionary. I dont think he was calling me any nice names. Having spent a few years among German- Russians, I could understand and speak their lingo pretty well, but I found it to be a whole lot different than regular German. I could understand a little of what these Huns were saying and they could understand me a little, and this made it a lot harder for me as they thought I was putting them on. As near as I could understand at that time, they said: You are a German and still you fight against us and then they took turns swinging and kicking at us.
The fellow who was insane sort of came to himself once in a while and would talk a little bit, but most of it was irrational- for which I was glad. He didnt remain sane very long and would again be as demented as ever. These few Jerries took us to where there were more of them and one Hun took his gun by the muzzle, and started to swing it toward my head. Another fellow caught the back of it as he was swinging it and they had a little scrap between themselves. If he had struck me I wouldnt be writing these notes. He also called me some name that I hadnt heard before.
As we marched along everyone whom we passed had something to say or do to us. Every once in a while we would receive a push, a slap, or a stick with a rifle, and we were called names: Amerikaner Swine, for one.
Entry Twenty- two
On our way to the rear we passed a bunch of Germans and one of them had the gall to ask for a cigarette. I had a few cigarettes but would have rather had them stamped into the ground than give them to that cuss. Thinking it was best to do, however, I pulled them out and the way they pecked about me wasnt slow. The cigarettes were gone in a hurry. I wished that I had more, as I did not receive so many knocks from this bunch, and perhaps I could have gotten away with a package or two.
The poor fellow with me was a joke. I asked him to help me along, as my pain was getting worse all the time and I suffered from it very much. He would take hold of me and help me along, and all of a sudden he would let go and start off in a hurry. I guess he must have been seeing things.
Our artillery was dropping a few shells over where we were, and there were several dead Huns, and several wounded ones. All of the cussings we got that day werent a few. Every German soldier had something to say. As we marched along, our escort with a rifle and fixed bayonet, would drop to the ground every once in awhile when a shell came near. We didnt drop. I told the guy with me that I would die happy if one of our own shells got me and took the Jerry with us. He said that he would too and we were wishing that the next shell would be ours. After all we had heard, we thought that we would die before we got to a hospital or prison camp. Up to now about the only questions that had been put to us were, How many Americans are in France? and How many are this front? We were expecting a questioning by some officers and thought we had better get prepared. Our guard did not understand American and did not try to stop us from talking. The few simple questions already asked of us had been asked by just common soldiers, merely to satisfy their own curiosity. I asked my pal if he didnt think we should stretch the number of Americans in France a little. He seemed to think so, but wasnt sure of his surroundings so I didnt say a great deal to him. He still imagined that he was wounded.
We reached a dugout and were led into it. There was an officer who had been in America and could speak pretty fair English. He wasnt bad to us. He laughed and made fun of us for coming over the water as he termed it. He asked how many American soldiers were in France and I told him two million. He said he didnt believe it, as their U boats were sinking a lot of American ships. I told him their U boats hadnt sunk a single one of our boats yet, with the exception of a Red Cross ship that was loaded with wounded soldiers. He then told me that if there were that many American soldiers in France that they were all in Paris, promenading around with the French girls. I told him that no American soldiers were allowed in Paris, except on duty behind the lines. He soon dismissed us and we were hiked on.
Standing still had given my hips a chance to swell and get stiff, which made it all the more painful. We passed some Austrian artillery and they, too, had some pleasant names, knocks, and slaps in store for us.
Whenever there was no other Hun near the one who was driving us, he was pretty decent, but as soon as he had a few of his friends about him he was very mean.
Along the way I picked up a stick to help myself along. He made me drop it. I guess he was afraid I might take a swipe at him. We passed several German soldiers and all had something for us, if it was only Amerikaner swine. I was commencing to think that maybe I was a swine because I was being called that so much.
We reached another village and were led into a large building. We were stopped in the hall and the guard went into a room. I looked into it and saw a bicycle fixed up to run something that looked like a dynamo. I looked at my buddy and winked and pointed out the rig to him. I couldnt think of what this rig was for, but thought perhaps they might rock us to sleep- never to awake. I had heard of so many stunts that they had tried that I put nothing past them. We couldnt talk or they would hear us.
Soon the door of the room opened and a big, fat husky Hun officer appeared on the scene. Fatty Arbuckle hasnt got much on him when it comes to size. He was as grouchy and ugly as he was large. He cussed us and asked us what we had lost on this side of the water. We said that we were over because we had been forced into the war by Germany, but he took it that we were sent to France against our will and said it was a lie, that we didnt go into the army in America unless we wanted to- as we had no militarism. I then told him as best I could that our government was drafting men too in wartime. He was a hard customer and wouldnt listen to that. He said to the guard: Raus mit dem und auf hangen. The guard looked at him and then at us. The officer said Loos and the guard turned his rifle toward the door that we had come in. We started out. The fat Hun stood there howling as we went toward the door. I looked toward my buddy and winked at him again.
I had understood what the Hun had said and really thought that our minutes were numbered. When we got to the door, in walked a very tall and thin man, also a Hun. He had braid enough on his shoulders for a dozen men. He stopped and said: Vas is das? The guard answered Amerikaners. This fellow could speak good English, as he had attended some college or university in America.
You are Americans, are you?
Why do you fight against us?
Because our country has declared war on your country.
He asked me why and I told him they had been sinking our ships. He asked me how many Americans were in France, and I told him 2 million. The big, fat ugly looking Hun, who had ordered us to be hanged had shown up- and he was again making a lot of noise. The tall one must have out-ranked him, and he seemed to have the say. The tall one asked if Americans killed wounded Germans who had been captured. He said that he had heard that we did that. I told him that if any individual did that, they did so against orders. He asked me if we were getting short of food, and I told him that we had plenty. I said that I didnt think that we were going to be short, as we had very good crops in the States.
He talked in a very low tone to the ugly officer. As my ears were still on the bum, I couldnt hear what was said. Anyhow, we were hiked out again and into a very large dugout. There were a great many men in there, and also horses.
Later we were hiked out again, and had a new escort- a man on horseback, and one walking. This new guard seemed to think that I was going to run. The fact is that I could hardly walk because my hip pained me so much. He kept saying Schnell, Schnell. I said, Nichts, and pointed to my hip. I was doing the best I could at walking. He said something again, but all I could understand was the word, Officer. I took from that that the officer had given orders for him not to let us take it easy on the way. When we got around the curve in the road, he cooled down and wasnt in such a hurry.
We passed some more soldiers in Company formation on their way to the Front. Several of these took a slap, poke or kick at us, and all called us names and laughed and jeered at us. After quite a hike we reached another village and were led up to another building.
One guard went in and out came a gang of officers, several of whom spoke a little English. This must have been some large headquarters. They all seemed to be having a lot of fun. Some asked us how we liked fighting the Germans; others asked what we had lost on this side of the ocean. One asked if it was true that we hung up dummies and ran our bayonets through them and called them the Kaiser. If it hadnt been under the circumstances I was in, I would have laughed good and hard. I told him that some of the soldiers might have called the dummies the Kaiser, but that the government had never officially named them as far as we knew.
They asked how many Americans were in France and I told them two million- and that there were ten million more coming in answer to their question as to how many soldiers we had.
We were now about ten or twelve kilometers from the Front. Although I had asked for water all the way, all the answer I got was Kein vasser meaning no water. It was very hot and being wounded made me all the more thirsty.
When these officers came out they were eating what looked to me like graham bread, but I found out different before long. When they went in I remarked to my buddy that Germany could not be so bad off for food by the looks of what those officers were eating, but I soon discovered that this was not the case; such fine tasting bread as it looked to be. Beauty was not even skin deep on the bread left in my possession; a 150 gram loaf which constituted a full days ration. This bread is made of sawdust, straw, potatoes and whole rye flour. The straw and sawdust can easily be seen with the naked eye.
We had no official questioning and didnt want any, as that was one thing that we feared. All the questions that we had been asked thus far were just to satisfy some individuals curiosity.
Entry Twenty- five
The guard followed the officers in, but soon returned. We were marched across the street and entered an old church that was being used as a First Aid station. The men in there seemed to enjoy themselves when they saw us coming. They at first thought that we were English, but when the guard told them that we were Americans they all crowded around and looked at us as though we were some kind of dumb animals. We were the first Americans they had ever seen and like most of the Huns, they seemed to think that we would look different than other people.
Perhaps they expected to see us with feathers all over us instead of clothes. We did look different than them as our heads had no rough corners, while theirs were square. Actually a great many Huns heads would fit into a square much easier than into a circle. We always called them Jerries, Fritzies, or Square Heads, and the latter name suited a great many very well. After calling me a schwine, the attendant at the First Aid station ordered me to remove my clothing.
As I was doing so, he said to my buddy, Vas ist das? pointing to his hand. He seemed to understand that much and stuck out his hand. The poor fellow still apparently thought he was wounded. His hand had a scratch on it and the Hun hit it with his own hand and said, Das ist gut meaning that the hand needed no treatment.
They said something about Tot scheisen and my buddy was ordered out of the church. I was ordered to lean over a pew and as I did so, they jerked the bandages off of my wounded hip. I gritted my teeth all the while this Hun was pulling and saying something not at all pleasant. My eardrum apparently being ruptured, I could not hear well enough to understand.
After he had jerked the bandages off, he ran a steel rod into my hip. I jerked away and made some kind of noise as I could not possibly stand this pain. He gave me a blow in the ribs on my right side and then took hold of me and turned me back over the pew, pinching me as he did so. The rod he used looked something like a knitting needle, but somewhat larger. He started poking it in again. I pulled away and then he used me rougher still. I gave him an awfully angry look as he was driving me mad. I guess he must have been trying to locate the piece of shell that had entered my hip. He then wrapped my old bandages back on and was not very gentle about doing it either. I then got a shot in the arm. I had heard about them injecting diseases into prisoners of war and wondered if thats what I was getting. I had had several shots in the arm from American doctors and thought they could have been more gentle, but when this Hun got through with me I declared that I would never frown at all of the shots an American doctor might give me. He just jabbed the needle in my arm and wasnt particular whether it went under the skin or into the flesh. I was told that this shot was to prevent blood poisoning and lockjaw.
About the time I got my clothes back on, the guard returned and said something to me about my comrade being kaput. I am not sure but actually believe that he was shot. How could the guard have disposed of him so quickly? Why was he taken away from me? I do not know his name, but know that he was from North Dakota and was a member of company F of my regiment. We had been told that the Huns very often killed men who were not wounded and that a wounded man had a better change of getting by that one who wasnt.
I was motioned over to a pew and told to sit down. I had the pleasure while there to see a great many Huns brought in for treatment. Some were in pretty bad shape and never lived to see the end of the war. I lay down in the pew and while I was wondering what would happen next, a couple of French prisoners were let in. They were also wounded pretty badly, and when they saw me they shook their heads. They had a look that I understood better than words.
One of the Jerries could speak French and because I could understand a few words of that language I managed to make out enough to know what they were talking about. They seemed to think that the French had a right to be taken as prisoners but that Americans had no right to be in France. They seemed to be enjoying themselves pointing me out as an, Amerikaner Schwine to everyone who happen to come in. these insults they said as making fun of me hurt me as bad as the knocks and slaps. No matter what they said or did I had to take it with indifference.
After I had lain there for a while one of the fellows who had been making so much sport of me seemed to have a heart all of a sudden. He came over to me with something to drink which was a poor imitation made from something that grows wild. They called it cow bean. These cow beans were roasted and prepared the same way as coffee was. I got a cup full of it and a half slice of bread. The drink was wet, but aside of that I cannot say much for it. The bread was very bitter and I wasnt hungry enough to relish it, but after a few days I ate all I got and looked for more. A person has to be awfully hungry to eat this bread. I was hungry because I hadnt had any breakfast, but I wasnt awfully hungry just then. I wondered if they perhaps put something in it to rock me to sleep. I had heard of so many of their dirty stunts but I wouldnt put anything past them. I did not care just then. I would have gone to bed happily if I had known I would never wake up again.
As our armies advanced they commenced dropping a few shells into this town, and the Germans were beginning to feel alarmed. I was ordered up again and put on the hike. What little time I had spent on that pew had rested me, but my wound had swollen more and I couldnt possibly put my foot on the ground. A Frenchman came and helped me a little. I soon got so I could stand up and straighten my leg out and put a little weight on it, not because it was pleasant, but because I had to do it by force.
I hopped along, gritting my teeth at every stop. I was put in with a bunch of Jerries and was told that we were going to the Lazeritt, meaning the hospital. I asked how far it was and they said, Twenty kilometers. I had already walked ten and I did not think I could stand to walk further in this condition. That didnt seem to be the question. I had to- that was all.
I tried to keep up but it was impossible. There was one extra mean fellow in the bunch and I got a good many knocks and jerks from him. The bunch got away and one guard remained with me. It was very hot and every time we came to a place with water, I actually begged for it. Each time he said, Nichts yet he would drink, empty his canteen on the ground, fill it up with fresh water, and then move on. Very often he would not even let me stop, but make me hike along and he would walk fast to catch me. Every now and then we would meet troops on their way to the front. They were all surprised to see an American but all had something to say or a kick or a slap for me. If the guard who was with me had been told once to kill me, he had been told fifty times.
As we were going to the rear we had to pass through a small town that our long range guns were dropping shells into. My guard tried to get me to run but I couldnt. He said something to me and he started to run. I took from what he said and the way he ran, that we would meet on the other side of the town. I looked for water but I couldnt find any.
When I got to where I supposed I would find my guard, he was gone and I couldnt find him. I stopped and wondered what to do. Should I stay there? I knew it would be impossible to get back. If I stopped, it would be hard to start hiking again so I kept o following the road. I passed some apple trees and picked a bunch of them. They not only helped to satisfy my appetite, but quenched my thirst as well. I was beginning to think of the two loafs of bread I had lost that morning.
As I walked along I came to a crossroad where there seemed to be a lot of traffic. There was a guard there. I walked toward them and said Lazeritt. He pointed off in the direction and I started that way. He gazed at me and I suppose he wondered who I was. I limped on and finally saw a big sign Feld Lazeritt 104.
When I got closer I found three very large tents and turned in there. This was very hard for me to do and I would have given all I ever owned not to do it. I might say that it required an extra lot of nerve.
There were Huns standing about and they all had a laugh at me. Some came and met me and said, English? I answered, No, American. They were very much surprised and called a few more Huns around to look me over. All made a point to ask about the food proposition. Evidently the German newspapers had been trying to make them believe that the Allies were starving to death. I answered them as I did the others, saying that if the war kept up until we ran out of food, that it would go on a good many years. They pointed out a building and motioned me toward it. I knocked at the door and a gruff voice yelled out, Komm. I entered and that fellow was sure surprised. He looked me over before asking me who had sent me there, how I got there, and how many Americans were in France. He took my name and address, which he put into a chest. Then he called one of the Jerries in from outside and after telling him something I was led into one of the big tents. As I limped past dozens of beds on each side of me, I was laughed at and made fun of by some who were in those beds. Some were very angry. They all took me to be English and when any of them found out that I was an American, they thought it more of a joke.
I was finally turned into one of the beds in the corner of the tent. It was a cheap iron bed with a tick made of paper and filled with hardwood shavings, and one blanket. All the Huns in the place who could walk flocked around me and I sure felt out of place. They did not misuse me, but several called me Schwine as they laughed and made fun of me.
After they cleared out a bit, I got my shoes off and was trying to get the rest of my clothes off. In walked an Englishman who was also a prisoner of war and was being held at this place to be doing work of all sorts. I sure was glad to see him, and he was glad to see me. Of course I had to tell him about what we had been doing, our great successes, and then he commenced to tell me something about prison life.
He said he was getting along pretty decent here, and for me not to be in a hurry to get away as this was a s decent a place as I would strike. He gave me some idea of what I would have to go through at Kommander, which is what they call the place where the prisoners are sent to work. The more I heard, the more I realized that I was in even more danger than under shell fire, and I shouldnt give a nickel for my chances of living through it.
The English Tommy helped me to get undressed and I lay down intending to make the best of it for the night. The bed was very hard but I sure didnt complain. It was about the same as a board, except that a board hasnt as many humps on it as a rule.
After I had been there an hour or so I got a bowl of barley soup. It was pretty good and I really relished it. I ate all I got and was glad to get it. The Tommy brought some water and I washed my hands and face. I had an awful fever and the water offered some relief. I soon fell asleep but was awakened about midnight. Two Americans had been brought in and I was asked if I knew them. Both were from my Division; one from the 28th and one from the 16th Infantry. Both were in pretty bad shape and both were being carried on a stretcher. The fellow from the 16th had his left leg pretty badly shot up and suffered a lot. The fellow from the 28th had his chest almost blown away. We had a little talk, after which we all went to sleep. We were all very weary, having been in the drive for three days with very little sleep. This was my first day with the Huns and I had learned a lot- enough to last me for the rest of my life.
The next morning when we awoke, we were all wondering what the day would bring forth. We learned that there was another American up in the far corner of the same tent we were in. He was a Sergeant Heinz from Boston. We were all very sore and our wounds were giving us more pain than when we first received them. I had been on my right side all night and by the way I felt, I must continue to lie that way. We received a small quantity of soup for breakfast and finished all before we really knew what we were eating.
Right after eating they carried out quite a few, mostly Germans, who would never go to the Front again. There was also an occasional Frenchman. This had been a French hospital only a short time before and the Germans had captured it from the French. There were still a few French in the hospital that had been captured with the hospital but they were becoming very scarce.
About one hour after we had our soup a very tall Hun came in. He walked past everyone, looked at his chart, and would tell a soldier with him something that the soldier would make a note of. Very often he would question the patient. He was very tall and slender, and resembled Mutt in Bud Fishers cartoons. He had on a large a white apron that was so covered with blood that it was as much red as it was white. Anyone who saw him would be scared-even if he hadnt been scared before. His sleeves were rolled up and he had a real Hun look about him. A good windstorm would have blown him away. When he reached the fellow from the 16th he passed him up. I couldnt hear enough of what he said to understand.
When he reached the fellow from the 28th, he told his dependable, and he made a note of it. This man had had first aid, but was not bound up very well. His chest was in awful looking shape and every time he breathes matter would ooze out. Instead of putting the bandage over the wound, the doctor simply threw the blanket over it. These blankets had been on the beds for months and were far from clean. The foot of the one I had was stiff from having been blood soaked.
He came to me and because I could speak a little German, I wish he hadnt come. The treatment I had received from him was far from pleasant. He looked at my wound and squeezed about it for a while, causing me to yell several times. He said something about me and I was marked up, as were several others. Every time I would make a little noise, he would yell still at me. After examining me, he turned and went to the opposite side of the tent because I was the last one on my side of the tent.
After he left we tried to figure what would happen next. We decided we would be taken to the operating room just when the Tommy appeared and confirmed our decision. Pretty soon they began to carry out the patients and I was trembling. It would be bad enough to have a white man work on me-but think of a Hun!
The fellow next to me went first. Before he returned I was loaded on a stretcher and followed. When I entered the operating room in another building there lay the fellow from the 28th by the name of Mike Kerns on the table. He was just being dressed. There was a basket full of bandages there that were no means pleasant looking. The operating table was a homemade affair, covered with oil clothes, which was covered with blood. I was put onto this table without it even being cleaned or wiped off. They lost no time in telling one another that I was the Amerikaner who could Deutsch Sprechen. They made me get on my knees and the old bandage was jerked off of me. The doctor then told me to lay face down and he began squeezing my hip again. I couldnt help but squeal and he yelled for me to keep quiet. He then got a steel rod, similar to the one that had been used on me the day before, like a knitting needle only a little larger. The sight of this was enough for me, and when he began to run into my wound I couldnt help but catch his hand. He slapped my hand and, of course, I took it away. He then put his tools way and put something over my face. This was done so quickly that I didnt get a chance to see much of it. He ordered me, Count.
I didnt understand and he started out, Von, Two, Tree and then I started.
I counted and soon I was singing the numbers and at the same time doing a lot of thinking.
I would count to ten and then go back to one. I thought of all I had ever heard of in a very few minutes. I thought that if they were sending me to the happy hunting grounds, it was a very pleasant way of going.
I was singing my numbers right along, only very slow, and every once in awhile I would forget and pause for a few moments. By and by I stopped all together. I couldnt do any more. I felt them start to work on me. One said that the right way for me, and another said, Thats where the Amerikaners belong. I couldnt talk although I tried to. I couldnt move and thats the last I can remember.
When I awoke they were bandaging me up. My hip burned as if it were on fire. I thought they had operated on me. Id asked for the piece of shell and one answered something by which I understood that they hadnt located it.
I was then given a quick roll into the stretcher. They all had a good laugh about the way they had rolled me over, and then I was carried back into the tent.
The Tommy had straightened my blanket in the meantime and I was glad to be back into my bed, even if it was hard. We then talked about our treatments and didnt wish for any more.
This was the only dressing that I got for my wound, except what I was able to do for myself- and a little help now and then from some of my American friends.
We received some black bread and some imitation black coffee later that morning. This helped us out pretty well- especially the coffee. We soon discovered that our shoes had been stolen and our pockets had been emptied. I told the Tommy about it and he said that he saw a German taking my stuff while I was asleep. Of course I couldnt say anything. Kerns found that he had lost what little stuff he possessed. Before I was taken into the operating room, I had given the Tommy a trench mirror to keep for me, and when I returned I asked him for it- also a fountain pen. He said that these had been taken away from him. I, of course, believed him. I valued that trench mirror very much as I had retrieved it just ten days before being captured.
It seemed strange to me that a German would search this Tommy who had been there so long, but I believed him for the time being- although I noticed that he acted very queer. Kerns and I had talked about it and we mistrusted him a little bit. That afternoon a German came to me and asked me to trade watches with him. I told him that my watch had been stolen and he looked toward the Tommy and winked.
I didnt say anything then, but I did a lot of thinking. I didnt care to have anything to do with the Huns, but I appreciated the tip. I then began talking to the Tommy about the things that I had lost, and how I valued them as special keepsakes. Some time afterwards he asked if I had searched my blouse in good shape. I told him that I had, but to satisfy him I searched it again and found a photograph that I had mentioned to him, a few addresses, and a book of American postage stamps. The Tommy had undoubtedly returned these.
Later that evening I saw the Hun who had given me the tip and I beckoned to him. He came and I asked, the best I could, about my stuff. I understood him to say that he had seen the Tommy going through my clothes. I then told him that if he could get my things back that I would give him a fountain pen which I told him the price of, and named the articles that had been stolen: a leather wallet, a wrist watch, two fountain pens, a trench mirror, a couple of souvenir cigarette lighters, a pocket knife, and several other articles that I did not care as much about.
The next day I saw the Tommy go to his bed, and could tell that he was after something. He saw me watching him and took all of his stuff down to the thirteenth bed from me. I told Kerns about it and we decided then and there that he was guilty. The Tommy kept looking back every once in awhile to see if I was watching him.
Some time later I saw the German. I called him and told him as best I could to ask the fellow in the thirteenth bed what the Tommy had been showing him. He went there directly and the fellow from that bed came to me. He could speak a little English and described the stuff the Tommy had showed him. He also told the value of it. He told us about all of my stuff and also about Kerns rings. Kerns was an Irishman and his blood boiled to think of an Englishman taking things that were our prized possessions.
The next time the Tommy left the tent to do some work, the German brought the Tommys blouse to me and laid it on my bed. He pulled out everything I had lost. Kerns got his rings and I gave one pen and the cigarette lighters to the German for recovering my things. When the Tommy came back he looked very cheap. Someone went and told him what had happened.
Later I told him what I thought of him and that if it were any other conditions I would report him if I ever got the chance. He had been very good to me and I would have given him some of the things I had, but seeing that he had treated me in this manner, I told him that what articles I hadnt valued as keepsakes, I had given to the German for recovering my things, and that he could have been much more welcome to them.
The Tommy then told us that he was keeping our stuff for us, and that he would have given it back to us as soon as we were able to leave. We had several reasons to believe otherwise, so we did not believe what he said. Any time any of the Huns said anything about him taking it, however, we said that he had actually been keeping our stuff for us so they wouldnt use him any rougher for it.
I didnt get so much sleep the next night, as I was not so sleepy and the cooties had commenced action. The following morning the tall doctor was making his rounds. The fellow from the 16th Infantry (Kerns) was called in. When he came back he had only one leg and he was unconscious. We came to in about an hour and was very sick and weak; and also felt very badly about losing a limb. He didnt know they were going to amputate it so he was very much surprised. We tried to make him believe that it was for the best, although we didnt know whether it was or not.
That second day passed without much excitement, other than what the Englishman had stirred up. Kerns bandages came off and his wound was exposed to all that came his way. My right hip was getting sore from lying on it.
The third morning the Hun doctor made the rounds again and I was again pointed out, but the other two were not. I was told that I was going to be sent into Germany which made me feel very badly, although the Englishman told me that I would be better off if I got registered because I would get help from the Red Cross.
I looked at the bright side of my prospects as much as possible, but I didnt like the idea of going to Germany. The last two nights we had heard our own guns all night and knew that they were getting closer and closer. It was our one hope that the Allies would come so fast that the Germans would not have time to get us out of the way- and that the Allies would recapture us. The thoughts of going into Germany made me shake.
I was soon put on a stretcher and given a hospital chart. It contained some German writing, my name and said that the piece of shell in me could not be located. I wanted to keep this piece of paper pretty bad and will attempt to do so by not producing it for anyone.
After about a fifteen-minute ride we reached a string of cars and I was loaded into one of them- a freight car. I was placed on the floor and one of the Germans from the hospital put one half of the blanket under me and the other half over me. This was a pretty hard bed. There I was among a carload of Huns, all of whom were able to walk and who sat on planks while I lay there on the floor. I could not get my clothes on so I used them for a pillow.
Before we left, a Hun officer came on. When he saw me with a blanket, he took hold of it and said, Vach mit das and gave it a jerk. I raised myself with great difficulty and away it went. Then I lay there naked. I covered myself as much as possible with my blouse. I got hold of a piece of paper and put it under me, which helped some, and off we went- the whole train load of Huns and I.
There were also a few carloads of some far worse, but they were lying on stretchers, I was told. Nobody seemed to know where we were going, although some thought it was to Deutschland. This journey lasted for three days and nights, raining most of the time. The atmosphere was quite cool and with the train running, which made more draught, it was very cool, especially at night.
My little blouse was very small and seemed to be getting smaller. I just shivered like a leaf and my teeth chattered. The Huns thought it quite a joke to see me lay there. I was unable to sleep at night and would fall asleep during the day. They seemed to think it lots of fun to do some tormenting thing to me and then get back to where they were so that I wouldnt know who did it. Naturally I would awake suddenly and look about surprised. They were worse than small children. They thought they were having an awful good time.
The train would run a while and then pull in on some side track and wait for a few hours. The second morning we pulled into Laon, and there was all kinds of excitement there. They were very much alarmed because the Allies were getting too close to suit them.
Laon was a very important place, because here was located several hospitals, three different headquarters, some prison camps, ration dumps, a very important railroad center, and greatest of all a wonderful observation post from where they could see in all directions for over one hundred kilometersso I was told. At this place I could see the streetcars running and French civilians walking about working. Soup was served here. The Huns had to walk out of the car and were each issued a ticket that entitled them to a bowl of soup each. I fell short.
Some of the Germans came back into the car to eat and one of them gave me a little that was left over of what he didnt eat. I couldnt quite guess them; couldnt he eat it all or did he have a heart? I gave him credit for having a heart. I had to eat after the Hun had eaten and what he left, but I was very glad to get it.
Most of the bunch were in pretty good spirits, as it seemed they were all going on a furlough to convalesce.
The third night we stopped at a place and everybody got out and we were marched away. I was left lay there and was very uneasy. I disliked to become acquainted with a new bunch. After I had laid there for an hour or so someone came along with a lantern and looked into all the cars. He discovered me and after asking how I got there called to someone and I was loaded into a wagon. A French civilian was in charge of the wagon and, as I could speak a little French and he a little German, between both languages we understood each other quite well. We passed a place and there was a lady sitting out in front. Evidently she was his wife. He told her that I was an American and she was very glad to see me and to know that Amerique was in the war and that they would get out now. They had been prisoners for four years and were more than anxious to gain their freedom.
We finally landed into a great big court. I was unloaded from the truck by some Germans who didnt handle me very gently. I was taken up two flights of stairs and put to bed. This was a dreary place but the bed was a lot better.
Those who hadnt looked me over soon did so. Soon after we reached this place we got some bread, which I surely ate as though I was hungry. I was commencing to feel very hungry now. I had gone without several meals at a time in the American army and thought that I knew what it was to be hungry, but I never was near as hungry as this time. Nothing we got seemed to have bottom to it. The piece of bread was usually very small and the soup was very thin, hence not very nourishing.
The next morning I got a look at the place in daylight and concluded it must have previously been a hotel or lodging house. We got another small piece of bread and some black cow bean coffee. After breakfast a Hun with a Red Cross band around his arm came around and looked everybody over. My dressing was about off and was very full of cooties. I didnt say anything to him because he had asked me nothing, so I didnt feel as though I had a right to ask for anything. He didnt do anythingjust looked everybody over and left. Later he returned with some women nurses. I expected then and there to ask to be dressed, as I thought these women would have a heart. I watched them dress some of their own men and thought them very rough. They were.
When they got to me they snarled at me and said a number of mean things, so I decided to dress myself as best I could and not give them a chance to torture me again until I had to. Even though these were women they had some very mean things to say and would have delighted in having a chance to be mean to me. I was the only prisoner of war in the room and felt very funny about it. After I was there a day or two a German came running in and made an awful noise. He was more than excited and yelled Hindenburg Kompt.
The way the Jerry who was in charge of that room flew about wasnt slow. Everything was put in order in short time and they got ready for an inspection by Hindenburg.
I was again uneasy, as I had no love for Hindenburg above all except the Kaiser, and I knew that he had no love for me. He did come, too, but he wasnt very strong on inspection. I wished that I could fly out of that place. I had heard so much of Old Hin that I didnt care about seeing him.
He didnt see me, as he just walked into the room and gave it a quick once over and then passed out again. I was afraid of a questioning by him, if he saw me, and considered myself lucky when he left without seeing me.
No cartoon or photograph has ever shown Hindenburg too ugly or rough to be natural. The looks of him would make anyone cringe.
I stayed here about three days and all the while wondering what was coming next. This was a place where the Hun soldiers were sent, sorted out, and then sent to other hospitals or to their own people. Whenever anyones bandage came loose it was not put back on, nor was anyone who was otherwise in bad shape even touched here. These nurses were very rough and not even the Germans there wanted to be dressed.
The last day I was there my bandage had come off and I re-rolled it, after killing all the cooties on it that I could find, and I started to dress my wound again. The nurses came around about that time and one, a middle-aged woman, came toward me. I had gotten down and covered up by that time, but her eagle eye had seen me and she wanted to know what I was doing. Of course I had to show her. She was grumbling all the while about the "Amerikaner in the Kreig. I was glad when she left.
One afternoon someone came up to the room that I was in and called my name. I answered and he told me that I was going to leave. No one knew where, but I knew that I was going. I told him that I couldnt walk down and leave all my things there. I told him that I couldnt walk and asked him what I was going to wear when I got well. He asked me whom I expected to carry me and said that I didnt need any clothes.
I didnt like the idea of leaving any clothes there, so when this fellow left the room I asked the German in charge of the room if he was an officer. He told me that he wasnt, so I got into my clothes the best way I could and asked the fellow in charge if he wouldnt help me down, which he did.
My hip pained me very much, as this was the first time that I put my weight on it since the first day. One the way down the steps we met the fellow who had ordered me to leave my clothes there andall the noise he made wasnt a little! He wanted to take my clothes off then and there.
I decided to stick up for myself a little bit and not lose my clothes without trying to keep them. I told him that I knew that I was a prisoner and that if I lost these clothes I would have a hard time to get any more. (The Englishman had told me this and the clothes he wore proved his statement.)
The fellow in charge of the room then spoke up and told him that he had better let me keep them. He then told me that I could keep my clothes but that he wanted my blouse and puttees. I told him that I needed them and he pointed to my shirt. I told him that I needed my blouse also. I knew by now that he wanted my clothes as souvenirs and as long as he had no authori8ty to take them I was going to stick to them as long as I could. He finally left me, cursing and wishing me a lot of good (?) luck. He seemed to be afraid to do anything to me.
I was then put into an ambulance with a place for two stretchers in it. I got on one and in a very few minutes a Frenchman was loaded alongside me. We both wondered again where we were bound for this time.
We were pulled up near the gate. Our clothes showed that we were not Huns and quite a number of French civilians came over to where we were. They could speak some German and I could understand some French, so we could understand each other quite well. They told of some of their hard times, how they wished the war was over, etc. Soon the Hun with the Red Cross on his arm appeared. One yell out of him and the French civilians scattered in all directions. He came toward where we lay and asked me for something that I couldnt understand: Wiggle commercha. He commenced winding his hand around his leg and I understood he wanted my leggings, or puttees. I very frankly said Nix! that I needed them, and without paying anymore attention to him turned toward the Frenchman and started talking, winking as I did so, and I felt none the worse for what he had said; in fact I felt better because I had bluffed this Hun.
We were soon moved out of here and passed through the town. It was quite a place. Naturally the names had all been French, but now right above or below all names of the streets, buildings, etc., were changed to German. The streets that I remember were Kaiser Wilhelm Strass, Von Hindenburg, Ludendorf, Berlin Strass and several others. I thought this quite amusing and wondered what the Huns would feel like when they were forced back into their own country. The name of this town was Fourmes and is not more than ten or twelve kilometers from the Belgian border. This also seemed to be a very important place for the Germans. Work was going on in factories and buildings were going up. I dont believe the Germans ever intended to leave here.
We reached a string of carsRed Cross carswith comfortable looking seats in them. The driver pulled up to us and a Hun appeared who seemed to be in charge. He asked something about Ge fangener, meaning prisoners, and he pointed over to some other cars. The driver went over to them and we were unloaded into another freight car. We were the first in and were laid on the bare floor. Soon some more came. All were prisoners. Then came a bale of shavings, which was a little better than the bare floor.
An English officer was brought in. He couldnt walk. He saw me and came toward me and we both cursed the Huns. Several French were brought in, among them a Major, one more Englishman and two Americans. The Englishman and Americans got together with this Major and we all had some stunts as we were glad to be together.
The French Major was very humorous. The Hun guards sure got their needings. They sent two guards with us and we surely made them feel like a cent half spent. What one of us wouldnt think of and say the other one would and for a while we forgot we were prisoners. These Huns never let a word out of them. If there had been any possible chance of getting away we could have thrown these fellows out of the door without much exertion.
When we started out someone said that we were not going very faronly about ten kilometers to Trelon, a prisoner-of-war hospital. We arrived there, but as it was raining we stayed in the car for quite a while and a Hun with a bayonet appeared on the scene. He looked us over and wanted to know who could walk and who couldnt. Those who could walk were unloaded and hiked away.
One of the Americans with me had lost his right arm above the elbow and was also wounded in the leg. The other had an awful bad left leg. First he had been hit with four machine gun bullets in the knee and while laying there awaiting for first aid a shell burst not far off and a piece of that had torn his leg in a very bad shape from the foot to the knee. He had a splint strapped to his limb and suffered very much pain. Both were from the 26th division.
After a long wait a German guard appeared with a bunch of English prisoners of war. They were the worst sight I ever saw. They were walking skeletonsnothing more than skin and bonesand their clothing was in tatters. Our hearts dropped much lower. Were we to be in this shape? How could we help but speculate over the prospects? Starvation had reduced these fellows to their sorry condition. They were very weak and didnt seem to have sufficient strength to walk or talk.
They told us that there were Americans, or Yanks, as they called us, at the Lager. Lager is the German name for camp, and that name was used by all nationalities for prisoners of war. They told us that an American officer had died there that morning and also told us about the chow at this place and about the sleeping quarters.
We were put into a large two-wheeled wagon. It was raining and we saw where we were going to get soaked in both senses of the wordfrom what we heard and been getting, and the rain. The poor Englishmen were supposed to push and pull us to this lager. They could hardly walk themselves and in a little scrap they had among themselves it would have been amusing to see them fall to the ground if it had not been that they were so weak from starvation. They would fall into a heap on the ground just from a little push from one another. Finally they settled their little argument and we got started. W passed a long row of houses filled with French civilians. They were crowded into small quarters because most of the places were occupied by Germans. This made it necessary for several French families to live in one home.
A lady came out from one of the occupied places. Englishmen pushing and pulling our cart were stopped. The lady came out again with several glasses and we were served with hot coca. This was very good and was very much appreciated by all.
We then entered a big gate that was guarded by two guards and on top of the high brick wall was a barbed wire fence. I trembled when I thought of going in there. We were stopped in front of a place and our names were taken down. We were next moved up to another building and unloaded.
The Tommies had given me a horrid idea of what this place was like, but after seeing and experiencing it I found that it was worse than my darkest dreams. These buildings had been an old factory and now were partitioned off and being used as a hospital. It was a dingy looking place and the poor fellows standing around looked a lot dingier. Some had scarcely any clothes on, while others had pieces of blanket or sack tied around their bodies. The odor about the place was anything but pleasant.
When I got into my Saal, the French and German word for room or ward, it was a sight. There were eighty some odd Frenchmen lying in there. The two Americans had reached there just ahead of me and I was put into the bed next to them. I say bed, but it was the poorest excuse for a bed I ever saw. It was far worse than the floor and I would take the ground in preference any time. It was made of rough boards, had the usual paper sack full of shavings on it for a mattress and one blanket, which was quite stiff with dirt. It had been fumigated several times and had a burned smell about it. The shavings were bunched up and were very disagreeable to lie on. We had our talks and believed we were into the worst of it now. We looked over toward some windows and they were covered with iron bars and every once in a while we could see guards walk past. This was my first time behind bars and I couldnt get used to the idea. I couldnt forget them. No matter what we talked about, those bars and barbed wire would come into my mind. They seemed worse to me than the guards. Practically every man was in very bad condition and very few could have gotten away even if there were no fences or guards.
It was about nine oclock and we hadnt had anything to eat since noon, and then had only some thin soup. I was very hungry and it was commencing to get my goat. When the French sergeant returned and said he could get us nothing I took the part of a baby and cried. What I had seen of the others who had been there longer, the iron bars, barbed wire, the horrors of the place, the guards, looking ahead and seeing myself in the future and starvation, was more than I cared to experience, saying nothing of my pain and the horrid thoughts of having to dance to the Huns music.
We couldnt sleep, so the man next to me by the name of George and myself talked and cried all night. Something was biting us and we couldnt discover what it was. It was worse than a bite-more like a burn. A civilian came in during the night and took our names, numbers, occupation, religion, emergency address and a few more similar things. We used the fellow very cool. He spoke German when he first came in and we thought him a Hun. After he saw that it was very difficult for us to get along in German, he commenced speaking English. We said some things that maybe he wouldnt have liked very well if he had been a Hun, before we knew that he could understand our language. We were surprised to hear him speak English and he told us that he spoke nine different languages and that he spoke and understood all the rest easier than English, and also told us that he was a Belgian civilian. We asked him some questions about this place, but decided not to say too much as long as we didnt know him.
Later on that day we learned that he was more of a Hun at heart than a Belgian. We asked what it was that was biting us and told how it hurt. He told us that his place was full of fleas, which were an awful pest. He told us that some of the prisoners bodies who werent able to help themselves were covered with a mass of sores from these fleas and we could well believe it as the few hours that we had slept there proved it. Neither of us went to sleep until it commenced to get brighter outside and the fleas let up a little bit. We were awakened before long and received a piece of Schwartz Brot (black bread) containing 150 grams and some imitation black coffee.
We were told that this bread must last us all day and that if we ate it all for breakfast we would not get any more. I could have eaten mine and several more like it at once. It was a very small piece, no larger than my fist and I was very hungry, but under the circumstances we were glad for small favors. The guards were still walking by our windows, as they had been all night. About eight oclock a Hun came in and let a yell out of himself. Everyone was startled. He felt like a king- perhaps like the Kaiser. We could tell his feelings from his appearance. We watched the older prisoners and tried to do as they did. All who could walk stood at attention, while the rest of us lay still. The French sergeant went toward him and after pointing out a few things and doing a lot of yelling, started to walk about the room. When he reached our beds he said Vas is das and the Frenchman who could speak German said that we were Americans. This fellow grumbled all the time and didnt say much about any one in particular. After making his noise he seemed to feel some relief and left the room. We learned that he was the German who was in charge of that ward and that it was very natural for him to make as much or more noise than he did that day.
The other American, George, could speak French very well and got a stand it with the French at once. He was a very fussy sort of fellow, always wanting more than his share of attention, under the circumstances. The Frenchman in charge of the ward, under the German, at first gave him a lot of attention, but soon got tired of it and then didnt give him any. This George was always complaining and asking for something. He could have kept about two healthy fellows busy most of the time. His limb was in very bad shape, which helped to account for his uneasiness. A French Catholic sister came around about nine oclock with something in a pitcher and we were given a little of it. It was some condensed milk, reduced. She would come around every morning and we received a little each time. One day she came to us and said that she could no longer give us this milk, as it was for the French. She told us that it had been sent to the French and Belgian people and they had donated some to the Frenchmen who were in bad shape. The Americans had sent it over to them. It wasnt very rich, having been diluted so that it would go around, but it surely tasted good. One teaspoonful of diluted milk was more appreciated there than an extra fine meal would be now. Just a taste of something besides black bread, the liquid they called coffee, or their awful stuff that they called soup, was surely good.
The same milk, of which we were told that we could get no more of because it was not sent to us, was perhaps sent to the suffering French and Belgian civilians by some of our own relatives. We spoke of it and wondered if what we had donated to ourselves before we got into the army had helped buy it. We didn't begrudge anyone any for it, but as long as the French prisoners of war who were in bad shape got some of it, why shouldnt the American prisoners of war have it as well? Of course we understood that it wasnt sent there for us, neither was it sent to the French prisoners of war. It was sent to the French and Belgian civilians.
Several soldiers had died during the night and in the morning their blanket was pulled up over their heads and they were left lay. We asked the sergeant what was the matter and he told us that some had died from bad wounds, some because they had not received attention, and others because they had starved to death. He told us not to pay any attention to them and said that we would see a lot of that. He also pointed out some who had died the day before and were still there. He said at times they lay there for a couple of days before they were taken out. We did not wonder at the odor of the place when we heard this.
George was suffering much pain when I first met him and had suffered all night. The dreadfulness of the place, and what he had seen and heard had made him ill. About noon he got to be quite bad. He couldnt eat anything. Every time he would put something into his mouth he would have to remove it, as it seemed to choke him, and he gave it up as a bad job.
After the Jerries had made their rounds inspecting, several Americans there came in to see us. They confirmed a great many things that we had heard and told us by all means to stay as clear of the operating room as possible. All had been wounded and some had had an awful lot of abuse and showed it. Rumors started at once and from then on we had ourselves recaptured each dayor the war coming to an endby rumor only. We considered that this was a good way of looking at things as it would keep us in better spirits. The Americans who came to visit were awful looking. Some were dressed in part French uniforms; some were in their own American uniforms. All had been wounded and two had their heads bound up, others had their limbs, or wherever they were wounded bound in rags. They were all hungry and that seemed to be the main subject among useats.
It was the custom at this place for all new patients to visit the operating room the morning after arrival there. We were told so. George got out of going to the operating room. The fellow who had lost an arm and had the wounded limb went first. He fainted away while in there. I picked up courage enough to go then and my bandage was again jerked from me. There were three stools in this place and I was told to lean over one. As I did so they squeezed my wound and again felt around with the small rod to see how deep it was. I jerked away and a German sergeant caught hold of the flesh on my side and didnt twist me around very gently. He said something about it to a Russian prisoner who was working in there and he put some sticky balm around my wound and pasted a piece of my old bandage over it again. I was glad to be through and get out of this place.
I have previously stated that I only received one dressing for my wound and one dressing is all that I did receive. Such as the one just mentioned could hardly be called a dressing, although I received very few of them. The time that I was in the hospital, I got a good dressing, although not a very gentle one.)
One of the boys had helped me down to the operating room. When we got to it there was a line of about thirty or more waiting to get in. All were a frightful looking sight. Some had the most awful looking wounds exposed to all that happened to come their way. I saw many who were almost a solid sore from the fleas. The hallway was lined with patients who couldnt walk, so they were carried up on stretchers and were often rolled off while the stretchers went back after more. All were awaiting their turn, each having a little piece of cardboard with some figures written on itthe date on which they were to return for another dressing. The door of the operating room would open and a German sergeant in charge would take the ticket. If the number on the ticket was not the correct date the patient found out about it. If his bandage came off and he went back to have it replaced a day or two before his ticket called for, he would get a shove or a kick away from the place as though it was his fault because his bandage came off, or because he might be suffering a lot of unnecessary pain. If he dreaded the place so that he hated to go to it and he got there a day more after his ticket said he got a shove or a kick regardless of how bad he was wounded. When my turn came to go in I got up in front of him and stopped. He said scettle (meaning ticket, as I afterward found out). I didnt know just what it meant then and stood there looking at him. He stared back at me and wondered who I was, I guess. I finally came to and said Ich hab nichts (I havent any) and didnt move, as I didnt know whether to go in or not. He got hold of my ear and pushed me in. I watched the rest of the boys in there and I noticed that they got their clothing out of the way if necessary and I did likewise. I then got what I have already related.
While waiting in the hall we saw two men, civilian prisoners who were very busy carrying out dead men. They entered a small lean-to built onto the hospital, being used as a morgue, which the Germans called a Tot house, meaning dead house, and in here these men were placed until they were moved away, often one on top of the other.
For dinner that day we had mangle soup. It was an awful-tasting stuff and a great many experienced prisoners there refused to eat this because it always made the prisoners who ate it quite sick.
The soup was made of mangles and water, the mangles having been shredded and dried, undoubtedly by the sun on a roof, as they were always cinders in it. They were put up in packages and were prepared by boiling in water. It tasted very bitter and contained more water than mangles. As so many went without eating their soup that noon, it was very easy to get more, but several warned us not to eat too much and we took their advice. George didnt eat any, but the one-armed fellow and myself ate our share and decided that it was either a kill or cure proposition. I ate very little of my breakfast and intended to keep a little bit for later, but couldnt stand the temptation, knowing that I had it, and being so hungry, so ate all I had, which was only a very few mouthfuls.
Some time that afternoon three more Americans were brought in. One had a broken jaw. His jawbone was in a very bad condition and his teeth were all loose. They were fastened in by a piece of wire which had been put in by a captured Belgian doctor. Every once in a while he would reach into his mouth and take out a splinter of bone. He couldnt eat the crust of bread and I used to exchange sections with him. I would give him the center of mine for his crust. He considered this a great favor and I know that he appreciated it. He was a fine sort of fellow. He had lost his uniform and had got hold of one from a Frenchman at a hospital that he had just come from. He said that the Frenchman gave it to him and when he did so told him that he would never live to wear it again. Fisher, the American, said that the Frenchman made a good guess, as he died that night.
Another fellow from Montana by the name of Southerland was in bad shape also. He had a very ugly wound on his chest, which had punctured his right lung. Every time he breathed, the matter would ooze out and the odor was very unpleasant. He was very thin and death seemed to be staring him in the face. Since being released, I have written to him but have received no answer, so I think he has died. This man suffered much pain and was very weak.
The third man was from Kansas and his name was Cavenee. He was a big husky looking man and was now quite weak. His left leg was in very bad shape, having been broken and cut up pretty badly. He had a piece of board down the side of it to keep it straight. He also had a bad wound in the back that seemed to paralyze parts of his body. His left arm and hand was useless and had to be moved about with his right. This man was in the worst condition of any American in that place. He couldnt lay on either side on account of his left leg, therefore he was compelled to lay on his back with that ugly, awful wound on it. His bed was of the horrid shavings, the same as the rest of the beds and one can imagine that it would be very uncomfortable for a well person to lay on, say nothing of this unfortunate fellow with his awful limb and the horrid wound on his back.
We told one another how we were captured and about some of our abuse since, where we were from in the U. S., and our Division, Regiment, and Company in the army.
All of us Americans were bed patients. Fisher could walk about but couldnt do anything on account of his jaw. He was also blind in one eye. All needed attentionand how were we going to get it?
I soon decided that someone had to help us out and thought that I was better off than most of the rest to do it. I therefore elected myself as head nurse. I was far from able to do this work, but knew that it had to be done and thought that I was most able to do it. My hip pained very much whenever I tried to use it. I got into my pants and then missed my shoes. I walked about in my stocking feet and as the floor was far from clean, the stockings were soon the same.
I attended to all for a few days and was kept on my feet most of the day and there was not one hour at night that I didnt have to be around as well.
George was very fussy and if nothing else, would ask me to stand over him and rub his leg. Whenever any of the other poor fellows would ask for anything more necessary (and I left him to attend to them), he felt terribly hurt to think that I didnt stick to him, and he often cried. I told him that I was only too glad to help him all I could but though the others needed help also and that he must consider that I was also wounded.
Southerland was very modest about asking me for anything and wouldnt ask unless it was absolutely necessary.
Cavence, poor fellow, was in awful shape. He couldnt move either way. He had a bad case of dysentery and with that his wounds were more than any man could endure. Cavence was a married man and all the rest were single. He often spoke of his wife and little baby and showed me pictures of them. He also had a lock of the babys hair that his wife had sent to him, which he also showed me. His thoughts were of them a great deal of the time. His voice grew feebler. He used to call me 1st Division and at first whenever he needed help his voice was quite clear and strong. Each day it grew weaker. He then commenced to call me by my name, as I requested him, as I was hard of hearing and would catch that quicker, as several fellows went by their division names or numbers.
Fisher, although in bad shape, could get about better than I could, so after waiting on him a few days I asked him if he wouldnt try to help himself a little.
The other three fellows were all suffering from dysentery, as I was myself, and I got practically no rest. At night when I lay down one or the other would call and then some Frenchman would hear me, and he would call. Of course I didnt turn down the Frenchman, who was in bad shape, no quicker than the Americans. They were all human. My usual sleep was from 4 A.M. to 7 A.M. and then little naps during the day.
The fleas were still very bad and seemed worse, if anything. Our bodies were getting pretty badly scratched up. I kept my clothes on all night and each day took them off and fleas would jump every way. I would also kill cooties as a pastime, but more to get rid of them.
Our feeds were still the same. Each morning we got our little 150-gram piece of bread. This bread was made of potatoes, sawdust, straw and whole rye flour. I have been told that there were dried leaves in it, also mangles, but cant vouch for that, but the first named ingredients can easily be seen. This bread is often moldy, very often sour and always bitter. At noon we got one liter of very thin soup, either mangle or grass. As a treat we got barley soup once in a week or so. This was pretty good, but was very thin.
At night we got some colored water, usually a gray. We called it potato water, and the Tommies called it greasy Lizzie. I do not know what it was, but it was never more than a liquid like water. We guessed that it was the water that was used to boil the Germans potatoes in and had been diluted to feed the rest of us. We used to drink it, not because it was good, but because it was hot and was a lot more healthy than drinking the other water. The water in France was very impure. While we were still fighting, almost all of the water was medicated. The Germans did not go to the trouble to do this and each day and night. A great many have died from dysentery as the result.
George had to go to the operating room the second day and we had an awful time getting him onto the stretcher. I wasnt able to help carry him and two Frenchmen took him down. He had quite a story to tell when he came back. The Germans had ordered the fellows in the operating room to hold the flesh that had been torn apart by the piece of shell open, and then shoot benzine into it. He sure must have suffered a lot. We had another time getting him back on his bed.
Southerland and Cavenee were both in need of a dressing. Southerlands wound was not covered at all and every time he would raise or take a deep breath the matter would run down in a stream. Cavences wound on his limb was covered but the bandage was loose and he was very uncomfortable. He didnt have any dressing on his back at all and lay right next to the blanket, half of which was over him and the other half under him. The blanket was of coarse texture, very rough and far from being clean. They both wanted to be dressed and would have gone to the operating room willingly. I asked the French Sergeant at their request if they couldnt go for a dressing. He said that it wasnt their turn to be dressed. Southerland didnt say much but felt rather bad about it.
Cavence felt very much disgusted and discouraged and broke down and cried. No one could blame the poor fellow. He had gone through a whole lot in the last few days and he had a lot more to think of than the rest of us. He was such a pitiful fellow and such a fine fellow that I at once took a great liking to him. I used to talk to him for a couple hours at a time during the day while I wasnt waiting on some one of him. He used to feel greatly relieved with a footbath. Two or three times a day I would get cold water and with a piece of the blanket to use as a wash rag would bathe his foot and ankle. I bathed Georges foot as often. I also got water for them to wash their faces and hands each morning and I washed Cavences, as he was unable to wash them himself, having lost control of his left arm.
The next day I went to the French sergeant early in the morning and asked if he couldnt get these two Americans to the operating room. He said he would try. They were both carried out.
While they were gone I turned their blankets around and shook up the shavings to make them a little more comfortable. Both blankets were covered with matter and Cavences mattress was soaked through. I turned it around and the odor was far from being pleasant. Near noon they were both brought back again, neither had been touched. Cavence cried again and I told him that I would see what I could do for him after dinner. It had gotten so close to noon before their turn came that they didnt get into the operating room- and had to come back.
Southerland got back on his feet but as it was such a job to move Cavence that he was left on the stretcher. Right after we had dinner I went out with the intention of seeing the German who made so much noise each morning and was in charge of that ward. I found him and went toward him. I rather hated to say anything to him, as I didnt know what he would say or do to me. I asked him as best I could whether he knew the one who was in charge of Ward #4. I knew that he was, but I wanted to make him believe that he had a lot of authority. I had him sized up to be that kind of a fellow by all the noise that he was making.
He answered that he was and I told him about these two Americans, also about their wounds and how badly they needed dressing. I asked if he wouldnt look at them. He came in and gave the French sergeant orders to see that they got down for a dressing right early in the afternoon and that he would give the fellows in the operating room orders to fix them up.
Southerland returned first. They had shot benzine into his wound to wash the horrid looking matter away that had gathered there. He did not enjoy his visit there very much but was glad that it was over with. He seemed to think that his wound was in a lot better shape than it was before. He was bound up with paper bandages.
When Cavence returned I found they had redressed his limb, but hadnt touched his back, and I considered that about the worst. He also felt some relief to think that something had been done. His limb had also been wrapped in paper and a board or splint was again placed along the side and tied there with a most filthy looking old bandage. He didnt complain of any pain there. The poor fellow sure hated the Huns. He couldnt feel the pain and, as I am not a physician am unable to say, I think that his whole left side was paralyzedtherefore it felt no painbut he suffered a lot. None of us had any pillows. He had a blouse and a pair of French breeches. First he would want these under his head, and then just one or the other, and then perhaps my blanket folded or both, or some other changes. He couldn't rest any way. He would ask for a drink and after I would bring it he wouldnt want it. He couldnt eat. Everything he put to his lips seemed to choke him. Nothing went to waste. A Frenchman right next to him stole his bread from him each day as soon as he would fall asleep. We didnt know where it was going, so watched and caught the Frenchman in the act and threatened to tell the Jerries if we caught him again. I then got it toasted for a few mornings. I asked one of the Catholic sisters if she would get it toasted, and she did. He ate some each day, but this also got old. I then went to the sister and asked her if she couldnt give him just a little milk, as this man was very low and we didnt expect him to live. She gave us a very little. I soaked some of the toast in this and fed it to him. Each mouthful seemed to choke him, but I kept telling him that if he didnt eat that he wouldnt get wellwhich he wanted very much. He tried very hard to eat, but try it seemed impossible. He would chew each mouthful a long time trying to swallow it. He couldnt help himself to any liquids and had to be fed. He usually got away with quite a lot of his soup.
George was also quite bad and between these two I was kept quite busy. George would want his foot rubbed and then tip his tow just a little toward the front or back and then to the right or left and when I would do all this it would be right where I started from. Perhaps he would have me looking through his bandages for a cootie or a flea.
Southerland was very quiet and only asked for things that were really necessary. He was not enduring near the suffering that either of the other two were encountering.
One day when the Jerry came in he saw one of my fountain pens in my pocket and wanted it very badly. I asked a big price for it, although I wanted to get rid of it pretty badly to get something to eat. He left that day and next day returned again. He offered me ten marks and a loaf of bread. I took him up. I cut the bread up. Fisher, the one-armed American, and myself ate a little. The rest of the boys couldnt eat any of it. I traded a little piece for an American cap, as I had none.
A Frenchman came around with a razor and I got him to shave Cavence, Southerland and myself. George had money of his own and paid for his own shave, also Fishers. The rest had none and all I had was the ten marks. We all looked a little more like white men after our shave and we also felt a lot better.
After about six days Cavence was again taken to the operating room. I went to shake up the shavings and blanket and when I removed the blanket, which was wet from the matter, the bottom of it and the mattress were crawling with maggots. Such an awful sight! To think of a man lying there! He could not go back there. I saw an empty bed and took the sack-full of shavings off of Cavences bed and took it over to the other one. The boards underneath were full of maggots. I got hold of a broom made of twigs and brushed them away. I then got the other sack of shavings and put them on the bed. They were at least dry. I could not understand what they were saying, but I knew that the French were talking about what I had done and by the tone of their voice I didnt think that they were in favor of it. I afterward found out. The Sergeant had told the Jerry and he jumped onto me in fine style. Of all the things that he was going to do to me next time werent a few. The French were afraid that some more French would be brought in and would have to lie on that sack. I had also gotten another blanket. I was then made to carry the sack out to be burned and had to put the blanket on the line to dry and knock the maggots off of it.
When Cavence came back I asked him about his back and still they had done nothing. I then decided to go with him and ask them about it. Cavence said that he didnt think they knew that he was wounded there.
Our eats were the same: grass soup, mangle, or thin barley soup. None of it was good, but we were always glad to get it. On night, we all received a herring. It hadnt been dressed, but none of it went to waste. We received it right from the bone. Some ate all of theirs at once, and the water that was drunk that day wasnt a little. The next day and night, and for a few days afterwards, many died. None of us could say for sure if it was the Germans work to get rid of some of the weaker ones. Dysentery always followed whenever water was drunk. Things went on this way for some time. George was quite bad, but began to feel better after he lost his limb. Southerland seemed to be getting worse. Fisher seemed to be the same. Almost every day he would take splinters of bone out of his mouth. The one-armed American was also getting better. He was of Russian birth and as there was a great number of Russians there, he had company. We got a lot of information through them. They told us how they had seen men lined up and shot for nothing, just to get rid of them. In one case, a commander had asked for a certain number of men to be marched out and counted. There were more men then the commander had asked for. So they were counted off, and every tenth man was shot down. They also told about how men were being marched along and took sick. If they were so weak that they couldnt go on, they were killed when they fell out of line.
Cavence was growing worse each day. On the tenth of august, a number of names were read off, and all of the Americans from that Saal were called except mine. They were all to go to Germany on the following day, and I was to be the only one left. Cavence had been unconscious for about three days. He would call me sometimes. Occasionally he would be doing some work on the farm, and he talked a lot about one of his neighbors. The afternoon of the tenth, I knew the end was very near for him. I went to him and told him that I was to be sent to Germany (although I knew I wasnt). I told him I would undoubtedly be able to write letters and that if he would give me his wifes name and address, I would write to her and tell her that he was getting along okay. My purpose for asking this was actually to let Cavences wife know that he had died in a Hun prison. Cavence brightened up and said, Will you do that? If only I knew that my wife would not worry about me, I would be alright!
He gave me the address and after a few minutes, he was again unconscious. This was the last time he talked, except while unconscious, but then he talked quite a lot and even sang. He asked for things quite often, but when I came to him he obviously didnt want them. I was up most of the night with George and we both knew that Cavence wouldnt last but a little longer. He had become very thin and his cheekbones stuck out, while his eyes and cheeks sank way in. I saw him about 4:30am on August 11th. I went to what I called my bed and fell asleep. I was awakened about 6:00am by the French sergeant and was told that my comrade was dead. It wasnt much of a surprise, but it was a shock to me anyway. I went over to him and ascertained that he had just died because he was still warm.
The Germans would soon be notified and so I thought I would what few things he had and send them to his wife if I ever got out. One of the other boys took his clothing. I took a testament bearing his wifes name, a lock of his babys hair that had been sent to him by his wife, several letters (which I at once destroyed) some photographs, a sweater, and an identification card.
About two days before he died Cavence had given me a signet ring and asked me to see if I could trade it for some cigarettes. I didnt do this as I knew he would be glad that I hadnt if he ever got well. The Germans asked for his personal stuff when they came in to see that he was dead, and the French wasted no time in pointing me out. I had to produce everything and the ring was taken away. I had tried to keep this back but they had been told that I had it and I was again warned about what I would get the next time. I got a lot of scolding and they did a lot of yelling, but I was getting used to that. I loaned the sweater to another American and will write to Mrs. Cavence if I ever get out of here.
One more thing that has bothered me is that I am not able to notify my parents. I have begged for a chance to send a letter a great many times, but always get Nein or Nichts for an answer. I have told them that I would go without food if I could write a few words on a card saying that I was still alive. No one has been allowed to send a letter from this place. I know that I would have been reported missing and that news would be worse than killed. I also knew that my parents would do a lot of worrying, but as much as I begged, it did no good.
About noon of the day that Cavence died, the Americans were called out and those who could not walk were loaded onto a wagon and hauled to the depot. All were glad to get away as nothing could be worse than this place. I was left alone in this ward and felt very blue and so lonesome. Cavence still lay where he had died. The maggots were again all through the sack of shavings and around him. The odor was very bad around there.
That night I was told to go to Saal 20 where there were a few other Americans. This place was just as dingy as the other, but there were not so many wounded men in it. I didnt get any sleep that night as the fleas were bad and I was very uneasy. I got up and limped up and down the hall until a German guard drove me back in. I lay down and cried and finally fell asleep. The next morning I got myself up and went back to Saal 4. I felt as though I knew a few of the French there anyhow. Cavences body was still there. The French sergeant asked me to say something about it to the German guard. I did and he said, Ich weis.
The body remained there until two days after Cavence had died. The second day in the new saal, while standing in the hall, I saw them carry the body to the morgue. We talked about what an awful thing that was to do.
I had nothing to do now, but stand or sit around and talk about what we were going to do when we got out, and how satisfied we would be when we got back to Gods Country. Men continued to die and on bright, sunny days a great many who managed to get out for a little sun would die about the yard. Some died from wounds, some from neglect of treatment, and a great many from plain starvation. Grass was about as scarce about the prison yards as roast beef or some other good food. We would walk around the fence looking for a good clump of grass. We would ask the guard to hand the clump to us, especially if it was a clump of dandelions. Sometimes the guard would be man enough to do this, and sometimes he wouldnt. If he wasnt, we would keep our eye on this clump of grass and watch for the next guard. We never got very close to the fence to ask for this because we never could tell when we might get a good poke of the rifle, so we always played safety first and kept out of reach.
It was common to see men with their clothing off on the bright days, killing cooties or fleas. A man might be sitting or lying down with his head in the lap of another who might be cutting his whiskers with a pair of old shears. I have had mine cut that way a few times and can say that its not very pleasant. I believe, by the way, that more of mine have been pulled out than cut off.
After I got so that I could walk without too much pain, I would walk from one end of this pen to the other with some other prisoner. Very often we would walk back and forth a couple of times with our heads down and never say a word. We were doing a lot of thinking. Rumors were very common. Most of us tried to look at things in a bright light and talked about being recaptured.
The Jerries did not let us talk much in bunches. They walked around the yard with sticks in their hands and it was hard to tell when someone was going to get a beating. At times I have seen fellows standing around talking, perhaps not even about the war, and the guard will come up and beat all of them with his stick. No one knew what it was for, and it was hard to tell when it was coming. If one wore too much of a smile, he got it. If one looked too grouchy, he got it. Very often a Jerry would take someone by the ear and then beat him or kick him. I have seen some prisoners knocked down and then beaten by the Huns until they couldnt get up. They were always so very weak that it took some time to get up. An Englishman was struck over the back with the butt of a rifle one day while marching to the station. His back was broken simply for picking up a cigarette butt. He was left there to die. An Italian who was very weak and sick happened to spit on the ground one day. The German knocked him down and kicked him until he was unconscious.
One evening some German soldiers from a hospital came to the Lager and wanted to buy something cheap. Of course they knew that the prisoners would part with anything they had very reasonably. I had an Ingersol wristwatch. I didnt want to part with it, but wanted some money to buy eats whenever it was possible. I asked an enormous price for it. They offered 15 marks and 5 cigars. I had smoked quite a lot up to the time that I was captured, but I knew at once that I must use my willpower. We settled on 17 marks and the cigars.
I sold my five cigars for a mark each, the lowest price for a cigar around there. This made me five dollars and fifty cents in American money- more than I paid for the watch in the first place- and it was fifteen months old. This has done me a lot of good. I figure that I soaked the Hun, knowing that I would have something to eat as soon as I could see any food.
The Russian prisoners were taken out for work of different kinds quite often. Very often they would return with some potatoes or corn to eat, so they would sell their ration of bread. This small piece of bred sold for five marks or 1.25 in American money. This was sure expensive feed, such as it was, but we were always glad to get this bread whenever it was possible.
The Tommies died off faster than any other nationality. They could not stand the hardships that the rest of us could. They seemed to lose all hope as soon as they were captured. They gave their bodies very little care and seemed to look on the dark side of things rather than the bright. I have seen them flock about a bed when one was dying, when they knew he was going to die. As soon as he drew his last breath, they stripped him of all. One got his trousers, another his coat, and another grabbed what part of his ration of bread might be under his bed. Another got his boots and then out they would go and sell these things. Some wanted smokes worse than eats and would trade what they got for a few cigarettes. I have seen them trade half of their small ration of bread for a cigarette. The Italians and Russians are quick to take advantage of this, and shortly after bread issue they can be seen lined up with a few cigarettes, waiting for some Tommie to trade his bread with them. I have seen only one American trade his bread for cigarettes, and the rest of us sure got after him for it. I have seen Tommies trade their bread for cigarettes when they were so weak that they couldnt walk. They had no willpower whatever; at least they didnt use any.
In Saal 20 the French were in the majority and the soup was dealt to them first. If there was any left we got some; but often we did not get our share. Some times we got the water, after they took what thick stuff there was. There were ten of us Americans in this one saal and we complained. If there was a moldy loaf of bread among the issue, the Yanks got it. We couldnt do much as there were over a hundred French there besides us in this one room. There were from 1200 to 1500 in this camp all the time. One day we decided to make a formal complaint. Another American who could speak good German and myself went to the German who seemed to be a pretty decent sort of fellow. We explained our case to him and he went to the cookhouse and got us some soup. From then on we drew our soup extra and when we fell short at least we knew that nobody was taking it from us. One of the Americans was detained to work in the cookhouse, and whenever he got hold of our pail he would put just a little extra in if he had the chance. The French noticed this and gave a holler, even though it was nothing taken from them.
All nationalities seemed to stick together by themselves pretty well, but no two seemed to get along very well with the others. I dont know, but it seemed as though one was always jealous of the other. Some would have us believe that the Americans in France were a detriment, and that they would be better off without the Americans. We always stood for the U.S. and couldnt be told that we were no good! We had most of our scraps with the Limmies as we called the English because we could handle their language and they ours. Either the English people misuse the language or we do. They laugh at the way we use the language and we laugh at the way they do. We never had any fistfights, but have had some pretty strong arguments and a few Americans hold a lot of ground against a bunch of Limmies.
After I was at this place about six weeks or so, I was detailed to work in the operating room. I knew that I wouldnt like this work; as I never cared to see a bad wound, say nothing of working about one. About the first week I kept the fires going and carried that water away and acted the part of a flunky. This suited me O.K., as it was a pastime and was much cleaner and easier than working on the men.
This room was about twenty feet square and had a long homemade counter on which were several paper bandages, a couple pairs of shears, some salve very frequently used, a bottle of benzine, a little iodine, a couple steel rods like the one that had been stuck into me, one knife and few other little things, three stools, or small benches, an operating table made of unplanned hardwood boards by some one who couldnt have been a carpenter, and a bench about six feet long.
This room was in the charge of a German sergeant, not a doctor, and a private. Prisoners of war were detailed to do the work of an experienced doctor under the direction of the German sergeant. We have a Russian, a Frenchman, two Italians, and myself. We have had a couple hundred men to attend to each day, as all who were at this place were in need of attention. I used to get the Americans and most of the English, as I could understand their lingo. The Russian got the Russians and the Italian, the Italians, the Frenchman, the French. The extra Italian attended to scabiesflea bitten bodies; he painted the bodies of the inflicted person with some yellow dope. Whoever got through first would help the others.
Because I was an American my extra duties were to get there before the rest of the doctors and start the fires and get things ready for the day.
Right after breakfast the work started.
The patients would line up in the corridor and the German sergeant would open the door and let about twenty or twenty-five in. Each of us doctors had one of the little benches about two feet high, two feet long and a foot wide in front of us. The patients would come in and line up behind these stools. If he had been there before he might escape being inspected by the Hun and then we treated his wound or wants as best we knew how and let him go. If the patient was a newcomer he usually knew it before he got away. The German sergeant always inspected the new ones and all who were very bad. He most always had one of the steel rods in his hand and would come up to the worst wounds and give them a jab. If the patient made much of a fuss he very often got jabbed again or received a slap.
If it was just a dressing, we were told to dress it. If it was a bad boil we were told to cut it. We used to have to make four cuts on an ordinary boil with a pair of sharp pointed shears. At first we had to stick the point of the shears into the head of the boil and cut up and then down then to one side and then to the other making an X(a cross). A knife was never used to lance it. These shears were always used and were busy a good share of the time.
All the while I was there I never saw any anesthetics of any kind used, nor were there any to use. No need saying that a great deal of water was used to bring a great many back to life that had fainted away. There was always a lot of crying and yelling around this room. The patient cried or yelled from pain. The Huns tried to make more noise to show their authority. On account of the poor and watery food, boils were very frequent and very often a man would have more than one. Swollen limbs were also very common and these were very often lanced. Whatever the Hun sergeant told us to do we had to do and it was always very hard for us to work on our own men in this way. It was a pity to see some poor fellow, who had had a dose of it, stand in line waiting for his turn to come. He would be trembling with fear, and perhaps crying.
We very often cared for wounds that had not been dressed for a long time. The patient may have been on the train or had no one to take him for treatment. Often times we had to use the tweezers to remove the maggots and then wash the wound with benzine. Then the Hun would come and look it over and tell us how to bandage it. Very often we had to bandage with wet paper and then wrap with dry paper. This was fiech fur bund meaning damp dressing. Drugo fur bund meant dry dressing. Schnida meant an operation or amputation of some kind. If it was just a small cut we seldom needed help, but at times we were all holding on while the Hun did the cutting.
I am sure that I have never done any more than I had to. I would enjoy carving that Hun up right today but being forced to cut out my own men was an awful thing to do. An American by the name of Tripp came in one morning. He had a hard swelling at the top of his limb. The Hun cut that with the shears and left a gash about three inches long. I dont know why it was cut, and neither does the Hun. There was no matter or pus there.
Several who had been prisoners for some time were sent here. They had perhaps been working at Kommander, mostly building railroads, and smashed feet were quiet common. I dressed several bayonet wounds that prisoners received because they were not strong enough to lift certain things or didnt work fast enough, or some other little thing. Because these men were helpless they were stuck with the bayonet.
Had we had one, the Hun would have been run through, even though he was armed. A Hun will always take advantage when the other fellow is empty handed or down and out, but he would never stand up and fight like a man. It was his delight to be brutal to a prisoner of war.
After all the walking patients would be brought in, there were usually some horrid sights. I cannot tell all of the cases, as it would take a very long time. I can only mention a few but as I have stated we had hundreds to take care of every day.
One day and English aviator was brought in. After a few dressings the Hun Sergeant decided to amputate his leg just below the knee. He was put upon this crude operating table and a two-inch strap was buckled around him over his chest. One fellow held his left arm, another his left limb and another his head and I held his right arm. The German Sergeant did the work. He used a small saw and a knife. The poor Englishman got nothing whatsoever to deaden or stop the pain and we had quite a time holding him down. He sure did a lot of yelling and also fainted away a few times. He was feich fur bund (given a wet dressing) and orders were given to have him brought back the next day. The poor fellow could always be heard coming after that. He sure made a lot of noise and the Huns used to tease him a lot. The paper often stuck to his wound and the Hun always jerked it off and then used the tweezers to get the small pieces off. Often he would get hold of the flesh and the patient would yell. We always had to hold him while being dressed, as it seemed, try as he would, he couldnt possibly hold still. Often the Hun would think he was having a good time. He would make motions as if he was going to strike the wound or stick it with something. He did this just to cause the Englishman to yell.
As I am not a physician I am unable to say whether or not this limb needed amputation, but neither was the Hun. The Huns think it a joke when this poor fellow had to be dressed and when they would hear him coming they would start to laugh and talk about him.
Another Englishman had been wounded by a piece of shrapnel through the right lung. He used to have to set up on the operating table and cough. As he did so, matter would shoot out. After he had done enough coughing to suit the Hun we had to shoot benzine into his wound or into his lung and then he would have to cough again until this was out and then he was bound with a paper bandage. This poor fellow lingered on for a long time but finally died. I happened to be in the room where he was kept at the time and saw him die.
Another American from Alabama had been hit in the back near the bottom of the spine. All of the flesh had been torn away and he was paralyzed from the hips down. He was also a frightful sight. He begged and cried for water and eats, but got little of either for a long time and finally got none. The Germans had given orders to the fellow in charge of that saal, who was a Frenchmen, for him to have a few spoonfuls of some liquid to drink and only a very little to eat. This poor man could be heard groaning, crying or begging very often. I seldom went near him because he always asked for something to eat or drink and it was impossible to give it to him.
One day he was brought into the operating room. His wound was very peculiar looking. Instead of looking like any ordinary wound, it looked as though it was decaying. It was dark brown and there didnt seem to be any blood circulating through or around it. The Hun looked it over and gave orders to cut all of the brown flesh off until blood came. We were told to take the shears and one had the shears and other the tweezers. First one would take hold of a piece of flesh and hold it out while the other cut with the shears, and then we would change off. As this part of the Americans body was paralyzed, he didnt have any pain, but we still did not enjoy our work. It was not what we enjoyed doing, but we had to do what we were told to and didnt dare to even look or hint that we didnt want to do it or we stood a good chance at getting a poke or a kick.
Being yelled at like a dog, called Amerikaner Schwine, Hundts, being cursed, scolded and pushed about and kicked now and then when we were told to do something and didnt snap at once, was common. Could we have given the Huns the treatment that we had to give some of the prisoners of war, we would have taken a great delight in it.
An Englishman was brought in with a swollen leg. It was very large and he suffered much pain. The German looked at it and ordered it cut about half way between the ankle and the knee in the calf. A cut of about two or possibly three inches was made, with another cut of about the same size close to the ankle, and another about two inches below the knee on the side, three cuts in all.
The small steel rod, which I had run into my hip, was then brought into action. It was inserted into the first or middle cut and forced down to the bottom cut underneath the hide. After a hole or passage way was poked, he then got hold of either end and worked it back and forth so as to enlarge the hole and then pulled another piece into it and left it there. He then started at the first or middle cut again and forced the rod through up to the upper cut and went through the same performance. I did not have part in this, but I did have to help hold the poor fellow. The Hun did the dirty work. I suppose he thought he could make the poor fellow suffer more than we could. The Englishman went through all kinds of motions one can imagine. He foamed at the mouth, cried, prayed, begged, yelled, tussled and did everything else imaginable.
It was not always an easy matter to hold a man down while going through this treatment, even though he was weak- because we were weak also. Usually one man was assigned to each arm, one at the head and one at each leg, and in bad cases, a two inch strap was used around the chest, strapping him to the operating table. When there werent enough men in the operating room anyone was asked to help hold the unfortunate victim down. Very often these inexperienced helpers werent onto their job and might get a kick or slap or some similar harsh treatment. Often they were kicked out and another called in. This operating room was the worst of places, and if anyone was not wounded or suffering he was very often made to suffer.
As I have stated, it was my duty to get there in the morning, before we received our ration of bread, and get the fires started. After I had gone there for several mornings some French civilians got wise to where I was working. They were employed there as cooks for the German staff and were not allowed to speak to us and neither were we allowed to speak to them.
One morning a lady handed me a bottle and said E-od, meaning iodine. I tucked the bottle away and never stopped walking. This lady had no more said, E-od and she was out of sight. I built the fires and after straightening things around for the days work I filled the bottle with E-od and again concealed it. There was a small room off of the operating room, used as a sort of a stock room where a few things like this were kept, although the large majority of the stock was paper bandages.
When I returned to my bed to get my ration of delicious bread the civilian was waiting for me. I got out the bottle ready and never stopped but handed it to her as I passed. She said Merci, meaning thank you, and as I could get by with a little French, answered oui oui, and added Onchore? meaning some more. She must have understood me because the next morning I received another bottle and it seemed as though she had told the rest about it, because I received quite a number of bottles and filled them all as long as the E-od (iodine) held out.
When I built the fires I had to carry coal, so I usually dumped from one to two bucketfuls into a mud hole. I most always got rid of one bucketful this way and very often part of another. I was trying to do my bit helping to put Germany to the wall. I knew they were short of everything and if I could help to make them still shorter it was my delight to do so. I surely was going to work against them all I could and I did. I did most of my dirty work in the morning while getting ready for the day, although very often I would get it in the afternoon to sweep up for the following day and would get hold of a few handfuls of pills or something else.
There were a few pills at this place but the individual couldnt get any. There were some French Catholic sisters or nuns who were also prisoners and these pills were issued to them and they passed them out. However, they could not pass them out very freely, because when they asked for them they were only given a few rolls and as there was only five pills to a roll the didnt go far. Naturally the French got theirs first and even then they didnt all get them.
I used the to carry a pretty good assortment of them in the lining of my coat and often dropped some in the top of my breeches and these would go down as far as my leggings or stockings and stop and then I could easily reach them. At noon and right at suppertime was my best time to issue these, as there were seldom any Germans around. All of the older prisoners got theirs from me and the newer ones soon learned. Whenever I took more that I could give away I very often threw some into the mud hole. I often gave the Sisters some and would hold my finger on my lips, meaning not to tell. Most of the fellows who were prisoners and worked in the operating room used to carry pills. We were not supposed to, but we could easily swipe them and we did. The other fellows never had the chance to get the E-od that I did and I also had a better chance to get the pills, etc. Some of these pills are good for a cough or cold, come were a substitute for aspirin and other were good for dysentery, although nothing seemed to help the latter. I have several of these pills that were still on my clothing when I left Germany and now I value them as souvenirs.
To keep fellows from the operating room, a favor appreciated by them very much, I dressed several wounds or sores on the outside, but if I had ever been caught at it I cant say what would have happened.
Very often I would give a roll of paper bandage and some salve to some one who needed it, and often I would dress their wounds, but if it wasnt so bad that they didnt need help, I would furnish the needed articles as best I could and let them do their own dressing, as I would not be taking such a big chance that way.
If all the coal, pills, bandage, iodine, salve, etc., that I gave away and destroyed were in a heap, it would be quite a little pile. I might say that all that I stole, and all and I threw away or gave away, I had to steal, but I have no guilty conscience, because what I gave to others who were in need helped them and helped put Germany to the wall, and what I threw away help to make Germany put her hands up. Whenever the supply in the stock room run down, two menof whom I was very often onewere taken to the village by a Hun with a rifle and bayonet to get more supplies. We were always glad to get out from behind the wires. It sure seemed good. The rifle and bayonet didnt seem near so bad.
This town, Trelon, was inhabited with French civilians and they had seen very few Americans. As we would go down the road they would come out a and very often say Bon fur Amerika or Amerika Tres Bon. Le Guerro Finis Toot Sweet, meaning Hello America, America very good, The war will soon be over.
These French civilians, who were prisoners under the Germans, appreciated our services in the field more than the people in France, but they were also prisoners, and they can tell untold tales of misery.
One day the guard halted me out in front of some sort of a large hall and he went in. A French civilian, who was going the same way that I was and was talking a little bit to me, told a large crown of people there that I was an American. These people were waiting to be issued their small rations for their families. When they were told that I was an American they formed a circle around me, and of all the blessings, real blessings from their hearts, which they bestowed, were not a few! Some could speak enough German so that I could understand and was told that if America hadnt sent them food that they would have died of hunger. They stated that they werent getting all that was sent but they sure appreciated what they got. Then they talked about the war coming to an end and I tried to encourage them. I told them of some of our rumors, which were so common around the camp.
The guard came out and after getting near me yelled out, Loose meaning for me to go. As I started out some of the civilians yelled out Americk Tres Bon, meaning America very good, and then they would all answer ah oui, or oui oui, meaning yes, yes.
One time when I was down to get supplies I was allowed to sit outside and wait for the guard while he placed the order. There were a great many Germans stationed in the village, living in the homes of the French people who had to leave to make room for them. There were also several hospitals here, as all large buildings were used for that purpose. Whenever an officer was anywhere around we were required to stand at attention, for as far off as we could see him coming and then salute him when he got near us. The French civilians had to remove their hats to all officers. Once in a while they would return our salute, but most of the time they did not.
Several French passed with their small rationsa piece of bread and a few potatoes, according to the size of the family. One young fellow stopped and gave me piece about two inches wide and it sure went good as it was of a little better quality than what we got at the camp.
I had just got through eating this piece of bread when an officer and a German nurse came up the road. I stood at attention and when they got close enough I saluted. They both laughed and stopped and the nurse inquired Anglise?, meaning English. I answered no; Amerikaner, meaning American. She came closer to me and said Deutsch? I said Nein, meaning no. She said Deutsch sprechen? I answered etwas, meaning a little. She then asked in German Why are you in the war? and I answered that our country had declared war on Germany. She was very angry and as near as I could understand, said: I believe that you are German and still you fight against us. (This is as near as I could understand to what she said.) As she said this she curled up her nose. After spitting in my face she started off and they both laughed. She turned around and yelled back Schwine!
I thought that if there were any schwines around she sure was one, as she looked like a sack full of hay with a string tied around it.
I was very angry and if I had had a gun I surely would have used it if it had cost me my life. I would rather have had a horse or cow sneeze in my face than a Hun spit in it.
I made several of these trips and always enjoyed getting out from behind the wires. Very often we received words from the French that made us feel good. We really believed that we had not lost all friends and there were some wise people left in the world.
One time when I was down to get supplies I was allowed to sit outside and wait for the guard while he placed the order. There were a great many Germans stationed in the village, living in the homes of the French people who had to leave to make room for them. There were also several hospitals here, as all large buildings were used for that purpose. Whenever an officer was anywhere around we were required to stand at attention, for as far off as we could see him coming and then salute him when he got near us. The French civilians had to remove their hats to all officers. Once in a while they would return our salute, but most of the time they did not.
Several French passed with their small rationsa piece of bread and a few potatoes, according to the size of the family. One young fellow stopped and gave me piece about two inches wide and it sure went good as it was of a little better quality than what we got at the camp.
I had just got through eating this piece of bread when an officer and a German nurse came up the road. I stood at attention and when they got close enough I saluted. They both laughed and stopped and the nurse inquired Anglise?, meaning English. I answered no; Amerikaner, meaning American. She came closer to me and said Deutsch? I said nine, meaning no. She said Deutch sprechen? I answered etwas, meaning a little. She then asked in German Why are you in the war? and I answered that our country had declared war on Germany. She was very angry and as near as I could understand, said: I believe that you are German and still you fight against us. (This is as near as I could understand to what she said.) As she said this she curled up her nose. After spitting in my face she started off and they both laughed. She turned around and yelled back Schwine!
I thought that if there were any schwines around she sure was one, as she looked like a sack full of hay with a string tied around it.
I was very angry and if I had had a gun I surely would have used it if it had cost me my life. I would rather have had a horse or cow sneeze in my face than a Hun spit in it.
I made several of these trips and always enjoyed getting out from behind the wires. Very often we received words from the French that made us feel good. We really believed that we had not lost all friends and there were some wise people left in the world.
As I worked in the operating room I always knew when the stock was getting low, and would put the boys wise by telling them to get ready so that if I was sent to get supplies they could go at once. They usually all wanted to go, but always decided among themselves, which one would go. One time when two of us were down town a French man gave us each a sugar beet. We sure thought that we had some feed and appreciated that more than we would a good square meal now. We very often returned with our pickets full of grass that we would pull along the road.
We considered ourselves lucky to be able to get what grass we could eat and have our pockets full besides. More than once I have dug down and about the prison yard, as have many others, to get the roots of the grass to eat. We werent very particular, even though they did have a little dirt on them. They were not always plentiful.
Very often we received moldy bread, which always was very apt to make the one who ate it quite sick. If we could pick up enough sticks, twigs, etc., we used to boil this moldy bread into a soup and it seems as though the mold disappearedat least we couldnt see it and it didnt seem to make any one sick. We called this bread pudding. Sawdust pudding might have been just as good of a name for it.
A few times the bread did not hold out and we were issued some little square things. They were about three-quarters of an inch square, about as thick as an oyster cracker, and were made of white flour. They were not large, and we received very few of them, but the change was appreciated. These were issued in a small sack and ran from sixty to seventy in a bag. One bag was divided among two men. Thirty or thirty-five of these crackers about the size of an oyster cracker but more solid did not go very far toward three meals or a full days ration of bread. After I had been put to work at this place I was quartered with some other men who were held at this place for work. Our place was no better than the others, but was more private, and then we were to be where we could be gotten hold of in a hurry in case we were wanted.
At about noon the supplies came in and we had to assist in unloading them. There was usually one big wagon- load of bread, but sometimes there were two. Other times some shredded mangles and meat were received.
The meat was usually horseflesh, but occasionally we would see beef. All the good it ever did us was to look at it and wish we had some, as the Germans got all of the meat. About a half of a dozen times while I was there we had some horse heads in our soup. We always knew when we were going to have these as we always had to unload them. They would always come with a wire through the mouth to hang it up. The hide would be taken off but otherwise it was just as the horse was when alive. There was a ring of hide around the eyes and ears. The nostrils were very often discharging. The eyeballs were never removed from any that I saw. The hay and grain that usually gathered under the tongue was there. These were put into a large cooker and boiled until the meat would leave the bone and then the wire lifted the bone out. If any meat remained on it, it was scraped off and all chopped up very fine and then mixed in with the soup. The soup consisted of one of these three- grass and water, shredded mangles and water, and once in a while barley and water. This soup was never thick but the meat always gave it a flavor. As the insides of a horses mouth seems to be rather tough, very often a piece perhaps the size of a nickel would be found in a chunk in the soup. It did not boil apart or cut as easily as the regular meat and whoever found a little piece of this floating around always considered himself lucky to get it.
About every ten days the French and Belgian civilians who were in this place for treatment received their issue of stuff that had been sent to them by the Americans. We would stand along the walls and watch them get it. They received a few spoonfuls of each thingusually rice, cocoa, lard, sugar, a small can of milk, and a few large pieces of hardtack.
I saw one of the Americans buy a can of the milk from a Belgian civilian for nine marks, or two dollars and twenty-five cents in U. S. money.
Money was very scarce with some at this place. I had sold a fountain pen and wristwatch, but my money was about gone. I had just six marks left one day and was able to buy some cigarettes from a German who looked after the Saal that I used to be in. These wholesaled and retailed for twenty-five pennies each, or four for a mark (twenty-five cents). By buying six marks worth I got twenty-fiveone extraand by selling these I would be one cigarette richer. After I had changed my money four times I would be one mark richer by selling the four extra cigarettes. As I have already stated, smoking material was very scarce at this place and the purchaser always appreciated what he could get to smoke. Very often one customer would buy the whole six marks worth. Sometimes I would make a couple of marks in this way, but not frequently, as the cigarettes were not always to be had. These marks would always help out whenever there was any chance of getting anything to eat. I often bought other little trinkets of different kinds from prisoners for a certain amount and would sell them for a mark or a half mark more than I paid for them.
My shoes had been stolen from me the day that I was captured. At first I went around in my stocking feet. Later I got two pieces of cloth (parts of a blanket) and wrapped these around my feet. After wearing these for a while I got a pair of clogs from a Frenchman.
Once when a trainload of prisoners was leaving, a Tommy happened to speak to me. He had a pair of shoes on and a pair of high-top Jerry boots in his hands. He knew that he was going to Germany and that they would be taken away from him. He had evidently stolen them from some Hun. As he passed me he said Here, Yank, take these and give me something for them. I didnt have any thing to give for them. I looked for some cigarettes, and after looking for a while I found a marks worth. I caught the Englishman and gave them to him. As they passed out the gate each man was checked and I had plenty of time to reach him. I then went back and put the boots on. I was not proud of the Hun boots, but they felt better than the wooden clogs or going barefooted. My socks were pretty well worn out, so I unraveled some yarn of the top of one and mended them as best I could.
Eats are about the same all the while, sleeping quarters the same, and as fall came on, more patients entered this place from Kommandor, a place where they had been working.
It got to be very crowded here and the halls or alleyways were full of men sleeping one beside the other.
The Huns were quite busy about this time getting their own men and what ever else they could back to the Front. More prisoners kept coming into this place, and none were going out. Some had coats and boots. Those who did were lucky; others usually went without.
The nights were always cool, as I have stated, and as this was getting up into October, quite often the nights were very chilly. Some of the fellows would get up and walk about to keep warm, but the guard usually drove them back in a hurry.
We were quartered by ourselves; those of us who worked about there. An Englishman, who worked in the office was also with us. It was his duty to keep track of all the English and American names and numbers of English and American prisoners. When one died it was his duty to make note of it, get the mans number and any personal effects, which he was supposed to turn over to the Huns. Whenever there were less than forty of fifty men dying in a day he would always remark about it. I remember one day in particular this Tommy thought that something was going to happen, as only twenty-four had gone west that day. We were trying to decide whether or not the food was getting better or what was the reason.
There were also some French and Belgian civilians quartered with us who worked about there also. These poor fellows, although not prisoners of war, were civilian prisoners, and they could tell stories that would make ones hair stand on end.
My work kept on at the operating room, as usual. We were under the Germans and whatever we were told to do, we had to do it, no matter how bad it went toward the grain.
Very often one of the boys would come in and ask for pills. I would tell the German what they wanted, even though I knew that it would do no good. I wanted to show the fellow who was asking me that I was doing my best. Sometimes they got out with just a yelling at, but very often they were led to the door by their ear and then given a push or a kick. Sometimes they were given a push or kick before they got to the door. If the victim was not strong enough to balance himself he went sprawling to the ground and would lay there until he gained strength enough to get up or someone came along and helped him up. I sometimes helped them up and got them started, when I was not busy, but we didnt dare leave our work when there was any one there.
About the middle of October, the Germans started one evening a rumor, as we found out, that an armistice was on. We were fools enough to believe them and as another American and I were the first to hear it, we ran down through the place telling everyone we saw, stopping in every saal, telling someone who could understand either English or German. Instead of a hospital, that place sounded more like a baseball park or a horse race track at an exciting time. It was a pity to see some of the poor fellows who were down and out trying to be happy with the rest. Some cried, some yelled, some prayed and others were jumping around singing and shouting.
This other Buddy with me named Max and myself commenced to think that we had better make ourselves scarce and we did. We commenced wondering what would happen to us if some of the German officers would hear this celebrating and get into our wool for it. We were so happy ourselves to get it that we couldnt keep it and it did us a lot of good to see the rest of the boys feel good once. It was quite a contrast to what we usually saw. We didnt get much sleep that night. We were talking about what we would do when we got out, what we would eat, and everything else imaginable.
The next morning we could hear the big guns in the distance and we knew that the war was still on, which made everyone seem to feel all the more blue because of the disappointment.
The Germans were quite fond of starting rumors among us, very often apparently designed to create hard feelings with other nationalities. They had us believing that Japan had taken arms against America and had the Americans on their knees. New York was no more than a mass of ruins. France had also turned against us and was killing our men and sinking our ships.
The English and the Russians were scrapping among themselves in camp. The Germans had made them believe that Russia and England were having some awful battles. This caused hard feelings among the prisoners of war, and that is what the Huns wanted.
An American named Blinny asked for some clothes. The German guard said that he should have stayed uber der wasser (over the water) and he wouldnt have needed clothes over there. The rest of the Americans didnt try to get any clothes. Blinny didnt have any coat or shirt and his breeches were in very poor shapethey were merely an outline. I was very angry and said something to him (Blinny) in German, as though he could understand, just to make this Hun rave. He was a young fellow and liked to show his authority. He did a lot of yelling and he came to this camp after I was there. He stopped me from going through the building one day. I was glad he did because then I had a good excuse for not being on the job. When I did get there, I told the Hun sergeant and, of course, I was told to show him the fellow that stopped me. The sergeant didnt talk very pleasant to him and this fellow never bothered me after that; in fact I have been pretty bold in front of this fellow. These boys left in the morning and that evening more prisoners came in than had left; among them four Americans. These prisoners had been held at German hospitals acting as orderlies and had gotten plenty to eat, a chance to get cleaned up, and didnt know what hard times were. When they saw some of the ways we had to do things they were sure surprised, and wished that they were out of here. The hospital that they were at was close to the Front and had been evacuated. They said, We expect that the Allies have that place by this time.
As the time passed slowly on, we knew by the roar of our large guns, by the way our hospitals and prison camps were being evacuated, by the uneasiness of the Huns, and most of all by the rumors that new prisoners brought back, that the Allies were advancing very fast. Wagon trains were passing this place continually. Some who could see them told us about the hundreds that went past. One day about noon as I was going to my quarters I saw a great many men looking toward the road. Prisoners werent allowed up there, but some who were working around that area could see, and as my quarters were near there, I could get a glimpse also. I climbed part way up the steps and watched. There were hundreds and hundreds of civilian prisoners being driven past. I say driven because they were being driven away from their homes and their land by the Germans. Everything of real value that they owned had been taken by the Germans. What few little things they still had, they were trying to carry with them. As they marched along, it was surely a sad sight. Little children, old men and women stooped with age, and mothers carrying babies and a pack of clothes on their backs. It seemed as though some could hardly get one foot ahead of the other. There were Germans on horseback leading them. Every once in awhile they were hurry up alongside as though one of the poor, helpless prisoners could run away if they wanted to.
They were marched in small groups and very often at the end of each group would be a wagon that was supposed to be pulled by horses or oxen. Instead of that, the wagon was pulled by old men, young girls, and even old women. Anyone who could help was enlisted. These wagons were full of little bundles of clothes or other little valuable keepsakes. I wonder how it would be possible for them to get those wagons up hills, of which there are many in France. This was surely a sad sight, but behind it all was the one consolation that our men were coming, and coming fast.
Several head of cattle were being driven back from the Front and one night some were stopped in an open field not far from where we were. A German guard took some Russian prisoners out to milk these cows the next day, and we all had some milk in our soup instead of water. It sure was a change and was relished by all.
Early one morning, just as I got through making the fires and getting ready for the days work, I was on my way for my small piece of bread. I was stopped by one of the Germans who worked about the place. He said, Komm Mitt and I responded, Ich musz arbeiten und habe nichts su essen gehabt. He motioned me to hurry and I decided that I had better move as he directed. He had a little extra work for me and, as it wouldnt take long, I suppose I thought it would just be a little more punishment for an Amerikaner.
I went as he directed down between two high barbed wire fences. When we got to a turn he halted me and unlocked a big gate. I went out and he didnt lock the gate, but followed me to a garden. As we passed some cabbage I pulled off a few leaves and ate them. He halted me among some red beets, started pulling, and told me to do the same. I pulled a while and then asked as best I could, Kann ich eins essen? He answered Yah and so I did. When the basket was full, I was given orders to take it to the kitchen. I did, but I also poked a few into my pockets. He stayed out in the garden and I made a hurry-up trip to my bed and unloaded what beets I had in my pockets. I then went back to the garden with the basket and refilled it. I only got a couple of beets this time as the Hun went with me and I didnt want to let him catch me helping myself. When we got to the kitchen I looked at the Hun. He said, Das ist alles, and I left. I had already had some cabbage leaves and a beet to eat, so I only needed a couple of mouthfuls of bread. I got to work a little late and explained as best I could that I had been working. The sergeant didnt say much so I went to work.
That noon I took up a few sticks of wood from the operating room and hid them in my bed. I told Max, the American who worked in the kitchen, what I had gotten and asked him to try to get some vinegar. He finally got one of the French civilian girls who worked in the kitchen to give him some. He took that to our quarters. I swiped a little more wood and a little coal. When we thought the Germans would be least apt to visit our place, I started a fire and boiled the beets- perhaps ten in all. After we had boiled them we cleaned them a little and sliced them. This was an awful temptation, but we had decided not to eat them all until we had them fixed. We put the slices in the vinegar to sour.
The next morning we ate a few and, believe me, they were very good. Before we retired that night we had finished them. Any little change was appreciated as an alternative to the water soup and bitter bread.
I had a gold ring that my parents gave to me when I was 21 years old. I kept the ring pinned inside my watch pocket for a long time. Gold was very scarce in Germany, as all had been called in. I have seen prisoners of war have the gold knocked out of their mouths. I had always valued this ring a great deal and now I thought even more of it and was afraid of losing it. Several times when I have thought that I could go without food no longer I have unpinned this ring from my pocket and started out to sell it for something to eat. Whenever I got to where I was headed I would turn away and again fasten the ring back in my pocket and sit down to cry it out. I was hungry and this ring would get me something to eat- but only once. I rationalized that I would get hungry again, even though I had gotten enough to eat that once. I have managed so far to keep the ring.
While in the Army (prior to our captivity), we used to get hungry quite often. The longest that I have gone without anything to eat or drink was three days and three nights. We had been hungry, but now the hunger was different. It was starvation. Very many died from it. When a man was dying from starvation we could tell it. He couldnt eat even if he tried. Whatever he put to his lips seemed to choke him and he had to remove it. When he got to this stage he didnt usually last very long.
When I entered this place I had no towel or anything to take the place of one, except the end of my shirt. The shirt had to answer for that purpose. Neither had we any soap. Soap was a very scarce article. We used sand or a handful of any gritty earth. This would help as the sand scratched off the dirt. It was not very pleasant to see, but better than nothing. While working in the operating room I used to wash with some imitation soap. This was a small piece a half inch wide, two inches long, and a half inch thick. It would not form a lather and when put in very hot water it would dissolve very fast- similar to ice.
One day I discovered a coarse towel in the operating room and I picked it up. Nicht gut? I asked. I knew that it was but I wanted it and didnt want to be turned down. Ya, Ya das ist gut he answered.
Ich habe nichts I said. He then told me to take that one. The average American would pronounce it as homespun linen even though it is made out of pure paper. I surely appreciated it.
The dead bodies were piled up in a morgue or Tot Haus which was a lean-to on the main building. Very often these bodies were left in there for days at a time, one piled on top of the other. The clothing was stripped off of them and as they were carried in on a stretcher, the thing was just given a slight tip or a toss and the corpse would either roll off or pile up onto the other bodies. The odor about this place was fearful. It was enough to make any man sick and feel that he would never want to die.
At first wooden boxes were made to bury the bodies in. Later on, just paper was used. French civilians were detailed to make these boxes, wide at the head and tapered toward the feet. If the body was that of a large man, it was often necessary to jostle it so as to get the cover on. The Russian soldiers were usually of good size. Some of the English were very small and often two bodies were put in one box. Then it was necessary to jostle these in so as to get the cover on. They were then piled into wagons belonging to French civilians and hauled away. The paper was a large, oblong sheet with a string on each corner. The corpse was laid in the middle with the sides and ends folded over it. The two top strings were tied around the neck and the lower ones around the feet or legs according to the size of the corpse. Italians were detailed to do this work.
The average wagon in France has a little rack or fence upon it. The platform of this particular wagon was about five foot wide by about ten foot long and it had a two foot fence around it. The bodies were wrapped in the paper before the wagon got there. When the wagon arrived it was loaded. Italians did this as well. They would take hold of a corpse wrapped in paper, one at the head and the other at the feet. They would swing it three times, counting in Italian, and toss it up into the wagon. It was necessary to throw it quite high to get it over the fence. When these bodies had been piled up on this wagon and not dropped very carefully, very often the ones on the bottom burst from the weight and rough handling and the contents would leak out.
While working in this operating room I have often been sent out to put some white stuff that we had in a large pail in the operating room on this excretion that had run onto the ground from these dead bodies. I do not know what this was, but think that it was air slacked lime.
The bodies were taken a little way out of Trelon and buried. I cannot say just how or where they were buried as I never saw that part of it. I was told that they were buried a little way from Trelon, where a long ditch or trench was dug and the bodies were put into it and covered.
There was an old German at this place who worked in the operating room, he being the private I have mentioned several times. He, of course, was under the Sergeants orders. He was quite an old man and was the best German soldier I ever saw. He was mean at times but was just a little bit better than the rest or average German. He would very often ask me about the ways of doing things in the U.S. and we very often talked about the war. One day while talking to him I said that Germany as a nation would be looked down upon by all other nations for several generations to come. When he wanted to know why, I said for the way you have treated prisoners of war and civilian prisoners. I then related several things that I had heard as to the way the French and Belgium women had been misused by them, also of treatment of their prisoners that I had experienced, and some that I have heard of. He told me a whole lot more in regard to the women; statements that wouldnt pass through the mail if I should write them, and some treatment that he knew of that prisoners of war received that made me think that I knew nothing.
I made some mention about them cooking the bodies of dead men to get the grease and he told me that was necessary to make ammunition.
This German admitted that the treatment received by the women and prisoners was brutal, but said that he had always been an honest man as he had a wife and two daughters at home. I never saw this particular German be extremely cruel, although I have received several pushes from him when he would be trying to make me understand something. I have also seen him lead other prisoners to the door by the ear and give them a kick as they passed out. At that, I have always said that this fellow is the best German I have met while a prisoner of war in their hands. This fellow also told us about quite a little news that he would get from the newspaper that he received daily.
Our armies were getting closer and the guns could be heard plainer, and at night the flashes in the sky could be seen of each explosion of a shell. The Germans had received orders to be ready to move and all the guards and those who worked about the place had their packs all made up and ready to pull on a minutes notice.
We were all quite glad of this, as we understood the reason. Our men were getting close up, and possibly the Huns would have to get out on the run and leave us there. That is what we wanted- to be recaptured. Some things were packed up ready to be shipped- if trains could be gotten in time.
There wasnt much rest. The prisoners were uneasy, and they were also quite happy. Rumors helped to make them so. The Germans were also very uneasy, because they didnt know how soon they would be captured. We sure would have taken a delight in having some of those fellows as some of our prisoners instead of being theirs just for a change.
Reports came in that there would be a train to be loaded on a Sunday. On account of the heavy traffic on the railroad it was impossible to get these men out. They had very little clothing, and nothing to eat. After they had been there a day, soup was taken down to them. Some got a portion and some didnt. The next day it was decided to march these men back to the camp until a definite time could be arranged for a removal. When they got back to camp they told of their journey, also how many men had died in their car. One would say, Two men died in the car I was in. Another said, Thats nothing. There were four people dead in the car I was in and we left two people there who are almost dead- they were so far gone that they wouldnt live much longer.
Toward evening the Italian detail was called together and they started out to clean up the cars. The next day three more men left. We then received word that the Allies had been driven back a good distance and that the Germans again held Laon. Our hearts dropped lower than ever but we hoped this was a false rumor.
Several German guards were there the next day to get some prisoners to take to work. They were from Hirson, a small town about thirty kilometers from Trelon. As I passed one of them he looked back at me and kept looking. I looked back, wondering if he saw anything green on me. Soon he beckoned out, English! I hollered back, Nein. He beckoned me toward him. Was bist du?
I said, American.
Bist du Amerikaner?
He, like other Germans, seemed to think that we should look different than other people. He then said, Amerikan soldat papier. He meant that we were paper soldiers. He said that our troops had been coming fast, but that they were going the other way now and soon the German army would be in Paris.
Soon word came out that we would be leaving. Max and I didnt much care about getting away from our forces further than we had to. We knew that we were still alive at this place and didnt know what the next place would bring. Of the places that we had been, each one had gotten worse. We commenced looking for hiding places, and decided to conceal ourselves if our men came in a hurry and the Germans should try to run the prisoners out in a hurry.
About 2:00pm on that day we lined up to move. We reached the railroad station and were loaded. Most of the windows were broken out and we could see a cold ride ahead of us. At 6:30pm we received bread instead of soup for our supper. This was the night of October 27th, 1918. We began to move at 8:00pm but didnt make any headway. We nearly froze to death all night. The next morning we pulled into a railroad station at Hirson. From there we boarded another train.
Dame Rumor got busy and soon up and down the line of cars went rumors of different kinds. One was that the allies had advanced and had us surrounded and we couldnt go any farther as the Allies were holding the track a little farther up. This sounded quite reasonable to us, as we could see the flares at the Front all night, and we also could see the flash of the guns. Another was that we were going to be unloaded and the Germans were going to turn us loose and try to get their own men out alive. We commenced discussing how we would make it to our own lines, but the excitement was short-lived.
The next day we were loaded on train cars. Like all the other trains that I saw in Europe these were compartment coaches with side doors and once you got in you were there to stay until let out. Night came on but even though we were sleepy we were too hungry and uncomfortable to sleep; also too crowded, as each man had a little bundle with him. Some of us had an old overcoat and these we had to use as a cover for over our knees. The morning of the second day dawned, and still there was nothing to eat. About two oclock that day we reached a fair-sized town and were unloaded and lined up. Just to get out and stretch was a great relief. Soon some French women came down a long stairs carrying a very large kettle containing some soup. This soup was of a better quality than we had been getting, for which we were very thankful indeed. It took an extra force of guards to hold the fellows back in their places. Hungry to start with and having nothing for two nights and almost two days made some like savages.
A starving man is worse than a drunken man. Each man was given one dipper full of this soup and it didnt take him long to dispose of it and be looking for more. When we received our dipper full, which was one liter, we were marched back in front of our coach. When the kettle was emptied the women left for more.
The last time they returned the bunch that had been fed knew that there was more than enough soup there to feed the few remaining who hadnt received their liter full and everybody was after it. Everyone was knocking one another down trying to get a little extra. The women were crowded so that they dropped all and ran. The guards could not do any thing, only knock a few down around them. Officers were yelling, but it did no good. As to the soup that was left, no one got enough to make any mention of, as most of it was spilled in the tussle. Two Tommies fell into it in the start and under any other circumstances it would have been very comical to see them licking their hands and clothes so that none of it went to waste. This little soup made us feel a lot better. It was warm and did a lot of good, but came a long way from satisfying our hunger.
The American and French soldiers were always more reasonable in a place like I have just mentioned. They always lined up and waited for their turns, or at least most of them did, but the English could not possibly be handled or managed in any way. We were often very disgusted with them and very often told them about it. They wanted everything and rather than see their Buddy get it they would see it wasted. The Italians were also strong on that order. They were flocked about the coach that we were in and they couldnt talk enough to suit themselves. They seemed satisfied that the war was about at an end and they were again thanking the Americans. This made the French and English very much peeved and whenever we praised the Belgians after that we were always told how mean they were.
While we were there we asked several questions in regard to what we had heard as to their treatment. A small boy was brought to us with his right hand cut off near the wrist. I cannot say that the Huns did this, as I did not see them do it, but the Belgians told us that it was done by Huns. They told us of many dirty stunts, but as we did not see them, we only have the Belgians word for it. Naturally we believed what they told us, as we now knew from what we had seen that a Hun was not too low to do anything and we put nothing past themno matter how mean or cruel.
We stopped here quite a long time. The rumor was that we were to receive instructions as to where we were going. The tracks were filled all over with a solid mass of trains loaded with artillery and other supplies from the Front. We couldnt see how the war could last much longer as trainload after trainload was going into Germany from the Front. All sidetracks were full and very often-long auto trains were seen on the roads. There were also quite a number of German soldiers being sent back. From the Belgians we learned of the big advances the Allies were making and we wished that we would have stayed and hidperhaps we would have been recaptured. When we left this place, the whole town was there waving and yelling at us as we left. It was as though a circus or some similar thing had taken place at this town, as it seemed as though everybody had turned out.
That night, early in the evening, we landed in Luxembourg and were again given a little soup, but of a very thin quality. We got into the coach again and as we were so sleepy some fell asleep while others remained awake. All we could do was to lie against one another. When we awoke, or rather when it became daylight the next morning, we learned that we would soon enter Germany. From the time that we received our last soup until the next was sixty hours. We were almost starved to begin with and then had to wait sixty more hours. Some died and were taken out at different towns along the road, while others were down and out and so weak that they couldnt leave the coaches for anything to eat when we did get a chance. It was very dark when we got our soup this time and machine guns were placed around to keep order. Not only us but also a few carloads of German soldiers had been coupled onto our train and they were also hungry. Talk about a fuss! They sure made one. Every time they got to any place where there were people they would make an awful noise crying: Hunger! Hunger! in German.
While we were lined up there waiting, a German officer came toward me and asked, You are an American, are you not? I answered, Yes sir. He said, I am also. I asked, What are you doing in a uniform like that if you are an American? He then told me that he had been a professor in some large college and had been teaching German. He wanted to improve his education in German and went to Germany. While he was there the war broke out and he was forced into service. As he had done some flying in civilian life he chose the aviation branch of service as he thought that some of his American friends had perhaps joined the French or English aviation corps.
He had always fought on the Russian Front or any other front where the French and English werent fighting. He said he didnt want to shoot any of his friends. He had been wounded twice and was now convalescing at that time and would be going to the Front again the following week, and he supposed it would be the Western Front. Austria had quit that day and he told us about it. They were very much disgusted with Austria and said that they werent any good; instead of being a help that they were a detriment, as Germany had to take care of them.
I asked him if he intended to go back to America after the war. Yes, but he feared that that wouldnt be for some time as Germany had passed a law that no able bodied male citizen could leave for ten years. He then told me that his parents and some sisters were living in Brooklyn and New York. I asked him if he thought that the war was about over with. Well, he said, I dont know. Germany could hold out for a while and he thought that President Wilsons points were too strong. I asked, What kind of terms would we have got had it been the other way-Germany setting the terms instead of the Allies? He didnt know. I asked if Germany was getting awfully low on food and he said that they were, but that it wouldnt stop them. I told him that I couldnt see how a man could fight without eating and said that if the Americans had to fight with what the German soldiers were getting that theyd know why it would be hard.
I asked if the Allies were advancing very much and he said that they were but Germany was letting them. The Germans were going to retreat as far as the Rhine River and there they had strong fortifications and nothing could break through there. We believed some of this and some we didnt. We believed that the Germans were retreating all right, not because they wanted to, but because they had to. We also believed that they had strong forts on the Rhine, but Germany didnt expect anyone to ever go through any of their lines, and it was also possible to go across the Rhineif we cared to.
This fellow told me that his English was very poor, as he hadnt had any occasion to use it for several years. He spoke very good English, but had a brogue, which made it quite difficult to understand him. Whether he was, or used to be, an American, I dont know, but at the present time it could easily be seen that he was a German at heart, also in uniform. When speaking of the Allies he would say you people and in speaking of the Germans he would say we. When we were alone I said that if he did go back to the Front that I hoped that one of his friends would get him, instead of him getting one of his friends.
He told us of a riot that they had had at this same place the day before among the Germans. They were being fed here and didnt get enough to eat and demanded more. They were refused and there was a big fight and a few men were killed. They were going to play safe and mounted machine-guns around and were going to use them if necessary.
Later we received a small piece of bread with some kind of a paste on it and were again loaded into the cars. We didnt pull out for a while and as we had no lights, we drowsed away. Early the next morning we were in Coblenz and had crossed the Rhine.
Germanys shortage of men was commencing to show clearly, as women were everywhere doing mens work and in many cases they were doing the work of horses. Very often women were seen pulling wagons around. Cows were used for plowing and general farm work. Not oxen, although we saw a few of them. The main crop seemed to be mangles. Women were also doing most of the farm work. Very often we could see prisoners of war working around different places and more than once we wished we could get into a field of mangles for a few minutes. We dreaded them, but they were better than nothing.
The country was very nice looking--hills and valleys, trees and winding roads, plenty of streams--but under the circumstances we couldnt appreciate its beauty.
The train crew was made up of women and young girls. All wore uniforms. In one case an engine stopped alongside of our car and we talked to the crewa man and two girls. One of the girls looked rather young to us, and we remarked that she was rather young looking to be doing such heavy work. She told us that she had been doing that same work for over two yearsfiring a railroad engine. They gave us some hot water. We all drank some and then had enough to bathe our hands and face.
We passed through several fair-sized towns, also several places where there were prison camps. As the Englishman who worked in the office was with us and was familiar with all the names of different camps, we thought that each place we came to, where there was a camp, would be ours.
On the chilly Sunday morning, November 3rd, we pulled into Merseburg, Germany, and were unloaded and lined up. Several were too weak to get out of the cars and had to be carried out. As we stood in line waiting to be moved, and shivering from the frosty damp air, we had to take many insulting remarks, and say nothing, from the civilians of the town. There were quite a few that passed us going to church. Even women, evidently mothers or wives of some soldier who fell in battle, who were in mourning wearing long black veils, would say mean things.
After the weak had been loaded onto a large wagon we were started on a hike. We didnt know how far or where, but we knew that if it was very far that most of the men would be lying along the side of the road.
As we marched along carrying our little bundles, we became very weak and men began to fall. A new outfit of guards had met us at the station and the ones that had been with us on the trip had been relieved. We noticed by the buttons on their caps that most of the new guards were Prussians and we sure hated that type of a Hun worse than any of the rest as they had always been more severe.
We marched for about an hour. Many men had fallen out, as they were so weak and could not possibly go further. We were all ready to drop. We were hungry and weak when we started and the starvation on the trip, no sleep, and cold, had put us all out of commission. I had several rolls of the pills about me, which came in very handy on the trip.
After our hours hike we reached a prison camp but did not enter. We were marched all the way around and entered at the back. Several prisoners were standing inside of the barbed wire watching us pass and we understood their looks.
The wire fence about this place was similar to the one about the other camp or pen at Trelon. It was about ten feet high with a lean-in of about three or four feet. This was made of barbed wire closely woven and then there was another fence about eight or ten feet away, the guards were in between these two fences.
We also passed a pen of dogs used to chase prisoners who escaped, if any of them were lucky enough to get a chance. They were doing some awful howling and by the looks of them they got less to eat than we did. This was an awful large camp and it took us a long time to get around it. We finally reached a small lane and were marched up that.
On one side there was a small bunch of buildings built away from the rest of the camp. This was the isolation part of the camp and we were to get into that for a while. On the other side of the lane was the main camp and there were thousands of prisoners walking about. As we passed, it was only natural that the English got next to the fence and spoke to us as we passed, as we were among the English. Do they feed anything here? we asked. They answered Some black bread and water soup, but we eat very little of it, though. We get Red Cross packages here and live on them. We only eat Jerries junk when our packages run low.
The first thing us Americans wanted to know was whether or not the American Red Cross had headquarters here and whether or not there were any Americans there. There were a few Americans here and they were getting a few packages, but they were good packages. They also told us that the package that the A.R.C. sent was the best that any R.C. sent and we were commencing to feel good already. They told us that we would be penned up away from the main camp and wouldnt be allowed to get into it but they could get over to see us and would be as soon as they would get a chance.
We were turned into these places when we got up the lane far enough, and halted, and after being counted off we were marched into the buildings. They were very cold and as there were stoves in them we got the promise of some coal. The beds were made of wood and were in the order of bunks. They also had the paper sack of shavings. There was some excitement in getting settled and after we did get settled we wanted something to eat. We were told that something was on the way; that some French men were getting it for us.
At these prison camps there were committees. The French, English, Italians, and Russians would have a few men who were at the head of things. Whenever the committee got any news they were to let the rest know about it. Whenever the Germans at headquarters wanted all the prisoners to know anything, the committee was called and told about it and it was their duty to spread it.
The French committee called on us and most of them could speak perfect English. One had lived in America for several years and had been a dentist in some large city. He was glad to see us, but not as prisoners. They told us of Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria signing the armistice and encouraged us along by telling us that we would soon get something to eat and some clothes from the Red Cross. They also told us the American Red Cross gave larger packages than any other Red Cross did.
We were then registered as prisoners of war and I received my number6670B. The letter designated the Company to which I belonged. We were given cards to be sent to our Red Cross, also some for the French Red Cross. Some of the other committees were also among their men and gave them about the same news that we got and were a pretty happy, hungry bunch of men. A little while later we received a little piece of black bread and some soup, which was terribly bitter. It was made of mangles, ground up and boiled, and tasted much worse than what we had been getting. This, we learned, was a diet. We were supposed to be convalescents and were to be on this diet for several days to regain our strength. We all ate the bread and drank the soup, even though it was very nasty tasting, as we were very hungry.
Shortly after we got through eating we were sitting around resting, because we couldnt sleep after all the excitement of the good news that we had received. Some Tommies yelled down to us, Yanks, here are some more Yanks coming to see you. They were real Yanks who were coming to see us and, as dirty and ragged as we were, we were glad to see them. They wore campaign hats, new uniforms, shoes and leggings. They looked like real soldiers instead of prisoners. Among them was Kerns, who had been brought into that hospital where I was first taken. His chest had not fully healed up but he was looking pretty good. He had been sent direct from that hospital to this camp and had been getting his Red Cross packages, and clothes. After I told him of the route that I had had to take he considered himself lucky. The Sergeant whom I mentioned that lay in the opposite corner at the hospital was also there. I hadnt actually met him before, but Kerns had told me who he was.
We were next treated to a real American cigarette. We, of course, had a great many questions to ask in regard to our packages, etc. These men told us that they never touched any of the Jerries soups or bread and that they often traded the bread with the Russians for some spuds which the Russians stole while out working. That day was sure an exciting one for us. We signed several cards including one for the sizes of our hats, shoes, and clothing. The American Sergeant told us that he had received word from the Red Cross stating that there would be some clothes and several packages of food sent in as emergency rations to be used until the regular packages could be started. After that got started we would receive them regularly.
The English committee promised us that they would do their best to get us some rations from their Red Cross the following day. The French said that we would receive some of their hard tack.
We were given a card to send home and were told that we could write every week. I at once wrote all I could get on mine and addressed it to my parents. Later on I wrote another but was told that I might as well keep it as the Germans would not send any more and they were only destroying them so I kept that one and delivered it in person after I got back.
We had a good sleep that night and the next morning received some more diet. I ate very little of the diet and decided to wait a while longer for the black bread. About ten oclock we were all lined up and marched into another building where we were told to strip and we were vaccinated in the chest on the left side. This was far from pleasant, as it was not done very gently. None of us knew what it was for and we learned that we were to get three of them.
We were called out into the yard and a German soldier who spoke and read very good English read a long string of junk off to us of things that we could do and things that we couldnt do. He gave consequences for what we should do and what we shouldnt do, and nearly all of them ended punishment even unto death if we didnt do as we should. If we carried civilian money; if we saw anyone destroying German property and didnt report them, and it was found out that we knew it, would be just as big an offense for us as though we had committed the deed ourselves. We had to report if we saw any one lighting matches or smoking in or about any buildings, and dozens of other dos and donts. After he had read all of these to us we had to sign our names to the fact that we had fully understood all.
That noon we received some food from the English Red Cross, a package for each two men. We were told to go easy on this, as it would have to last us for a long time. We also received some French hard tack and were told that we would get this about once a week. I didnt eat or drink any more diet from that time on, although I ate small pieces of bread several different times when I would run short.
The following day we received a real bath and our clothes were fumigated. The next day we got another inoculation in the chest on the opposite side. The after effects of these shots in the chest were very bad and in many cases the fever caused by them would make the victim delirious.
About two days later we received our third one on the same side that we got the first. This third and last one was too much for me and I was delirious for several hours. I was some amusement for the rest of the boys as I did a lot of talking and singing. They told me that I had said everything about the Germans but bless them. I also sang several songs, among them the Star Spangled Banner. I laughed when I heard all this and asked them if they stood up, and they said that they did. I asked why they didnt stand me up and they said that they thought that I might stop singing. Things moved along here very well, at least a lot better than we had been used to. Some of the boys had eaten too much and were sick. Colds were very common, but in general everyone felt good. It was possible to hear a few humming a tune, whistling and singing once in a while, and even laughing.
The tenth of November we received word that some food had arrived for us and we would receive it the following day, as that was Sunday. We were also told that the armistice was signed and that we would be cut in the very near future. We all tore around in good shape after hearing so much good news. We had a high old time and after we had settled down again we were talking about what we would do when we got out, the route we would be sent home, and all other things that would naturally come up under the circumstances. An English Sergeant Major walked in and we were called to attention. He then told us that the armistice had not been signedthat the German officials had gotten there too late. There was a sigh all over the room. He told us to keep up, Seventy-two hours more time has been given, and under no circumstances could the war last much longer, he said, as all of Germany was at a revolution.
After he left we declared that the next man who came to us and told us of the armistice being signed would go out of the window headfirst. Twice we had been fooled.
Naturally after cheering as much as we could and feeling as happy as we could under the circumstances, our hearts and hopes dropped lower than ever when we leaned that the signing of the armistice was a false alarm.
The next day a few of us went to the French Red Cross building, where our Red Cross supplies were to be kept, and received the issue of eats and clothes for all the Americans who had arrived with us.
Corn Willie sure looked good to us this trip as well as the gold fish as we called salmon. Besides food, we received clothes. Each man received an overcoat, O. D. shirt, suit of underwear, socks, handkerchiefs, towels and toilet articles, razor, soap, toothbrush and paste and some American cigarettes. We were all quite happy and it was like a family of children around a Christmas tree after Santa Claus had just left.
While these articles were being divided, the English Sergeant-Major again made his appearance and asked for attention. It was quiet, but I must say that he got very little attention from the Americans. He couldnt expect it. Their minds were somewhere else. We were again told that the armistice had been signed and that this time it was no false alarm; it was actually true. We didnt celebrate this time as we had been fooled twice previously and this time we were going to find out first and then celebrate. Besides, our new clothes, food, etc., took up most of our time. Everything had to be divided equally, and, as most was easy to do, but no one could touch his until everyone had his share. After all was divided it was only a very few minutes until everyone was eating and more than enjoying themselves. After eating, we of course had to put on our new clothes and next try our razors and toothbrushes. After that we all felt better and looked somewhat better, although most of our uniforms were in pretty bad shape. We were told that we would receive new uniforms, shoes and hats as soon as our names and numbers were received at Red Cross headquarters, which was at Berne, Switzerland. It was our fond hope that we would be released from Germany before the clothes ever got there. Rumors were already afloat and according to them we were going to leave any minute and we didnt feel safe in going to sleep. We were afraid that some would be going and we might be among them, but would be asleep.
We had a long lonesome wait at this place and some days seemed like weeks. We knew that the armistice was signed and that we would soon be going home and waiting to be turned loose or taken away any day, in fact most any hour.
After getting something to eat everybody seemed to get a little life and we often had pretty good times among ourselves. We even went over into the main camp, as several of us could speak a little German, and we all claimed to be dulmatchers (interpreters) and in this way we could slip by on most of the guards very often. They had musical entertainments or speaking by ones who were talented along different lines and once I, with a few others, attended a show that the Russians put on. It was very good and the acts were carried out in fine shape. We were told that these fellows had been professional actors.
We were not allowed to carry or have civilian money of any country in our possession. We were supposed to exchange it for some paper that was issued at the canteen at this place. This paper was printed on one side and had no value whatever outside of this camp. It was merely a check. No bank or government was back of it. The offense for carrying the national money was very severe and it was not very healthy to be caught carrying any of it. In one case an Englishman had escaped from some place where he was working at. He had dressed like a woman and one morning lost one of his gloves, which gave him away. He was taken back to camp and given solitary confinement for twenty-eight days. Seven days for escape, seven days for wearing civilian clothes and fourteen days for having civilian money about him. He got twice as much time for having the money as he did for either of the other offenses.
I wanted some of this money as souvenirs, as well as some of the other boys. We planned and plotted how we were going to keep it. Some had it in their shoes and different places about their clothing. I ripped the collar off my blouse and put a few bills in between the two pieces of the collar one of each of the following: one mark bill, two mark bill, five mark bill and a five franc bill. This sounds like a lot of money but in all, considering it at pre-war time value, it only amounted to three dollars in real money. I again sewed up my collar and wondered where I could hide a little silver. The band at the top of my trousers seemed to be about as good as any place so I ripped that and put some different silver or metal coins in that place. My belt covered this and these coins would have been very hard to find. I also put a couple in the lapel of my shirt pocket and sewed these places up.
If we did a little yelling they would leave. Germany was at a revolution and the soldiers were not doing their duties. Therefore we were neglected more and received better treatment, not because they gave it to us, but because they were not on the job and we were taking advantage of it.
The guards were not as active as they had been and instead of walking their posts they sat around and at different times we walked back and forth as though we had a perfect right to do so.
Several of the prisoners had been going away after dark. A hole had been cut in the fence in the back end of the yard and every night some would leave. Some just went out for a visit and would return while others left for good. We were thinking about leaving but we were so far into Germany that it would be a long walk and would take a long time to get out if we ever did. We were told that we would soon be sent out and that it was very foolish to escape.
Several Russians escaped as they were putting them to work and releasing some of the others. We were told that the Russians were to be kept there to do the work that the other prisoners were supposed to do so that they could be exchanged and sent to their own countries. The Russians didnt like that kind of a noise and every day some would take advantage of the hole in the fence. Several French left also.
One night Max (the American whom I have already mentioned several times) and two Englishmen made up their minds to escape. These three fellows had gone out visiting by way of the hole in the fence and knew the lay of the country pretty well as far as the village. One of the Englishmen was the one who had tried to escape in a womans clothes as previously stated. His name was Alex. Alex got a pair of German trousers from one of the Tommies in our barracks, a cap from another and an overcoat. He got a belt with Gott Mitt Uns on it and stole a bayonet. He had these clothes over the top of his own. Max and the other fellow were going out the same as they had been dressed. They were to act as prisoners and Alex was to act the part of a German guard. They took a little Red Cross stuff with them and we helped them through the fence. Alex had been a prisoner for four years and could read, talk, understand and sing German as good as any German could. If everything looked good they were going to notify us by mail through the English committee and we were to follow; if it didnt go well they would return.
Max left several little trinkets with me and I was to send them to his home after I got back to the U.S. These fellows hadnt been gone more than half an hour when it started to rain and it rained all night. We expected them back but they didnt come.
Three days passed and we were commencing to think that we would soon receive a letter or some word from them. The evening of the third day we received word through another Englishman that the boys were on their way back. The morning of the fourth day they came back and they were sure tired out. Their clothing was soaked and covered with mud. Alex had tried to get transportation, but that was impossible. No one was allowed to ride the trains in. They had hiked all night the first night and the next day Alex tried to get them food and he was asked for a card and he didnt have any. The second night they stopped with some German troops. Alex played his part O.K. He told the Germans that he was taking the two prisoners from one camp to another and got by with it. They then began talking about their experiences. The Germans wanted to know what company Alex belonged to and what battles he had been engaged in. Alex told him some company but said that he had been on the Russian front. After a few minutes the German left, stating that they were going to get Alex some papers so that he could get food and lodging along the road and couldnt see why the headquarters of the prison camp didnt furnish him with that.
Alex was a little afraid that the company and the front which he had given might not jibe, also that they might want to know some more of his doings and find out who he was, so while the German was gone they left and from their reports I dont believe that they lost much time in getting away from that place. They finally landed in Liebzig and attempted to get some eats but failed. They then made up their minds to return as they learned that it was worse toward the border. They got back to Halle and stayed there one night and got a ride from Halle to Merseburg. They said that they would stay there a month longer before they would try to get out again, nor would they advise anyone else to try to escape.
There was a cemetery adjoining the camp. The prisoners of the camp had erected a large monument. Each grave was marked; the prisoners paid for also all expenses connected with this. When this monument was dedicated, a committee of each nationality was chosen to do so. I was one of the Americans. The monument was of stone and stood about twelve feet high. All four sides had engravings in different languages. The English inscription read: In memory of our comrades who died in captivity. One side was engraved in French, with words of the same meaning, as well as Russian and Italian. Some of the German civilians from town were out there and after one man from each nation spoke in behalf of the prisoners of his country, a few Germans spoke. One man, a clergyman, spoke and said that as long as he lived around Merseburg he would see that the cemetery would be kept up as the prisoners had kept it. He also gave the prisoners a great deal of credit for doing as they had in keeping this place up under the circumstances. He said that he knew what an awful life we had to lead while captives, but that we would be going back to our own countries soon where we would receive plenty to eat and wear and that we should forget all. He also asked us not to hold any hatred toward them as the war was over and we must forget those things. We could forget a certain amount of our treatment, but another certain amount never shall be forgotten. Being prisoners in the hands of our enemy, we could not and did not expect to receive the best of care but we surely did expect to be handled like human beings. Had we been handled, as such it would not have been necessary to erect this monument for so many who died in captivity. I have obtained several pictures of this cemetery, which I bought from a Frenchman, who secured them from a German photographer.
We had a long time to wait at this camp after the armistice had been signed. Each day a new rumor would be around. Sometimes the war was on again. Often we heard that our own troops were coming through after us. The Englishmen were sure that they heard one of their own engines whistle and naturally the rumor started that the English trains were after us. A newspaper named English-American News was given to us about twice a week. It contained news from some countries, but it also contained much propaganda. We didnt know how much of it to believe. One article told us what wonderful good treatment and reception we would receive if we remained in these camps peacefully until we were sent out by these man officials and that if we did not, we would be punished after we got out if we werent killed in trying to escape. We knew well enough that our enemies did not want us to stay in a prison if we could get away, and newspapers that the Huns could read couldnt make us believe that we were supposed to stay in this camp.
We were getting our American Red Cross packages and were depending upon them wholly. We very often exchanged our German bread for some from the Russians. One day we heard that potatoes were very easy to get, and everybody seemed to have some. There was no shortage, as evidenced by the fact that someone would come around with a couple pockets full for sale. That evening wires were cut or removed very easily, and the fellows slid through under the fence in this ditch. The guard was up perhaps fifty or sixty talking with another guard. There were sure some potatoes going into camp that night. Some of the Russians told some of their fellow countrymen in the min camp about it and they carried them away by the sack full. The next morning a search was made. Several sacks of potatoes were piled up in the middle of the yard, but unless a man had more than his share, they were not taken away. They were looking for rabbits. Some one had gotten hold of eight rabbits, which the Germans had been figuring on getting. We thought this pretty good, and wished the one who got them luck. They did not find the rabbits and left us again without taking the pile of potatoes in the middle of the yard. When they returned that evening, the potatoes had been stolen for a third time. They did not look for them the second time and if they had they would not have gotten near so many because we sure ate to our hearts content. This was another case of our taking advantage of the guards absence.
One Monday morning we (the Americans) were called to report to a certain building in the main camp. Rumors had been around pretty strong to the effect that we were soon leaving. We got into our clothes in a hurry and reported. We were then told to report at the main gate to have a picture taken. A lady from Switzerland wanted a group of about twenty prisoners from each nationality to photograph. When we found out about this we were quite disappointed and started back. Some of the boys called to us and asked us not to be pikers. The rest of the nationalities were well represented, but the Americans didnt want to go. We werent so anxious to be photographed as we were to get back home. One of the boys called us back and he and two more of us reported at the gate. There we met a lady who claimed that she was born in England and had moved to Switzerland just before the war started. She took us to the office and we stopped outside while she went in. She came out with a paper in her hand; a permit to take us out. She went to some officer and got some guards to guard us while out and with five guards we were marched down the road. We thought this pretty rich to be taken out under guard in a case of this kind over a month after the war was over. We asked the lady where we were going and she told us to Merseburg to have our picture taken. We supposed that we would be grouped and shot and then taken back to camp. We were taken to a cathedral and there stood a man with a motion picture camera. We were supposed to be sight-seeing. We were to go into the cathedral and be photographed while going in and then again when coming out. This did not work as the lady could not get permission to allow us to go in, so we were marched by and craned our necks as though we were seeing something. We were then hiked down a large row of steps and the camera stopped at the top. We were told to walk across a bridge and back up the steps. A German in uniform stood by and handed each of us a piece of paper as we passed, to represent a pamphlet of some kind. We were then taken down to the river and as we walked along the banks were again photographed. We then went to some loading dock and were asked to get in a boat and would be rowed or paddled up and down the river a German paddling the boat.
I, as well as a few more commenced to see the purpose of this photographing and refused to get into the boat or any more pictures excepting one which they promised to make a copy of. We were to be paddled up and down the river in a boat by a German. Then Germans would hand us pamphlets or souvenirs, and we would be looking at the German cathedrals, etc., and photographed while doing so. Then Germany would come out with these nice films and show the world how nice they were treating their prisoners. We told this lady how we felt about it. We asked her to photograph us about the camp, eating our soup, and to show our general living conditions. She said that they werent allowed to do those things and that we could well believe her.
That night we decided we wanted some potatoes, and as an extra guard had been put on the pile of spuds, we didnt see how we could get them. Finally the bright idea of buying the guard came to us. We all talked about it and took a collection of what we could give. Some offered a small can of meat between two people; some offered hard tack, and others black bread. We were not in the habit of peddling our eats, but in this case, we were going to get value or no deal.
One of the boys went out. Being of Jewish decent, he could handle the German language very well. He got into a conversation with the guard and put the proposition to him. The guard told him that he would talk to his comrade and see what he thought about it. As soon as they were relieved, one came to our window and knocked. He wanted to see what we were going to give them. We showed him, and it didnt take very long before they returned with a large gunny-sack full of potatoes; all the two of them could carry. This quite late and ordinarily we were not up. Wed been getting so little attention lately that we werent following rules and regulations very closely.
We gave them what we had promised and sure got our moneys worth, and the guards seemed to think that they had too. They didnt leave the place but started to eat at once- that being a big change for them. We didnt wait long either. It seemed everyone was paring potatoes and in a very few moments a pail full was set upon the coals and cooked. We had a midnight feed. After we finished one we had another pail full and hid the remainder of the spuds in different bunks. None of us slept very well as we had eaten too much. Since getting our Red Cross packages we had been eating so much better and everybody got pep. So that night we had a real Dutch picnic and most of it was at their expense.
Early the next morning (Tuesday) we were told to report to a certain barracks. We received an extra piece of bread and some kind of meat paste that was actually spoiled. The cans that contained it were rusted through and the odor was very strong. We would not eat it and threw it down, but some Russian prisoners picked it up. Then they threw it down as quickly as we did. We were also issued another Red Cross package. We didnt need the bread and divided it among the Russians. Two days before a large wagonload of Red Cross packages had been sent. What were we going to do with them? As their headquarters were in the French Red Cross building, we decided to turn them over to the French and they were suppose to divide them between different nationalities. The French got very little from their outside government so it was more than right for us to turn over the packages as we did. We received orders to get our belongings together and be ready to leave at noon. We were one happy bunch. Max had a very high fever and was very weak. I attended to him as best as I could. I gave him all the pills he could take- along with the good news of leaving. At noon we were lined up and our names and numbers were called off. No one was missing, as every man was on the job when it came to leaving this place with prospects of going home. There were 22 of us, and 21 had been wounded. One man had been captured with the French, having served in an ambulance section with them. Some were still in bad shape.
We were finally marched out of the gate and down the road. Two English men stuck with us. We were all quite tired and exhausted but none of us were downhearted. About two oclock the train rolled in. we got in it were ever we could find room the two Englishmen with us. Whenever it was necessary they said they were Americans also. No one doubted their word. We passed through Halle and Liebzieg, and Max showed us certain places he remembered from his attempt to escape. After we got to Berlin, our train pulled into a very large depot and we got out. The guard lined us up and we were taken through the depot and halted in front of it. We stopped here and waited for orders. Here we were, in Berlin, Germany, standing in front of a railroad station.
While standing there several people came up to us and started to talk. They spoke excellent English. Some had lived in America. Some told of how they would go back there as soon as they got the chance. A lady passed by carrying a few bouquets of fresh-cut flowers, the first we had seen in a very long time. One of the boys remarked, Oh, look at the flowers! The lady stopped very suddenly and said, I understand and speak English quite as well as you do. We believed her because she spoke these words very well. We were very surprised and stood and gazed at her as she started off again.
Several children came up to us and asked for something to eat. One fellow who claimed to have a brother in the meat business in Chicagi sent them away, telling them that we were prisoners and didnt have anything to eat ourselves. This was very pitiful because we would gladly have given those ragged little children something to eat, but were afraid we would lose all that we had.
A few very old style cabs were lined up at the station, but not in very great demand. They had small horses attached to them and these were in the very poorest condition. Most of these cabs were driven by women or very old men. All the while we were there we saw only two automobiles. Other platform wagons were being pulled by women and small boys. Sometimes a dog or two would be pulling as well. We noticed that whenever there was a team pulling one of these wagons that it was soon loaded with German soldiers who were being transferred to some other depot.
We didnt know where we were going, but we were all happy as we had strong ideas that wherever we did go would be a step closer to home. Rumors soon started. Some would say that some German had told them that we were going to Hamburg and that an American ship was waiting there for us. This was almost too good to believe.
All of us who were there were Americans, with the exception of the three Englishmen. We caused a lot of excitement, as there was a crowd about us most of the time. Some were pretty decent to us and talked reasonably.
Plenty of them could speak our language and we could understand them well. Some told us how glad they were that the Allies had won; that the militarism of Germany would not be so strong. If Germany had won they feared that it would be worse than ever. Some praised President Wilson and said that he was doing fine for them. Others called us by our old name, Schwine! Then others would try to smooth that down and quite often they would have a good word or two among themselves. We didnt care about this as we didnt want them to have any scraps among us or around us. We had heard enough of them. We could stand to be called Schweine a few more times as long as they kept us moving.
Our orders finally arrived and we were to be at another depot about three kilometers from the one we were at in a very short time, or at least faster than any of us could walk with our baggage. We told the guard that we couldnt walk that far and he told us that we would have to pay our own way as no transportation was being furnished. Most of us had no money. I still had my few bills sewed in the collar of my blouse, and after talking a few minutes I asked the guard what it would cost to get us over there with one of those wagons. He asked a driver and found out that it would cost us three marks each. We commenced counting what we had and saw that we had enough. Some who had a few marks paid the bill for those who didnt have any. Most of the money Max had gotten for the coffee went for this. We were lucky that he had sold it, and were only too glad to divide ours with him. We all got on the wagon- twenty-three Americans, three Englishmen, and the German guard.
No need saying that this was a load, with the baggage we had. The streets were quite vacant after we got away from the station. Now and then we would pass another wagon, such as the one we were on, and then perhaps being drawn by women or children. Some of these had quite large loads on them as well. We saw several soldiers out walking with lady friends of theirs, and all seemed to be enjoying themselves. We were enjoying ourselves as well. It was a sleigh ride party. The guard wit us was a rather quiet, easy going sort of fellow, and didnt say much to us. We sang several songs as we were pulling down the road. We gave several yells and had a good time. At one place we had to walk to get over a bridge and a large crowd soon gathered around us.
The buildings that we saw were very high, mostly of one, two, or three story structures. We saw some four stories high and above the largest building carved in stone was New York in real English letters. We wondered if this building was called that because it was the highest.
After about half an hours ride we reached the railroad station. We unloaded and lined up. At each place or stop the three Tommies were expecting to be caught. Out in front of this station was a German selling hot ones. They were some kind of bun and real wieners smoking hot. They sure looked good to us, but when we rushed toward the man, he wouldnt sell us any. We went into the station, and then got the guard to get us a few. They looked very good. The bun did not taste as good as it looked. I dont know what it was made of. The wieners were made of horseflesh, but they were hot and tasted pretty good. We were then hiked up some stairs, and finally went through a gate and down to a train. The guard gave the railroad guard an order to pass twenty-two Americans. And here we surely expected the Tommies to get picked out. But as some could not get along as fast as others again, the Tommies got by. When we got up to our train it was very crowded again, as were all trains at that time because troops were on the move all over Germany.
Another car was attached to our car. Half of this car was not divided into compartments and had no seats. It was evidently used as a baggage car. The other half was divided. As soon as it was opened, we rushed in. As we all carried either a box or a bundle, we all supplied ourselves with seats. We were pretty well crowded in, because these cars were not very large. At the same time, we were quite comfortable and very happy. The train did not pull out for a while, and more and more people kept coming. Several came to our car and wanted to get in, but we had the door fastened from the inside. The guard had told us not to let anybody else in, and we were doing as we were told. Some of the Germans were very angry when we would not let them in, and one fellow threatened to break the glass. One of our boys who could speak German told him that we had orders not to let anyone else in. Another added, we are Americans and we are going home in style; we cant be crowded. We must have made quite a little noise because the guard, who was in the next coach, came back and told us that we better quiet down a little. We told him that other Germans were trying to get in and we wouldnt let them. And he said, Das ist richtig.
We now knew that we were going into the northern part of Germany, but didnt know where. Some of us began to fear the salt mines. What if we were going to be sent to work instead of going home. The salt mines were most dreaded by all prisoners of war. When a fellow went to work in them he very seldom came back. About two o clock that night, we were told to get out of the train, and there we saw a sign, Altdamm.
They were taken into the depot of this place, and learned that there was a camp about a kilometer out of town. As soon as we received our orders, the guard marched us out to this camp. After a short hike we finally reached the high barbed wire fences again. In a few minutes we were in a office and our names and numbers were taken. We were then marched over to another building and told to do the best we could because we would only be hear a few days at the most. Some of the fellow already in the place awoke and told us they were expecting to leave for Denmark. We lay right down on the bare floor without any covering of any kind. Because there was no fire we were very cold and got no sleep. The place was alive with fleas and we were busier than ever scratching.
The next morning we heard of some Americans at this place and we looked them up. Among them I found the fellow who had his leg amputated at the first hospital I was at. Several others were in very bad shape. They got to that place ahead of us and were expecting to leave that day. That night we found several old rags and blankets left by old prisoners and we got to bed quite early. With the exception with cooties and fleas we had a good sleep.
The next morning, rumors were about that we would be leaving that day. Our named were checked again that evening and we were told that we would leave the following day-Friday. It turned out that we did not leave till Saturday. The next morning we arose fresh for anything that would come. The weather was very miserable so we didnt seer around much. It was raining, snowing, and blowing very hard. We had no stove so being inside of the building was being out of the wind. We had a large pipe, perhaps two feet in diameter in which we were keeping a fire as fast as we could get the wood. To get this wood we had to break up anything we saw. We could do this easy enough because no on was guarding us.
Christmas was only a few days off and we were wondering were we would be and how we would spend it. We were thinking of our loved ones at home, wondering how they would spend their Christmas. At the time the Armistice was signed, we truly believed we would be in the United States for Christmas. We now knew we would be in the United States but where?
About noon that day, our names were called of and we were told to be ready to move at any time. They had been notified by telegram that the ship was almost there. As soon as they received the order we would have to move and be able to get ready in a hurry.
A prisoner of war always got a small box with a lock on it that was used to store whatever valuables he might want to keep in it. These kistens, as we called them, were all discarded at this place and we took with us only what we really wanted to keep. About 7:00 that evening we were told to fall in. We now knew that we were going to Stetten, a seaport on the Baltic in the northern part of Germany. WE did not know exactly where we were going from there, but there were many rumors afloat. There was a lot of singing and shouting during this eight-kilometer hike.
When we got to the docks there was a Danish ship waiting for us. The Danish sailors were out waving as well as English Red Cross nurses. German guards were lined up on each side of us to see that no one got away to do any mischief to the docks. There sure was an awful noise around the ship. We could hardly wait our turn to walk the gangplank. The minute a man got on it, everyone around sure knew it as he shouted for joy. It was the thrill of being free again. As we passed along the dock, we could see into the ship and it looked very inviting. It looked so different than the prison camps we had become accustomed to.
We passed some nurses and one asked, Are you not Americans? She was also an American, but had joined the English Red Cross at the outbreak of the war. Each of us was sent to our different decks and compartments, and lunch was served at about 10:00. We had bread and jam, plus tea and an apple. The bread was real white bread. The three Englishmen were still with us and had decided to go directly to America with us, provided that we were routed that way the English officials didnt pick them out.
We were told that we wouldnt leave until the next morning as more prisoners were expected. We had no place to lie except on the floor, and there was not a great deal of room for that. We were just happy to be where we were, and were told that we would land after just a days ride. Early the next morning the balance of the load boarded the ship and as they made as much noise as we had, we knew that they were getting on board.
Some came into the compartment where we were and as they passed us some of their faces looked very familiar. We soon found out that this trainload of men were from our former camp. We found several of the boys who had been our best friends. They had the laugh as we left there a couple days before they did, and now they were on the same ship with us. The three Englishmen, who had made their getaway with us, were glad to find their old palls getting out so much sooner than they had expected. We talked of our experiences since we had left one another and finally decided that it was about an even draw.
We had come on a passenger trains and had been in Berlin, while they came on an extra and in this case it was a much slower way. Our ride lasted about twelve hours and theirs had been three or four times that long. The camp at Merseberg was in better shape than the one at Altdamm. At any rate we were all on the same ship together and would reach our happy destination at the same time.
At daylight on Sunday we could feel the ship move. It seems as though everyone wanted to get out on deck to yell something at Germany before they left. For several hours we sailed slowly up a channel with Germany on either side of us. When we reached the Baltic, the ship stopped. As I happened to be on the deck at that time, I saw a German officer get off the ship and into a small boat. They turned and went back while we continued our course. We wondered why this German had been on board, but later found out that he had been guiding us through the mines.
The Baltic was a little rougher but no one became seasick. All who ere not well and needed medical attention were put into staterooms and given care by the Red Cross. We did not go hungry that day, but rather ate to our hearts content. At evening we docked at Copenhagen and our train was waiting there for us. We learned that we would have about an hours ride to the Danish camp.
The coaches were also of the European type. Compartments in several of the coaches were double-deckers. After switching around for a while, we stared on our trip and soon reached a small station. We were unloaded and told that we had about an hours hike to Camp Greve.
Several Danish people met us here and gave us a hearty reception. We were surprised to find that so many of them could speak our language. Many of them had been in America. The camp was very much different looking than any we had seen for a very long time. The buildings were bungalow style and very inviting. A sleeping room was on each end with plenty of good warm blankets. We were not there very long when we were called into a large mess hall and had a real feed- waited on by Danish soldiers. Many of them recognized us as Americans and we had several conversations with them. We were finding out some things that had happened since wed been captured. After our feed we retired. The next morning we received another good feed and a good bath. This kind of war was heaven!
Preparations were being made for Christmas. Several wagonloads of things were being brought in. Decorations were being put up and a number of little things were being done to make it a Merry Christmas for us. The day before Christmas some American officers came out to see us and brought us each a package of things from the American Red Cross. These things had been purchased in Copenhagen. I dont remember everything, but I got a scarf, some heavy socks, woolen mittens, smokes, candy, different kinds of dried fruit, plus toilet articles of different kinds.
The Colonel offered to send telegrams to our parents if we so desired to inform them that we were well and enjoying freedom again. Also he gave each man some krones. We had quite a talk with the Colonel and learned that we would leave in a few days. We were being held there to see whether disease or sickness would break out. We were all very happy- why shouldnt we be. First our freedom, second our treatment, and third all of the other things we were thankful for. Just this telegram to our parents meant more to any of us than any amount of money. The Colonel wished us Merry Christmas and we reciprocated with a few cheers- and then he left stating that if there was anything we wanted, we should not hesitate to call him.
As it seemed to be the custom in Europe, we enjoyed our Christmas feed on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day. It was some feed! No money, food, or time had been spared to make this a real banquet. I cannot relate all of what foods we ate by name, but the various dishes were enjoyed by all. Beside our plate lay a cigar with a small card printed in English. Danish officers and privates at the Greve Camp wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! The Danish Boy Scouts lost no time in doing their bit. Each barracks had a Christmas tree well trimmed and lighted with several little gifts around it. We were asked to leave this until evening and then we could divide up what there was as keepsakes or remembrances of our 1918 Christmas.
Our fond dream, of course, was to be home for Christmas, but we could not complain. Many of us had gone hungry on the previous Christmas. We retired rather late that night after playing with the toys and games around the tree.
The next morning we received ten krones (about $3.00) from the English paymaster and secured a pass to Copenhagen. We sang most of the way back to the station. The first thing we did in Copenhagen was to look for a restaurant. We found one and had a light lunch. As there were so few American soldiers there, we caused quite a bit of attention. We were given a hearty welcome by all of the people who saw us.
On one corner was a man with a minute picture camera. We stepped in front of the machine and a large crowd of people gathered around us. We could hear Americans ringing through the crowd all around us. The Danish people sure made a lot of us Americans. A few minutes after this we met some American sailors who were more than surprised to see us and couldnt imagine how American doughboys had gotten into Denmark. Nothing would do but that we had to go back to the ship with them. This was a new ship, being on its first voyage. We were all taken to the galley, and if anyone went away hungry it was his own fault. There was only one pie left but three of us got it and it disappeared on short notice. We then had supper with these sailors and were shown about the ship.
That evening the ships orchestra played several new songs for us while some of the sailors (gobs) sang. When we finally left this ship our pockets were far from being empty. They were well loaded with candy and smokes. When we said we had enough, we were told to take some along for the rest of the boys. We appreciated all of our gifts, and good times, but our first present was certainly the best and most appreciated of all - Freedom!
For a direct link to the author of this article, click here to email Rick Riehl
Copyright © Chris Mills, January, 1997.
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