A Yank at the Battle of Amiens: The Chipilly Ridge Sonnets of John Allan Wyeth

Unknown to most Americans, there was one A.E.F. unit which participated in the decisive Battle of Amiens, which began one hundred years ago on this date. The 131st Infantry Regiment of the American 33rd Division was detached to the British 58th Division in the reserve of the British III Corps– which launched the attack on German positions north of the Somme in the pre-dawn hours of August 8, 1918.

The otherwise rapid Allied advance ran into one serious impediment: a bare seventy-five-foot-high ridge in an oxbow bend on the north bank of the Somme, near Chipilly, which was still in German hands. From this eminence, German machine gunners poured a devastating enfilade fire onto the flank of the Australian corps across the river at Hamel. The job of clearing this ridge was given to the American 131st Regiment. Far from being in position to launch the attack at the designated zero hour of dawn on the ninth, the 131st was dispersed over a wide area, with the 1st and 2nd Battalions spread throughout an area of trenches northwest of Heilly, and the 3rd Battalion at Pierrogot, some twenty miles to the northwest. Throughout the day and night of the eighth and most of the ninth, the three units struggled to cover the distance, locate one another, and get into position at the jumping-off line.

For the the men of the 131st, the night of August 8-9 was one of danger, fatigue, and utter disorientation. They had no information as to the nature of the terrain, and during the night of August 8-9, the 1st and 2nd Battalions were subject to both gas and artillery fire and able to locate one another only with the greatest difficulty. The 2nd Battalion marched without transports or Lewis machine guns and with one hundred pieces of small-arms ammunition per man; the 3rd Battalion had to cover the greatest distance without rations or water. After their night-long march, the men of the 3rd Battalion were to cover the final four miles at a run while carrying fully packs.

Their attack took place at 5:30 p.m., and despite the heavy machine-gun and artillery fire pouring down on them from Chipilly Ridge, the Americans could not be driven back. They repeatedly pressed theassault until the northern half of the ridge and southern end of nearby Gressair Wood were taken. Continuing the assault the following day, they took the remainder of Gressair Wood and by day’s end were in possession of seven hundred German prisoners, thirty artillery pieces, one aircraft, and more than one hundred machine guns. A corporal of the 131st received the Medal of Honor for single-handedly capturing a machine-gun nest, killing five of the enemy, and taking fifteen prisoners.

A staff officer of the 33rd Division, 1st Lieutenant John Allan Wyeth, was on the periphery of all this. His mission, during the night of August 8-9, was to hand-deliver sealed messages from Divisional Headquarters at Molliens-au-Bois to the field headquarters of each of the three battlions of the 131st. Their exact locations, somewhere along the northern bank of the Somme in the vicinity of Sailly-le-Sec, were unknown. It was the mission of Lt. Wyeth and his companion, 1st Lieutenant Thomas J. Cochrane, to find them. The night was pitch-black, full of the racket of machine-gun and shell-fire, and laced with mustard gas.

Lt Wyeth, as it happened, was a cultured man, a recent Princeton graduate in languages and literature, and he rendered his experiences of that night into an accomplished, highly original cycle of six linked sonnets– part of a much longer cycle of over fifty sonnets which covered the entirety of his service in the war. But it is this self-contained six-sonnet sequence in particular– describing one soldier’s stumblings through the metaphoric valley of death– which delves most memorably into the nature of war.

Roe, Fred, 1864-1947; 4th Suffolks at Neuve Chapelle, France

~~~ The Road to Corbie ~~~

Our staff car flies and trails a long-spun haze
over the looping road and the surge and fall
of the heaving plains ~~ quick dusty tree trunks throw
their flickering bars of shadow in our eyes.
A wood ~~ men leading horses out to graze ~~
a misty bridge, and past the lumbering crawl
of crowded lorries ~~ low hills all aglow
with tufts of trees against the evening skies
and long blond hill slopes catching level rays
along their quilted flanks ~~ and under all,
the deep earth breathing like a thing asleep.
And there, Corbie ~~ her brittle walls brought low ~~
a brick-choked wreck, in which her ruins rise
like gravestones planted in a rubbish heap.

~~~~~

Late afternoon to early evening, August 8. By the time they set out late in the day, Wyeth and Cochrane, speeding along in an open staff car, find the roads choked with “lumbering . . . crowded lorries” (British trucks), and columns of marching, pack-laden troops. There is only one outfit on the road from Molliens-au-Bois to the front on August 8, and this is the 3rd Battalion of the 131st. Both battalion and staff car are bound for the same general destination, the north bank of the Somme, where the rest of the 131st is scheduled to rendezvous. The destination specified in the original orders was the village of Heilly, where headquarters of the 58th British Division is located, but by 10 p.m. the 131st has been ordered to an assembly point on the Bray-Corbie road some three thousand yards to the south of Heilly, in readiness to attack an hour after midnight. Subsequently, however, given the exhausted state of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, and the fact that the terrain is not yet reconnoitered and the troops without supplies, and given that the 3rd Battalion is still in transit, the commanding general of the 58th decides to postpone the attack until evening of the 9th. The 131st is sent onward to the north bank of the Somme east of Corbie, to a “position in readiness” in the valleys between Vaux-sur-Somme and Sailly-le-Sec. Corbie, the ruined village through which Wyeth and Cochrane pass, is located some fifteen kilometers east of Amiens, on the north bank of the Somme, at the confluence of the Somme and the Ancre.

~~~~~

~~~ Corbie to Sailly-le-Sec ~~~

High staggering walls, and plank-spiked piles of brick
and plaster ~~ jagged gables wrenched apart,
and tall dolls’ houses cleanly split in two ~~
Rooms gaping wide on every cloven floor,
pictures askew that made your throat go thick,
and humble furniture that tore your heart.
“By God let’s get out of here!”

                                                     We motored through
to the poplar marsh along the river’s shore.
Sailly-le-Sec ~~ her church one candlestick
on a broken altar, and beyond it, part
of a rounded apse ~~ a dusty village husk
of rubble and tile. Low hills ahead, all blue,
and twinkling with the phosphorescent soar
of rockets leaping in the fringe of dusk.

~~~~~

Dusk, August 8. The distance from Corbie, eastward along the north bank of the Somme, following a large north-curving arc of the river, and passing through Vaux-sur-Somme (where a gunner from the nearby 4th Australian Division brought down von Richthofen the previous April), to the village of Sailly-le-Sec is about five kilometers. At this point they are only a few kilometers from the front, and the skyline before them flashes with the storm of war.

~~~~~

~~~ Regimental Headquarters ~~~

Steep prickly slopes in shadow from the moon
sagging behind us down the strident sky.
Guns blaze and slam. The stars burn fever bright.
A low white ridge ahead, and the crumpled sound
of shelling.

                        “Jerry’s out ~~”

                                                          A snarling croon
wheels over us ~~ quick glittering tracers fly
down a pale searchlight, and along the ground
bombs blast into smoky yellow shot with light.

“Those runners will get you up there pretty soon.
~~ Take them up to the Second Battalion.”

                                                                     My tongue goes dry
and scrapy, and my lips begin to jerk ~~

~”Look out for the gas ~they been pumping it in all night.”

“Let’s go, Tommy.”

                                    “O God wait a minute ~~ I’ve found
somthng wrong w’ my mask, the damn thng doesnt work

~~~~~

After nightfall, August 8. The headquarters of the 131st Regiment is located about a thousand yard northwest of Sailly-le-Sec, in a small wood. Here they are so close to the front that the guns “blaze and slam” and Wyeth can feel vestiges of gas on his lips and throat. As they stand in headquarters, receiving directions, a bomber flies overhead, firing tracers, and soon they hear the explosion of bombs. From here, guided by runners, they will set out on foot to locate 2nd Battalion headquarters. But first, Cochrane must get his gas mask to work.

~~~~~

~~~ Through the Valley ~~~

“All right Tom?”

                              “Yup ~~ I got it fixed ~~ let’s start.”

A slipping crumbly path through scratching brush’
down to the river road. Along the shore
a clanging leap of fire behind black trees
and a streak of shrillness slit the sky apart.
A sand road ~~ horses, guns in a cloudy rush,
and men, teeth clenched on tubes, who lashed and tore
through silence. Black still slopes ~~ a distant sneeze.
“Hear that? I tell you ~~ my eyes are beginning to smart.”
A vague black gulch ahead, and the secret hush
of evil creeping in the dark ~~ We passed
two soldiers, pain-white, and a man they bore
between, blind twisting head and drunken knees,
~~ like Christ.

                 “Come on, Bud ~~There ~~You just been gassed.”

~~~~~

The night of August 8-9. Gas masks on, and led by runners, lieutenants Wyeth and Cochrane set out on foot, in search of 2nd Battalion headquarters, situated roughly six hundred yards to the south, close to the river. Everywhere there are ominous signs of “evil creeping in the dark.” With steel helmets for laurel, Virgil and Dante unholster their sidearms and wend their way through the Inferno of the Somme. Horse-drawn artillery crashes by, and columns of rushing soldiers, with both man and beast wearing alien masks in a futuristic nightmare, or a scene out of Bosch. A distant sneeze and their own burning eyes tell them that they are venturing into an area of lethal gas, and then they cross paths with their first gas victim, “… blind twisting head and drunken knees, ~ like Christ.” ~~ and with that final image of Golgotha, the apocalyptic scene is complete.

~~~~~

~~~ Second Battalion Headquarters ~~~

“Where’s the First Battalion? We haven’t got any more
idea than you have ~~ they might be anywhere.
There’s no front line. You’ll just get caught in a raid.”
Cool darkness after the foggy slobbering mask.
The long sky slashed with trundling swift uproar,
rumbling and husky in the whistling air,
and gas shells hustling into the valley made
a wobbling whisper like a hurtling flask.
We turned along the ridge to the river’s shore.
“By God what’s the matter with all those men?”

                                                                                “Hey there~~
excuse me, sir ~~ you going by any chance
to the dressing station? I got twenty men ~~ I’m afraid
they’re gassed pretty bad ~”

                                                “What were you going to ask?”

“For God sake tell ’em to hurry up the ambulance.”

~~~~~

The late hours of the night of August 8-9. Wyeth and Cochrane have reached 2nd Battalion headquarters, located some six hundred yards south of Regimental headquarters, roughly eight hundred yards west of Sailly-le-Sec and a little north, and some six or seven hundred yards north of the river Somme. They immediately inquire after the location of 2nd Battalion headquarters, only to be told that no one knows. And so they strike out again on foot, but this time without guides or directions, once more heading south towards the river. Once again, a scene from the Inferno, this time a line of twenty gas victims in need of a savior, and by this chance meeting in the pathless night, their mission is altered from military to merciful, and they find themselves keeping a shepherd’s watch over the victims until the ambulance arrives.

~~~~~

~~~ Regimental Dressing Station ~~~

Squat walls of sandbags ~~ and above, a sky
all thin and cool with dawn and very far.
Black empty stretchers. On the parapet,
light out before the clangor of the gun.
The bliss of strong fatigue ~~ and where I lie
the canvas breathes between me and that star
a bitter steam of blood. The air feels wet,
and the stars go, forgotten one by one.
Time to start back ~~ and watch those towns go by!
“You ready to go? ~~ we got a lift in a car.”

“Already?~~”

                             “Yeh, let’s start, we got a long way
to go.”

                    O God the ruins of Sailly-Laurette!
~~like dying men that wake and find the sun
and shut their eyes against another day.

~~~~~

Dawn, August 9. Exact location unknown, but somewhere in the vicinity of Sailly-Laurette, a kilometer or two to the east of Sailly-le-Sec, also on the Somme. They are now in territory which only the day before had been in German hands. In this makeshift dressing station, built of sandbags, and already full of wounded and dying men, Wyeth and Cochrane find themselves on the very edge of the combat zone, within three or four kilometers of where the Australians are pinned down by German machine-gun and artillery fire from Chipilly Ridge. At last their long, purgatorial night is over and a car is waiting to whisk them away from the front, back to the safety of Division Headquarters, but the dawn, nonetheless, is full of foreboding, and the ruins of Sailly-Laurette, the last thing they see as they drive away, become for Wyeth an image of profound hopelessness, of men who would rather die than face another day. And the men they are leaving behind, American, Australian, British and German, before this day is out, in the assault of Chipilly Ridge, will die by the hundreds.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

SOURCES:

~~~ Documents pertaining to the action at Gressaire Wood and Chipilly Ridge, August 8-10, 1918, in Huidekoper, Frederic Louis, History of the 33rd Division, Volume II, pp 410-24.

~~~ Huidekoper, History of the 33rd Division, Volume I, p 45.

~~~ Map of Operations, 131st Infantry, 33rd Div., AEF, Noon, Thursday, Aug. 8. Huidekoper, History of the 33rd Division, Vol IV (portfolio), map #20.

~~~ Situation Map. 33rd Div., AEF, Noon, Thursday, Aug. 8, 1918
(covering the stretch of the Somme, Amiens to Chipilly). Huidekoper, History of the 33rd Division, Vol IV (portfolio), map #22.

~~ The War Diary of the 33rd Division, in Huidekoper, History of the 33rd Division, Vol II, pp 319-22.

Published in: on August 8, 2018 at 11:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

An inherited legacy of military service

31961410_10155612788843233_2659213290328031232_nAmerica has always been haunted by its wars—by a sense that the accumulated dead of all its past wars stand in moral judgement of our current state of affairs, as in the 1919 French film J’Accuse where the war dead literally rise from their graves and march on the towns and villages of France to stand in silent accusation of their friends and family who have betrayed their memory.

The dead of previous wars set an all-but-unattainable ideal of sacrifice for the living—an ideal most keenly felt by the young, who were possessed of a burning imperative to prove themselves, to measure their mettle against the hallowed example of their forefathers. In many cases this imperative was instilled and nurtured from childhood. Innumerable American doughboys of 1917-18 grew up sitting at their grandfathers’ feet, listening to tales of Shilo and Gettysburg—just as their grandfathers, as children, had listened to tales of Tippicanoe or New Orleans from their own grandfathers before them.  One can well imagine the shocking reality that awaited such soldiers on the Western Front, whose grand-fathers’ war stories could not have prepared them for long-range heavy artillery, chlorine gas, machine guns or aeroplanes, to mention only the most obvious aspects of the new warfare.1776_sm

Yet other aspects of 1914-18 were little changed from previous wars, and this was particularly true for Appenheimer and the many thousands of other soldiers from all nations who served in the supply units. Appenheimer’s primary duties of hauling rations and ammunition into the front lines by wagon and mule-team were essentially the same as they had always been. To be sure, the addition of heavy artillery, machine guns and strafing aircraft made hauling ammunition by wagon more perilous than in earlier wars—sufficiently perilous that he, and many other teamsters, were decorated for valor under fire. But the basic equipment—wagon, harness and mules—was more or less unchanged from the days of the Revolutionary War.

ArmedFarmer

Going to war for Americans had never been much removed from ordinary daily life, particularly on the frontier, where farming, hunting and fighting were all in a day’s work.  The farmer leaving his cabin to toil in his cornfield took his musket along with his hoe as a matter of course.  Similarly, for Alpheus Appenheimer—an ordinary farmer from Illinois—sailing off to a world war in Europe was not as exotic as he might have imagined. In the end he was still just doing what he had always done, and what his father and grandfathers before him had always done: harnessing a team of mules to a wagon and driving them down a country road.

And as for soldiers, so too for the women, who were as haunted by war as the men. Alpheus’ mother, Olive Witcher Appenheimer—who  as a small girl had grown up listening to the war stories of two older brothers and two brothers-in-law, all of whom served in the Union Army—sent her own two sons off in 1918 to fight in France. For such American mothers—who must have numbered in the tens of thousands, at least—the emotions of past and present wars would have been inextricably mingled.  Waiting by a window for a man or boy to return from war was very little changed in 1918 from what it had been in 1865, or in 1781.

RedCrossNurses

Not that women in wartime had nothing better to do than to wait by windows. If a woman in 1917 were free of other obligations, she could serve in France in a number of capacities, whether in one of the armed services, or as a wartime nurse near the front. But rural women rarely possessed such freedom. Keeping a farm afloat in wartime, when the farmer himself was overseas, and especially if children were to be looked after, was about as much as any woman could manage.  Yet farm women across America found ways to assist the war effort in addition to their full-time responsibilities. Olive Appenheimer served as head of the local chapter of Women’s Relief Corps (a woman’s auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic) during the war, and her daughter-in-law, America, volunteered for the Red Cross.

Both Alpheus and America were descended from a long line of men and women who had fought in and lived through three centuries of America’s wars, from the 1630s 0s onward. Much of this warfare took place on America’s frontiers, and both Alpheus and America had personal ties to such frontiers themselves.  America was born in 1897 in a one-room log cabin near Wolf Creek, Kentucky, on land her family had homesteaded in the 1780s, not long after it was first opened up by Daniel Boone. As for Alpheus, he was born—as he liked to tell his grandchildren—in a woodchuck hole: a one-room sod dugout on the Kansas frontier in 1891.

To understand their individual responses to the declaration of war in 1917, it is necessary to know something of the legacy of war which each of them inherited. The possession of such a legacy was not unusual in 1917. Thousands of American boys sailing off to war in 1917-18 had fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and more distant ancestors who had fought in earlier American wars. Evidence of their bracing example on the young soldiers can often be found in their letters home, where a grandfather’s participation in a Civil War battle is often alluded to. The legacy of their forefathers established a mark to be lived up to (as well as not to fall below): it was, perhaps, a chief reason the green American soldiers tended to give such a good account of themselves when first coming under German fire in France.

Published in: on June 17, 2018 at 11:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

2018 Great War Calendar

CalCover

I haven’t been able to find a decent WWI calendar with dates of events from the war for a couple of years now, apart from the Ghosts WWI aviation calendar which comes out every year. The Imperial War Museum issued a nice one a couple of years ago, but nothing lately. So I finally decided to design and publish my own, and sell it. Sorry for the high price, but it is quite expensive to produce and my profit margin is slim. But I think it’s a pretty nice calendar, if I do say so …

My blurb is below. If you follow the link, you can see all 12 pictures.

“On the Centennial of the last year of the First World War, Monongahela Press has issued a handsome 12-month calendar of antique design, illustrated with photographs and post cards from 1914-1918, from a private collection, mostly unpublished. Significant dates from the war are marked throughout the calendar, with over 180 entries in all.”

http://www.monongahelabooks.com/2018GreatWarCalendar.html

Published in: on January 1, 2018 at 5:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

11, 11, 11.

armistice_day_poppy_field

Published in: on October 23, 2017 at 3:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

One of the first to die at Passchendaele

troopsmovingup.jpg

ledwidge2Among the first to die at Passchendaele, a hundred years ago today, was the Irish poet, Francis LEDWIDGE, born in Slane, County Meath, on 19 August 1887.   He was educated at Slane Board School, and was befriended by Lord Dunsany, who introduced him to other Irish literati. Ledwidge was a laborer, working on roads and in a copper mine.  He was, accordingly, a unionist, and one of the founding members of the Slane branch of the Meath Labour Union.

During the war, Ledwidge served with 5th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the Dardanelles in August 1915, during which time his battalion lost half its men in nine days fighting.  He served in Salonika in late 1915.

In December of that year, while in a six-day forced retreat under severe attacks from the Bulgarians, Ledwidge lost all his manuscripts save a few rain-soaked remnants.  If that were not enough, he suffered a severe inflamation in his back which caused his collapse and four months hospitalization in Cairo.  He was then sent to hospital in Manchester in April 1916, where news of the Easter Rising, and the death of his friend and fellow poet Thomas MacDonagh reached him, and upset him deeply.

ledw

Ledgwidge was court-martialled and stripped of his rank in May for overstaying his leave and insubordination.  He spent next seven months in Ebrington Barracks, Derry.

In December 1916, he rejoined his Battalion in the village of Picquigny, north of Amiens. In early 1917, Ledwidge was drafted to “B” Company, 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 29th Division, and sent first to Carnoy, then to a camp in Le Neuville, near Corbie. While there he began a correspondence with the Irish poetess, Katherine Tynan. The Battalion was in billets at Le Neuville in early March, 1917. In early April the 1st Battalion arrived in Arras; it moved to Proven in the Ypres area on 27 June, and served intermittantly in trenches for the next seven months. Ledwidge was killed on 31 July on the opening day of the third Battle of Ypres by an exploding shell.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A keen-edged sword, a soldier’s heart
Is greater than a poet’s art.
And greater than a poet’s fame
A little grave that has no name.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~ THE COMPLETE POEMS OF FRANCIS LEDWIDGE. With Introductions by Lord Dunsany.  (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1919) .  (First American Edition by Brentano’s of NY, 1919). 
~~~ Alice Curtayne, FRANCIS LEDWIDGE: A LIFE OF THE POET (1887-1917).  (London: Martin Brian & O’Keeffe, 1972).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
ledwidgegrave

Published in: on July 31, 2017 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  

From the Log of a Battalion Surgeon attached to the Marine Brigade at Belleau Wood

bw_trenches

6 June, 1918:  The battalion was ordered to make the attack. At 1900 the companies moved out of the ravine and proceeded to the town of Champillon where they went into line northeast of the town at 0345. The battalion immediately attacked, and, soon after, wounded started coming into the battalion station, on the outskirts of the town of Champillon. Champillon has been under continuous heavy bombardment. As soon as the station was established, liaison between the regimental and First Battalion aid stations was made. Ambulances of the French sanitary unit came up bringing litters and supplies. Despite heavy shelling ambulances have been able to make the aid station. This simplifies evacuation of wounded. Hospital corpsmen went “over” with their companies and performed their duties admirably.

Advance dressing stations established just behind first line where wounded were collected and ambulatory sent to the battalion station. Litter cases transported a distance of about 500 yards. At the battalion station examinations and sorting done. Evacuated from battalion go through regimental aid station where a check on each case is made. Returning ambulances bring fresh supplies, litters and blankets, so at no time have we been short of these necessities. Some cases of diarrhea developing. Only a few evacuations because of sickness made. The Second Battalion station located in Lucy le Bocage. Their position enabled them to care for all casualties of their battalion in line. Lucy likewise was under heavy shellfire and gas. A direct hit made on this station set the building on fire, necessitating evacuation. A new station soon established in a cellar, and evacuations continued from this point. The Third Battalion, acting as brigade reserve, dug in in the nearby woods. During this engagement regiment suffered heavily from shellfire and gas, but forced enemy to give ground. Enemy losses obviously heavier. Enemy wounded and prisoners came through all stations in greater numbers than our own. Everything practicable was done for them.

The character of the wounds encountered here fall chiefly into the tearing, lacerating, crushing, and amputating types, accompanied by all degrees of fractures, hemorrhage, and destruction of soft tissue. Injuries of the extremities were most common, followed by those of the abdomen and chest. Despite massive injury, shock has not been common. This is probably due to early treatment, given by company hospital corpsmen, and undelayed evacuation through the regiment to field hospitals.

Great attempts have been made to control hemorrhage, immobilize fractures, secure adequate dressings on all wounds, give morphine, antitetanic serum, hot coffee, cover patients with blankets, and promptly evacuate them from the area. Prisoners recently captured were temporarily employed as litter bearers, facilitating treatment and evacuation which otherwise would have been delayed.

Arrangements were made by the battalion supply officers to get one cooked meal to the first line every night. This meal, with coffee, is brought up under heavy shellfire and rationed out to the men. In addition to this cooked meal, the men receive two iron rations. Water details supply the lines with fresh water (chlorinated) as frequently as possible, under the most difficult circumstances. As a whole, the men are standing up under these conditions well.

2–6 June: Repeated attacks by the enemy repulsed. Our men had seen little of active fighting until this time and had not realized the horrors of war. They have played with death during these first days of June. ––(They could not have realized the seriousness of the situation. It was not until later that they understood that during these days the fate of Paris and the Allied cause depended on them and that a second Marne, although less bloody but as momentous as that of 1914, was being fought. It was the turning point of the war. From this time until the Armistice, the Germans never went ahead again).

All medical personnel have been superb in meeting and disposing of the unprecedented tasks with which they have been confronted. Without thought of rest, relief, or restoration, devote themselves wholly to their gruesome labor.

The Marine brigade has undergone its first real baptism of fire.

The heroic acts that numerous hospital corpsmen have performed during furious assaults in the open and in the most advanced positions have thrilled the entire command, and, in no small way, contributed to the effort that has so far led to our military success.

A seriously wounded patient who came through this station told the story of a pharmacist’s mate, second class, Frank C. Welte, who died today.

Welte was attached to the Twentieth Company which was holding the first line lying between Le Bois de la Château and the town of Lucy le Bocage. His company, with the Forty-fifth and Forty-seventh, was ordered to attack the advancing German forces at 1500 today. The objective lay in a northerly direction, across a wheat field, and involved the southern section of the strongly fortified Bois de Belleau.

Bois de Belleau is an almost inpenetrable tangled forest with rock formations admirably adapted for defense. The surrounding country is dotted with woods and fields of ripening wheat, with red patches of wild poppy. The terrain, which favored the enemy, is generally level except for a few wooded hills. These afforded commanding positions for the enemy to sweep the roads and open country with shell and machine-gun fire.

The attacking troops, moying across the open wheat field, were subjected to murderous flanking fire from machine guns, and many men went down.

Welte was swamped with many wounded while in this open field, about 130 yards short of the woods.

He had dressed four wounded marines, calmly writing their tags, and had started on the fifth man when he was struck in the back and right heel, while kneeling over his patient. Fragments of a bursting high-explosive shell painfully wounded him. He continued dressing his patient and filled in the diagnosis tag when his head was pierced by a machine-gun bullet. He gave his book of diagnosis tags to his patient, asking him to “turn them over to the chief” when he arrived at the battalion station. With the delivery of the tags to the patient, Welte died. To the moment of death he thus carried out the last and most important detail of his duty, with coolness, deliberation, and devotion.

Hospital corpsmen have helped maintain the high morale of the troops. When a man’s mind is weakened by physical and nervous exhaustion, frequently it is the hospital corpsman who talks it over and boosts the weary one up, so that he can take new hold and continue his unpleasant task. A platoon was charging a machine-gun nest in Belleau Wood. Several unsuccessful attempts to take it had been made, with heavy losses. The handful of men left had drawn back prior to making another charge. The company hospital corpsman, with considerable blunt emphasis to add to the forcefulness of his demand, yelled out in the thick of the hand-to-hand fighting, “Get that gun! I’m here to take care of you!” The gun was captured shortly afterward in a deadly grapple.

A gallant Marine officer, with only a handful of his original platoon, captured the town of Bouresches—a key position of our front. He cited the hospital corpsman attached to his force, and pointing out the effect the hospital corpsman’s presence had on the morale of the men during the assault: “At a time when the losses threatened to prevent the success of the operations, the heroic conduct of this man steadied the lines and spurred the attacking platoons on through the barrage.”

In an aid station located in a little stone farmhouse, about midnight, there were a number of wounded lying about on straw or propped up against the walls waiting their turn for dressing and evacuation. The Boche was laying down a barrage between the station and the woods while attempting a counterattack. The orchard in the rear of the building and the courtyard in front were being plowed up by the raining shells. The old structure was swaying, and those laboring unceasingly within over the wounded had a secret conviction that their work would be suddenly concluded at any moment. The medical officer and several hospital corpsmen were setting a compound fracture in a Thomas splint and dressing other multiple wounds. No word was spoken; the closer the shells fell to the building the faster the group toiled under candlelight.

When morning broke the barrage had lifted. The station was untouched. The night’s grist of wounded had been cared for and sent back to field hospitals. Subsequently, the regimental chief pharmacist’s mate asked the medical officer if he had been aware of the proximity of the bursting shells during the night and the threatening death to those in the station. The medical officer replied that he had been acutely conscious of all that had occurred, but more important, he had realized that each hospital corpsman, although he knew the nearness of death, never showed the slightest sign of fear. He had observed them carrying on without hesitation, comforting and quieting the nerve. worn wounded, and the sight had filled him with pride and confidence in their ability.

~~~~~Lt. George G. Strott, Hospital Corps, USN.  The Medical Department of the United States Navy with the Army and Marine Corps in France in World War I.  (Washington, DC: U.S. Navy Department, June 1947), pages 46-8.

Published in: on June 6, 2017 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Two brothers

wyethbrothers

(left): MARION SIMS WYETH (Princeton: Class of 1910).  Entered US Army October 30, 1917, Garden City, New.York, 1st lieutenant, Air Service; stationed Garden City, October 30, 1917 to January 7, 1918; Camp Servier, South Carolina, January 7 to February  18, 1918; Kelly Flying Field, San Antonio, Texas, February to May 1918; commanding officer, 238th and 244th Aero Squadrons, Waco, Texas.  May to June 1918;  commanding officer, Aero Construction Company, Garden City, June to August 8, 1918; sailed for England, August 1918; American Rest Camp, Knotty Ash, Winchester, England; American Aviation Camp, Emsworth, Sussex, England, September to November 14, 1918; returned to U.S., November 21; discharged January 1, 1919.

When Marian Sims Wyeth entered the service in 1917, he was already a distinguished architect, having studied at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he was awarded the Prix Jean Le Clerc in 1913 and the Deuxième Prix Rougevin in 1914.  After the war he moved to Palm Beach, Florida, where he founded the firm of Wyeth and King.  Among his most famous buildings are the Shangri-La mansion in Honolulu (currently a museum for Islamic art & culture), the Florida Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, and Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida.

(right) JOHN ALLAN WYETH, Jr. (Princeton: Class of 1915):  Entered US Army December 28, 1917, New York, New York, 2nd lieutenant, Corps of Interpreters; assigned 33rd Division, Divisional Headquarters, Camp Logan, Texas, January 3 to May 1, 1918; Camp Upton, N.Y., May 1 to 6, 1918; sailed for France May 1918; operations with British on the Somme until August 20, 1918, then at Verdun; Army of Occupation, Germany and Luxembourg; detached from 33rd Division and stationed at Paris, April 1919; returned to U.S. July 1919; discharged October 23, 1919.

JA Wyeth published a book of poems in 1929, entitled This Man’s Army: A War in Fifty-odd Sonnets, which soon vanished into obscurity.  It was rediscovered some sixty years later and was reprinted by the University of South Carolina Press, with extensive historical annotations.  Wyeth’s poems are currently giving rise to a growing body of serious academic scholarship, especially in England, where he is increasingly viewed as the most important American poet of the war.

JA Wyeth was part of the Princeton literary circle which included Edmund Wilson and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  After the war he lived for a time in the America colony at Rapallo, Italy, where he was friends with Ezra Pound.  He also spent time, during the Spring of 1932, with members of the Bloomsbury Group (Duncan Grant, Clive & Vanessa Bell) in Cassis-sur-Mer, and later spent part of each year, for six years, studying under the Cubist painter Jean Marchand at the Académie Moderne in Paris.

There is a sizeable body of circumstantial evidence which suggests that, throughout the late 20s in Italy, and through most of the 1930s in Germany, while pursuing his avocation as poet and landscape painter, Wyeth was simultaneously gathering intelligence on the Italian Fascists and German Nazis for the British secret service.  (A forthcoming essay will explore this hypothesis more fully).

Four new (old) books about Belleau Wood

20thCoA small independent press out of West Virginia, in time for the centennial of America’s entry into the Great War, has just released four titles relating to the Battle of Belleau Wood.

The first is a republication of a very scarce Marine Corps company history from the First World War:  A HISTORY OF 20th COMPANY, 5th REGIMENT, UNITED STATES MARINES, originally published in Germany in 1919.  In addition to original material, this reissue has new section introductions placing the company history in a context of the larger war, footnotes, and a number of previously unpublished field messages and operation reports.

78tall The next title is a facsimile edition of another scarce Marine Corps company history from the First World War: 78th COMPANY, 6th MARINES, SECOND DIVISION, ARMY OF OCCUPATION, also originally published in Germany in 1919.

The third title is self-explanatory: THREE EARLY BOOKLETS ABOUT THE BATTLE OF BELLEAU WOOD. These are reprints of three scarce booklets, originally published between 1918 and 1923, and now long out-of-print, which concerned the Battle of Belleau Wood, and the creation of the American Aisne-Marne Cemetery. The book includes thirty-one period photographs, plus a detailed field EarlyBookletsmap (displayed on 8 consecutive pages) of Belleau Wood, Belleau, Bouresches, Vaux and other nearby woods and villages.

~~~~~ When the Tide Turned:  The American Attack at Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood in the first week of June, 1918 by Otto H. Kahn,
~~~~~  Bois-Belleau, Chateau Thierry:  Remembrance from France.  24 photographs by Marcel Delboy.
~~~~~ and Belleau Wood and the American Army: The 2nd & 26th Divisions (June & July 1918) by Captain R. Andriot of the French Army.
~~~~~ Also included are seven photographs of the Aisne-Marne Cemetery at Belleau Wood from the early 1920s.

SCP_coverFinally, there is STARK COUNTY POEMS: WAR AND THE DEPRESSION COME TO SPOON RIVER by BJ Omanson, a collection thirty-five years in the making of lyric and narrative poems in the regionalist/naturalistic tradition of American poetry.

Among these poems are several longer narrative poems pertaining directly to the experiences of a local farmer, Alpheus Appenheimer, who served as a muleskinner with the 6th Machine Gun Battalion of the 4th Brigade of Marines, 2nd Division, AEF at Belleau Wood.  In addition to the poems, there is an essay, “Effects of War: how one Illinois farm couple’s experience of the First World War inspired a cycle of regionalist poems” (first published in the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly), which deals expressly with Appenheimer’s experiences at Belleau Wood, and the effects of those experiences on his family in later years.

All four books are paperbacks, published in 2017 by Monongahela Press.  The History of 20th Company is 8.5 x 11 inches, while the other three are 6 x 9.

Published in: on May 1, 2017 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Christmas on the Old Front Line, one hundred years ago . . .

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Published in: on December 22, 2016 at 8:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

One hundredth anniversary of the final day of the Battle of the Somme.

 

http://www.aol.co.uk/news/2016/11/17/100th-anniversary-of-last-day-of-somme-battle-to-be-commemorated/?ncid=aolshare_email

Published in: on November 19, 2016 at 7:15 am  Leave a Comment