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8. Brest, Pontanezin, and the Chemin De Fer


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


VII

GOOD-BYS AND THE SUBMARINE ZONE

IN RETROSPECT those who got home may wonder at the quiet force of the regret that crowded those farewell hours. As that philosopher of ours had said, "War is saying good-by." And good-bys are seldom easy.

Since most of the regiment couldn't go to town, families came down; and wives, mothers, sweethearts don't speed their nearest on to battle with dry eyes.

These final farewells were given as far as practicable a just proportion of the last rushed days. From morning to night the hostess houses were filled with women, soberly clothed, who knitted, and, for the most part, sat silently, glancing up each time a brown clad figure hurried in.

Towards the end they learned the way to the barracks, and sat in noisy, cluttered mess halls. At each opportunity their men would sit with them. One marveled at the lack of words. There seemed nothing left to say except good-by.

At night in the dusk of the station this unnatural repression would be momentarily destroyed; shattered, as it were, by an unavoidable release of emotion too long subdued.

Always the long trains filled slowly, for the passengers, as a rule, waited until the last minute, huddled in the pen-like enclosure beyond which soldiers might not pass. From it arose a perpetual monotone, like a wind in heavy pines-the last effort at repression, the farewells of those who only dared whisper.

Guards and railroad officials urged the unwilling civilians.
"See here, you've only got a minute! Want to miss the train? "
Then almost always as the dark mass would begin to move, fighting back upon itself, the monotone would rise, as the wind in pine trees rises; and like a knife in the heart of the whispering stillness would flash a cry:
"My boy, my boy! Oh, my boy!"

The last good-bys weren't said until a few hours before our departure.
On April 22d Lieut. Arthur A. Robinson was assigned to the regiment from the Depot Brigade. He had been with us for a few days in December, coming down from the second Plattsburg Officers' Training Camp. The powers had taken him away almost at once, but there had lingered an impression of an exceptionally pleasant and efficient personality. When the regiment found itself a second lieutenant short at the very last, therefore, it got Robinson, and gave him for the time to the Headquarters Company. Lieutenant Robinson's career was unique in a number of ways. He was, as you shall see, the only officer in the brigade to, be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He served with more organizations of the regiment than any other officer. As soon as we got to France he went from the Headquarters Company to Battery E. After a few weeks Battery B got him. In the Lorraine sector Battery C was short and had to have a competent officer, so Robinson was shifted, and fought through the war as executive. McKenna got him for the Supply Company in the piping days after the armistice. Everybody wanted Robinson, and when he left us so tragically on the journey to the embarkation center there was a gap that couldn't possibly be filled.

Colonel Doyle and Captains Dana and Starbuck went to Hoboken on Tuesday, April 23d. Major Johnson returned from Fort Sill that day, and, in the colonel's absence, took command of the regiment. Under his friendly an easy guidance the task of getting off seemed simple.

We were to leave at 2 o'clock on the morning of April 915th. On Wednesday morning immediately after reveille the straw from the bed sacks was dumped in huge piles in the area and burned. The flames rose high above the buildings. Men, waving their empty white bed sacks, danced around the fires. The picture had a ceremonial air. Before long only ashes remained.

We policed barracks and quarters. They were ready for the next to come, as empty as when we had first invaded them. We wandered about bare places, all at once unfamiliar to us. We were homeless. We had only to count the minutes while we reviewed details. At midnight we had a supper of sandwiches, cakes, and coffee.
Paper Work alone enjoyed himself, altering not at all his ways. In Regimental Headquarters the clerks still toiled.
The organizations were formed on the parade ground, and each man placed his pack in his place, so that when the command to fall in for departure should come we could be off in a minute. The imaginative busied themselves with the manufacture of placards which they nailed to the barrack doors.
"This house to rent. Owners spending the warm sea-son in France."
" Good-by, Upton! Hello, Berlin!
"Wipe your feet. We're off to kiss the Kaiser, and can't do it for you."
Out on the parade ground Pullen's bugle blared. The lights in Regimental Headquarters expired. Paper Work went to sleep for the night.

"Fall in! Hustle it up there! Squads right! March! " We moved off through the darkness, and turned to the left on Fourth Avenue. It was past belief. We were walking away from Upton. Feet shuffled as if trying to dissipate a dream. It was real. We were actually marching, and our destination was the front.

There was a precision about that movement that augured well. We found our trains waiting at the railroad station. The column was divided and the proper -number of men placed in each car without delay or confusion. Scarcely were we packed in when the trains started.

Through the dawn we approached Long Island City. The first green flashed from trees and bushes. We wondered what the spring would be like in France.

We were under strict orders not to open windows, not to call to people on the roads or at the stations, not to sing. Early passengers watched with a dumb curiosity these trainloads of soldiers silently gliding by.

At Long Island City we crowded our way on ferry boats which took us around the battery to Hoboken. The city was scarcely awake. Only here and there did a man wave his hand carelessly from a park or a wharf. There was nothing glorious about it. We were only interested in what boat we would get. Wallowing up the North River we saw that a number of big ones were in harbor. We nosed towards Hoboken where the Northern Pacific and the Von Steuben, the old Kronprinz Wilhelm lay. The first battalion was destined for the one, and the second for the other.

We poured off and formed in the odorous dusk of the pier. The place was crowded with a feverish activity. It was reminiscent of a factory-a huge factory, greedy for material, which it belched forth, after a moment, ready for the front.

Red Cross men and women trundled little carts along the lines, offering us hot coffee, buns, and cigarettes. We ate greedily but we couldn't smoke, because it was forbidden in the factory.

While we munched, Paper Work awakened. But we bad him well in hand. Our passenger lists were right, and so were our accommodation lists, our service records, and our inoculation cards. We were permitted to embark. We went up the gang plank in single file. We were counted off. We were assigned to space. And then they stopped bothering us for awhile.

We examined our temporary home. Our hearts sank a bit. The bunks were in three tiers crowded close together. There was an odor of disinfectants, of departed meals. The top bunks seemed safer on the whole.

But we were fortunate. The Northern Pacific and Von Steuben were better than a good many other transports. And they were fast. Anyway there wasn't much grumbling. Whatever came it was a part of the game. Yet that day and the next were hard-more difficult than storms at sea or the conscious dodging of submarines. For during that period we lay at the pier, seeing the ferryboats go by, answering the fluttering handkerchiefs or the few cheers, and all the time, forbidden to step from the transport, we watched the smoke curling above our homes.

We took refuge in our only antidote. We wrote letters, and signed safe arrival cards. These bore on the back the printed legend, which we were ordered not to alter:
"I have arrived safely in Europe."

Yet when those cards came through to be censored there were few that didn't carry something else-about love. It didn't do any harm. Probably the final censors thought so.

Naval officers seemed to have lost their voices. We had no idea when we would cast off . And there was a strain about this waiting, chained within sight of home. At five o'clock on the afternoon of April 26th the strain broke. The fuel barges moved away. Men hauled in the gang planks. They commenced to cast off the moorings. The boat slipped into the river with only a discreet blowing of its whistle.

Everyone was ordered below decks. No uniform showed outside except the blue of the navigators on the bridge, and the brown of the officer of the day dashing importantly here and there.
And the world outside seemed oddly indifferent. We crowded to port-holes and windows, hungry for a last glimpse.

At dusk the companionways were opened, and we climbed to the decks. We were through the narrows. Ahead lay the gray, empty sea. Behind us, far in the distance resembling details of a mirage, the towers of New York penetrated the haze, then were lost.

The following seven days shared a drab, uncomfortable similarity. Aside from a. half hour's sketchy physical exercise and abandon ship drills there was no effort towards concerted work. The limitations of shipboard decreed that.

Abandon ship drill was our most serious occupation. It began on Saturday. Everybody had a blue life jacket. We grew so accustomed to life jackets that they seemed a part of the uniform. They were light, and not uncomfortable. That was as well, for after the first four days, when we reached the danger zone, we wore them at all times. We were no longer, in fact, permitted to remove our clothing at night. We slept in boots and breeches and blouses, with the blue life jacket over all.

At first the drills fell at anticipated hours. We would get our belts and be ready when the bugle blustered. We received at once assignments to boats and rafts. There weren't very many boats, but there were a lot of rafts, so that the great majority of us examined the floats and the open lathe work between, and speculated on methods of launching, wishing we had been lucky enough to get boats. For the rafts would simply be flung overboard, and we would go down rope ladders and get on them as best we could. It looked hazardous, but we believed it could be done if we had a system. So we developed one and tried to account for everything.

We resented the advice of a fortunate individual as-signed to a boat; and it wasn't merely a boat. It was the captain's gig.

"It's well enough for you to talk," we said, "you're in a boat. You're lucky."
Our hearts were full of envy.
"I thought I was at first," he admitted, "but I'll swop with any of you. Somebody's reminded me of a thing I'd forgotten, and I'm trying to duck that boat."
"What is it?" we asked. "You're crazy."
"Oh, no. Not at all. You see the captain's the last man to leave the ship."

No matter where you were, even at your appointed place, when the bugle cried for abandon ship drill you had to rush to your bunk and wait there in the dusky, close bold of the ship until the gong sent the long lines worming at double time up the companionways and to the deck. It was a good deal to ask a man to leave the air and the sun, in an emergency, and to fight his way through narrow, insufficient passages to the stiffling hold; but we could see it was the most efficient way.

As the days passed the drills became more ambitious. They came at unexpected moments-often in the middle of the night.
"Shake it up there! Get to your place! Don't block that passage! Hay, Brown, where did you get the molasses on your shoes? "
And we were never quite sure whether it was a drill or a dangerous actuality.
It was forbidden to talk at abandon ship drill. That was difficult, for sometimes it was nearly an hour before the recall blew. So men talked, and when they did strange punishments were invented. You might see a forlorn individual standing in ranks with a placard hung about his neck, informing all the world:
"I talked at Abandon Ship Drill."
Or another at the head of the companionway, singing out to the running lines:

"I got to learn to hush up when it's orders,"
Over and over, again, like a man reciting some frantic litany.

The necessity of such precautions, and this severity, were clear to the dullest of us. Because of their speed the Northern Pacific and the Von Steuben had no convoy. They crossed side by side-two little specks in an endless waste of water. But there were places in that waste where it was necessary for us to go, and there submarines lurked. We would be picked up by destroyers only a day or so out of Brest.

Sometimes the boats were so close together that with glasses we could recognize friends of the other battalion. One was tempted to shout across. And through this narrow lane one night, with the whole sea to accommodate him, a tramp blundered. There was something of the miraculous about that escape. We conducted abandon ship drill more earnestly.

The crossing wasn't all abandon ship drill. The weather occupied us quite a little. After the first two days the sea rose, and the boats showed us how they could roll. Familiar faces disappeared. By Tuesday there was a really high sea running, and preparation for morning inspection of quarters became an ordeal. Instructions were to get every man on deck unless he was literally too ill to be moved.

"What's the matter with this man?" an officer asks the first sergeant, peering into a clearly occupied bunk.
"Says he isn't sea sick," the sergeant answers with a cruel sneer.
"Not seasick, Blank?" the officer interrogates.
Very weak but firm from the bunk:
"No, sir, not a bit."
"Then what's the matter with you?"
"I think I got the -the-the grippe."

" Up then, and get where the air is fresh. It's what we're prescribing this morning for grippe."
Thus caught, the invalid does get out, but not without leaving awful souvenirs of his prevarication.

There were some, heaven knows, that didn't lie.
"And why is this man still in bed?"
"We can't move him, Sir, " the first sergeant says.
"Feel better if he'd get up. Now what's the matter with you, Doe? "
" Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! "
"Answer up. What's the matter with you?"
" Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"
"That's nonsense. Do you good to get on deck. Sea-sickness is all imagination."

The officer looks around him quickly. His own words fail to comfort him. A lurch of the ship throws him against the bunk of pain. If he doesn't come up for air pretty soon himself his end is clear.
"All imagination," he insists weakly. "Get out of here."
With the aid of the first sergeant he gets Doe out. Doe sways, clutching at the air:
"If," he moans, "I ever live to get to France, I'm going to stay there and become a frog."
"Excuse me, Sergeant," says the officer vaguely, "Be right back. I've got to report
"All imagination, did I understand the lieutenant to say?" grins the sergeant.
But the officer hears, as he staggers up the ladder, the complaining voice of the invalid.
"Honest, Sergeant, they wouldn't treat a dog so."
"What you kicking about, Doe? Didn't you see the officer had all he could stand? "
And last of all the invalid's voice, suddenly strengthened:

" You ain't foolin'? Honest, Sergeant? Ha, ha, ha! Damfi don't feel better."

Tuesday was our day of greatest casualties, and wicked was the wit of the survivors. If the quarters were bad the mess hall made them seem very pleasant by comparison. Men, as long as they could manage it, went there, because, except for a few crackers and such things at the commissary, it was the only place on the boat where they could get anything to eat. And somebody had started the abominable lie that eating is the best cure for seasickness. The food was good, too. Let that be put down.

The mess hall was the old first class dining saloon. It was so far down that with any sea running at all no port holes could be opened. Here and there survived traces of its former luxurious decorations, but in place of mahogany one gazed on deal mess tables, crowding each other. An ancient square piano was lashed to the end wall. By the main entrance were the tubs and cans of the cleaning detail. It is no wonder that the grease of one meal couldn't be cleaned from the mess kits for the next. For meals nearly overlapped each other. Organizations had to be fed in turn. In the corridors were processions of men, wondering if they could last until they got in, or if they could manage to get through if they did. And the odorous ghosts of many vanished meals pointed the transient nature of the one in progress.

For one on the edge, the atmosphere inside was nearly unbreatheable. The floor was awash with greasy, coffee- colored water. Kitchen police in those days should have got citations.

On that wildest night the old piano broke its lashings and went drunkenly fraternizing with the tables. It lost a leg and then permitted itself to be led back and tied up again. It furnished a humorous interlude that helped some men. They asked that it be allowed to perform every night.

The guard and the soldier lookouts had to do their jobs, seasick or not. The Captain of the ship had offered a prize to any soldier, who spotted a periscope. It kept the lookouts wide awake and it didn't do any harm to the flotsam and jetsam that were reported as periscopes. There were rumors every night that submarines had seen us.

On Thursday evening, when we knew we were well within the danger zone the bugle called us to abandon ship drill. There was an element of strain present. The naval officers bad looked glum all day. It was whispered that submarines had been reported near us, that we weren't far from the French coast, that our escort of torpedo boats ought to have picked us up that afternoon, and that the skipper was crowding the air with demands to know where they were. So a feeling grew that this wasn't a drill at all. Yet we all came tumbling down to the close hold, which was lighted only by an occasional blue globe. We stood attentively at the bunks. When the gong rang, we jumped up the stairs with no more than the prescribed hurry. While the last light faded over the water we waited patiently for whatever might follow.

Both boats, one could see, were taking a zig-zag course. It strengthened the belief that there were submarines about. The minutes slipped by. The recall didn't come. The presence of submarines was accepted. One strained his ears for an explosion. From the bridges of the two ships signals flashed out. After a long time, when it was quite dark, the recall blew. The men gathered about the decks in whispering groups. No one regretted the experience. It had shown that the crowded boats were at the pitch to behave just so if the thing should happen.

That night, or early the next morning, a story went on the lips of the most conservative, that we had, towards midnight, actually run into a submarine nest, and that two torpedoes had been fired at the Northern Pacific, and one at the Von Steuben. Judging from the letters home it was accepted generally as a fact.

We knew we should be in by Saturday, and everyone was glad. It was growing irksome to sleep with one's clothes on, to carry everywhere the blue life jacket, to stumble about at night in the insufficient green light, unable to read or play cards.

Friday morning when we went on deck we saw five destroyers, low in the water, their sterns piled with depth bombs, their hulls and superstructures curiously camouflaged. They chased about us as if in pursuit of each other, tearing along our sides, doubling about and dashing perilously beneath our bows or stern. They cheered everyone. The sun was unclouded. The sea had gone down. We commenced to pack.

Early the next morning thick fog shrouded us. We were summoned to abandon ship drill-another business like call, and when we glanced at our compasses we saw that the boat had turned around, and that we were headed west. Was it a flight? We were not released from the stuffy hold until nearly noon, when the white pall thinned and we got back on our course.

Because of this delay we didn't pick up land until after luncheon. There was no dramatic abruptness about our first glimpse. In the beginning there was just a shadow on the sea far in the south-east. Little by little it deepened and lifted itself above the water.

Nearly without words we crowded the rails and watched the thing grow.
Out of the somber, low cloud protruded details. Above it wavered a suggestion of green. It spread along the water, ceased to be nebulous, defined itself for us as a bold headland of Finisterre.

France, we thought, where it's happened for four years, and flames now, waiting for us!
That was the reason for the nearly motionless silence along the decks, for the eyes fixed on each detail which seemed a little sacred.

The outlines of trees and houses traced themselves before us. We had left America just struggling from the sober cloak of winter. Spring had done all it would for France. The coast appeared abnormally green and gay.

Aeroplanes whirred overhead. A dirigible, catching the sun like a placid planet, came to meet us, swung about, and escorted us in. The white and brown cliffs closed around us, like a welcoming embrace from the land. We felt ourselves drawn to a smiling serenity, a drowsy and remote content. Yet all the time we knew it was nature's masquerade. It changed nothing for us. We were in France, which for nearly four years had submitted to the scarlet and voluble shock of a perpetual disaster.

VIII

BREST, PONTANEZIN, AND THE CHEMIN
DE FER


DOWN in the throat of the harbor the houses of Brest detached themselves from the hillside. Small boats bore French officials and men in our own uniform to us.

The Von Steuben anchored in the inner harbor. The Northern Pacific was warped against a stone pier. A few soldiers waved their hands at us. Here and there a French civilian stared, saluted, and passed on. We had come when the world waited in suspense between two phases of the great German offensive. It did not seem odd that we were welcomed as we had greeted France, with sensations that unconsciously avoided expression.

Colonel Doyle had caused so much to be read to the regiment, under orders from G. H. Q., of precautions of one sort and another that many men expected to be invited ashore at once and introduced to all the gaieties of the city. Now it was announced that, except for the baggage details, no one would be allowed ashore. Glancing back, the prisoners seem to have had something the better of it.

The details, with packs, left the ship at dusk and marched through the railroad yards to an unpainted enclosure, crowded with long, low sheds. Our baggage would be brought from the ships in scows to the enclosure. We would sort it there and carry it to the sheds reserved for the 305th. We were told what to expect.

No man will be permitted to leave the yard. There's nothing to do until the lighters begin dumping the baggage. Make yourselves comfortable."
A friendly fellow who had been through the mill gave us a word of advice.
"Sleep while you can."

But where? How? We set watches and stretched out on the ground. There was nothing else to do, and it seemed particularly unpleasant and soiled ground. But at midnight the lighters commenced to dump their freight, and we didn't have to worry about getting to sleep after that.

From then until the next night the details worked, sorting, checking, and wrangling with ambitious people from strange organizations. We got our barrack bags, trunks, bedding-rolls, and boxes of equipment piled in the sheds. Then the details were marched out of the dusty yard and back to the boats in time for supper and a bath.

The rest of the regiment, meantime, had stretched its legs for two hours, doing a sort of Cook's tour of the town and its neighborhood. They had come close to the French and had been able to judge how much of young France was at war. They had set eyes for the first time on Hun prisoners marching under guard through the streets.

We became aware at once of a distressing habit of French children. Three English words they all knew: Cigarette, Penny, and-Good-by. We never could understand why, when they probably meant "hello " they always gave us a farewell. Or after so much war had even the children become fatalistic and a trifle cynical? It was not, we realized later, a local habit. Marching into some places it was a most depressing one.

Cigarettes and pennies we gave them until the demand threatened our own supplies. At the close of that second night in Brest we were convinced, in spite of its nearly voices welcome, that France was deeply grateful we had come.

No one seemed to know exactly what the immediate future held for us. After our seven months' training at Upton we realized we Were far from fit for the line. It seemed certain that we would go to some training camp for a few weeks' instruction in the real things. We under stood that men were needed and that we would be sent up, as soon as possible.

We were told that night that we would march the next morning to a camp four or five miles from Brest at a place called Pontanezin Barracks. it was, we were informed, known as a rest camp. That sounded enticing, and we were up early, and trooped off the boats, and marched up the long hill and into the open country.

According to the information gathered by the soldiers nearly everything in France was built either by Caesar or Napoleon. Pontanezin went on Napoleon's score card. From a distance it was entirely picturesque. More intimately it developed white-washed buildings, like barns within, and arid, dusty courtyards. We congratulated ourselves when we learned the barracks were full, and that we would be quartered in tents in a pleasant grove to one side.

The grove had the appearance, in fact, of a rest camp. As it turned out, the name was as perverted as "shirt, under."

What with getting settled, posting guard, drawing rations, setting up kitchens, preparing to police on the morrow, accepting the omnipresent casual, and returning the same, it was dark before the regiment had time to breathe. Still the night loomed restfully. Then the night descended and brought new demands. Orders came. Battery A would break camp at 4: 30 A. m., because it was to travel with the 304th Field Artillery, and the brigade was moving at once. The rest of us would march back to Brest at 10: 30 in the morning. Then we did have a destination! Some located it on the Swiss border. Others in something they called the forward training area. A third group spoke of the vicinity of Bordeaux. It carried off the laurels. We were bound for the Champ de Tir de Souge.

Weary-eyed we turned our backs on our sylvan rest camp, and tramped to the Brest railroad station. It was here that most of the regiment saw for the first time the now familiar Hommes and Chevaux palace cars. The regiment that pulled out ahead of us had them. Our train was composed of third class carriages, and we laughed at the other fellows while we munched our luncheon of bread and corn willy in the railroad yards.

"Those bullies are traveling like a lot of cattle," one heard. "We can sit up and play cards and look out of the window-"
Perfectly true, but after one experience you should hear how eagerly we would ask on the eve of another journey if we weren't going to have Hommes and Chevaux.
"Sardine boxes are all right for sardines," was the verdict on third class carriages, loaded to capacity, after that first ride, "But they didn't give us any oil."

It was seldom necessary to fill goods vans uncomfortably, and you could stretch out and go to sleep. In the third class carriages there were nearly always broken windows. In the goods van, if it got cold, you simply shut the door.

That first trip, however, we piled in thankfully, and had our first doubt when we realized how little room there was for stowing equipment.
A number of small boys from the summit of a neighboring wall watched us entrain. Proudly they chanted for us that hap-hazard Marseillaise of the American soldier.
"Hail! Hail! - The gang's all here."
And when the train started a little after two they followed us with the inevitable " good-by " which rose to a supplicating shriek.

The placid and picturesque landscape of Finisterre and Brittany was a little unreal. Many of the regiment were seeing it for the first time. After the cramped voyage and the thorough rest at Pontanezin such a journey seemed like a holiday. We had been afraid of starvation, and had bought here and there. We found, therefore that we had more than we really needed to eat, and at every station there were carts and stands loaded with fruit and cakes. We always descended to exercise what French we had or to acquire some. In return for cigarettes we get the beginnings of a vocabulary.

France, clearly, wasn't starving, nor was it going thirsty. Wine was forbidden on the train. A guard was set at each stop with instructions to see that no one carried bottles aboard. He couldn't have eyes in the back of his head, however, and the French thought it very funny to help fool him. There was plenty of opportunity, for water was allowed, and the faucets marked "Eau Potable" were often at some distance from the train. There were usually vendors of stronger stuff about these places. Coming back, men's coats bulged oddly. As the train rolled on the shattering of glass now and then on the right of way was at least suggestive.

If the stuff got aboard it didn't seem to do any damage. There was no disorder. The customary songs didn't increase in volume or expressiveness.

We enjoyed the scenery, commenting on the quaint and calm costume of the Breton peasant, forgetting almost that we were at war, until just at dark a peculiar and riotous alarm recalled us.

Confused cries ran along the train, indistinguishable at first, but carrying a note of excessive tragedy. They rose. A pistol shot rang out. Another. A salvo. A bugle blared.
We sprang to our feet and stared from the windows.

The train bowled through a cutting. Heads leaned from every window. Nothing more unusual was visible. The racket continued, and out of it slipped words that could be grasped.

"Stop the train! Stop the train!

The plausible explanation sprang at everyone. Someone had fallen out. Back on the line must lie a still form. But a calmer mind reasoned. In time of war, its logic ran, troop trains, squeezed into schedules with difficulty, don't stop and block things for the carelessness of a single man. Such a catastrophe would be treated by sending back word from the next station. No, the calm reasoning went on, it must be something far more serious than that. We believed it when word came along that The Great wanted the train stopped. We could hit on only one explanation. The train must have broken in two. An express thundered behind us. We were, we learned later, to get out of its way at the next stop, a few miles ahead. The fate of that motionless string of cars, packed with, perhaps, half our companions, was terrible to contemplate. So an officer and several men, crawled forward over a string of goods vans to the locomotive. The execution to their clothing was appalling. But they persuaded the driver to stop the train, although he seemed in danger of a fit before he yielded, shouting things about the express that our amateur interpreters had difficulty with. They gestured rather more than he did and got their way. The train stopped. The engine driver animated himself volubly. He saw that the train had not broken in two. He sprang to the throttle, threw it open, dashed us into the station on a side track, and pointed to the express which roared in a little after us.

Colonel Doyle, Majors Johnson and Wanvig, and the train interpreter hurried to the engine, while we waited to learn the truth. But there came the answer himself across the tracks-a wobbly soldier just descended from the express and supported by a medical orderly.

There is, after all, a great deal of anti-climax about war. The present case failed to give us the thrill we had anticipated. It boiled down to Indigestion, rather severe, still vulgarly gastric. It had struck the wobbly soldier at the previous station. Captain Parramore had instructed one of the medical orderlies to take him from the train and care for him. The train had departed sooner than anyone had expected, leaving the sick man and his attendant. They hadn't worried because they were told they could catch us by the express. Captain Arramore had told the Colonel they had been left. After our pre-monitions we didn't miss a more dramatic denouement.

Such incidents break the monotony of a journey. A different sort spelled variety the next morning. We rolled into Nantes about seven o'clock after a cramped night. We weren't surprised to learn we would be there until eight, for Nantes is a large city. A warm breakfast beckoned. Some of us snatched it in nearby cafes, and hurried back to the train which left without any particular warning at 7:50. Men scurried from every direction and scrambled through the open doors of the compartments. We made a hurried check. Everything was all right except that neither battalion had a commander or an adjutant. Majors Johnson and Wanvig and Captains Reed and Delanoy had breakfasted not wisely but too well. What the colonel thought about it we never heard. There was, this time, no effort made to hold the train for the missing, although their misfortune, too was vulgarly gastric.

So we crossed the Loire and turned to the south through Les Roches Sur Yonne, La Rochelle, and Rochefort, where our missing officers rejoined us, grateful to the French for a travel order and convenient express trains. They looked so well shaved and comfortably fed that we gathered they wouldn't make any trouble for the railroad company about leaving them.

At Saintes on the Charente, where we stopped at dusk, the war seemed to come closer. We all piled from the train and had half an hour's brisk march through the picturesque little city. But it was the railroad station that impressed us most. Permissionaires swarmed there in faded blue uniforms and battered helmets. Some were smiling and happy, talking with vivacity and wide gestures to civilians. Evidently they had just arrived. The soil of the front line still stained their clothing. Others, far neater and encumbered with equipment, did not have much to say. Clearly enough their holiday was over. They were going back to the thing that waited for us.

We tried to visualize ourselves within a few weeks at one with these men whose faces were bronzed and sadly wise. We tried to approximate their emotions. Our next train journey, we remembered, would be in their direction. There was a fascination in standing close to them and wondering.
After another cramped night the spires of Bordeaux greeted us across the vineyards off the Gironde, and at seven o'clock the train halted with a definite jerk at the railhead of Bonneau.

Lt. Mots, who had come as our advance agent, met us and guided the tired column, bent beneath its packs, down a road that entered a pine wood.
" It looks like Upton," we said.
But these evergreens were larger, the sand was deeper, and at a crossroads was an estaminet with tables and chairs set on the edge of the road.
It was only two miles to an arched gateway, summounted by the republican cock and the legend:
"Champ de Tir de Souge."

Within we found endless rows of French barracks, painted brown. As we marched along the main avenue we noticed inscribed panels above the doors, reciting the valorous death of some officer or non-commissioned officer who had trained there.

By noon assignments were made. Barrack bags and baggage had arrived. Except for the sand, we gathered, Souge would not be uncomfortable. We were vastly amused at hordes of French coolies, parading around beneath umbrellas against the sun, or languidly making a pretence at work.


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