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Chapter 1. Camp Upton


FROM UPTON TO THE MEUSE WITH THE 307th

By
W. KERR RAINSFORD
1920


CAMP UPTON

THE 307th Infantry, 154th Brigade, 77th Division, National Army, came into confused being at Camp Upton, Long Island, with the first increment of the draft from New York, in September, 1917. Its officers were of a high average of intelligence and natural ability, but their experience in war was for the most part limited to that gained at Plattsburg from the I.D.R., the F.S.R., and the imperishable Sergeant Hill; its enlisted personnel, for it was ordered that the drafted men should be so designated, was very largely from the East Side of the city, and contained every nationality that America has welcomed to her shores, but almost none who, on any pretext, had handled a rifle; its camp site was a recently cleared area of dust or mud, according to the weather, gridironed by dirt roads, occupied in part by two-story wooden shacks but more largely by piles of lumber, and surrounded by, first, a zone of uprooted pine-stumps, then a space of charred pine-stumps in place, and finally by an endless sea of scrub-pine and autumn-tinted oak stretching down to the distant Sound. On Headquarters Hill alone a scattering growth of pines, which had escaped the ax, lent a remote suggestion of natural beauty to the scene. In dry weather walls of dust swept from end to end of the encampment, and in wet weather lakes inconveniently appeared. But the work of construction continued simultaneously with that of mobilization, and both achieved final, if imperfect, completion.

The Colonel and Lieutenant- Colonel were of the regular army at lower rank, a very few of the lieutenants bad held non-commissioned rank in the regular service, and to each company was sent from the regular army one or two men as sergeants. Of these last a few did excellent service as drill sergeants; but on the whole the experiment was not successful, and the greater number were returned to the regiments whence they came.

The company officers had expected to encounter difficulties in their appointed tasks, and they did so, but not as they had anticipated. The draft arrived in groups of from thirty to sixty or more, usually following behind a box-standard bearing the number of the Local Board, and in charge of a temporary leader, who submitted a list of their names and an armful of their appropriate papers. While the receiving officer, on the steps of his barracks, was ascertaining the innumerable discrepancies between the two, the draft stood about eyeing him with expectant curiosity, with friendly amusement, with critical displeasure, or with apathy, according to their nationality or mood-with any and every emotion save military respect. Then came the calling of the roll and further discrepancies. Certain men would answer with alacrity to each of three names called, or stand silent while their own was called as many times. As a typical instance' a man in "M" Company had answered "Here" at every formation for nearly a week before he was discovered to have been left at home on account of illness, and never to have reported at the camp. Another ghost was laid by the following dialogue:
"Morra, T."
"Here."
"Morra, R."
"(From the same individual) "Here."
"Does your first name begin with a T. or an R?
"Yes, sir."
"Is your first name Rocco?"
"Yes, sir."
"What is your first name?"
"Tony."
And all in perfectly good faith.

They were at this stage known as "casuals," and after feeding them, one of the earliest duties was to interview each personally and ascertain his civilian occupation, probable capacity in it, and preference as to branch of service, although his statement as to the latter seemed but seldom to affect his ultimate fate.

Then came the fitting of uniforms. One set of all possible sizes was available for trying on to each battalion, though not often to any of its companies; the consolidated requisitions were made out and submitted, and were filled, of necessity, piecemeal in the course of days or weeks; by which time the casuals had largely been sent to other organizations, and others, coming as casuals from elsewhere, had taken their place. These brought with them memoranda of their required sizes, or had lost them, as the case might be. It was the usual experience that the sizes noted were not the sizes required, that the sizes received were very possibly not the sizes requisitioned, and that the articles had probably been marked with the wrong sizes in the first instance. The men took the fit of their uniform seriously, as a soldier should, and a company commander's time was about equally distributed between those whose breeches offended their better judgment, those whose broken arches prevented their marching, those who (through interpreters) were unnaturalized Russians and did not belong in the draft at all, and, commonest ailment, those whose perishing family required their immediate presence at home.

The evil, probably unavoidable in any army, of detailing officers away from their companies to special duty, bad already made itself felt, and at this time a very typical company of the regiment bad three hundred and eighty -five recruits to feed, clothe, discipline, control, and train, a six-inch litter of papers on the table of the otherwise unfurnished orderly -room, each calling for immediate compliance or report, and three officers present for duty. General Sherman only half expressed himself.

The organization of the rifle companies was made difficult by the very constant transfer of men to specialist groups, to other branches of the service, or to other training camps. If a recruit was quick and intelligent he was probably found to be also an electrician, and was transferred to the signal platoon, or a chauffeur, and went to the motor transport, or else he looked promising as a machine-gunner, accountant, or one-pound cannoneer, and also disappeared. Camp Gordon, strangely in need of men, offered a certain safety-valve and the man whose face seemed irreconcilable with a steel helmet, whose name on the rollcall consisted only of consonants, or who had cast his rice pudding in the mess-sergeant's face often completed his training there-on the pretext that all is fair in war.

The training of the companies was made difficult by the lateness of the season and the lack of any adequate drill-ground or gymnasium. As the mud became more universal and deeper the few macadamized roads, notably Fifth Avenue, became attractive for the drilling of squads and for close order march; but the consequent interference with traffic led to this being strictly prohibited. Troops were forbidden to move at any time in greater frontage than column of twos upon the hard roads, or to cross them except by infiltration; this, with the unauthorized taking of loose building-material-defined to include any piece of lumber greater than two inches square or two feet in length-for the purpose of interior improvements or firewood, formed a constant Sword of Damocles over the head of any company commander whose three hundred and eighty recruits were at any time out of his sight.

Another increment of the draft was received in December and again in February, each followed by its period of wholesale transfers; so that, even as late as the latter month, a stranger in civilian clothes who appeared unannounced in the orderly-room, with his hat on his head, to offer the company commander a red apple, might still be a member of his command. But by this time the good material was coming to the fore. Corporals and sergeants had been found who could take hold of their men, drill them, and enforce regulations; and there never was any apparent unwillingness on the part of the enlisted men to serve, nor conscious wish to defy authority.

It was wonderful bow willingly they seemed to prepare for a war of which so many could not know the meaning. Three thousand miles across the sea, what could it mean to the late worker in the East-side sweat-shop that Messine Ridge was retaken by the Germans? And yet they were ready to prepare to take their place upon that distant line. There were a few conscientious objectors, of whom at least some were evidently sincere, letter-perfect in their Bible texts and unwilling to shed the blood of others; there were a very few who, with or without the sanction of Biblical precedent, were frankly unwilling to shed their own; there were also some of German parentage who were excusably unwilling to face their relatives with a rifle. These were the rare exceptions, yet in passing let the methods be noted by which it was directed that they should be dealt with-for these methods were the same as those which saved the lives of numbers of enemy agents in the land, at the cost of the lives of innumerable citizens. A conscientious objector of another regiment had definitely and finally refused to put on his uniform when so ordered by his company, battalion, and regimental commanders, with the somewhat startling result that officers were notified that "they would be held responsible not to place themselves in the position of issuing a direct order to their men." With other types of men the position might well have become impossible; but it was not so. And oh, the pathos of those poor Italians, and Slavs, and Jews--Americans all-who came to their company commanders with the letters from their sick wives, uncared for, and often about to be ejected from their pitiful homes' letters uncomplaining and only asking when the husband could return for a little while; and the men, on their part, only asking what provision could be made for their women-folk while they were away, seldom asking for the exemption which they should have had by right, but of which they had been defrauded by some Local Board, more concerned over the safety of its native sons than over the rights of its foreign-born residents. They were lovable men, probably because nearly all men become lovable when the relations between them are right, and are long continued.

The nearness of New York, however, while a convenience to the individual, was a decidedly adverse factor to discipline and control; and the men, except those from up-State, never quite cut loose from the city nor gave themselves unreservedly to the military life. The difficulty of A.W.O.L. (absence without leave) was pronounced throughout the entire period at Camp Upton, and that of drunkenness, while not acute, was always to be reckoned with.

There was very little training with special arms at this time. The rifle range was used as often as the weather permitted, and, though this was not begun until winter bad set in, the men showed decided aptitude for the work. Bayonet drill was frequent, although complicated by two or three different schools of technique, to which selected lieutenants or N. C. O.'s (non-commissioned officers) were sent for instruction, and which usually concluded their course with a warning that-, in view of a more recent method having been ordered since the opening of the course, the methods of instruction just taught should not be practiced with the troops. The throwing of dummy grenades was practiced as taught by a French lieutenant, but live hand-grenades or rifle-grenades were never available. The instruction with automatic rifles did not go beyond that of the mechanism of the Lewis Gun and chau chat for two N. C. O.'s and a lieutenant from each company, with a single day's firing on the range. The guns were never available for the training of squads in the companies. The open- order formations of the English and French, as gleaned from pamphlets, were grafted onto the American regulations more or less according to the theory or understanding of the individual company commander, and the troops were drilled in them in the snowy stump-fields.

The late increments of recruits, while distracting and disorganizing, had at least the advantage of giving the older men a pride in their seniority and more confidence in their authority. The number of officers had been increased, both from the later Plattsburg camp and from Camp Mills, to an average of nearly ten per company; amusement balls had been constructed; little pine and cedar trees bad been planted about a number of the barracks; the train journey to and from the city had been reduced from six or eight hours to an average of two-and the cars were occasionally heated-and by midwinter life was moving upon ordered ways. It was a rather severe winter, but, except for the lack of facilities for indoor exercise and training, brought no real hardships; the barracks were fairly well heated, for, in spite of the coal f amine in the civilian world, coal was never lacking at camp, and, in the light of after experience, the quan-tity and quality of the food-ration was extraordinary.

One special feature of the training provoked a real, if transitory, thrill; this was the gas chamber. The men bad been told about gas, about the gas that burned out your lungs, the gas that blistered off your skin, the gas that blinded your eyes, that made you vomit, and that made you sneeze; they had been told what to do about each; they bad been warned and lectured to by English and French experts with experience, and by American experts without it; they had been practiced to a seven -second adjustment of gas-masks; they had been marched in gas-masks, and had played games in them. And then on the outer con-fines of camp appeared the gas-chamber; and, after a final inspection of masks for pin-pricks, and after a sort of final benediction, one platoon at a time-while the others sat upon the neighboring slopes singing a funeral march -one platoon at a time, they filed into, and were sealed within, the gas-chamber. There was no slightest actual danger, and yet it was interesting. Even so early came a slight forewarning of that coming readjustment of values, when the too-often drunken ne'er-do-well and the recognized public nuisance should come to their own. Even so early one glimpsed ahead to the man who would push forward laughing into the unknown; or to him who, when his company drew back from its latest Golgotha, might be found with a scarlet brassard about his arm, doing police-duty at a cross-road, and uneager to tell how he got there.

To one who spent Christmas at the Camp -and by far the greater number were able to go home-that day forms one of its pleasantest memories. There were a scattered few, disconsolate in the empty barracks, wishing they too were at home, or looking apathetic-ally out on the fine rain that gathered in icicles along the eaves. And then volunteers were called for to bring in pine branches and trailing vines to decorate the mess-halls. They all volunteered. Probably no one can quite resist the cheering influence of gathering and decorating with Christmas greens; and the rain didn't matter, for it never does except to the homeless; and the Red Cross sent to every one in camp a package prettily tied with ribbons, enclosing things to eat or smoke, and things to play with or use, and a card of Christmas greeting from some girl, unknown and therefore lovely; and the small numbers led to a new intimacy, and the loneliness of the barracks turned to a cozy seclusion; and Christmas found its way again into the heart.

On a snowy twenty-second of February the Division paraded through New York before one of the largest crowds the city had ever gathered, and was greeted with very considerable enthusiasm. Camp Upton was proud of what it had produced, only regretting that it had to courtmartial so many of its members immediately thereafter for lack of a proper sense of when the festivities were over. This event being passed, the mind of the camp began, seriously to concentrate on the coming departure for overseas' and it is not too much to say that, until after that departure, the regiment never really found itself. In probably every company one or two N. C. O.'s bad shown that absolute reliance could be placed upon them as leaders of their men; for a much larger number it was confidently hoped that under war-time conditions their power to command would develop; but the great mass of men still constituted an ununfied, unknown, and very insufficiently trained quantity, who had never yet learned to take themselves seriously as soldiers, though giving no evidence of unwillingness to serve. A resifting of officers now took place to eliminate the supernumeraries, and further effort was made, though with very partial success, to get rid of the men known to be physically or mentally incompetent.

The question of equipment assumed a leading role. There were lectures and bulletins to officers on the subject of their appropriate and necessary equipment-a selection of articles seeming, in the light of after experience, rather extraordinary. Equipment C for the troops was eventually defined, and the Gordian tangle of property responsibility, brought about by the wholesale and simultaneous equipment and transfer of masses of men without any authorized or recognized forms for receipt, which had hung broodingly in the background for months, was finally severed, as Gordian tangles only can be. Some notes from a diary, kept at this time by the author, will perhaps best picture the beginning of April.

"April 4th.-Equipment C blocks the horizon, together with the number of packing cases to be allowed, and where they are to come from. Some of the companies have over thirty. We haven't; but the First Sergeant promises to produce an average of two or three per night. Our fifteen square-beaded shovels have dwindled to twelve, though we have four or five round-beaded ones, apparently of no use for digging trenches. All efforts to exchange them through regular channels having failed, the First Sergeant is sending out men in couples this evening, with one shovel per couple, to quarrel in the vicinity of distant coal bins, and try to change the shape of their heads. (Later.) We have fifteen square-beaded shovels.

"April 5th.-We are to be recruited to full strength and packed to-day. Have received 165 new men off and on in the past month; 240 now on the Morning Report; the packing cases are being held open till we know how many we take and whom. At 10 A. M. got in seven recruits, and at 10 P. M. eleven more-making us over strength. The mechanics worked till midnight last night packing up, and till noon unpacking. The A.W.O.L.'s, absent sick, and venereals transferred out about 10:30 P. M. Formed the company after supper and stacked arms and packs in company street, forming again on stacks at 11 P. M. and again at 3 A. M. Policing continuous and apparently hopeless. Every time I walked round the barracks I found a new pile of decaying quilts and underclothes stacked on the ash-stand. Nash has had burning and burying details going continuously. When the last fire had been extinguished and the last shovel returned-at 3 A. M. formation-I found the store-room of the Annex half-filled with straw and civilian clothes. One rather hectic detail is resorting and packing and marking the barrack bags of those transferred out for those transferred in. The boxes left at 11:45 P. M. to catch a twelve o'clock train. Night very cold-a few of the men drunk, but all apparently here.

"April 6th.-Marched out under arms and packs at 4:15 A. M. All squads reported full, all material shipped or turned in and credited, and all paper work complete-rather incredible. Night turning warmer with a dying moon in the east-a silent march through a silent, deserted camp, bringing unexpected regrets of farewell.

" (Later.) A cloudless morning. Got into Long Island City about 7 A. M. and ferried around Battery Park to the White Star docks. Scattered cheering from the other ferries we passed and from a small crowd gathered along the Battery. Our ship-the Justicia-looks huge, and the officers' quarters as princely as those of the men look crowded and poor.

"April 7th.-Got under way about 7:30 A. M. I was too busy below to wave a farewell to the city but there was no send-off. The men are arranged with the utmost confusion-squads, platoons, companies, and even regiments-for we carry one battalion of the 308th-all rather hopelessly mingled and so assigned to places. My fourth platoon is in four different parts of the ship, with the Friday night recruits mostly in first-class cabins, while the balance of the company is herded in hammocks, that almost overlap, four decks below. Some, having no assignments to quarters or mess, are sleeping on tables and begging food, my mess-sergeant among them. No company officers were allowed on board until after the men were placed by the shipping authorities, and the men were loaded simultaneously by three gangways. Re-arrangement has to be surreptitious as it is forbidden by the ship's officer. Port-holes are painted black, fixed shut, and covered on the inside with zinc shields-which means we can have lights. No one on deck after 8 P. M.

"April 8th.-We got the men's quarters policed and scrubbed; and with the hammocks stowed they do look livable. Then we stood for some hours on boat drill. We are told that there is ample accommodation for all in case of accident, but I believe that the swimmers holding to the edge of the rafts are included among those accommodated. That would be poor at this season of the year, and there certainly are not enough boats. Life preservers are never to be left out of reach-a sort of fore-warning of gas-masks.
"We sighted Nova Scotia about 5 P.M. and passed the outer lighthouse of Halifax at sunset.. anchoring far up in the inner harbor.

"April 9th.-A thin skim of glare ice over all the harbor, reflecting in sunshine the screaming flocks of gulls; hoar-frost along the rails, and snow over the black, spruce-clad shores. The ocean and city are completely bidden by infolding hills. Boats were lowered at boat-drill and rowed about through the thin ice. The Lapland came in behind us, and a transport of Australians is anchored ahead. We weighed anchor about 5 P.M. and pulled out in long succession through the narrow channel-eight transports in column. Women and children gathered in groups along the shore holding out the Stars and Stripes to us; it seemed, too, to fly from the window of every cottage; the crews of the British ships and U. S. men-of-war lined their rails to cheer us as we passed, their bands playing with their whole souls. It was everything we bad wanted and missed at New York, and one felt the tingling grip of brotherhood in the great world struggle on which we were launched. 'God Save the King,' 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' 'The Marseillaise,' and 'The Girl I Left Behind Me-high resolve and dear regret, the warm throb of blood and the grip of cold steel; it was war and the long good-by at last. God grant that we do our part. The spires and roofs of Halifax lifted flat and purple against the yellow twilight under an arch of rosy cloud; then the ruins of the lower city swept and crumpled like a village in France; on our port the wreck of the Belgian Relief Ship, half-submerged, the sunset-gilded spruce woods and sandy islands, the quaint old white lighthouse, and the open sea."
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