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   Chapter 9 No.9

War in the Garden of Eden By Kermit Roosevelt Characters: 31900

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


My transfer to the American army appointed me as captain of field artillery instead of infantry, as I had wished. Just how the mistake occurred I never determined, but once in the field artillery I found that to shift back would take an uncertain length of time, and that even after it was effected I would be obliged to take a course at some school before going up to the line. It therefore seemed advisable to go immediately, as instructed, to the artillery school, at Saumur. The management was half French and half American. Colonel MacDonald and Colonel Cross were the Americans in charge, and the high reputation of the school bore testimony to their efficiency. It was the intention of headquarters gradually to replace all the French instructors with Americans, but when I was there the former predominated. It was of course necessary to wait until our officers had learned by actual experience the use of the French guns with which our army was supplied. When men are being taught what to do in combat conditions they apply themselves more attentively and absorb far more when they feel that the officer teaching them has had to test, under enemy fire, the theories he is expounding. The school was for both officers and candidates. The latter were generally chosen from among the non-commissioned officers serving at the front; I afterward sent men down from my battery. The first part of the course was difficult for those who had either never had much mathematical training or had had it so long ago that they were hopelessly out of practice. A number of excellent sergeants and corporals did not have the necessary grounding to enable them to pass the examinations. They should never have been sent, for it merely put them in an awkward and humiliating position-although no stigma could possibly be attached to them for having failed.

The French officer commanding the field work was Major de Caraman. His long and distinguished service in the front lines, combined with his initiative and ever-ready tact, made him an invaluable agent in welding the ideas and methods of France and America. His house was always filled with Americans, and how much his hospitality meant to those whose ties were across the ocean must have been experienced to be appreciated. The homes of France were ever thrown open to us, and the sincere and simple good-will with which we were received has put us under a lasting debt which we should be only too glad to cherish and acknowledge.

Saumur is a delightful old town in the heart of the chateau country. The river Loire runs through it, and along the banks are the caves in some of which have been found the paintings made by prehistoric man picturing the beasts with which he struggled for supremacy in the dim dark ages. The same caves are many of them inhabited, and their owners may well look with scorn upon the chateaux and baronial castles of whose antiquity it is customary to boast. There is an impressive castle built on a hill dominating the town, and in one of the churches is hung an array of tapestries of unsurpassed color and design. The country round about invited rambling, and the excellent roads made it easy; particularly delightful were the strolls along the river-banks, where patient fisherfolk of every sex and age sat unperturbed by the fact that they never seemed to catch anything. One old lady with a sunbonnet was always to be seen seated on a three-legged stool in the same corner amid the rocks. She had a rusty black umbrella which she would open when the rays of the sun became too searching.

The buildings which were provided for the artillery course had formerly been used by the cavalry school, probably the best known in the world. Before the war army officers of every important nation in the Occident and Orient were sent by their governments to follow the course and learn the method of instruction. My old friend Fitzhugh Lee was one of those sent by the United States, and I found his record as a horseman still alive and fresh in the memory of many of the townspeople.

Soon after the termination of my period of instruction I was in command of C Battery of the Seventh Field Artillery in the Argonne fighting. I was standing one morning in the desolate, shell-ridden town of Landres et St. George watching a column of "dough-boys" coming up the road; at their head limped a battered Dodge car, and as it neared me I recognized my elder brother Ted, sitting on the back seat in deep discussion with his adjutant. I had believed him to be safely at the staff school in Langres recuperating from a wound, but he had been offered the chance to come up in command of his old regiment, the Twenty-Sixth, and although registered as only "good for light duty in the service of supply," he had made his way back to the division. While we were talking another car came up and out from it jumped my brother-in-law, Colonel Richard Derby-at that time division surgeon of the Second Division. We were the only three members of the family left in active service since my brother Quentin, the aviator, was brought down over the enemy lines, and Archie, severely wounded in leg and arm, had been evacuated to the United States. I well remember how once when Colonel Derby introduced me to General Lejeune, who was commanding his division, the general, instead of making some remark about my father, said: "I shall always be glad to meet a relative of a man with Colonel Derby's record."

On the 11th of November we had just returned to our original sector after attacking Sedan. None of us placed much confidence in an armistice being signed. We felt that the German would never accept the terms, but were confident that by late spring or early summer we would be able to bring about an unconditional surrender. When the firing ceased and the news came through that the enemy had capitulated, there was no great show of excitement. We were all too weary to be much stirred by anything that could occur. For the past two weeks we had been switched hither and yon, with little sleep and less food, and a constant decrease in our personnel and horses that was never entirely made good but grew steadily more serious. The only bursts of enthusiasm that I heard were occasioned by the automobile trucks and staff cars passing by after dark with their headlights blazing. The joyous shouts of "Lights out!" testified that the reign of darkness was over. Soon the men began building fires and gathering about them, calling "Lights out!" as each new blaze started-a joke which seemed a never-failing source of amusement.

We heard that we were to march into Germany in the wake of the evacuating army and occupy one of the bridge-heads. All this came through in vague and unconfirmed form, but in a few days we were hauled back out of the line to a desolate mass of ruins which had once been the village of Bantheville. We were told that we would have five days here, during which we would be reoutfitted in every particular. Our horses were in fearful shape-constant work in the rain and mud with very meagre allowance of fodder had worn down the toughest old campaigners among them. During the weary, endless night march on Sedan I often saw two horses leaning against each other in utter exhaustion-as if it were by that means alone that they kept on their feet. We were told to indent for everything that we needed to make our batteries complete as prescribed in the organization charts, but we followed instructions without any very blind faith in results-nor did our lack of trust prove unwarranted, for we got practically nothing for which we had applied.

There were some colored troops near by engaged in repairing the roads, and a number of us determined to get up a quartet to sing for the men. We went to where the negroes had built themselves shelters from corrugated-iron sheets and miscellaneous bits of wreckage from the town. We collected three quarters of our quartet and were directed to the mess-shack for the fourth. As we approached I could hear sounds of altercation and a voice that we placed immediately as that of our quarry arose in indignant warning: "If yo' doan' leggo that mess-kit I'll lay a barrage down on yo'!" A platform was improvised near a blazing fire of pine boards and we had some excellent clogging and singing. The big basso had evidently a strong feeling for his steel helmet, and it undoubtedly added to his picturesqueness-setting off his features with his teeth and eyes gleaming in the firelight.

On the evening of the second day orders came to move off on the following morning. We were obliged to discard much material, for although the two days' rest and food had distinctly helped out the horse situation, we had many animals that could barely drag themselves along, much less a loaded caisson, and our instructions were to on no account salvage ammunition. We could spare but one horse for riding-my little mare-and she was no use for pulling. She was a wise little animal with excellent gaits and great endurance. We were forced to leave, behind another mare that I had ridden a good deal on reconnaissances, and that used to amuse me by her unalterable determination to stick to cover. It was almost most impossible to get her to cut across a field; she preferred to skirt the woods and had no intention of exposing herself on any sky-line. In spite of her caution it was on account of wounds that she had eventually to be abandoned. I trust that the salvage parties found her and that she is now reaping the reward of her foresight.

We were a sorry-looking outfit as we marched away from Bantheville. My lieutenants had lost their bedding-rolls and extra clothes long since-as every one did, for it was impossible to keep your belongings with you-and although authorized dumps were provided and we were told that anything left behind would be cared for, we would be moved to another sector without a chance to collect our excess and practically everything would have disappeared by the time the opportunity came to visit the cache. But although the horses and accoutrements were in bad shape, the men were fit for any task, and more than ready to take on whatever situation might arise.

Our destination was Malancourt, no great distance away, but the roads were so jammed with traffic that it was long after dark before we reached the bleak, wind-swept hillside that had been allotted to us. It was bitterly cold and we groped about among the shattered barbed-wire entanglements searching for wood to light a fire. There was no difficulty in finding shell-craters in which to sleep-the ground was so pockmarked with them that it seemed impossible that it could have been done by human agency.

This country had been an "active" area during practically all the war, and the towns had been battered and beaten down first by the Boche and then by the French, and lately we ourselves had taken a hand in the further demolition of the ruins. Many a village was recognizable from the encompassing waste only by the sign-board stuck in a mound announcing its name. The next day's march took us through Esné, Montzeville, and Bethainville, and on down to the Verdun-Paris highway. We passed by historic "Dead Man's Hill," and not far from there we saw the mute reminders of an attack that brought the whole scene vividly back. There were nine or ten tanks, of types varying from the little Renault to the powerful battleship sort. All had been halted by direct hits, some while still far from their objective, others after they had reached the wire entanglements, and there was one that was already astride of the first-line trench. The continual sight of ruined towns and desolated countryside becomes very oppressive, and it was a relief when we began to pass through villages in which many of the houses were still left standing; it seemed like coming into a new world.

At ten in the evening I got the battery into Balaicourt. A strong wind was blowing and the cold was intense, so I set off to try to find billets for the men where they could be at least partly sheltered. The town was all but deserted by its inhabitants, and we managed to provide every one with some degree of cover. Getting back into billets is particularly welcome in very cold or rainy weather, and we all were glad to be held over a day on the wholly mythical plea of refitting. Although the time would not be sufficient to make any appreciable effort in the way of cleaning harness or matériel, the men could at any rate heat water to wash their clothes and themselves.

The next day's march we regarded as our first in the advance into Germany to which we had so long looked forward. We found the great Verdun highway which had played such an important part in the defense that broke the back of the Hun to be in excellent shape and a pleasant change from the shell-pitted roads to which we had become accustomed. It was not without a thrill that I rode, at the head of my battery, through the missive south gate of Verdun, and followed the winding streets of the old city through to the opposite portal. Before we had gone many miles the road crossed a portion of the far-famed Hindenburg line which had here remained intact until evacuated by the Boche a few days previously under the terms of the armistice.

We made a short halt where a negro engineer regiment was at work making the road passable. A most hospitable officer strolled up and asked if I wanted anything to eat, which when you are in the army may be classified with Goldberg's "foolish questions." A sturdy coal-black cook brought me soup and roast beef and coffee, and never have I appreciated the culinary arts of the finest French chef as I did that meal, for the food had been cooked, not merely thrown into one of the tureens of a rolling kitchen, which was as much as we had recently been able to hope for.

The negro cook looked as if he would have been able to emulate his French confrère of whom Major de Caraman told me. The Frenchman was on his way to an outpost with a steaming caldron of soup. He must have lost the way, for he unexpectedly found himself confronted by a German who ordered him to surrender. For reply the cook slammed the soup-dish over his adversary's head and marched him back a prisoner. His prowess was rewarded with a Croix de Guerre.

It was interesting to see the German system of defense when it was still intact and had not been shattered by our artillery preparation as it was when taken in an attack. The wire entanglements were miles in depth, and the great trees by the roadside were mined. This was done by cutting a groove three or four inches broad and of an equal depth and filling it with packages of explosive. I suppose the purpose was to block the road in case of retreat. Only a few of the mines had been set off.

Passing through several towns that no longer existed we came to Etain, where many buildings were still standing though completely gutted. The cellars had been converted into dugouts with passages and ramifications added. We were billeted in some German huts on the outskirts. They were well dug in and comfortably fitted out, so we were ready to stay over a few days, as we had been told we should, but at midnight orders were sent round to be prepared to march out early.

The country was lovely and gave little sign of the Boche occupation except that it was totally deserted and when we passed through villages all the signs were in German. There was but little originality displayed in naming the streets-you could be sure that you would find a Hindenburg Strasse and a Kronprinz Strasse, and there was usually one called after the Kaiser. The mile-posts at the crossroads had been mostly replaced, but occasionally we found battered metal plaques of the Automobile Touring Club of France. Ever since we left Verdun we had been meeting bands of released prisoners, Italians a

nd Russians chiefly, with a few French and English mingled. They were worn and underfed-their clothes were in rags. A few had combined and were pulling their scanty belongings on little cars, such as children make out of soap-boxes. The motor-trucks returning to our base after bringing up the rations would take back as many as they could carry.

We came across scarcely any civilians until we reached Bouligny, a once busy and prosperous manufacturing town. A few of the inhabitants had been allowed to remain throughout the enemy occupation and small groups of those that had been removed were by now trickling in. The invader had destroyed property in the most ruthless manner, and the buildings were gutted. The domestic habits of the Hun were always to me inexplicable-he evidently preferred to live in the midst of his own filth, and many times have I seen recently captured chateaux that had been converted into veritable pigsties.

The inhabitants went wild at our entry-in the little villages they came out carrying wreaths and threw confetti and flowers as they shouted the "Marseillaise." The infantry, marching in advance, bore the brunt of the celebrations. What interested me most were the bands of small children, many of them certainly not over five, dancing along the streets singing their national anthem. It must have been taught them in secret. In the midst of a band were often an American soldier or two, in full swing, thoroughly enjoying themselves. The enthusiasm was all of it natural and uninspired by alcohol, for the Germans had taken with them everything to drink that they had been unable to finish.

Bouligny is not an attractive place-few manufacturing towns are-but we got the men well billeted under water-tight roofs, and we were able to heat water for washing. My striker found a large caldron and I luxuriated in a steaming bath, the first in over a month, and, what was more, I had some clean clothes to pull on when I got out.

One evening, when returning from a near-by village, I met a frock-coated civilian who inquired of me in German the way to Etain. I asked him who he was and what he wanted. He answered that he was a German but was tired of his country and wished to go almost anywhere else. He seemed altogether too apparent to be a spy, and even if he were I could not make out any object that he could gain. I have often wondered what became of him.

The Boches had evidently not expected to give up their conquests, for they had built an enormous stone-and-brick fountain in the centre of the town, and chiselled its name, "Hindenburg Brunnen." Above the German canteen or commissary shop was a great wooden board with "Gott strafe England"-a curious proof of how bitterly the Huns hated Great Britain, for there were no British troops in the sectors in front of this part of the invaded territory.

We worked hard "policing up" ourselves and our equipment during the few days we stayed at Bouligny. One morning all the townsfolk turned out in their best clothes, which had been buried in the cellars or hidden behind the rafters in the attics, to greet the President and Madame Poincaré, who were visiting the most important of the liberated towns. It was good to hear the cheering and watch the beaming faces.

On November 21 we resumed our march. Close to the border we came upon a large German cemetery, artistically laid out, with a group of massive statuary in the centre. There were some heroic-size granite statues of Boche soldiers in full kit with helmet and all, that were particularly fine. As we passed the stones marking the boundary-line between France and Lorraine there was a tangible feeling of making history, and it was not without a thrill that we entered Aumetz and heard the old people greet us in French while the children could speak only German. The town was gay with the colors of France-produced from goodness knows where. Children were balancing themselves on the barrels of abandoned German cannon and climbing about the huge camouflaged trucks. We were now where France, Luxemburg, and Lorraine meet, and all day we skirted the borders of first one and then the other, halting for the night at the French town of Villerupt. The people went wild when we rode in-we were the first soldiers of the Allies they had seen, for the Germans entered immediately after the declaration of war, and the only poilus the townsfolk saw were those that were brought in as prisoners. We were welcomed in the town hall-the German champagne was abominable but the reception was whole-hearted and the speeches were sincere in their jubilation.

I was billeted with the mayor, Monsieur Georges. After dinner he produced two grimy bottles of Pol Roger-he said that he had been forced to change their hiding-place four times, and had just dug them up in his cellar. They were destined for the night of liberation. Monsieur Georges was thin and worn; he had spent two years in prison in solitary confinement for having given a French prisoner some bread. His eighteen-year-old daughter was imprisoned for a year because she had not informed the authorities as to what her father had done. No one in the family would learn a single word of German. They said that all French civilians were forced to salute the Germans, and each Sunday every one was compelled to appear in the market-place for general muster. The description of the departure of their hated oppressors was vivid-the men behind the lines knew the full portent of events and were sullen and crestfallen, but the soldiers fresh from the front believed that Germany had won and was dictating her own terms; they came through with wreaths hung on their bayonets singing songs of victory.

I had often wondered how justly the food supplies sent by America for the inhabitants of the invaded districts were distributed. Monsieur Georges assured me that the Germans were scrupulously careful in this matter, because they feared that if they were not, the supplies would no longer be sent, and this would of course encroach upon their own resources, for even the Hun could not utterly starve to death the captured French civilians. The mayor told me of the joy the shipments brought and how when the people went to draw their rations they called it "going to America." We sat talking until far into the night before I retired to the luxury of a real bed with clean linen sheets. There was no trouble whatever in billeting the men-the townsmen were quarrelling as to who should have them.

Next morning, with great regret at so soon leaving our willing hosts, we marched off into the little Duchy of Luxemburg. We passed through the thriving city of Esch with its great iron-mines. The streets were gay with flags, there were almost as many Italian as French, for there is a large Italian colony, the members of which are employed in mining and smelting. Brass bands paraded in our honor, and we were later met by them in many of the smaller towns. The shops seemed well filled, but the prices were very high. The Germans seemed to have left the Luxemburgers very much to themselves, and I have little doubt but that they would have been at least as pleased to welcome victorious Boches had affairs taken a different turn. Still they were glad to see us, for it meant the end of the isolation in which they had been living and the eventual advent of foodstuffs.

As we rode along, the countryside was lovely and the smiling fields and hillsides made "excursions and alarums" seem remote indeed. It felt unnatural to pass through a village with unscarred church spires and houses all intact-such a change from battered, glorious France.

We were immediately in the wake of the German army, and taken by and large they must have been retiring in good order, for they left little behind. Our first night we spent at the village of Syren, eight kilometres from the capital of the Duchy. Billeting was not so easy now, for we were ordered to treat the inhabitants as neutrals, and when they objected we couldn't handle the situation as we did later on in Germany. No one likes to have soldiers or civilians quartered on him, and the Luxemburgers were friendly to us only as a matter of policy. Fortunately, the chalk marks of the Boche billeting officers had not been washed off the doors, and these told us how many men had been lodged in a given house.

In my lodging I was accorded a most friendly reception, for my hostess was French. Her nephew had come up from Paris to visit her a few months before the outbreak of the war, and had been unable to get back to France. To avoid the dreaded internment camp he had successfully passed as a Luxemburger. In the regiment there were a number of men whose parents came from the Duchy; these and a few more who spoke German acquired a sudden popularity among their comrades. They would make friends with some of the villagers and arrange to turn over their rations so that they would be cooked by the housewife and eaten with the luxurious accompaniment of chair and table. The diplomat would invite a few friends to enjoy with him the welcome change from the "slum" ladled out of the caldrons of the battery rolling kitchen. I had always supposed that I had in my battery a large number of men who could speak German-a glance over the pay-roll would certainly leave that impression-but when I came to test it out, I found that I had but four men who spoke sufficiently well to be of any use as interpreters.

Next morning we made a winding, roundabout march to Trintange. Here we were instructed to settle down for a week or ten days' halt, and many worse places might have been chosen. The country was very broken, with hills and ravines. Little patches of woodland and streams dashing down rocky channels on their way to join the Moselle reminded one of Rock Creek Park in Washington. The weather couldn't be bettered; sharp and cold in the early morning with a heavy hoarfrost spreading its white mantle over everything, then out would come the sun, and the hills would be shrouded in mist.

My billeting officer had arranged matters well, so we were comfortably installed and in good shape to "police up" for the final leg of the march to Coblenz. I had now my full allowance of officers-Lieutenants Furness, Brown, Middleditch, and Pearce. In active warfare discipline while stricter in some ways is more lax in others, and there were many small points that required furbishing. Close order drill on foot is always a great help in stiffening up the men, and such essentials as instruction in driving and in fitting harness required much attention. In the American army much less responsibility is given to the sergeants and corporals than in the British, but even so the spirit and efficiency of an organization must depend largely on its non-commissioned officers. We were fortunate in having an unusually fine lot-Sergeant Cushing was a veteran of the Spanish War. He had been a sailor for many years, and after he left the sea he became chief game warden of Massachusetts. In time of stress he was a tower of strength and could be counted upon to set his men an example of cool and judicious daring. The first sergeant, Armstrong, was an old regular army man, and his knowledge of drill and routine was invaluable to us. He thoroughly understood his profession, and was remarkably successful in training raw men. Sergeants Grumbling, Kubelis, and Bauer were all of them excellent men, and could be relied upon to perform their duty with conscientious thoroughness under the most trying conditions.

One afternoon I went in to Luxemburg with Colonel Collins, the battalion commander. The town looks thoroughly medi?val as you approach. It might well have been over its castle wall that Kingsley's knight spurred his horse on his last leap; as a matter of fact the village of Altenahr, where the poet laid the scene, is not so many miles away. The town is built along the ragged cliffs lining a deep, rocky canyon spanned by old stone bridges. The massive entrance-gates open upon passages tunnelled through the hills, and although the modern part of the town boasts broad streets and squares, there are many narrow passageways winding around the ancient quarter.

I went into a large bookstore to replenish my library, and was struck by the supply of post-cards of Marshal Foch and Kitchener and the King and Queen of Belgium. All had been printed in Leipzig, and when I asked the bookseller how that could be, he replied that he got them from the German commercial travellers. He said that he had himself been surprised at the samples shown him, but the salesman had remarked that he thought such post-cards would have a good sale in Luxemburg, and if such were the case "business was business," and he was prepared to supply them. There was even one of King Albert standing with drawn sword, saying: "You shall not violate the sacred soil of my country." A publication that also interested me was a weekly paper brought out in Hamburg and written in English. It was filled with jokes, beneath which were German notes explaining any difficult or idiomatic words and phrases. With all their hatred of England the Huns still continued to learn English.

Thanksgiving Day came along, and we set to work to provide some sort of a special feast for the men. It was most difficult to do so, for the exchange had not as yet been regulated and the lowest rate at which we could get marks was at a franc, and usually it was a franc and a quarter. Some one opportunely arrived from Paris with a few hundred marks that he had bought at sixty centimes. For the officers we got a suckling pig, which Mess Sergeant Braun roasted in the priest's oven. He even put the traditional baked apple in its mouth, a necessary adjunct, the purpose of which I have never discovered, and such stuffing as he made has never been equalled. We washed it down with excellent Moselle wine, for we were but a couple of miles from the vineyards along the river. In the afternoon I borrowed a bicycle from the burgomaster and trailed over to Elmen, where I found my brother just about to sit down to his Thanksgiving dinner served up by two faithful Chinamen, who had come to his regiment in a draft from the West Coast. After doing full justice to his fare I wended my way back to Trintange in the rain and dark.

The next day we paid the men. For some it was the first time in ten months. To draw pay it was necessary to sign the pay-roll at the end of one month and be on hand at the end of the following month to receive the money. No one could sign unless his service record was at hand, and as this was forwarded to the hospital "through military channels" when a man was evacuated sick or wounded, it rarely reached his unit until several months after he returned. It may easily be seen why it was that an enlisted man often went for months without being able to draw his pay. This meant not only a hardship to him while he was without money, but, it also followed that when he got it he had a greater amount than he could possibly need, and was more than apt to gamble or drink away his sudden accession of wealth. We always tried to make a man who had drawn a lot of back pay deposit it or send it home. Mr. Harlow, the Y.M.C.A. secretary attached to the regiment, helped us a great deal in getting the money transferred to the United States. The men, unless they could spend their earnings immediately, would start a game of craps and in a few days all the available cash would have found its way into the pocket of the luckiest man. They would throw for appallingly high stakes. On this particular pay-day we knew that the supply of wine and beer in the village was not sufficient to cause any serious trouble, and orders were given that no cognac or hard liquor should be sold. A few always managed to get it-all precautions to the contrary notwithstanding.

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