The fellow who had been put in charge of us stretcher bearers was not qualified for the position, and as a result there was some confusion among the bunch. He had made no attempt to work out any kind of a system for our work. Part of the fellows scattered, and part remained with me in a dugout about a hundred yards from the front line trench. This was the only dugout I could find that wasn't crowded.
Soon after we got located for the night, we received word that the barrage would start at one o'clock the next morning. This information was not surprising, in view of what we had seen during the afternoon as we were coming into the lines. I had a pretty good bunk but sleep would not come to me, though I may have dosed some but not much. The thought of what was to take place in the morning took away all desire to sleep. Many would be wounded or killed the next day. Would I be among that number? I had so far escaped without a scratch. Knowing that it was best not to think about such things any more than was absolutely necessary, I tried to keep my mind as free as possible from such thoughts.
Promptly at one o'clock on the morning of Sept. 12th, the earth began to tremble, and the rumble of the guns came faintly down into the dugout where I was. I got up and went outside to see what was going on. The horizon seemed one continuous flash of light. The noise was so great that you could hardly hear your own voice. There was a battery of 75's just a few yards to the rear of our dugout and they were firing away as fast as they could. The air overhead seemed literally full of shells. I remained outside for some time, watching the greatest display of fireworks I had ever witnessed. Occasionally I would go back down into the dugout, but could not resist the temptation to come back outside. I wondered what the Germans were doing, and hoped that I might never have to be subjected to a similar barrage.
Zero hour was set at five, and a little while before that lime the barrage seemed to increase. Machine gun fire was added, and shells containing liquid fire and other illuminating material were used. No Fourth of July display ever equaled this deadly display.
I waited for a while after they went over the top, then gathering the crew together, we sauntered along after them. Reaching the jumping off place, we started across No Man's Land. This was a mass of wire, which had been somewhat torn up by shell fire, and further opened up by wire cutters, previous to going over the top. The second battalion was taking a support position at the beginning the attack, so we soon caught up with them. On our right and left I could see other troops in formation moving forward in the attack. Almost the first thing I saw was one of our planes with its nose in the ground. Did not know how it was brought down. The clouds were very low, though it was not raining. Only two or three Allied planes had showed up as yet. The weather was unfavorable for flying. As we passed over the German front lines, I wondered how anyone could live through such a bombardment. The trenches and all the earth was utterly blown up. The shell holes were so numerous that we had to walk carefully in order to keep from falling into them. I did not see a single dead German until well up in the forenoon. We had no wounded to carry. German prisoners were being used to carry our wounded back. Prisoners were coming back in large numbers.
We proceeded slowly in order not to get too close to the front wave. It cleared off about noon, and the air was full of planes. Our planes outnumbered the enemy's but they did not seem willing to attack the Germans like the Germans did our planes. Many of their combats were staged right over our heads.
While we were resting alongside the road, I investigated a wounded German officer lying a short ways from the road. We did not feel disposed to carry him back, so made some prisoners do the job. A slight resistance trench had been prepared at this point, and two dead Germans were lying along side the trench. One of them had on an Iron Cross bar and the other one had some other kind of a bar on his coat. Since they had no more use for them, I took them off and put them in my pocket. Each one of their packs contained new socks, a sweater, and new underwear for winter. The socks and sweater being useful articles, put the socks in my pack and slipped the sweater on under my blouse. Also inspected a "77", which hid been left behind..
Soon after noon we came to a supply depot, located where two ravines came together. The place was connected with the rear by means of a narrow gauge railroad.. We could tell that quite a lot of stuff had been removed before the barrage hit them, but there was plenty left. The place had been pretty well shelled, and not much escaped damage. There were dozens of deep dugouts all around on the sides of the hills. Many of these were furnished with electric lights, and otherwise pretty well fixed up inside. But above all they were full of souvenirs. I did not have much of a desire to explore any of these dugouts, since we had been warned to be careful of traps. Some would have ransacked them, even if they had known there was a bomb hidden in one.
About mid-afternoon we reached a position on the crest of a hill, and remained there for some time. The rumble of the barrage had continued unabated until about two or three o'clock, when it began to lessen, and some of the guns began to move up for new positions closer to the front. Many of the shells sounded as if they were only a few yards over head. Some over zealous artillery men had started firing a captured gun just about two kilometers in our rear, and the shells fell among our own troops for a while, until a runner was dispatched, and informed them what they were doing. While we were lying around on this hill, we watched the airplanes fight it out overhead. Just one fight after another took place overhead. Two of our planes were set on fire at a great height, and the aviators, two in each plane, jumped, jumped to their death. Suppose they preferred this to being burned to death. It was awful to see their bodies hurling thru the air. They were evidently not equipped with parachutes.
A bunch of replacements joined us before night. Few, if any of them, had had any overseas training. They had been rushed almost immediately to the front, after landing. They had left their packs behind, and had no blankets with them. As it grew rather cool as night approached, all of us had to scout around for more blankets. I secured a big German blanket. One fellow wore a German overcoat for a while until he was ordered to take it off.
The mess sergeant got some chow up to us just at dark consisting of bread, coffee, and a vegetable compound. This was a dried preparation and served after cooking it few minutes.
Our position on the hill being too dangerous, we moved down into the ravine and rolled up on the side of the hill, well protected from artillery fire. There was but very little from either side the first night. Our artillery was moving up, and the enemy had not stopped its journey towards the rear yet. Sleep during the night was out of the question for me. I kept seeing those aviators falling thru the air. The rest was beneficial anyway.
September 13th, the second day of the attack, found us still remaining near this supply depot. Most of us explored around some during the morning. In the afternoon we moved closer to the front forming a line across an open field. I couldn't see the wisdom of trying to "dig in" right out in the open. Shells were falling pretty close right then. The ground was hard, and we could not do much good with our little entrenching tools. After much hard work we succeeded in digging a small hole, big enough to get below the top of the ground. Just as we finished it, we moved over to the edge of a large woods. Fine doings.... We did not mind the move, for we had much better protection, but we did not like the idea of being left out there until we had dug our holes, and then leave them.
Airplane activity during the second day of the attack was much livelier. Our planes were more numerous than on the first day. It was exciting to watch the planes chase each other.
Our new positions were in the southern edge of Bois de Fey, about a kilometer from Thiaucourt which the Germans shelled pretty heavily day and night. We were not shelled any during the night.
The next day, the 14th, the company was divided, one half remaining at the edge of the woods, and the other half going about two hundred yards farther down the side of the hill. I followed the latter half. As I had nothing to do, not being subject for details and guard, I spent most of the time looking around. Several pieces of artillery had been left behind, evidently on purpose, by the Germans. A can of American hash lying on he ground reminded me that I was hungry. No canned hash had ever been issued to us, previous to this time, and this was the first can I had ever seen. It consisted of beef and potatoes. Believe me it was good, in comparison to the "monkey meat" we had to eat.
In looking around I found that just a few yards from our positions was an officers rest camp. I judged that it was an officers', as it seemed to have been fixed up too nicely for an enlisted men's' camp. There were many buildings in the camp, but none of them had escaped the barrage. One building, apparently a recreation building, containing a nice piano, had received a direct hit, knocking the tune out of the piano, if it ever had one. Two Germans had sought shelter in a newly started dugout, and had been killed by a direct hit from a "75". I found a pair of red carpet slippers, and promptly put them away in my kt bag as a souvenir. I got many souvenirs, but had to limit them on account of room. I was mighty careful in looking around, for fear of a concealed bomb or trap.
The town of Jaulny was just a few hundred yards in front of us. It was shelled by the Germans quite regularly, but their main object seemed to be a small bridge across a stream at the edge of the town. Large shells fell at intervals just below us a short distance. We could hear the shells coming, and when they hit, the old earth fairly shock and trembled.
An old Frenchman, leaving the town, while the leaving was good, stopped to talk to three other fellows and I. He had all of his possessions in a bundle on his back. He was so glad that the town had been retaken, as he and all others in the town had been under German rule for nearly four years. Knowing that the old fellow was without money, we all gave him five francs apiece. He was so overjoyed that he kissed us every one on the cheek. He had a short stubby mustache, and I am sure that we did not enjoy the caress as much as he did.
A German aviator came too close to the ground in chasing one or our planes, and was shot down by rifle and machine gun fire. It was reported that he had about thirty wounds on his body, though none of them fatal. He was a Major and was sent back to the hospital.
Another good souvenir I found was a German canteen. Theirs were not like the ones we had, being made of enamel ware.
A shell fell among the other half of the company, back upon the top of the hill, killing one and wounding three, out or a group of five who were playing cards. It scared another fellow, John Herran, so bad he left and was not seen for two days. A few shells fell pretty close to us early after dark on the 15th About ten o'clock the mess sergeant sent us biscuits. It would not be correct to say "hot" for they were cold when they reached us. Nevertheless we ate them with a relish. About two o'clock in the morning we were relieved. We proceeded back towards the rear, stopping in a woods soon after day. A hot meal was served us about noon.
At two o'clock in the afternoon we headed for the rear, going back over the same route we used in following up the attack. I had a better opportunity to view the awful destruction wrought by our artillery. The engineers had had to fill up the shell holes in the roads before any traffic could pass over them. The tanks had been unable to get over the deep trenches in the beginning of the attack.
Capt. Jackson of the 18th Company was bringing back a fine Airedale dog he had found somewhere up at the front. During one of our periods of rest, I left a stretcher for some of the fellows to carry, and it was forgotten. I later reported it "lost in action". You could report most anything lost in action, and not be charged with it.
On our way back we passed two fourteen inch railroad guns, their muzzles still towards the front, After seeing them, I partly understood why some of those shell holes were so large and deep. In a village, two Salvation Army lassies were giving away candy and cigarettes, I kept the candy and gave away the cigarettes.
About dark we stopped in the Bois de Minorville. Just before night we had passed a field containing several batteries of six and eight inch guns all camouflaged so nicely. Our camping place was low and pretty wet and muddy. We were far enough back to be out of danger of shells, except the long range guns, but we dared not have much light on account of airplanes.
The next day, many of the new men who had joined us the first day of attack, and who had gotten lost, strayed, or were otherwise misplaced, showed up, and were assigned to different companies. But few of them had remembered to what company they had been assigned that day, it they had ever known. Our platoon got about four. None of them had any equipment except a rifle, helmet and gas mask, having thrown everything else away. One rather chunky little fellow from New York, named Tiernan, without a sign of a blanket or shelter half, I took in and shared mine with him.
Our place of abode consisted of one blanket on the ground, and my shelter half stretched over head for a covering. It continued to rain at frequent intervals during the time we stayed here. Between showers, we had to drill some, of course. Spent some time writing letters home. It was pretty muddy getting to and from our kitchen which was about a hundred yards from where we slept.