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17.Les Pres Farm and Much Shell Fire


HISTORY OF THE 305th FIELD ARTILLERY
by
Charles Wadsworth Camp
1919


XVI

RECONNOITERING IN FRONT OF FISMES

THE reconnaissance we made in the Fismes sector on August 14th was about as much like our Lorraine ones as a pleasant day is like a period of violent storm. Nor was it as agreeable as a reconnaissance made during an advance, for here we faced a semi-stabilized battle. The Huns could see our little party, and they had registered everything. Still all reconnaissances have one feature in common. They never work out exactly as one plans. They fail invariably to follow the pretty rules laid down by the books. At the front you mould technique to the demands of the moment, and to the necessity for quick results.
It is a matter of interest to preserve the field order that sent us into this, our costliest battle. The reconnaissance was made in pursuance to its provisions. It follows:

Headquarters 77th Division, American E. F.
14 August, 1918.
FIELD ORDER NO. 23.
MAPS: FERE-en-TARDENOIS
FISMES 1 000
1. The 4th Field Artillery Brigade will be relieved by the 152nd Field Artillery Brigade on the nights of August 15-16 and 16-17, 1918, in compliance with G-3 order no. 31, 3rd Army Corps, 14 August, 1918.
2. The 305th Field Artillery will relieve the 16th Field Artillery, the 304th Field Artillery will relieve the 77th Field Artillery, the 306th Field Artillery will relieve the 13th Field Artillery,

assuming missions of organizations relieved. Necessary reconnaissances on 14th and 15th August as previously directed.
3. Relief will be completed as follows:
1st Night: (15-16) (a) 12 battery to be relieved in each position. 1/2 battery 152nd Brigade will be accompanied by an officer who will remain at the position. One chief of section of each 1/2 battery will remain at the position.
(b) Telephone operators, linemen, and observers of the 152nd Brigade will report to their posts and will remain in observation only.
2nd Night: (16-17) (a) Remaining 1 of each battery relieved. One officer and 2 chiefs of section to remain at position until following noon.
(b) All specialists relieved, excepting one telephone operator and one observer of 4th Field Artillery Brigade in each post, will remain in place until noon following.
(c) Ammunition dumps will be turned over to 152nd Brigade.
(d) Battery combat train and other elements will stand relieved at 21: 00 o'clock.
(e) Ammunition train will stand relieved at 21:00 o'clock.
4. Arrangements for exchange of wire, camouflage nets, etc. will be made between commanders concerned.
5. Elements of 16tb Field Artillery, as relieved, will proceed to position in FORET de FEREby roads to south through NESLES. Other elements will use main road through FERE-en-TARDEN-NOIS. Elements of the 152nd Field Artillery Brigade will use the roads running north from the FORET de NESLES.
6. The 302nd Trench Mortar Battery will remain for the present in the location where it is bivouacked. Reconnaissances will be made to select suitable positions for this battery so that it may be put in position in the near future.
7. Command will pass to battery, battalion, and regimental Commanders of 152Dd Brigade, as the relief of each unit is reported complete.

8. Command of the artillery of the sector will pass to Command-ing Officer 152nd Brigade at 8 A. M. August 17, 1918; P. C. 152nd Field Artillery Brigade will open at FERE CHATEAU at the same time, same date.
By command of Major General Duncan,
J. R. R. Hannay
Chief of Staff.

So we set out to study the ground. The regimental,
battalion, and battery parties left Nesles Woods together, and trotted down the hill to Mareuil where the 4th Field
Artillery Brigade had its headquarters. It was a warm, brilliant day. Therefore, we knew we would see and be seen. We dashed past parties of pioneers repairing roads that had been damaged by shell fire the previous night. In the stricken village ambulances stood outside a distributing station, and on the ground were many stretchers, bearing forms, some still, some restless, each covered with a secretive issue blanket on which the wounded man's tin hat and gas mask rested. Ether and iodine cut the pervading chlorine odor.

Brigade Headquarters was a one story building originally a cafe or a rural hostelry. It was dilapidated. The dusty square in front of it was white with chloride sprinklings. Opposite, an arched gateway admitted to a large courtyard surrounded by stables and dwellings. Our party was herded in here and commanded to keep out of sight, because Hun planes were constantly passing overhead, expressing an impudent curiosity. So we got as many horses as we could in the sheds, and kept the rest close to the walls. Then officers and enlisted men made themselves inconspicuous and awaited the result of the conference of field officers, which continued in the reformed cafe across the street.

Every Soldier, I think, has noticed that daylight acquires false qualities from one's own perceptions. To all of us there was an unnatural tone to that brilliant sun, streaked occasionally by enemy planes. Perhaps another planet might have light like that. You heard men commenting about it with little laughs.

Restlessness grew upon us. Would the conference never end? A group of field officers came from headquarters. Their faces were serious. They glanced about uneasily. Some of them appeared a trifle undecided. They paused, forming little groups, to which representatives from our party attached themselves. Gossip drifted into the hot, restless courtyard. One of the batteries, which the 305th was going to relieve, we heard, had had forty casualties during a burst of harassing fire the afternoon before. There was always harassing fire it seemed, where we were going. We would have to take up new positions, we said confidently. Back from the gossipping groups slipped the depressing word that there were no positions much better than the ones already occupied.

The Colonel came in. He said at first we would have to go forward from that point on foot. Those of us who had studied the maps groaned, for the road went diagonally toward the front line. By it our positions were many miles away. The Colonel reconsidered. He talked again to some of the officers of the 4th. Doubtfully he decided we might ride as far as regimental headquarters with an interval of 200 meters between pairs.

No officer or man that took that ride cared much for it. We curved up the hill past the half destroyed Romanesque church, and turned into a main road on the crest. There were, of course, no shell screens, and, to the left, we could look all the way to Jerry's temporary home. One of the men expressed the general emotion.

"I feel all undressed up here," he grinned.
Everywheres along that road were nice fresh signs left by the enemy, pointing the way to dressing stations, to ration and ammunition dumps, to short cuts for the various villages. And there were newer French signs, regulating traffic, repeatedly calling attention to the exposed nature of the highway.

In the vicinity of a small group of buildings ahead large high explosive shells were vomiting blackly. We guessed that the group was Chartreuve Farm, the regimental headquarters of the 16th Field Artillery.

We waited in a lane, behind the shelter of a wall until the rest of the party had come up, then hurried across a courtyard into the farm. Two or three habitable rooms down stairs were packed. The colonel and the majors conferred behind a closed door with the field officers of the 16th. Less important but quite intelligent young men gave us the sector gossip while the Hun continually reminded us he knew where we were.

The sector gossip was simple. It was a rotten place we were going to and there wasn't much we could do about it. Jerry had a big concentration of artillery opposite and he was using it with an admirable and murderous skill. We listened mutely to recitations of casualties. We sensed some joy on the part of these young men that they were going out; a brotherly sympathy that we were going in.

This conference, too, ended at last, and the 16th gave us a bite from their field kitchen set beneath great trees in the pretty grounds of the place.

The Colonel and his party went no farther just then. The two battalion parties continued on foot, out of the friendly trees, across stripped fields, and into the ravaged village of Chery Chartreuve.

Even on that busy day the 305th rendered even more bibulous the name of this dissipated appearing town. It was known ever after among us as "Sherry Chartreuse."

A military policeman stood between wrecked buildings at the first corner. He reminded the more careless of us to carry our gas masks in the alert position. Another, a hundred meters beyond, advised:

"Walk farther apart, sirs. They're giving the road hally-lool-yah right now."

They were. The louder whistling of shells preceded explosions close at hand. A bank on the side of the road towards the enemy was pitted with funk holes gouged out by infantrymen. Into these we ducked when the whistling warned us of a dangerously close explosion. We must have resembled animals of absurd habit that hopped aimlessly from place to place.

This erratic progress brought us to our first view of Les Pres Farm-place of unbeloved memories.

A huge hangar rose where a country road crossed the main highway. The number of shell holes testified to the enemy's interest in that crossroads. The country Toad climbed a bare slope to a cluster of buildings, a third of a mile from the hangar. Your first impression was of a large and dignified stone dwelling house with half a dozen outpost trees, and wings of sheds and stables reaching behind it around a large courtyard. To the right were two small stone dwellings, with a horse shed and one or two outhouses just below them. The bare slope stretched upward for another half mile beyond the farm, blatantly broken by three battery positions, whose only protection was flat tops. Wherever you glanced you saw the mortal and redolent remains of horses in grotesque attitudes.

Jerry saluted us. He commenced raking those exposed battery positions. From beneath the flat tops soldiers scurried like an indignant party of ants whose hill has been disturbed. As we climbed the slope we couldn't help admiring the nicety of the Hun fire. Their volleys walked through the positions then walked back again until there was so much jetty smoke you couldn't be quite sure where the shells were falling.

"Hundred and fifties," we muttered.
"Battery positions!" Someone sneered. "Targets! That's all!"
The farm at first appeared deserted. Then we saw a red headed soldier peering at us curiously from a funk hole dug close to the wall of one of the smaller buildings.

This one, nearest the enemy, we had been told would be the First Battalion command post. The other would be used for a similar purpose by the second battalion. The large farmhouse and the courtyard were occupied by the infantry for a dressing station and a reserve position; and the 306th, it was understood, would establish a battalion command post there. The farm, it was clear, was already crowded. From its exposed position it was obvious it would give Jerry plenty of practice.

The two battalion parties went each into its little future home.
Walls decorated with coarse cartoons by the Huns, very recently departed; logs piled in the rooms above the cellars in an insufficient effort to hurry the burst of a direct hit; bedding rolls tumbled about; a greasy deal table with, strewn across its top, the remains of a meal and a few gay copies of " La Vie Parisienne, " incredibly out of place -these are the less animate things that greeted us. The others were some men with sleeves rolled up and a tendency to scratch, and flies innumerable-on the walls, on the men, obliterating the neglected food.

The men welcomed us. When, they wanted to know, did they get out?
We examined the cellars. There was one under each building-stuffy, fly-choked places with rough bunks improvised, and, inevitably, the switchboards in the places of honor.

Gossip was unnecessary here. The place spoke for itself. Still they did tell us some things.
This was the 16th's first trip to the front. They hadn't expected to stay here long.
"We used," a major said, " the observatory for a bleachers. I'm not joking."

Decidedly he wasn't. There were casualties in that observatory. We had to move it. As long as we stayed there the ridge was raked periodically by high explosives, gas, and air bombs.

We fought the flies away from a map and studied the dispositions. It was proposed to place batteries D, E, and F in the three positions the Huns were harassing on the hillside. From a rear window we could see a grove of trees just across the road, a few hundred meters from the farm. Battery C would go there-on a forward slope. We would have to walk some distance to inspect the possibilities for the other two batteries.

We set out after waiting for what we thought was a quiet moment. It might as well be said now that there were no quiet moments in or near Les Pres Farm until the Hun moved back to the Aisne early in September. There was never a time you could go about your work there with a feeling of comparative security. Always shells were bursting near you or whistling unpleasantly close. To give the devil his due, it was great artillery work, and it was devilishly uncomfortable. We learned afterwards that we bad made Jerry dodge rather more than he had us.

Now he opened up as we walked across the fields to the southeast, but we managed to reach the battery A and B positions and express a decided disapproval. We stood on the edge of a deep valley where B seemed fairly well off with a little natural foliage to break the angles of its camouflage. A was a hundred meters forward in the open with only its flat tops to make a futile attempt to deceive the Hun airmen.

The valley-the map called it the Fond de Mezieres; the soldiers a little later renamed it Death Valley-was full of artillerymen and infantry, bathing in a narrow stream, washing clothes, playing ball, or dreamily watching their horses as they grazed.

"It's doomed," we said to each other.
It was. A night or two later the Huns filled it with gas and high explosive, collecting a heavy toll. We decided at the first glance to have nothing to do with it even for our kitchens or first aid stations.

We learned a lot that afternoon about the radius of Hun shell fragments. They seemed to follow us wherever we went. They disturbed our consultations, and they hurried our walks. Even so it was nearly six o'clock before we got through and took the road home, dodging along the line of funk holes to Chery Chartreuve.

We noticed, as we walked, hot, dusty, and tired, through the town, a Y. M. C. A. canteen in a half ruined building. That place was to impress us less pleasantly later on, but now we greeted it with joy. Chalked across the door by some German was the legend:

"Hier wasser."
A big, cool looking pump stood inside, and the next room held a counter with chocolate, cakes, cigars, and cigarettes.

We wandered on, refreshed, to Chartreuve Farm where our horses waited for us.
Regimental headquarters, we learned, would not remain there. There was a farm house a mile or so farther back-considerably safer to all appearances-named La Tuillerie.

Nesles Woods impressed us as exceedingly peaceful and remote from danger when we trotted in just before dusk. We smiled. Clearly the lesson of the previous night had not been wasted on those who had stayed in the woods that day. Let the Hun airmen come! The floor of the forest was fairly honey-combed with elaborate funk holes. Some were even covered with sheets of elephant iron.

The 305th learned early the wisdom of taking every precaution possible, and undoubtedly, it is due to that habit that our casualty list is no greater.

We faced that night the Les Pres Farm facts. We had to go there, and it was clear that, because of the amount of artillery already in and the nature of the terrain, there were no really good positions to be had. Those on the slope above the farm, however, probably could be improved on, and it was decided not to use more than two of them, and that only temporarily. A, B, and C, however, would start, at least, in the 16th emplacements, The communication experts were as troubled as battery commanders. It was going to be a job to keep those lines working, and lack of equipment would have to be combatted as well as shell fire.

"We've got to take our losses.9) everyone admitted, "but we can try to hold them down."
Those who had made the reconnaissance had brought back to Nesles Woods some stirring descriptions. In our bivouac no illusions remained, and each man went about the work of preparation with an extreme care, with a thorough understanding.

That day Major Miller replaced Captain Parramore, who had been invalided to a hospital, as regimental surgeon.
At dusk of the 15th the two pieces prescribed from each
battery were ready to start. We had hoped by leaving
early to dodge some of the night congestion on the roads.
For those roads would be shelled.

"Keep your platoons moving," officers said with an effect of prayer.
Whips cracked, the horses strained forward. Our sections jolted out of the friendly and haggard forest.

XVII

LES PRES FARM AND MUCH SHELL FIRE

EARLY as we were, the roads were crowded from the first. The two other regiments of the brigade had had the same idea of an early start. Quads, bearing ammunition, and ration trucks, bumped along, their drivers sarcastic and anxious. There was a great deal of infantry out- some fantassins, and very many of our own doughboys. A lot of heavy firing made the dusk noisy. The darkness came down nearly impenetrable and ominous. Frequently now the column halted.

There's plenty of chance in war. B's platoon had its captain. A's was in command of a lieutenant. During one of these halts B slipped past A, and a little later got what might have been A's share.

But it was all rather confusing, and conditions got worse on the main road above Mareuil. Shells came perpetually like unseen fingers tearing the black pall of night. One knew that they wouldn't all fall over or short. The halts were continual, and, because of the congestion, you couldn't keep your carriages separated.

E got it first. Shrapnel popped overhead, but nobody bothered much about that. Then a high explosive shell burst on the road in the midst of the platoon, and horses reared and tried to pull free, making queerly human sounds. It was impossible to tell at first how much damage had been done. Officers and non-commissioned officers rode up and down the line, shouting and exhorting, but they might as well have saved their breath. There was no panic among the men. Nor, miraculously, had a man been hit. Two horses had been killed, and their teammates were dangerously active.

"Cut 'em out," came the quick command. "Haul'em over to the ditch, if you can. But let's go on."
The flashes from bursting shells helped the drivers. The dead animals were cut out and drawn to one side. The platoon moved ahead.

It wasn't all shrapnel and high explosive. As the column approached Chartreuve Farm gas shells came over in a dangerous concentration. Reluctantly men put on their respirators, shutting out what little light there was. They struggled with frightened horses and got the awkward masks over their muzzles. They went on through a suffocating blackness. The few commands were choked, and had to be mumbled from mouth to mouth.

It was under these uncomfortable circumstances that B suffered. The column was blocked again near Chartreuve crossroads. B was just short of the junction, clearly a registered point, consequently a dangerous one. Yet there was nothing to do about it. Some outfit has to be caught at or near crossroads in these blocks. You can ride ahead if you like, and try your hand at straightening out the tangle, but in the majority of cases you come back with nothing accomplished, and you stand still, or sit your horse, and pray for the movement of the units ahead of you.

The Hun came down on the crossroads, and some of the shells fell among the waiting cannoneers and drivers of B. Even in the blinding respirators it was easy to see that men and horses were down. The horses screamed, and there came a whimpering cry from some hurt fellow for his mother.

Nor was there any panic here. An amateur of the National Army cried out cheerily:

"It would be a hell of a war, boys, if nobody got killed." "Where's the Captain?"
The Captain's horse stood riderless near the head of the platoon. Lieutenant Montgomery found his orderly, and that anxiety was removed. The Captain had gone ahead on foot to try to break the jam. Lieutenant Montgomery sent a messenger to report what had happened, and with his own hands attended as best he could to the wounded.

There was nothing to be done for Private John W. Whetstone. He had been instantly killed. Private Harry E. Kronfield, it was clear, hadn't long to live. An ambulance, by rare good luck, was struggling through the jam at this point. It picked Kronfield up and hurried him to a first aid station, but he died before morning. This ambulance also took Private Douglas Tredendall, so severely hurt that he was evacuated and never returned to the regiment, and Private Joseph Horowitz. His injury was particularly unfortunate as he was the medical orderly with the platoon. His task of mercy was very brief. With one arm blown away he was evacuated and we didn't see him again. First Class Private George A. Thomas was wounded less seriously.

By the time these men had been cared for and the horses cut out the jam broke, and the column pounded on towards Les Pres Farm.

D battery had no casualties on the way up. Its first platoon went, as did E's temporarily on to the hill above the farm. There was a lot of gas there and several bursts of heavy shelling. By choosing quieter moments, however, Captain Starbuck got his guns in and his limbers and caissons started for home.

Corporal Connie F. Geer was in charge of the second piece caisson. Going back the traffic had thinned out a good deal so that the column moved rapidly. Corporal Geer had been particularly cheery and helpful during the trying moments when the caissons had dumped their ammunition at the position. On the return journey he was at the rear of the column. He went back often to make sure there was no straggling. The train must have been half way home when one of his men reported Geer missing. A search of the road was unsuccessful. The shelling was still heavy, and it was necessary to get men, horses, and carriages back to the echelon. There a report was made, and Lieutenant Hoadley set out with a party. They found Corporal Geer's body at the lip of a fresh crater close to the side of the road. His death had probably been instantaneous. He was buried that day in a quiet corner of Nesles Woods.

Even at the echelon the night didn't wear itself away very comfortably. Regimental Headquarters had moved to La Tuilleric Farm that afternoon. At midnight a messenger arrived with a note from Colonel Doyle for the battalion commanders, explaining the arrangements for going in. This impressed some as altering a few of the dispositions. There were excited conferences. One, some of us will recall was held in a fourgon, heavily blanketed with horse covers. Even so, the light of the single candle within escaped wanly here and there. Outraged cries roared through the forest.

" Put out that light, you - fool!
" If you want to croak go and do it by yourself."

It was impossible to heed these compliments. If important dispatches arrive they must be read. What to do about the present one was a problem. The solution gave Captain Henry Reed a pleasant automobile ride through quarrelsome firing to headquarters. He found out there that the document hadn't been intended to change anything, so we went ahead on the basis we had agreed upon the day before.

The details went up on the morning of the 16th.
The movement of a detail was never a very dignified proceeding. Details went in for efficiency rather than appearance. The surrey was always an absurdity on a shell- torn road. There was never anything less military. But it carried a lot of stuff.

Doughboys used to grin at the group of very military appearing horsemen followed by a couple rambling cobs which drew this vehicle with its fringes flapping from a bent top. Underneath were piled switchboards, telephones, instruments of precision, and spare wire.

Everybody got to the farm, and pitched in. Officers and men of the battalion details, in spite of the fire, got an idea of where the lines ran, and how they were laid. They also appraised the task that lay ahead. These lines were continually shelled out. Some improvement could be made by relaying here and there, but at best it was going to be nasty work. For the Huns had so much artillery and ammunition that they didn't hesitate to snipe with 77s or Austrian 88s at a single man at work in the barren fields.

The detail men in such warfare have rather the worst of it. They work, as a rule, in pairs on the lines, or in an exposed observatory, or on the edge of woods, doing the careful work of a surveyor under the most distracting conditions. And it is always simpler to be brave in a crowd.

The yellow intelligence sheet for that day, too, informed us that the enemy was taking an increasing interest in Les Pres and its neighboring positions. Things were noisy while we settled ourselves. The B position, which we had thought the best of the lot, got a pounding during the morning. The B men escaped, but the 16th had a number of casualties. Captain Ravenel reconnoitered a fresh position, and Major Easterday decided that he should move his first platoon there that night, and bring his second into action alongside of it.

Major Wanvig had put F directly into a new position near the

Les Pres crossroads, and he settled on positions for D and E on the slope of the valley beyond Chery Chartreuve, so that none of the sections took many chances with the emplacements on the hill.

The observatories looked nastier than their reputation, but we had to use the ridge above the farm. The regimental and the two battalion Observatories were there, so close together that they were really one. Besides, the ridge was sprinkled with the observatories of other organizations, with division and corps stations; and the infantry had a reserve line near. All this activity added to the discomforts of that exposed place. Lieutenant Thornton Thayer had spent the previous night there and had got the lay of the land. We sent our observers and operators up, and, although an officer of the 16th remained for several hours afterwards, practically took over at noon.

Lieutenants MacNair and Graham were already down with the infantry, and we sent eight enlisted men to them to act as runners. It was found advisable at the start to alternate this work between the two battalions, so that after the first day only one officer and one group of men were with the infantry at one time. Such liaison was particularly dangerous in this sector. The infantry received a lot of high explosive, and, because of the low ground near the Vesle, suffered from gas more than the artillery. Yet it was really the only liaison we had, beyond rocket signals. It had been found difficult to maintain a telephone line between infantry and artillery battalion headquarters in spite of the division liaison order which gave to the infantry the task of laying and maintaining such a line. We put a wire through to a forward observatory at Mount St. Martin, very close to the front line, but because of the constant movement of battalion headquarters and the shortage of men, the infantry never hooked up with it. We connected with the infantry net through one of their switchboards, and when they had wire communication with their front line troops we did too. But in such a type of warfare runners furnish the only dependable communication, and our men were on the road day and night.

The sun set hot and red that first night in, and with his going Jerry awakened to a new interest in us. There were no dugouts. Men not on duty crawled into such funk holes as existed or into the stifling cellars at battalion headquarters.

Privates Shackman and Silber had already been sent to the observatory to act as operators. Lieutenant Thayer left the shelter of the cellar and with Corporal Tucker dodged up the hill to relieve the officer and the men of the 16th.

At Boston, as the observatory was called, there was, at that time, for protection only two narrow trenches, five or six yards apart, one for the operators, the other for the observers. They were less than six feet deep. They had no overhead cover.

A few minutes after the arrival of our party a thick cur-tain of high explosives descended on the ridge. The ugly little volcanoes bracketed Boston while our men crouched in the trenches. The curtain lifted. Perhaps it was just an evening hymn of hate, and the rest of the night would pass without music.

In five minutes the curtain was down again. The bracket narrowed. Fragments of shell shrieked over the trenches. Sand stung the faces of the little party.

Lieutenant Thayer and the 16th officer decided to take their men to a flank until the show should end.
"Jump out and run for it after the next shell," they directed.

One burst closer than before. The little party clambered from the trenches. Some were quicker than others. A following shell hit directly on the lip of the smaller trench. The 16th officer fell back, his rain coat drilled full of jagged holes. Private Martin W. Silber slipped in on top of him, and the rest turned back without hesitation to see what could be done. They lifted Silber out. He was dead. The 16th officer had not been injured.

So those that remained dashed to the left and fell in shell holes where they waited for the curtain to lift again. But gas came in for a time with the high explosive, and they put on their respirators and worked from shell hole to shell hole until they were out of range.

In the command posts at the farm everyone knew the ridge and the crossroads were getting it. Our men were in the observatory and our platoons before long would have to pass the crossroads.
A drop on the switchboard fell.
"Silber's dead," the operator commented.
He commenced to test.
"0. K.-O. K."
He paused. He whirred the magneto of his home telephone.
"Red line out, sir."
A moment later he reported two other lines out. That's the way they went at Les Pre.
Linesmen left through the noisy darkness with coils of wire and testing telephones over their shoulders.
In the First Battalion cellar the operator called to Major Easterday.
"Second Battalion wants you, sir."

The major lifted the hand set.
"Tucker. Which one is he?" he asked.
You see he had only been with the regiment a few days then.
"What's the matter with Tucker?" Reed asked.
"First battalion says they've just heard he's been killed."

There were close personal friends of Tucker's among the detail in that cellar. They swore softly as they went about their jobs.
As the major replaced the telephone hand set on the table the blanket which hung as a curtain at the cellar entrance waved. A hand drew it aside and in stepped Corporal Tucker.

Our men didn't believe in ghosts. They grasped his hand and a laugh burst out.
Tucker denied the Second Battalion's story, and made his report. Thayer had sent word by him that he was going to establish a new observatory. We had gone over the ground with a fine tooth comb. The change in the location of the observatory would only be a matter of a few yards. A digging detail was ordered up to him with a guide. Lieutenant Mots, with a number of bandsmen, bearing picks and shovels, arrived about the same time, and started to dig in a regimental observatory. Corporal Caen ran up to stand by the telephone in the old observatory until the change could be made to the new ones. And all night the Hun remembered the ridge with high explosive and gas, while stray aeroplanes swooped low there, to let fall a bomb or two.

The curtain in the cellar swung in again.
"For the Lord's sake keep that curtain down," somebody grumbled. "If an aeroplane sees this candle we'll be bombed out in a jiffy."
But it was a battery commander who had halted his platoon at the crossroads. He took off his helmet. The perspiration poured from his hair. What, he asked the major, should he do about his platoon? He didn't want to lose his men or his pieces if he could help it, and the shelling down there was particularly vicious. Nor was there any way around.
"Watch your chance and take them through one at a time," the major said shortly.

The battery commander nodded, replaced his helmet, and backed cautiously out.
"Somebody on the line for the major of the 16th," the switchboard man called.

The 16th officers had sat there for some time, waiting only to hear that the relief was complete before striking out for quieter parts. The 16th major answered the call and looked annoyed. We gathered that an ammunition dump at the C position had been hit and was burning. His officer in command there evidently wanted to know what he should do.

"Go in and put it out," the 16th major said, and lowered the hand set.
Almost at once, it seemed to those in the cellar, the same drop rattled again, and the operator asked for the same officer. The 16th major picked up the hand set with a frown. Then his expresson altered, and when he spoke his voice had changed, too.
"Wolff is dead," he said to Major Easterday, and every-one knew he spoke of the officer in command of the C position whom he had just ordered into the burning dump.
"Wolff is dead," he repeated, " and Dean, the only other officer I have there, is wounded. You don't take over until the relief is complete. I'll have to get one of the 16th's officers. Who is Robinson?"
"One of our battery C officers," Major Easterday answered.

No one asked for a moment, because it seemed certain that Robinson had been struck, also. The 16th major shook his head when at last the question had been asked.
"No, he's taken command. He seems to know what he is about."

Robinson did. It was for that affair that he and Corporal Johnson were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Wolff and he had been sitting together in a funk hole, and Wolff had just said to him, expecting to leave with the last of his battery in a few moments:

"You know, Robinson, I'm not so sure I'm going to get out of this place alive after all."
He had laughed a little, and just then the shell had tumbled into the dump, and he had telephoned battalion head-quarters and had asked what he should do about it. He. and his assistant Dean, and Robinson had all gone in, carrying dirt which they had thrown on the popping shells.

Robinson had just gone out for more dirt, and Deane was starting when the explosion occurred. There had been shrapnel there. While it was still bursting Robinson had dashed in. Corporal Johnson, without any command, without any request, had followed him, and they had dragged out Wolff's body, and the wounded lieutenant. It was then that Robinson had reported.

The major of the 16th looked very tired. At last he shrugged his shoulders, and called up his colonel.
"Wolff's dead. Dean's hurt. Burning dump. What? One officer of the 305th, but I'm getting an officer over to stay until the relief's complete."

It seemed at times as if that formality would never be accomplished. We got reports from A, and, at last from C. But B hadn't reported its second platoon in yet, or its command post moved to the new position. So we sat and waited.
We had had a number of gas alarms during the evening.

Time after time our gas guard had wound his klaxon, and time after time we had struggled into respirators, and the switchboard operators had learned how difficult it was to talk intelligibly through a mask. But we had suspected nothing worse than mustard gas. While we sat impa-tiently there an officer of the 16th stumbled down the cellar steps and through the curtain. He seemed to be in a hurry, and his face was white. From a corner a quiet voice spoke:

"There's phosgine in this cellar."

The penetrating, sickly odor, was apparent to everyone. Masks went on with a rush. The newcomer, however, didn't disturb his. He waved his hand deprecatingly. It trembled a trifle.

"Don't bother. I think I've brought it in on my clothes. Those shells are all over the hillside. Good Lord! I tell you one of them fell at my feet. Don't know why the rotten thing didn't hit me. When are we getting out, Major? "

The major shook his head. Nobody knew. It was B that held us up, and we tried them again. This time there was no answer to our call. We tried them through A and C. They were out of touch with the world.

Over there on the edge of Death Valley the B signal men worked frantically with a coil of twisted pair that had been snarled half a mile from the new battery position. We established runners from that point to the battery so that the relief could be reported and communication of a sort maintained until daylight when the battalion detail ran a new line in.

At midnight, then, the 16th was through, and it went out of Les Pres Farm, leaving us our own masters.
We gazed upon our new kingdom. In the stifling cellars such men as were not on duty tried to sleep. They lay sprawled on the dirt floor, endeavoring in their restlessness to keep out of each other's way. Their respirators were conveniently at hand.

At the positions men crouched in funk holes, sleeping by turn. There lay one moaning softly with a bad touch of shell shock. Now and then a soldier paused and spoke to him sympathetically; for the hardiest realized that this was illness, not cowardice. You had only to feel his weak and rapid pulse. The surgeon was on his way.

Details struggled with the flat tops, softening angles against the daylight. Nearly motionless the rocket guards gazed in the direction of Boston. Nestling against the lip of the hill was a wan patch, like a dying bit of fox fire. It was a shelter tent, blanketed, and with flaps down where two officers worked over the intricate figures of new barrages.

Even in that unrevealing starlight each man you saw projected an expression of extreme weariness. And already many were ill with the dysentery that got us all sooner or later. And there was no prospect ahead of real sleep as long as we should stay in that place.

There seemed no diminution in the fire even when the stars paled. The details took advantage of the first light and went over the lines while Hun aeroplanes loafed about the ridge and the positions.

Instead of the brisk freshness of early morning we breathed the warning odor of animal decay.
The last officer of the 16th walked through Les Pres Farm, asking about his horse, reminiscing disjointedly about his escapes. We watched him go without saying anything, wondering when we would follow him and how.
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