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 . . .

1482446183109

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  

11, 11, 11.

poppyfield

Published in: on November 11, 2016 at 9:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Poets Killed on the First Day of the Somme, July 1, 1916

sommepattendum_detail2

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

2nd Lt. Henry FIELD.  Served with the 6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiement. He was killed on the first day Somme during the bitter fighting for Serre, one of 836 casualties from his battalion. He was 22. Buried at Serre Road Cemetery No.2, Beaumont Hamel & Hebuterne.

Above the shot-blown trench he stands,
Tall and thin against the sky;
His thin white face, and thin white hands,
Are the signs his people know him by.
His soldier’s coat is silver barred
And on his head the well-known crest.
Above th shot-blown trench he stands,
The bright escutcheon on his breast,
And traced in silver bone for bone
The likeness of a skeleton.

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

HodgsonLieutenant William Noel HODGSON, 9th Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment. Hodgson was awarded the Military Cross. In April 1916 the Battalion was in front line trenches opposite Mametz. On the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, Hodgson was killed by a bullet in the throat from German machine gun fire while taking a supply of bombs to his men in newly captured trenches near Mametz. Buried at Devonshire Cemetery, Mansel Copse, Mametz.

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of Thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; ~
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.

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

Lt. Alfred RATCLIFFE. Served with the 10th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, is killed on the Somme, while attacking the German-held village of Fricourt. His battalion suffered more casualties than any other battalion on this date: 60%. Lt Ratcliffe was 29. Buried at Fricourt New Military Cemetery.

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

Corporal Alexander ROBERTSON . Served with ‘A’ Company, 12th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment (Sheffield City Battalion: ‘The Sheffield Pals’). Was in same attack on Serre as Will Streets. ‘A’ & ‘C’ Companies were the first to move forward on the morning of the first day of the Somme. Met with heavy shelling, rifle & machine-gun fire. His body never found. He was 34. His name recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, near Albert.

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

StreetsSergeant John William STREETS . Served in the 12th. York & Lancaster Regiment. Known as “The Miner Poet”. Killed on the first day of the Somme, during the fighting for Serre. He was wounded early in the day and was returning to a dressing station when he heard that another soldier of his platoon was too badly wounded to return on his own, so Streets went back to find him. He was never seen again. He was 31. Buried Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps.

Back to their Mother Earth this night return
Unnumbered youth along the far-flung line;
But ’tis for these my eyes with feeling burn,
That Memory doth erect a fadeless shrine ~
For these I’ve known, admired, ardently friended
Stood by when Death their love, their youth swift ended.

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

Waterhouse2nd Lt. Glbert WATERHOUSE.  Served with the 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment, which partook in the bitter hand-to-hand fighting south of the village of Serre. At the end of the day, Waterhouse was counted among the missing, presumed dead. Buried at Serre Road Cemetery No.2, Beaumont Hamel & Hebuterne.

… But the minnewerfers fell,
And the blackbird ceased his song,
And the place became a hell,
Rang with curses loud and long ~
Blackbird, chaffinch, bumble-bee
Fled away upon the wing ~
Where they sang so merrily
Other messengers now sing ~
Bumble bee is busy still,
Blackbird and the chaffinch sing
In another faery dell,
By the village on the hill;
But a devil out of hell
Tossing high explosive shell,
Gambols in the flowery dell
Where the minnewerfers fell.

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

Lt. Bernard WHITE.   Served with the 20th (1st Tynside Scottish) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, is killed on the first day of Somme, opposite the village of La Boisselle. The 20th lost its commanding officer, 16 other officers, and 320 enlisted. One of White’s brother officers later described his death: “His platoon was the first to leave the trenches, and he himself was responsible for the direction of the attack. He led his men right across ‘No Man’s Land’ ~ here eight hundred yards broad ~ and was last seen standing on the parapet of the German trenches throwing bombs. He then disappeared, and for a short time was missing. Then his body was found and buried, with one or two other officers, who fell beside him … His death has left a very empty place in my life, for he was an exceptional man in many ways, so brilliant and full of life…”   He was 29. His name is on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, near Albert.

 

sommemissing

Published in: on July 1, 2016 at 12:50 am  Comments (1)  

Final days of a young Marine wounded at Belleau Wood

The courtyard at the College de Juilly which housed Evacuation Hospital No. 8. This is the scene Pvt Hummelshiem looked down upon from his hospital bed.

The courtyard at the College de Juilly which housed Evacuation Hospital No. 8.  This is the scene Pvt Hummelshiem looked down upon from his hospital bed.

Pvt Herbert W. Hummelshiem, 15th Company, 6th Machine Gun Battalion. Died of wounds 18 June 1918. The following account of Pvt Hummelshiem’s last days in Evacuation Hospital No. 8 in the old College de Juilly is taken from Frederick Pottle’s Stretchers: The Story of a Hospital Unit on the Western Front (New Have, Yale University Press, 1929):

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

I FIRST saw Herbie a week after I started work in the operating room at the old Collège de Juilly, during the last of the Belleau Woods fighting. I was new enough to it then so that I saw him as a human being rather than a case: a big, well-built lad of nineteen, but pale and thin, with very clear blue eyes and closely cropped blond hair.

He was wounded in the knee, a serious wound, but not so pressing as some of the other cases. He lay nearly all day on a shaky old French litter on the tiled floor outside the operating room, waiting his turn. Once I found him shivering and tucked the blankets in around him. It was about four in the afternoon when he was finally brought in.

juilly6

I took down the record for the operation. The boy’s last name was German; his first name, Herbert. He was, as I have said, only nineteen. A marine. He had been wounded sixteen hours previously. His voice was high pitched and rather unsteady; he was clearly frightened by the operating room. That was hardly to be wondered at. Operations were under way on the tables at either side, and the room ran with blood and reeked with ether. My white gown (at Juilly even surgical assistants had luxuries) was covered with blood stains. In that gown, with a piece of bandage tied around my forehead to keep the sweat out of my eyes, I must have been a terrifying spectacle. Yet he would have died rather than admit that he was afraid. I saw the dumb appeal in his eyes as I helped lift him on the table, and slid my hand into his. He looked up at me gratefully. The nurse started to put the ether mask down over his face. His voice shook a little.

“You’ll hold my hand and see me through, won’t you?” he asked. That was how my friendship with Herbie began.

The operation proved to be long and difficult. The missile was a jagged piece of shell nearly a centimeter each way, which had penetrated the joint cavity. Once the major threw it out, but it slipped back again. But he found it again, and dressed the wound. I took the dictation. I do not know why I should remember that dictation, but I do, as well as though I had written it yesterday.

juilly7

“June 16, 1918. Herbert H—–, 15th Company, 6th Machine Gun Battalion, U.S.M.C. Duration of injury, 16 hrs. G.S.W. right knee joint. Missile entered from popliteal space, traversing between outer hamstring tendon and the notch of the condyles, lodging in the joint cavity. External arthrotomy. Piece of shrapnel 1 x 1/2 x 3/4 cm. removed from the joint cavity. Débridement. Joint irrigated with Dakin solution and left open for drainage. 9 Carrel-Dakin tubes in posterior wound. Hold. Major Shipley.”

I helped to carry the boy, limp and hardly breathing, to the ward, and put him in bed. Ward B was the best in the hospital. It was a long bare room with whitewashed plaster walls, and a floor of red tiles, with long windows, overlooking the old stone-flagged central courtyard of the Collège. I had to pass through it on my way to the operating room, and I always used to stop to speak to Herbie when I could.

He could not sit up, but had always to lie flat on his back with his leg in a long aluminum splint. When our work slackened toward the end of June, I used to sit by his bed and talk with him. Sometimes I wrote letters to his dictation: letters to his mother, his aunt, his sweetheart—“The little lady,” he called her. In those letters he repeated over and over that he was getting along well, was feeling better, and would soon be out of bed.

It was not true, for his case went badly from the first. The joint was badly infected, and kept getting worse: a slow, obstinate infection which sapped his strength. He had apparently been on the verge of a physical breakdown at the time he was wounded, and could seem to rally no strength to throw off the infection.

juilly11

In our talks I learned a great deal about his history. His father was a successful business man in a mid-western city. There was only one other child, a brother. His people were of German descent; his grandmother spoke no English. His parents had not tried to dissuade him from joining the marines. He had been personal orderly to an officer, a major, and at the front had served as a runner, carrying messages for him. He had gone through two weeks of the horror of Belleau Woods, seldom getting anything to eat, and keyed up to a dreadful nervous pitch, for he must have been by nature timid. He had had none of his clothes off for the sixteen days before he was hit. On that morning, he, his major, and three other men were crouching in a shell hole. A shell landed on top. of them. The major and two of the men were killed outright, and the other man died very shortly afterward. Herbie said that he had not been killed because he had been praying just before the shell struck.

The days went by, and Herbie got no better. Twice he had to undergo reoperation because of the infection. I was off duty both times, but because it seemed to steady him, I came back to help. He feared an amputation both times; dreaded it literally worse than death.

After the third operation his cot was moved to the windowside so that he could see the men hurrying around in the courtyard below carrying the wounded on litters, or loading the convalescent into ambulances for evacuation. On one of the old towers opposite was an ancient clock. He used to watch the slow progress of its hands all day long. I remember that one day an elm branch swung in between, and I found him almost in tears because nobody would heed his request to move his cot a few inches. A boy of nineteen, thousands of miles away from home, terribly alone, and facing the probability of death, what did he think, as he lay there for weary hours and days, watching the lacy boughs of the elms spatter the flags of the courtyard with arabesques of light, which shifted and faded as the hands of the clock crawled around?

juilly12

In Juilly was one little fruiterie, where, for exorbitant prices, one could occasionally buy fresh fruit. One day I got a pound of big cherries for him. When I poured the beautiful red things out on his blanket, he looked up startled, struggled manfully for a moment to keep down his emotion, and then his eyes ran over with tears. He said nothing to me, but I felt sick with shame as I realized how casual the gift had really been.

On the fifteenth of July the Germans attacked furiously, and three days later we launched the counterattack which kept them retreating to the end of the War. Several surgical teams were detached from our hospital, and I was sent along. I was gone three days. I came back half dead, and found our hospital crowded with wounded. It was three days more before I could go to Herbie.

I stumbled down the ward, and brought up with a start of surprise. Herbie’s bed was empty. At first I was disappointed, and then glad, for it came to me that he must have improved sufficiently to be sent back to the base. On the way out I stopped to speak with the ward nurse, Miss O’Toole, a tall, thin, gray-haired Bostonian, who had gone from a holiday at Nice to four years’ voluntary service with the American Red Cross. I knew that she was fond of Herbie.

juilly13

“So they evacuated Herbie?” I asked.

She looked up, startled. Then her eyes filled—and it takes a great deal to make a woman cry after she has been seeing men die almost every day of her life for four years

“Herbie died yesterday morning,” she said.

From the ward orderly I learned afterward the story of his death. On the night of the twenty-first the infection started a hemorrhage. It was almost immediately detected and controlled, but in his weakened condition the loss of blood proved fatal. Every attempt was made to raise his blood pressure sufficiently to make an operation possible, but he never rallied from the condition of shock. He died just before dawn that morning. At that hour I was sound asleep in my billet. At the last, when he had so many things to think of, did he remember me, his friend?

So far as I know, he left just two things. One was a letter he wrote to his mother the night before he was wounded, when he expected to be killed at any moment.

He had kept it with him, and it was in the pocket of his pajamas when he died. It was the most truly pathetic thing I ever saw. You must remember that it was written by a quite normal boy under the expectation of sudden death at any moment. It had the awkwardness which any American boy of nineteen would show in trying to tell his mother of his love, but it told it so even more effectively. At the end he made a little will, giving all his few belongings to different members of his family. The chaplain took that and sent it to his mother. The other thing was one of the small buttons of his uniform which he gave me as a souvenir in the first days of our acquaintance.

A few days after Herbie’s death, I walked out to the American cemetery. It was just outside the grim, gray wall of the old French burying ground, beside the cobbled highway, in a wheat field. The wheat had grown up to the very foot of the wall; it was now golden and -almost ready for the harvest, starred here and there with flaming red poppies. From the foot of the wall a lane had been cut in the wheat, and two rows of raw mounds with brown crosses faced each other across a narrow path; all exactly alike except for the name plates. I had to stoop and read several before I found his—number 100. I laid a bunch of already wilting poppies on the mound, and stood a moment tryingto grasp the situation, to feel to its depths what Herbie’s death meant.

juilly14

The sun was just dropping below the horizon, sending out dazzling streamers on a level with the eye. A skylark was soaring and singing overhead. A cart trundled by on the cobbled road, and sweet and clear from the church spire came the peaceful notes of the Angelus. The air smelled of the harvest. I could not feel sad. My tired brain would not fix itself on the grave; it wandered off into a blissful apathy. I forgot for a moment the sight of mangled bodies and the smell of blood and ether and gas gangrene. The healing beauty streamed in upon me: the glory of the sunset, the smell of the wheat, the sound of the bell, the song of the lark. I could not grieve for Herbie at all. He was gone, forever; but for me no more gone than the other wounded men who had passed through our hospital for another.

I must have stood there a long time, for presently the dew came down and made me shiver. As I turned away, I saw far on the horizon to the northward a flash like heat lightning, and then, dull and muffled, I heard the thudding tremor of the guns.

Published in: on February 21, 2016 at 12:45 am  Comments (1)  

More Christmas greetings from the old front line

trenchchristmas9trenchchristmas6trenchchristmas2

trenchchristmas3trenchchristmas10trenchchristmas5trenchchristmas1trenchchristmas7trenchchristmas8

Published in: on December 12, 2015 at 11:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: