On the morning of the ninth, I decided that we must open up a new avenue of evacuation, and started up to Beaumont through Nouart and Laneuville, along the Meuse, to see if the road was safe for ambulances. I warned my driver that we should probably have to run the gauntlet of some shelling on our way through Laneuville. As we emerged from some woods and came into clear view of the village and the river, I could see shells breaking on the road ahead, particularly where it curved to descend to the village. The enemy’s guns were on the heights across the river, about a thousand yards away.
There was no need to tell my driver to put on speed. He fairly stepped on the accelerator, and we raced at the corner. The road was strewn with broken branches and filled with craters, but these we took in our stride, and rounded the comer with no greater mishap than a couple of holes in the mud guards. We tore down into the village and out on the river road to the west, the shelling following us until we were out of observation in some
We followed the road up into Beaumont, and as a result of the reconnaisance I was able to evacuate wounded by this route after dark. It made a vast amount of difference, for the road was in excellent condition, except for several short stretches. The wounded went direct from Beaumont to the surgical hospital at Landreville.
I attempted that same afternoon to go back to Division Headquarters at Fosse by way of the dirt road running south from Beaumont, but returned because of a block. On my way back into the town I was held up by two ambulances, one of which was supplying the other with gas.
On the other side of the block was a battery of artillery, and riding at the head of it I recognized my brother-in-law, Kermit In the few moments of conversation that were permitted, we sounded one another on the possibility of an armistice, and both felt that it was very unlikely. When two days later it actually came, it was a good deal of a surprise.
I spent the night at Beaumont, and ordered Field Hospital One by telephone to move up to that town. Beaumont was but two kilometers from the river, but a dip of the land protected it from direct observation, and it had only been subjected to desultory shellng. There was a goodsized church and a theater, both of which lent themselves for use as a hospital.
Early on the morning of the eleventh I was sitting in the office of G3, writing out an order for some medical supplies to send to the rear, when the telephone rang, and the sergeant answering it announced that an armistice would go into effect at eleven o’clock that morning. A general telephone alarm had been sent out transmitting this message. I was completely stunned by the news, for while there had been persistent talk during the past few days that an armistice was imminent, I had not the slightest conception that it would actually occur. At twenty minutes of nine came official confirmation of the fact.
It was incredible that what had come to be our everyday life was thus suddenly to end. It was impossible at once to adapt oneself to the idea that there would no longer be a line of enemy out ahead as intent to kill you as you to kill them.
It was with thoughts like these pursuing one another through my mind that I jumped into my car, taking with me Boone and the Division Chaplain, and started for Beaumont. We went up by the river road through Laneuville, and where two days before I had run the gauntlet passing through the village, now all was peace and quiet. The stillness was oppressive.
The church at Beaumont was filled with casualties suffered during the crossing of the river, early that morning. As I moved about among them, talking to the men and watching the dressings, the church was suddenly filled with the peals of the organ, and under the leadership of Boone from the organ loft, we joined in the singing of “America.”
With the dying strains of the music, at a few minutes after eleven o’clock that November morning, the war became an incident of past history.
Excerpted from Wade In, Sanitary! by LtCol Richard Derby, Medical Corps, Second Division, AEF. (NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1919). Dr. Derby was married to Ethel Roosevelt, the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt,