With Our Soldiers in France
The Project Gutenberg eBook, With Our Soldiers in France, by Sherwood Eddy
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and withalmost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away orre-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org
Title: With Our Soldiers in France
Author: Sherwood Eddy
Release Date: May 6, 2006 [eBook #18325]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK WITH OUR SOLDIERS IN FRANCE***
E-text prepared by Al Haines
[Frontispiece: The American Y.M.C.A. Headquarters in Paris.]
WITH OUR SOLDIERS IN FRANCE
Author of "Suffering and the War," "The Students of Asia," etc.
NEW YORK: 124 EAST 28TH STREET
COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF
YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION
To M. H. E.
AND THE REAL HEROES OF THE WAR
THE MOTHERS WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR SONS
AND THE WIVES WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR HUSBANDS
|I.||AT THE FRONT|
|II.||WITH GENERAL PERSHING'S FORCE IN FRANCE|
|III.||A DAY IN THE "BULL RING"|
|IV.||WITH THE BRITISH ARMY|
|V.||LIFE IN A BASE CAMP|
|VI.||THE CAMP OF THE PRODIGALS|
|VII.||RELIGION AT THE FRONT|
|VIII.||THE WORLD AT WAR|
Harry Lauder Singing at a Y.M.C.A. Meeting.
The officer seated at the extreme right is Captain "Peg"
The world is at war. Already more than a score of nations,representing a population of over a thousand millions, or two-thirds ofthe entire human race, are engaged in a life-and-death struggle on thebloody battlefields of Europe, Asia, and Africa. No man can stand inthe mouth of that volcano on a battle front, or meet the trains pouringin with their weary freight of wounded after a battle, or stand by theoperating tables and the long rows of cots in the hospitals, or sharein sympathy the hardship and suffering of the men who are fighting forus, and remain unmoved. The man must be dead of soul to whom the wardoes not present a mighty moral challenge. It arraigns our past mannerof life and our very civilization. It gives us a new angle ofobservation, a new point of view, a new test of values. It furnishes apossible moral judgment by which we can weigh our life in the balanceand see where we have been found wanting.
These brief sketches are only fragmentary and have of necessity beenhastily written. The writer has been asked to state his impression ofthe work among the men in France. He did not go there to write but towork. He has tried simply to state what he saw and to leave the readerto draw his own conclusions. A mere statement of the grim facts at thefront, if they are not sugar-coated or glossed over, may not bepleasant reading, but it is unfair to those at home that they shouldnot know the hard truth of the reality of things as they are.
Before the war broke out, it was the writer's privilege to make anextended tour for work among students in Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria,Serbia, and Greece, and to visit Germany. Since the declaration ofwar, he has visited France, Italy, and Egypt, and has observed theeffect of the war throughout Asia, in tours extending over nearly thewhole of China and India. Last year he was in the British camps amongthe soldiers of England, Scotland, and Wales. Since America declaredwar he has been working with the various divisions of the British andAmerican armies in France, from the great base camps, where hundreds ofthousands of men are in training, up to the front with the men in thetrenches.
For the sake of those who will follow with deep interest the boys whoare already in France, or who will shortly be there, brief accounts aregiven of the various phases of a soldier's life in the base camps, thetraining school of the "Bull Ring," at the front, and in the hospitals.
AT THE FRONT
In the midst of our work at a base camp, there came a sudden call to go"up the line" to the great battle front. Leaving the railway, we tooka motor and pressed on over the solidly paved roads of France, whichare now pulsing arteries of traffic, crowded with trains of motortransports pouring in their steady stream of supplies for the men andmunitions for the guns. Now we turn out for the rumbling tank-likecaterpillars, which slowly creep forward, drawing the big guns up tothe front; then we pass a light field-battery. Next comes a battalionof Tommies swinging down the road, loaded like Christmas trees withtheir cumbrous kits, sweating, singing, whistling, as they march bywith dogged cheer toward the trenches.
We have crossed the Somme with its memories of blood, on acrossnorthern France, and now we have passed the Belgian frontier and are inthe historic fields of Flanders, where the creaking windmills are stillgrinding the peasants' corn, and the little church spires stand guardover the sleeping villages. A turn of the road brings us close withinsound of the guns, which by night are heard far across France and alongthe coasts of England. Soon we enter villages, which lie within rangeof the enemy's "heavies," with their shattered window glass, tornroofs, ruined houses, tottering churches, and deep shell holes in thestreets. Now we are in the danger zone and have to put on ourshrapnel-proof steel helmets, and box respirators, to be ready for apossible attack of poison gas.
Another turn in the road, and the great battle field rises in grimreality before us. Far to the left stands the terrible Ypres salient,so long swept by the tide of war, and away to the right are the blastedwoods of "Plug Street." Right before us rises the historic ridge ofMessines, won at such cost during the summer. We are standing now atthe foot of the low ridge where the British trenches were so long heldunder the merciless fire of the enemy. From here to the top of theridge the ground has been fought over, inch by inch and foot by foot.It is blasted and blackened, deep seamed by shot and shell. The treesstand on the bare ridge, stiff and stark, charred and leafless, likelonely sentinels of the dead. The ground, without a blade of grassleft, is torn and tossed as by earthquake and volcano. Trenches havebeen blown into shapeless heaps of debris. Deep shell holes and minecraters mark the advance of death. Small villages are left without onestone or brick upon another, mere formless heaps, ground almost todust. Deserted in wild confusion, half buried in the churned mud, onevery hand are heaps of unused ammunition, bombs, gas shells, andinfernal machines wrecked or hurriedly left in the enemy's flight.
Here on June 7th, at three o'clock in the morning, following the heavybombardment which had been going on for days, the great attack began.In one division alone the heavy guns had fired 46,000 shells and thefield artillery 180,000 more. The sound of the firing was heard acrossFrance, throughout Belgium and Holland, and over the Surrey downs ofEngland, 130 miles away.
The Messines ridge is a long, low hill, only about 300 feet in height,but it commands the countryside for miles around, and had become theheavily fortified barrier to bar the Allied advance between Ypres andArmentiers. Since December, 1914, the Germans had seamed the westernslopes with trenches, a network of tunnels and of concrete redoubts.Behind the ridge lay the German batteries. For months this ridge hadbeen mined and countermined by both sides, until the English had placed500 tons of high explosive, that is approximately 1,000,000 pounds ofamminol, beneath nineteen strategic points which were to be taken. Atthe foot of the ridge, along a front of nine miles, the British hadconcentrated their batteries, heavy guns, and vast supplies ofammunition. Day and night for a week before the battle began, theGerman positions had been shelled. At times the hurricane of fire dieddown, but it never ceased. By day and by night the German trencheswere raided and explored. A large fleet of tanks was ready for theadvance. Hundreds of aviators cleared the air and dropped bombs uponthe enemy, assailing his ammunition dumps, aerodromes, and bases ofsupplies. The battle had to be fought simultaneously by all the forceson the land, in the air, and in the mines underground. All the horrorsof the cyclone and the earthquake were harnessed for the conflict.
In the early morning, a short, deathly silence followed the week'sterrific bombardment. At 2:50 a. m. the ground opened from beneath, asnineteen great mines were exploded one by one, and fountains of fireand earth like huge volcanoes leaped into the air. Hill 60, which haddealt such deadly damage to the British, was rent asunder andcollapsed. It was probably the greatest explosion man ever heard onearth up to that time. Then the guns began anew to prepare for theattack and a carefully planned barrage dropped just in front of theEnglish battalions as they advanced. As the men came forward, thebarrage was lifted step by step and dropped just ahead of them, topulverize the enemy and protect the British troops. By five o'clockMessines itself was captured by the fearless Australians. There was amost desperate struggle just here where we were standing at Wytschaete.All morning the battle raged along this line, but by midday it was inthe hands of the dashing Irish division. Seven thousand prisoners weretaken, while the British casualties, owing to the effective protectionof their terrific barrage, were far less than the German and onlyone-fifth of what they had calculated as necessary to take thisstrategic position.
We make our way up to the crest of the Messines ridge where we can lookback on the conquered territory and forward to the new lines. Thegreat guns are in action all about us. They are again wearing down theenemy in preparation for the next advance. For the moment we feel onlythe grand and awful throb of vast titanic forces in terrible conflict.Day and night, in the air, on the earth, and beneath it, the war isslowly or swiftly being waged. The fire of battle smolders or leapsinto flames or vast explosions, but never goes out.
Above us the very air is full of conflict. Hanging several hundredfeet high are half a dozen huge fixed kite-balloons, with theiroccupants busily observing, sketching, mapping, or reporting theenemy's movements. Each of these is a target for the attackingaeroplanes and the occupants must be ready, at a moment's notice, toleap into a parachute when they are shot down. High above theseballoons a score of British planes are darting about or dashing overthe enemy's lines, acting as the eyes of the huge guns hidden awaybehind us. We are looking at one far up seemingly soaring in peacelike a graceful bird poised in the air, when suddenly we see itsurrounded by a dozen little white patches of smoke which show that ithas come within range of the enemy's anti-aircraft guns and the cloudsof shrapnel are bursting about it. Most of them break wide of the markand it sails on unscathed over the enemy's lines. Just above us ishanging a German taube, obviously watching us and the automobilewhich we had left below in the road, while the British hugeanti-aircraft guns near by are feeling for it, shot after shot.
We duck into our little Y M C A dugout, just under the crest of theridge. It is an old, deserted German pit for