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307ème compagnie d'ambulance américaine Texte en langue anglaise

307th at home and in France
Ed. Harold Breul, 1919
[307th Ambulance Company]

307th Ambulance Company
Our Summer vacation near Hunland

It was high noon on the thirteenth of June when word was received to detrain. What a relief to the cramped and weary limbs of the boys who, for sixty-two long hours, had been held in close confinment within their boxcar home. Packs were removed with a will and shouldered without delay; and after a brief period during which orderlies bustled here and there hunting officers' baggage, the wagons were loaded and the rail convey was converted into a slowly moving transport, followed closely by the column which swung rhythmically through the streets of Thaon, keeping step to the music furnished by the lusty throats of carefree boys in line. Out into the open country they marched, spending the remainder of the afternoon on the road. As it grew dusk the company tramped into the village of Dignonville where pup tents were quickly established to serve as shelter for the night.
Early morning brought with it the usual haste and confusion necessary to the activity of a body of soldiers who are continually on the move. And when a timely hint dropped by an unsuspecting billeting officer started on its circuitous route throughout the company, containing the information that the destination would be reached that day, spirits were revived, sore feet were soon forgotten, and it was but a short time before tents were struck and the company was once more on the road. Shortly after noon Rambervillers had its first glimpse of the dusty and weary soldiers, who gazed about in delighted expectation as they welcomed the prospect of spending a few days in a large town - the largest since Calais was visited and left with a receding yet ever-present memory. The miniature canvas abodes were hastily though neatly erected on the bank of the Mortagne River. Then followed the search for the indispensable straw which, as soon as discovered, was at once purloined from a neighboring barn, which as it seems had been left open for that express purpose; because when it appeared to the owner that each man was supplied with his self-allotted bundle of straw he entered the tenting area with palms extended and vociferously demanded his cinquant centimes per bundle and he got it "perhaps." The next in line of events was the unceremonious disregard for orders issued for the purpose of keeping the men at hand in case they were needed. They, however, had something else in view, and started for the river on the double where, with no show of conventionality whatever, they divested themselves of their olive-drab in cumbrances and enjoyed the cool dip which was the nearest thing to a bath that they had experienced since a few days previous to the long hike and sojourn in Homme-Chevaux. The cleansing value of that particular stream, was, however, to be questioned. Nevertheless it was sufficient to afford a temporary relief from the hot rays of the afternoon sun, and at the sa le time served as a harassing manoeuvre against the ever-present cooties acquired from the box cars and bedmates enroute.
Perhaps the most interesting as well as the most satisfying event during the week's stay at Rambervillers was the initial entrance of American rations on the scene. Was this an illusion? From whence came these immense loaves of white bread? Then followed the fitting farewell to old Hardtack and his fellow conspirators marmalade and cheese. They soon passed away unmourned and unwept and none would attempt to sing their requiem nor offer a eulogy in their behalf. English rations were soon an item for history and diary only; and for many a day following their demise, it was a challenge to the patience and good nature of any soldier who had been Avec les Anglais for any length of time, to mention any of the former instruments of torture used by the English and their mess line.
Since all were forced, by the inclement weather which sunny France is wont to dispose at will without regard to seasons, to seek their diversions indoors, the boys took advantage of the cinema and estaminet, two of the many institutions placed at the disposal of the soldier abroad to keep him from more unwholesome amusements such as playing solitaire or studying French. It is a consensus of opinion that the "relief work" in the estaminets was by far the most fashionable as well as the most timely and appropriate avocation of the toys during their brief stay in town when their time was not used otherwise. The relief work was at times hampered by almost unsurmountable difficulties such as were experienced by Sam Campbell and Harry Debacher who, accompanied by several members of the company choir, took it upon themselves to intervene in what was purely a private, personal, and uninvited misunderstanding. Two French warriors within a small dingy cafe, which was redolent with tobacco smoke, were busily engaged in combat, casting chairs at each other, accompanied by glasses and bottles. The waste of liquor was distressing! Each seemed to have a bar maid and garcon de cafe as allies, for the latter took pains to occupy strategic positions astride a pool table, from which they were able to use the pool cues as javelins when opportunity was afforded. This was the first impression received as to what a barrage was like, and a few non-combatants' heads were endangered for a time ere peace was declared and a conference was established with a buxom bar maid presiding. Thence the members of the Croix de Rouge went forth seeking similar occasions to show their worth and to render their works of mercy.
At last the long-expected orders for duty at the front were received. The infantry had already officially relieved the Rainbow Division, and on June nineteenth the first detachment of the ambulance company left Rambervillers under the command of Lieutenant Chase and Sergeant Campbell for their initial experience in action. The remainder of the company, after the formalities of the separation from the 307th Field Hospital were completed, followed later in the evening. What a weird evening it was! The rain fell in torrents and through the blackness of the night it was almost an impossibility to keep the transport on the road. Officers and N. C. O's darted back and forth on horseback in a vain attempt to keep men and transports separated. The Rainbow Division on its way out blocked the road for miles. Rolling kitchens, artillery pieces, wagons, and trucks of all kinds forced the hikers into the ruts time and again. And what a pleasure it was to know that, besides the hardships of rain and obstacles of the road, we had taken a route which added just ten kilometers to our travel! The guide, a motor corporal who "knew the way," but who was as besprinkled with vin rouge internally as we were with rain externally, assured the officer in command that "Things were getting to look familiar now" - yes, now since he had gone all over that section of the country in order to march eight miles.
It was a wet and mud-bespattered detachment that staggered into Bertichamps in the early morning. Captain "Pop" Morrison's "Where in Hell have you been?" was as welcome a greeting as a home-coming cheer, when we knew that he had engaged billets for us. It was but a matter of minutes before all were sleeping soundly in the hay, literally speaking.
In the meantime, the members of the company who had been detailed to the line were having their initial baptism of fire. Montigny was the town selected for the establishing of the Advance Dressing Station, and it was to this town that the detachment of twenty men first proceeded. They were soon convinced that they had arrived in good time to be numbered among those for whom the German gunners had planned a welcome and a very warm reception; for when the relief took place, and it became evident to Jerry that a new division was pitted against him, he livened up the so-called quiet sector. They had been putting over gas for several hours previous to the arrival of the ambulance men to take up their duties at the dressing station, and this element, together with the nauseating sights resulting from the treacherous liquid fire used by the Germans on our division in their vain attempt to dishearten the Empire State fighters, did not give them any too meagre an idea of what was in store for them. The work had begun, and twelve men were sent nearer the front to act as litter bearers in the regimental aid posts of which there were three, located at Ancerviller, Mignonville, and at Herberviller. They were equally divided among the three posts, thereby leaving eight men besides the officer and N. C. O's. in charge to enjoy themselves at Montigny.
It will be remembered that during the training period with the English, one would hear, from time to time, of that "issue of rum" for the men in the front area, which was considered necessary as a stimulant to the tired and strained nerves of the fighters. Later it was stated specifically that this method of rendering the men shock proof would not be encouraged among the American fighting force. Evidently the small detachment at Montigny was still influenced by the English custom under which the first few divisions to arrive received their training; for when it was discovered that the medical men of the Forty-second Division had left, together with the necessary medical supplies, a goodly quantity of Three Star Hennessey, a regular system of rationing according to the English plan was instituted, and as may be readily under stood there were many who presented themselves for seconds only to depart thirsty; for Joe Ash hastily put into practice a quotation from the Scripture which he claimed justified his action. This quotation, one of his own selection, is, "He who is the dispenser shall also partake thereof."
It was in this vicinity that the first battle casualties of the Seventy-seventh Division were evacuated by our ambulances, and here it was that the first grewsome sights of maimed and lacerated humanity served as exponents of the nature of our work during the months which were to follow, and prepared us for the worst during our later endeavors among our wounded and dying comrades.
Mignonville, Ancerviller, and Herberviller will always be present in the memories of the three litter squads who were stationed with the infantry at these points; for it was in these respective towns that they first learned the art of ducking shells and at the same time prove that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, especially when one of the points, and that to which you are aiming, is a dugout.
It is true that after the dead were disposed of, following a daylight raid by our doughboys, there was not much in the line of casualties to receive our attention; still there was that treacherous intermittent shelling to contend with, which to the men on their first trip to the line, was a source of excitement as well as a great inconvenience.
When it became evident that the Vosges was, from now on, destined to become a quiet sector, which was confirmed on several occasions when our infantry boys went over the top and entered the German third-line trenches only to return disappointed because of the fact that they could find no foe, all hands entered into discussion as to the best manner of spending the summer's vacation.
The personnel of the company had, in the meantime, proceeded to Baccarat where quarters in a French hospital building had been obtained for them. A system of training was immediately put into practice which occupied the attention of the boys who were not fortunate enough to be detailed to the line every week. It was into this melee of close order, litter drills, and first-aid lectures that each week's detachment from the front returned only to regret that the sessions in the land of no shells could not be prolonged, especially since Joe Ash, having been assured that where shells are mess sergeants do not abide, had been putting forth repasts which had never before, in the history of the company, been attempted. Officers' and sergeants' mess received a body blow, for Lieutenant Chase, who was always known to be heart and soul with the boys in their work, spurned one invitation after another to dine with majors and colonels at the front.

307th Ambulance Company

The second detachment to the forward area had the distinguished honor and privilege of opening up the 307th Ambulance Summer Resort at Vaxainville, a "petite village" situated about five kilometers to the west of the main road between Baccarat and Montigny. A small cottage was selected and designed as a dressing station for the wounded, but in actual working order it served rather as an appropriate place where fingers sprained by baseball could be tinged with iodine, and digestive apparatuses disordered by green apples procured at a near-by orchard might be renovated. The main object of this war paradise, however, proved to be its use as a rest area for members of our company who weakened under the strain of training, or who grew dizzy doing litters right and left about at Baccarat. Here it was that these heroes, deserving of a rest, adjourned; and, unhampered by top sergeant, and unstarved by mess sergeant, they rapidly regained lost weight and were once more able to undergo the back area routine of drilling and lectures.
It was owing to the popularity of the place, and the unceasing demand for permission to spend a portion of the summer in this section, that it was deemed necessary to enlarge upon the plans; instead of building the massive dugout which was included in the original blueprint, a large outdoor dining and amusement hall was constructed. Mechanic Bice, assisted by Merton Hinckly and Broncoto, and of course all who would volunteeer at the suggestion of some corporal to carry lumber, started to work on the building. The extension was completed in a surprisingly short time and ready for more guests. A preconceived and hastily planned house-warming party was instigated by a certain trio, at which they were the only guests. Their selfishness at not inviting the captain received its just reprimand and they were given to understand that he would stand for it no mo. The added improvements on the building, including the wire hammock, which swung between two apple trees, tended to make the cottage more attractive and it became so popular among us that it was no uncommon occurrence to hear someone volunteer to take another's place at the line.
When not engaged in the front area the baseball field and the Meinthe River received our attention, and Baccarat was the scene of many a hotly contested ball game, previous to the departure of the Sanitary Train. Our company was represented by a well-balanced team which did remarkably well against all teams of other organizations with whom it came in contact. We were still among the leaders when the orders arrived forcing us to leave the area.
The river which wound itself through the immediate surroundings of our barracks was the scene of many a pleasant afternoon splash. These numerous baths were, I suppose, intended to put us far enough ahead in the number of ablutions to warrant our prolonged privation of water for washing purposes in the months that followed.
The evenings, during our stay in Baccarat, were spent in various forms of entertainment afforded by the Overseas Theatre League, and the talent from the various organizations in the division. It was our privilege on a number of occasions to be entertained by Elsie Janis, whose charming personality and ability to please found immediate favor among all the soldiers with whom she came in contact, and those who had patronized the theatres back on Broadway, at which she was always an attraction, all agreed that, here in the land of her birth, she surpassed all her former professional endeavor. The divisional entertainers, who were later known as the Argonne Players, also did a great deal in the line of entertainment for our benefit.

307th Ambulance Company

The afternoon and evening amusements were by far transcended by the early morning spectacles which took place when German planes, seeking prey and perhaps a slight amount of trouble, came over the lines for the sake of observing and depositing their donation of pig iron and dynamite in the form of bombs. Our guards were at all times armed with a long stick or whistle. Three shrill blasts from the latter, which were intended as a warning to remain under cover, usually served as a summons to come out and witness the flashes of high explosive of the anti-aircraft shells as they burst about the intruder. Long and loud were the shouts if the target was hit as happened at times during these air raids. Many were the disturbed slumbers caused by the concussion which took place when one of Jerry's bombs dropped in the neighborhood of our barrack, and these visits could be expected nightly during those times which were becoming troublesome to the Germans.
Numerous were the good times that were enjoyed, especially following pay day in Baccarat, and many tales will be related by members of the company who were, at one time or another, victims of circumstances following the day in which francs and centimes were handed across the table. However, there is one narrative which if passed by might escape the keenest of memories. Old "Pop" Erdman left the barracks shortly after he received his monthly allowance and incidentally before he had been approached by his creditors of the previous month. He was in search of some diversion which might keep him occupied for the evening. Did he succeed in finding it ? We are inclined to think he did. Emphatically denied rumors had it that he made friends that evening with a person of his own extraction known as Van Blunk, and that having taken this newly found comrade to his bosom he proceeded to visit the bazaars of the souvenir shops which in France are termed Cognaceries. We have never received an account of the happenings in full but we know that Harry did not return that night nor the next, and when he at last put in his appearance, he was breathless, speechless, and hatless; the next check-up on his equipment also proved him to be friendless for he had lost his gas mask during the time he and his friend had spent with a congenial host. He would not disclose the name of the man who so widely gave him access to his home and who forced hospitality upon him. Later developments let out the secret that Harry's guardian had been a certain party of unknown name but with the initials M. P. Now it was hinted and whispered in confidential circles, that he may have been intoxicated, but to those of us who know him well this seems to be the height of absurdity.
The battle of Merviller will always be remembered by the members of the company for it was at this time that the 307th Ambulance Company went over the top and won a decisive but temporary victory over the alleged allies of the Germans. Now it is not my intention to enter into a lengthy discussion concerning this unnatural and unrelenting foe, for his traits and haunts have been so widely discussed that any one who has read a letter written by a member of the A. E. F. can now give a description, characterization, and pedigree of this enemy of mankind. After a series of manoeuvres which involved days and nights of cloth map reading it was manifested that the enemy outnumbered us a thousand to one. It was finally deemed advisable to resort to drastic measures. An attack was launched but owing to our inferiority of numbers we yielded many of our possessions, including clothing and blankets, to the enemy. A heavy barrage of super-heated steam sent over from our large tank soon exterminated the foe. Though the slaughter was terrible the losses incurred by the enemy afforded us temporary relief until they were again mobilized to sufficient strength to warrant another attack. We returned from Merviller satisfied that strategy alone had prevented a bloody battle. The cooties were finis.
The circumstances attending our relief by the Thirty-seventh Division are worthy of comment. These National Guardsmen, fresh from the Buckeye State who were soon to oust us from our summer home, were on their first mission to the front. When this was made known to Lieutenant Patchin, then in command at the A. D. S., a sly expression crept to his countenance warning us that we were soon to be let in on a joke at the expense of some officers and non-coms who were to spend the night with us while awaiting the arrival of the rest of the company. Preliminary to the joke we told them wild tales of air raids and midnight gas attacks. Upturned sod and newly dug garbage pits convinced them that shells surely came close in their attempt to dislocate our Red Cross flag which hung under the trees near the mess hall. When they beheld our extreme precautions against gas and air attacks each one of them was busy with his own thoughts, wondering what he should do at the approach of danger. As it grew dark it was so arranged that their bunks were to be grouped together in order that they might share their excitement with each other. Luck was with us, and Jerry came over loaded to the wings with bombs, and when the command "lights out" came and all were lying quiet in their blankets, the unsteady buzz of the motor could be heard mingled with the more unsteady breathing of the newcomers. Closer and closer came the sound until it seemed as though the plane was hovering around awaiting a signal to unload upon us. Our ears had been trained to judge the distance by the sound of the motor and after a few moments we knew that the plane had passed. Suddenly bombs were dropped about a mile away and the building rocked from the concussion. The guard had the presence of mind to throw a huge rock on top of the tin roof and gave the alarm "gas" and immediately clanged a gong. They certainly manifested their former efficient training in adjusting their gas masks, but their absolute loss of presence of mind was much in evidence. They darted hither and thither in the darkness seeking an exit while we enjoyed the situation immensely and stuffed the ends of blankets in our mouths to keep from bursting with laughter. Lieutenant Patchin went out to test for gas and returned giving permission to remove masks. The turmoil was quelled for the rest of the night; however, more than one of the novices at the war game slept that night with one eye open and a hand on his gas mask.
The next day we were officially relieved and after having acquainted them with their surroundings, we joined the company at Baccarat leaving our rest camp in the hands of the Thirty-seventh Division Sanitary Train. On August the first we prepared to leave the area in which we had spent many a pleasant day. Many conjectures were offered as to where we were going but all of us knew that we were bound for a sector in which the Americans were treating Jerry roughly.

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