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   Chapter 10 No.10

War in the Garden of Eden By Kermit Roosevelt Characters: 17773

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


On the 1st of December we once more resumed our march and at Wormeldange crossed over the Moselle River into Hunland. The streets of the first town through which we passed were lined with civilians, many of them only just out of uniform, and they scowled at us as we rode by, muttering below their breath. A short way out and we began to meet men still in the field-gray uniform; they smiled and tried to make advances but our men paid no attention. When we reached Onsdorf, which was our destination, the billeting officer reported that he had met with no difficulty.

The inhabitants were most effusive and anxious to please in every way. Of course they were not Prussians, and no doubt were heartily tired and sick of war, but here, as throughout, their attitude was most distasteful to us-it was so totally lacking in dignity. We could not tell how much they were acting on their own initiative and to what extent they were following instructions. Probably there was something of both back of their conduct. Warnings had been issued that the Germans were reported to be planning a wholesale poisoning of American officers, but I never saw anything to substantiate the belief.

Next morning we struck across to the Saar River and followed it down to its junction with the Moselle. The woods and ravines were lovely, but from the practical standpoint the going was very hard upon the horses. We marched down through Treves, the oldest town in Germany, with a population of about thirty thousand. In the fourth century of our era Ausonius referred to it as "Rome beyond the Alps," and the extent and variety of the Roman remains would seem to justify the epithet. We were halted for some time beside the most remarkable of these, the Porta Nigra, a huge fortified gateway, dating from the first century A.D. The cathedral is an impressive conglomeration of the architecture of many different centuries-the oldest portion being a part of a Roman basilica of the fourth century, while the latest additions of any magnitude were made in the thirteenth. Most famous among its treasures is the "holy coat of Treves," believed by the devout to be the seamless garment worn by Christ at the crucifixion. The predominant religion of the neighborhood is the Roman Catholic, and on the occasions when the coat is exhibited the town is thronged by countless pilgrims.

Leaving Treves we continued down along the river-bank to Rawen Kaulin, where we turned inland for a few miles and I was assigned to a village known as Eitelsbach. The inhabitants were badly frightened when we rode in-most of the men hid and the women stood on the door-steps weeping. I suppose they expected to be treated in the manner that they had behaved to the French and Belgians, and as they would have done by us had the situation been reversed. When they found they were not to be oppressed they became servile and fawning. I had my officers' mess in the schoolmaster's house. He had been a non-commissioned officer of infantry, and yet he wanted to send his daughters in to play the piano for us after dinner. We would have despised the German less if he had been able to "hate" a little more after he was beaten and not so bitterly while he felt he was winning.

The country through which we marched during the next few days was most beautiful. We followed the winding course of the river, making many a double "S" turn. The steep hills came right to the bank; frequently the road was cut into their sides. A village was tucked in wherever a bit of level plain between the foot of the hill and the river permitted. When the slopes gave a southern exposure they were covered with grape-vines, planted with the utmost precision and regularity. Every corner and cranny among the rocks was utilized. The original planting must have been difficult, for the soil was covered with slabs of shale. The cultivator should develop excellent lungs in scaling those hillsides. The leaves had fallen and the bare vines varied in hue from sepia brown to wine color, with occasional patches of evergreen to set off the whole. Once or twice the road left the river to cut across over the mountains, and it cost our horses much exertion to drag the limbers up the steep, slippery trail. It was curious to notice the difference between those who dwelt along the bank and the inhabitants of the upland plateau. The latter appeared distinctly more "outlandish" and less sleek and prosperous. The highlands we found veiled in mist, and as I looked back at the dim outlines of horse and man and caisson, it seemed as if I were leading a ghost battery.

We were in the heart of the wine country, and to any one who had enjoyed a good bottle of Moselle such names as Berncastel and Piesport had long been familiar. In the former town I was amused on passing by a large millinery store to see the proprietor's name was Jacob Astor. The little villages inevitably recalled the fairy-tales of Hans Andersen and the Grimm brothers. The raftered houses had timbered balconies that all but met across the crooked, winding streets through which we clattered over the cobblestones. Capping many of the beams were gargoyles, demons, and dwarfs, and a galaxy of strange creatures were carved on the ends of the gables that jutted out every which way. The houses often had the date they were built and the initials of the couple that built them over the front door, frequently with some device. I saw no dates that went further back than the late sixteen hundreds, though many of the houses doubtless were built before then. The doors in some cases were beautifully carved and weathered. The old pumps and wells, the stone bridges, and the little wayside shrines took one back through the centuries. To judge by the records carved on wall and house, high floods are no very uncommon occurrence-the highest I noticed was in 1685, while the last one of importance was credited to 1892.

We were much surprised at the well-fed appearance of the population, both old and young, for we had heard so much of food shortages, and the Germans when they surrendered had laid such stress upon it. As far as we could judge; food was more plentiful than in France. Rubber and leather were very scarce, many of the women wore army boots, and the shoes displayed in shop-windows appeared made of some composition resembling pasteboard. The coffee was evidently ground from the berry of some native bush, and its taste in no way resembled the real. Cigars were camouflaged cabbage-leaves, with little or no flavor, and the beer sadly fallen off from its pre-war glory. Still, in all the essentials of life the inhabitants appeared to be making out far better than we had been given to believe.

We met with very little trouble. There were a few instances where people tried to stand out against having men billeted in their houses, but we of course paid no attention except that we saw to it that they got more men than they would have under ordinary circumstances. Every now and then we would have amusing side-lights upon the war news on which the more ignorant Boches had been fed. A man upon whom several of my sergeants were quartered asked them if the Zeppelins had done much damage to New York; and whether Boston and Philadelphia had yet been evacuated by the Germans-he had heard that both cities had been taken and that Washington was threatened and its fall imminent.

Our men behaved exceedingly well. Of course there were individual cases of drunkenness, but very few considering that we were in a country where the wine was cheap and schnapps plentiful. There were the inevitable A.W.O.L.'s and a number of minor offenses, but I found that by making the prisoner's life very unattractive-seeing to it that they performed distasteful "fatigues," giving them heavy packs to carry when we marched, and allowing them nothing that could be construed as a delicacy-I soon reformed the few men that were chronically shiftless or untidy or late. When not in cantonments the trouble with putting men under arrest is that too often it only means that they lead an easier life than their comrades, and it takes some ingenuity to correct this situation. Whenever it was in any way possible an offender was dealt with in the battery and I never let it go further, for I found it made for much better spirit in a unit.

The men were a fine lot, and such thoroughgoing Americans, no matter from what country their parents had come. One of my buglers had landed in the United States only in 1913; he had been born and brought up on the confines of Germany and Austria, and yet when a large German of whom he was asking the way said, "You speak the language well-your parents must be German," the unhesitating reply was: "Well, my mother was of German descent!" The battery call read like a League of Nations, but no one could have found any cause of com

plaint in lack of loyalty to the United States.

The twelfth day after we had crossed over the river from Luxemburg found us marching into Coblenz. We were quartered in large brick barracks in the outskirts of the city. The departing Germans had left them in very bad shape, and Hercules would have felt that cleaning the Augean stables was a light task in comparison. However, we set to work without delay and soon had both men and horses well housed. Life in the town was following its normal course; the stores were well stocked and seemed to be doing a thriving trade. We went into a café where a good orchestra was playing and had some very mediocre war beer, and then I set off in search of the Turkish bath of which I was much in need. The one I found was in charge of an ex-submarine sailor, and when I was shut in the steam-room I wondered if he were going to try any "frightfulness," for I was the only person in the bath. My last one had been in a wine-vat a full week before, and I was ready to risk anything for the luxury of a good soak.

Orders to march usually reached us at midnight-why, I do not know; but we would turn in with the belief that we would not move on the following day, and the next we knew an orderly from regimental headquarters would wake us with marching instructions, and in no happy frame of mind we would grumblingly tumble out to issue the necessary commands. Coblenz proved no exception to this rule. As we got under way, a fine rain was falling that was not long in permeating everything. Through the misty dripping town the "caissons went rolling along," and out across the Pfaffendorf bridge, with the dim outlines of the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein towering above us. The men were drowsy and cold. I heard a few disparaging comments on the size of the Rhine. They had heard so much talk about it that they had expected to find it at least as large as the Mississippi. We found the slippery stones of the street ascending from the river most difficult to negotiate, but at length everything was safely up, and we struck off toward the bridge-head position which we were to occupy for we knew not how long. The Huns had torn down the sign-posts at the crossroads; with what intent I cannot imagine, for the roads were not complicated and were clearly indicated on the maps, and the only purpose that the sign-posts could serve was to satisfy a curiosity too idle to cause us to calculate by map how far we had come or what distance lay still before us. A number of great stone slabs attracted our attention; they had been put up toward the close of the eighteenth century and indicated the distance in hours. I remember one that proclaimed it was three hours to Coblenz and eighteen to Frankfort. I have never seen elsewhere these records of an age when time did not mean money.

The march was in the nature of an anticlimax, for we had thought always of Coblenz as our goal, and the good fortune in which we had played as regarded weather during our march down the valley of the Moselle had made us supercritical concerning such details as a long, wearisome slogging through the mud in clumsy, water-logged clothes. At length we reached the little village of Niederelbert and found that Lieutenant Brown, whose turn it was as billeting officer, had settled us so satisfactorily that in a short time we were all comfortably steaming before stoves, thawing out our cramped joints.

With the exception of Lieutenant Furness my officers belonged to the Reserve Corps, and we none of us looked forward to a long tour of garrison duty on the Rhine or anywhere else. Furness, who had particularly distinguished himself in liaison work with the infantry, held a temporary commission in the regular army, but he was eager to go back to civil life at the earliest opportunity. In Germany the prospect was doubly gloomy, for there would be no intercourse with the natives such as in France had lightened many a weary moment. Several days later regimental headquarters coveted our village and we were moved a few miles off across the hills to Holler. We set to work to make ourselves as snug and comfortable as possible. I had as striker a little fellow of Finnish extraction name Jahoola, an excellent man in every way, who took the best of care of my horse and always managed to fix up my billet far better than the circumstances would seem to permit.

The days that followed presented little variety once the novelty of the occupation had worn off. The men continued to behave in exemplary fashion, and the Boche gave little trouble. As soon as we took up our quarters we made the villagers clean up the streets and yards until they possessed a model town, and thereafter we "policed up" every untidiness of which we might be the cause, and kept the inhabitants up to the mark in what concerned them. The head of the house in which I was lodged in Niederelbert told me that his son had been a captain in the army but had deserted a fortnight before the armistice and reached home in civilian clothes three weeks in advance of the retreating army. Of course he was not an officer before the war-not of the old military school, but the fact that he and his family were proud of it spoke of a weakening discipline and morale.

Now that we had settled down to a routine existence I was doubly glad of such books as I had been able to bring along. Of these, O. Henry was the most popular. The little shilling editions were read until they fell to pieces, and in this he held the same position as in the British army. I had been puzzled at this popularity among the English, for much of his slang must have been worse than Greek to them. I also had Charles O'Malley and Harry Lorrequer, Dumas' Dame de Monsereau and Monte Cristo, Flaubert's Education Sentimentale, Gibbon's Rise and Fall, and Borrow's Zincali. These with the Oxford Books of French and English verse and a few Portuguese and Spanish novels comprised my library, a large one considering the circumstances. It was always possible to get books through the mail, although they were generally many months en route.

Soon after we reached the bridge-head, officers of the regular army began turning up from the various schools whither they had been sent as instructors. We all hoped to be released in this manner, for we felt that the garrison duty should be undertaken by the regulars, whose life business it is, in order to allow the men who had left their trades and professions to return to their normal and necessary work. In the meantime we set out to familiarize ourselves with the country and keep our units in such shape that should any unforeseen event arise we would be in a position to meet it. The horses required particular attention, but one felt rewarded on seeing their improvement. There were many cases of mange which we had been hitherto unable to properly isolate, and good fodder in adequate quantity was an innovation.

For the men we had mounted and unmounted drill, and spent much time in getting the accoutrements into condition for inspection. During part of the march up rations had been short, and for a number of days were very problematical. Sufficient boots and clothing were also lacking and we had had to get along as best we could without. Now that we were stationary our wants were supplied, and the worst hardship for the men was the lack of recreation. A reading-room was opened and a piano was procured, but there was really no place to send them on short passes; nothing for them to do on an afternoon off. When I left, trips down the Rhine were being planned, and I am sure they proved beneficial in solving the problem of legitimate relaxation and amusement.

My father had sent my brother and myself some money to use in trying to make Christmas a feast-day for the men. It was difficult to get anything, but the Y.M.C.A. very kindly helped me out in procuring, chocolates and cigarettes, and I managed to buy a couple of calves and a few semi-delicacies in the local market. While not an Arabian Night feast, we had the most essential adjunct in the good spirits of the men, who had been schooled by their varied and eventful existence of the past eighteen months to make the most of things.

In the middle of January my brother and I left for Paris. I was very sorry to leave the battery, for we had been through much together, but in common with most reserve officers I felt that, now that the fighting was over, there was only one thing to be desired and that was to get back to my wife and children. The train made light of the distance over which it had taken us so long to march, and the familiar sight of the friendly French towns was never more welcome. After several months on duty in France and Italy, I sailed on a transport from Brest, but not for the wonderful home-coming to which I had so long looked forward.

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