On the 18th, Seig, who had been AWOL on September 10th, showed up. The Captain gave him a summary, and fined him, because he had sold some of his equipment while AWOL. Just at dark on Sept. 18th, we again moved farther towards the rear. As we hiked we could still see signal flares going up, but this time they were towards our rear, which fact made us hike with better spirits. We hiked at a steady pace all night, passing through Toul shortly before dawn. Many of the fellows began to drop out, exhausted, before the hike ended. I felt very much like doing likewise, but had long since resolved that if I did fall out, I would be the last one left or fall in my tracks. Several of our platoon fell by the wayside. Lt. True, our platoon commander, thought he would be one of us and carry his pack. He stuck it out till we reached our destination, but he did not carry his pack anymore. It is not hard for someone to tell you to keep up, when that one is not carrying a pack, but it is different when you are packing a load too.
About seven o'clock we reached a small town called Blenod les Toul. We were assigned to billets and lost no time in "turning in", sleeping till about three in the afternoon, when we had roll call and something to eat. Those who had not showed up yet were turned in as AWOL.
Our daily routine here consisted of inspections, drill, washing clothes, and eating. We had to climb a long hill to get to the place where we drilled. We would skirmish all around over the hills, then have some close order drill, and games. We got a new Lieut. named Stokes, just made a "top". He thought he knew all about the war and everything else. What he didn't know would have made most of us wise. We were able to buy a little stuff from the "Y". Received some mail and wrote several letters home.
During the afternoon of Sept. 25th, we hiked to a place called Domgermain, and entrained, in our regular 40 and 8. This time we rode 48 where there was supposed to be only 40. Sleep was out of the question, but we managed to live till we detrained about eight o'clock the next morning in Chalons.
Assembling, we seemed to make a circle around Chalons, as we hiked. What we could see of the town showed signs of air raids. As we hiked along the highway, there were times when the air was literally full of our planes. At one time I counted one hundred and forty planes in the air all headed towards the front. Such a sight as that lent encouragement to all of us. Most of the planes were in battle formation, some very high, others not so high, and some very low.
About one o'clock, we arrived at a small village named Courtesols, and billeted. We were ordered to take a bath in a small stream nearby, but the water was too cold to suit me, so I merely looked at the water and pretended I had had a bath. One or two ventured in the water - for about a minute. We remained here until September 29th during which time we seemed to be only waiting for the hour. Saw a couple of the fellows in my old training company while on Paris Island, who had just gotten over. Our daily inspections continued, for of course they could not be dispensed with. Towards the front we could see several observation balloons. The rumble of artillery was almost constant all day long. Each day we expected to be on the way again, for there was no doubt in our minds as to our destination.
At dark on the 29th, we boarded camions and headed towards the sound of guns. We left the camions, just out of Suippes, passed through the town and hiked to a place not far beyond, and pitched "pup" tents just at dawn. It was raining a light drizzle. After getting some sleep, I looked around to see what could be seen. A battery of 75's had sent over a barrage from this place, as was indicated by several huge piles of empty shells near us. The battery had evidently been moved closer to the front. A huge twelve inch horwitzer was still sitting just a few yards from us. It was too muddy to move it. The shells were about two and a half feet long. The horwitzer was for close range only. It was not fired any while we were there, but a large caliber gun was fired pretty near during the night. I did not try to find where it was.
It remained cloudy and rainy all during the day. The next day cleared up, and the sun came out. Going to the edge of the woods, I could see in the distance, probably about three or four miles, the battle as it was being waged. Could see the flashes from a battery of 75's and after borrowing a pair of field glasses, saw some cavalry taking part in the fight. I watched the battle for some time. Finally had to take the glasses back to Sgt. Inman of our platoon.
Just at dark on Oct. 1st, we prepared to move. I was still acting as a stretcher bearer, having turned in my rifle and ammunition a few days previously. A few minutes before we began to move, I went over to the main highway, about a half a mile away, to get two more stretchers. Before I got back, my company had already started. It was dark and I had some difficulty in locating my pack. Shouldering it, I next had some more trouble in finding my place with the company. After we got out in the open field, several shells fell pretty close, one falling close enough that a large lump of mud hit me on the helmet. I had just put my helmet on as the first shell hit. Had been wearing overseas cap.
No more shells fell near us until we had nearly reached our positions. Traveling the highway, we passed through the remains of a little village once known as Suain. Now there were only crumbled walls, under which were dugouts. There were but little "remains". Passing on we began to cross the original French front line trenches, "No Man's Land", and then the German trenches. The road ended, there being now nothing but deep trenches, enormous shell holes, and mine craters. Being able to see only by star light, it was not possible to get a good view of the sector. This sector had been the scene of four years' bombardment, no material advance being made by either side. The French taking a few yards, and then the Germans retaking it. One mine crater looked to be about fifty feet across and fifteen feet deep. The French had been attacking at this place for several days.
As we drew nearer the lines, flares were shot up every few minutes, like the Germans were uneasy, and I guess they were. A few shells fell close by wounding a few, as I heard cries. After some delay, we were assigned to a position alongside a road. Saw several dead lying around just before we fell out. It was now beginning to get light, and we worked fast digging in. When it got good daylight, I found that we were just outside the little town of Somme-Py. Nearly all the buildings were a wreck, and shells continued to fall in the town all day. There were a good many planes in the air during the day. A good many trenches ran all around in our vicinity, so I spent most of the day looking around and explored two dugouts. Probably should have been back in my "hole". Found some French bread lying on the ground and, even though it was molded, ate some of it. The day passed without anything happening. Most of us made our holes better during the day. We had a sloping hill in front of us, which gave us good protection from fire. At dusk, went over into Somme-Py with Capt. Dunbeck, our C.O., in order to locate our dressing station, though I never came hack to it during the days that followed. Just as we reached where we were going, a good many shells fell dangerously close, fragments flying all around. A few wounded were brought to the dressing station while we were there. When I got back to our positions, learned that a shell had hit in the road beside our positions, wounding two fellows. The shell had hit about ten or fifteen yards from my hole. I turned in early to try to get some sleep. During the night some of the 9th infantry passed by. One fellow jumped right up on top of my "roof", knocking dirt down on me, and then swiped a French canteen full of water I had. I wouldn't have minded the damage he done to my hole so much, if he had only let my water supply alone. After they passed by, nothing more bothered during the night.
In the morning, the 3rd, I awoke to find the company all assembled ready to go. No one had called me. They had had some chow, which had been brought up during the early morning. Did some quick work getting ready, and proceeded to see what could be found in the way of eats. Was lucky to find a piece of bread and a syrup bucket, with about two or three spoonfuls in the bottom. That was all I could find. Overcoats had been issued to everybody but me, and there seemed to be none left. The morning was pretty cold, there being a heavy frost. The lack of an overcoat did not worry me, as I knew that I could have a dozen by night, if I needed that many.
Passing through Somme Py, we took a position in support, just as it got good daylight. The barrage had started just a short while before. Several batteries of 75's were located rather close to the lines. They were all firing away as fast as they could. We passed over the front lines as they had been that morning. There were several dead Frenchmen lying around. We crossed an open field, which was being swept by machine gun fire. There was nothing to give us protection. A fellow about two feet in front of me fell, a machine gun bullet glazing the side of his head. It was not serious, and he walked back to the dressing station. Coming to a ravine, we stopped for a while. The boys in front took cover just below the crest of the hill in front of us, while we took cover in a deep trench running the length of the ravine. A good many shells fell a few yards behind us, evidently some battery had our exact range. By following the sound of the shell with my eyes, I could see the ones that hit close to us. We often had arguments as to whether a shell could be seen in the air. This was the first time I had verified the fact that they could be seen, but only when they hit close.