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Full text of "Behind the wheel of a war ambulance"

D 640 D2b 1918 
01120175R 




3NI0103W JO AMVa9ll 1VNOI1VN 



aNiDiaaw jo Aavaan ivnouvn 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF A WAR AMBULANCE. 



BEHIND THE WHEEL 

OF A 

WAR AMBULANCE 



BY 

Robert Whitney Imbrie. 




NEW YORK 

ROBERT 3VL McBRIDE & CO. 
1918 



LIBRARY 



Copyright, 1918, by 
Robert M. McBrxde & Co. 



ID 

J3Z£ 
\9|8 



Printed in the 
United States of America. 



Published November, 1918 



TO THE MEN 
In mud-grimed uniforms of horizon blue, 

THE MEN 
Who, at hand-grips with death, smile, 

TO THE MEN 
IV ho face and suffer agony that Freedom and Right 
may not perish from the earth, 

WHO 

With nothing of hero in garb or pose, 
Yet shelter a hero's soul, 

TO THE MEN 
I have carried, 
A vous, mes vieux, je leve mon verre 
and 

TO YOU 
I dedicate these lines. 

Monastir, Serbia. 
April 18, 1917. 



v 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER PAGE 

I The Clutch is Thrown In . . i 

II Back of the Front ... 9 

III Off to the Front .... 21 

IV In Action — The Aisne ... 29 
V The Somme ..... 51 

VI The Somme Continued . . 70 

VII The Trek to the Vortex . . 82 

VIII The Vortex 95 

IX Repos 108 

X Encore Verdun .... 120 

XI The Argonne .... 129 

XII On Board the "Madeira" . -134 

XIII Into Salonika .... 145 

XIV Into the Balkans . . .156 
XV "Where the Best is Like the 

Worst" 164 

XVI Monastir : Hell's Capital . .178 

XVII "Down Valleys Dreadly Desolate" 212 

XVIII "The Wild Disharmony of Days" 228 

XIX The Clutch is Thrown Out . 238 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

The Ambulance Squad Lined Up at Atten- 
tion While One of the Drivers Was 
Decorated with the Croix de Guerre . 

Frontispiece 
"In Scores — Hundreds — of Places There 
Remained but a Pile of Stones and a 
Yawning Hole" 62 

During Heavy Engagements the Stretcher 
Bearers Eat When and Where They 
Can IIO 

In This Boyau or Communicating Trench, 

One of the Squad Was Killed . . .142 

When the Road Ahead Was Being Shelled 
It Became Necessary to Make a Detour 
Along This Sunken Way . . .158 

American Ambulance Drivers Snatch a 

Hard-Earned Rest by the Wayside . 172 

The B. E. F. Ambulances Have Both Upper 

and Lower "Berths" . . . .172 

Headquarters Were Established in Any 

Building That Offered Protection . 198 

One of the Cars That Bucked Its Way 
Through the "Impassable" Mountain 
Roads of Albania . . . .198 

"All the Comforts of Home" Are Not 
More Appreciated Than These Crude 
Eating Places ..... 206 

Mustard Gas Cases With Protecting Com- 
presses Over the Eyes Are Awaiting 
the Ambulance ..... 206 

ix 



PREFACE. 



Lest those who have read the bombastic accounts of 
American journals be misled, let it be stated: the men 
of the American Amoulance have not conducted the 
Great War nor been its sole participants. Nor would 
France have lapsed into desuetude but for their aid. 
They have but assisted in a useful work. So far from 
desiring to pose as heroes, none realize better than they 
how insignificant has been their part compared to the 
real hero of this war — the obscure soldier in the 
trench. 

The Americans have received far more than they 
have given. No man can have served in this war with 
the French without having grown stronger through 
their courage, gentler through their courtesy, and 
nobler through their devotion. Yet the serving of the 
Republic of the Tri-color has not made us love less the 
Republic of the Stars and Stripes. Always it was of 
the States we thought when the chorus rose : 
"Here's to the land that gave us birth, 

Here's to the flag she flies, 

Here's to her sons, the best of earth, 

Here's to her smiling skies," 



PREFACE. 



thought, mayhap, some merry-eyed Parisienne mar- 
raine was visioned as the song continued : 

Here's to the heart that beats for me, 

True as the stars above, 

Here's to the day when mine she'll be, 

Here's to the girl I love. 
As to the pages which follow, may it be offered in 
excuse for their egocentricity that they are in the nature 
of a journal based on personal experiences. And in 
apology for their crudity may it be advanced that they 
were written under abnormal and often uncomfortable 
conditions, sometimes humped up in an ambulance, 
wrapped in a blesse blanket, while outside the snow 
came down, sometimes in a dugout as the shells whis- 
tled overhead, sometimes in a "flea-bag" when it was 
necessary to lay down the pen frequently and blow on 
numbed fingers or, mayhap, at night, in a wind-swept 
barn, by the light of a guttering candle. 

R. W. I. 



xii 



Behind the Wheel of a War Ambulance. 



CHAPTER I 

THE CLUTCH IS THROWN IN 

ifc'VfOU will," said the officer, "drive this ambu- 
Jl lance to Rue Pinel and there report for your 
military number. Follow the convoy." Save for the 
fact that I did not catch the name of the rue, that the 
convoy was already out of sight, and that this was 
only the second time in my life I had ever driven a 
car of this type, the matter looked easy. So I saluted, 
said "entendu," threw in the clutch and cast off. 

Quite evidently the first thing to do was to over- 
take the convoy. I gave her gas ; whirled around the 
corner on something less than the usual number of 
wheels and streaked through Neuilly in entire disre- 
gard of traffic regulations and the rights of pedes- 
trians. It was a lawless start, but like many other 
acts sui generis it was successful, for at Porte Maillot, 
outside the ancient walls of Paris I came up with the 
other cars. Down towards the center of the City our 
course lay; out upon the Champs Elysees, across the 



i 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Place Concorde and then through a maze of narrow 
streets which the convoy leader seemed to choose be- 
cause of the density of their traffic. The pace, I sup- 
pose, was reasonable, but to one who did not have a 
driving acquaintance with his car it seemed terrific. 
It had never before been forced upon my attention 
that the streets of Paris are largely populated with 
infirm and undecided old ladies and baby buggies. 
Once my engine stalled. Though I swarmed out of 
that car in a few seconds less than no time, the con- 
voy was out of sight by the time the motor was crank- 
ed and I had regained the driving seat. The car had 
an electric hooter and with my finger on this I hit a 
pace which made the side streets look like windows 
in one continuous wall. Once a gendarme waved his 
arms, but I felt we could have little in common and I 
passed him so fast it seemed as though he were be- 
ing jerked in the other direction. In the months to 
come I was to experience some tense and trying mo- 
ments, but just then I felt that being under shell fire 
must seem a positive relaxation compared with what 
I was undergoing, or rather going through. At last 
I glimpsed the convoy, caught it and drove across the 
Seine, down the Boulevard St. Germain, through an- 
other tangle of streets, finally coming to a halt in front 
of a pile of gray dull-looking stone buildings, about 
which was a high stone wall. Presently a sentry, who 
stood in front of a gate in the wall, signaled us and 
we drove through into an enclosure lined with build- 



2 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



ings. We were at Rue Pinel — headquarters for the 
Automobile Service of the Armies. 

Every military car in use by the French from the 
largest camion to the smallest voiture Ugbre must have 
its registered military number, painted on its hood, its 
body and on the stern and it was for this our cars had 
come to headquarters. 

While my ambulance was thus receiving its official 
identity I had a chance to examine it. Of American 
make, the car had a small but amply efficient motor 
and standard chassis. Upon this chassis was mounted 
a long, box-like body which, extending some distance 
aft the rear axle gave the effect of a lengthened wheel 
base. On the starboard side, forward, were lashed 
four cans of reserve gas, a can of oil and one of kero- 
sene. The corresponding position on the port side was 
taken up with a locker, in which were stored a com- 
plete set of field tools, extra tubes, pump, canvas 
bucket, and tinned emergency rations of biscuit and 
chocolate. In smaller lockers on either side of the 
driving seat, were stored other articles, such as spark- 
plugs, tire chalk, chains and a coil of rope, and affixed 
to one of these lockers was a small steel envelope in 
which were carried the "ship's papers" — in this case 
an ordre de mouvement, permit to enter and remain 
in the Army Zone and identification card, written in 
three languages, and authorization to commandeer 
gasoline. On the car's running board was strapped a 
tin containing reserve water. Access to the interior 



3 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



was had by two swinging doors aft. Within there 
were two seats, each capable of holding two persons. 
These seats could be folded back against the sides, 
thus giving room for three stretchers, which when not 
in use were carried on the floor of the car and held 
in place by braces. The inside was furnished also 
with a lantern. The car was painted a "war gray" 
and on either side was a crimson cross. From the 
top another cross looked upward to greet the war 
planes. On the body, on either side, just above the 
wheel appeared the legend, AMERICAN AMBU- 
LANCE. 

At that time, December, 191 5, the American Ambu- 
lance, an off-spring of the American Hospital at 
Neuilly, maintained in the field four "Sections," be- 
sides one section in Paris for service in connection 
with the hospital. These field sections, besides auxili- 
ary cars, consisted of twenty ambulances of a uniform 
type, the gifts of Americans, and were driven by 
volunteer Americans serving without compensation 
and furnishing their own equipment and uniforms of 
a pattern prescribed by regulations. Each Section 
was commanded by a French officer, under whom was 
an American Section Chief. The status of these driv- 
ers at this time was not clearly defined. Later the 
whole Service was militarized and we became mem- 
bers of the French Army. Prior to this we certainly 
were not French soldiers, for we wore none of the 
army's insignia. Neither were we civiles for we were 



4 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



subject to military discipline and served within the 
Zone of the Armies. I suppose we might best have 
been described by the term "almost privates." 

It was to one of these Field Sections, Section I, or 
to give it its military designation S. S. U. I., Convois 
Automobiles, that I was now bound. Section i is the 
oldest foreign Section — Section etranger — attached to 
the Armies. It had its origin in September 1914, 
when a number of cars, donated and manned by Amer- 
icans, served in the Marne campaign. Though not 
then organized as a Section, it subsequently became so 
and in January 1915, went to the front, a fully or- 
ganized, self -containing unit. Already it had an envi- 
able record. It had served on the Yser and at Ypres, in 
the bombardment of Dunkirk and had received the at- 
tention and commendation of those high in com- 
mand. It had the reputation of never having failed 
and of never quitting. 

It was close to mid-day when the cars had received 
the numbering and had been registered. There was 
only one other car destined for Section 1. And this 
was driven by "Freddie," an Oxford Rhodesman. The 
other cars of the morning's convoy were either for the 
remaining field Sections or for the Paris Service. 
The numbering was barely completed before we were 
joined by an officer, a Lieutenant, an affable chap who 
spoke excellent English and who informed us that he 
was to act as our guide to the City of Beauvais, where 
we would join our Section. As he was ready, we 



5 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



started at once and again drove across Paris. Before 
reaching the City gate we drew up in front of a Duval 
and had luncheon — last meal for some months to 
come that Freddie and I should eat from a white table 
cloth. Then with cigars lighted— hereafter we should 
smoke pipes — we cranked up and got under way. At 
the city gate a sentry challenged but the officer lean- 
ing out, spoke the magic word "Ambulance" and we 
passed. Gradually the houses grew less imposing and 
more scattered. Farther on we crossed the traffic- 
burdened Seine. Open spaces, surrounded by walls 
appeared ; the smooth streets gave way to cobbles and 
we left Paris behind. Along roads lined with tall 
graceful poplars we spun. Occasionally through an 
arched gate-way we could catch glimpses of a wind- 
ing, tree-lined drive leading up to some stately 
chateau, the windows of which were generally shut- 
tered. 

Now and then we would pass through a small, 
somnolent village. The absence of traffic was notice- 
able ; a high wheeled market cart, a wagon piled with 
faggots and drawn by a sad-faced donkey, perhaps an 
ancient gig. These were all, save when once or twice 
a high-powered car, showing staff colors flashed by. 
Once we met a convoy of camions. The roads, while 
not as perfect as one finds in peace times, were, on the 
whole, good. Several times we passed groups of 
middle-aged men — territorials — clad in blue, before- 
the-war red trousers and kepi and blue tunic, hard at 



6 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



work breaking rocks and repairing the surface. 

As the afternoon wore on, the mist which had all 
day hung low over the hills, thickened and rain set 
in. The short winter's day was well spent when we 
reached a good sized town. A sentry challenged, but 
after inspecting our ordre de monvement, saluted and 
permitted us to proceed. The road was now entirely 
deserted. The lights streaming ahead showed only 
the red cross on the back of Freddie's car. And so 
we drifted through the night. Finally "Qui vive" 
rang out of the gloom and we drew up at another 
sentry post. "This is Beauvais," the officer remarked. 
We made our way through some ill-lighted streets, 
stopping every now and then to inquire the direction 
to the barracks, and at last reached a large, open space 
in which were parked many motors of various types. 
Along one side of this park our lights flashed on a 
row of ambulances. We had reached our Section. 

We had barely shut off our engines when a figure 
appeared through the gloom. It proved to be "the 
chief," the American Sous-Commander of the Squad. 
He bade us welcome and informed us that we would 
be quartered for the night in the barracks opposite. 
So, having aligned our cars with the others, we shoul- 
dered our "flea-bags," as sleeping sacks are known in 
the army, and stumbled across a muddy road and 
pitch dark parade ground, up a twisting flight of 
stairs and into a long room, faintly illuminated by a 
single lantern. Upon the plank floor was scattered a 



7 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



quantity of straw bedding. We were pretty well 
fagged, having been up since day-break, and after 
some bread and chocolate in the canteen below, were 
glad to crawl into our bags. From somewhere came 
the tramp, tramp of a sentry. The monotony of his 
footfalls lulled us. Then, distantly through the night 
sounded "le repos" and we dozed. My first day in 
the Service was over. 



8 



CHAPTER II 



BACK OF THE FRONT 

L£ REVEILLfi roused us out next morning and 
after coffee and rolls at a nearby cafe, the cars 
were put in motion and the convoy wound out in a 
long gray line. We had not far to go, for beyond the 
outskirts of Beauvais we came to a halt. Ahead, a 
winding muddy road pushed its way up a hill, upon the 
top of which, like a sentinel, stood a crumbling, hoary 
church. About, were a number of two-storied houses 
with wall-surrounded gardens, a few modest cafes. 
Such is the village of Maracel and here we were des- 
tined to spend the next few weeks. 

Immediately on arrival, everyone in the Squad had 
shouted, "Is this Moscow? Moscow, is this Mos- 
cow?" This ritual, which it seemed was invariably 
gone through on reaching any new place, had its origin 
no one knew where, but somewhere back in the re- 
mote past of the Section. This inquiry was immedi- 
ately followed by a "gathering of the brethren" and 
the rolling chorus of "She wore it for a lover who 
was far, far away" was sung with fanatical fervency. 
This also was a fixed custom and as long as I remained 



9 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



a member of the Section, I never knew the Squad to 
arrive in any new place without this solemn program's 
being religiously adhered to. These matters having 
been accomplished — as Caesar would express it — the 
Squad would be ready for anything. 

A deserted, one-room schoolhouse, not far from 
the church, was assigned to us for sleeping quarters, 
and the large room of the cafe was commandeered 
for our mess, the cook installing his galley in a small 
hut in the rear. The cars, for the moment, were al- 
lowed to remain lined up by the side of the road. 

It was now for the first time I had the opportunity 
to mix with and judge of my fellow squad members. 
At the outbreak of the war the restless ones of the 
earth flocked to France, drawn there by prospect of 
adventure and a desire to sit in the game. The Am- 
bulance attracted its share of these characters and a 
stranger, more incongruous melange, I dare say, was 
never assembled. There was an ex-cowboy from 
Buffalo Bill's Congress of Rough Riders, big game 
hunters, — one of the most famous in the world was 
at one time on Section i's roster — a former 4th Cav- 
alryman, a professional Portuguese revolutionist, a 
driver of racing cars, a Legionary who had fought 
in Senegal, an all-American football center, two pro- 
fessional jockeys, one of whom had carried the 
Kaiser's colors, an Alaskan sweep-stakes dog driver, 
Rhodesmen, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton men, a 
prospector from New Mexico, the author of a "best 



10 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



seller" — you would recognize his name in an instant 
if I were to give it — a New York undertaker, a Har- 
vard professor of dead languages, a Maine lumber- 
jack; a hardy, reckless, restless crowd, — they faced 
life carelessly and death indifferently. Many of these 
men I had met in Paris before coming to the field and 
involuntarily they had called to mind Service's lines: 

"We have failed where slummy cities overflow, 

But the stranger ways of earth 

Know our pride and know our worth 
And we go into the dark, as fighters go. 

Yet we're hard as cats to kill 

And our hearts are reckless still 
And we've danced with death a dozen times or so." 

As the war went on these "characters" grew less 
in the ranks of the Ambulance, as the tendency be- 
came to recruit the Corps almost wholly from college 
men who became typal. But when I joined Section 
i, it still had some interesting specimens, and though 
even at that time five colleges were represented in the 
Squad there was no snobbery and the work was done 
with a democratic esprit which spoke well for its 
Americanism. 

It was on the 24th of December that we reached 
Maracel. "All hands and the cook" at once turned 
to and began transforming our mess quarters into 
something of a Christmas aspect. A nearby wood 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



yielded plenty of greens and splendid bunches of 
mistletoe. Alas, that the third element which goes 
to make mistletoe the most attractive of plants should 
have been lacking. By evening the shabby little room 
had assumed a festive appearance. The place already 
boasted of — it really should have apologized for — 
a decrepit billiard table with three almost round balls 
— rounder at least than the average potato. From 
somewhere a venerable piano was dragged forth from 
a well-deserved seclusion and though it had a number 
of "sour" notes and when pressed too hard was in- 
clined to quit altogether, all things considered, it did 
nobly. By the time those things were accomplished 
and evening mess over we were "ready for the hay," 
though in this case it was straw. 

Christmas came in with fog and smatterings of 
rain, weather typical of what the next six weeks would 
produce. In the "big car" a dozen or so of us went 
into Beauvais for church, greeting everyone we met 
en route with "bon no'el" The church was cold, the 
service of course entirely in French. Therefore, we 
were glad when it was over, but also rather glad we 
had gone. Noon mess was a meager affair as most 
of the food was for the evening "burst." The cars 
which Freddie and I had brought up from Paris had 
been stocked with good things and when we sat down 
down that night it was to turkey with cranberry sauce 
and, thanks to the thoughtful kindness of an Ameri- 
can woman, there was even mince pie. 



12 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



It was at this dinner that I met for the first time 
our Commanding Officer, the C. O., or as he was 
generally known "the Lieut." A well-assembled, 
handsome man who spoke English perfectly, having 
lived for some years in the States, he had a merry 
eye and a reckless nerve which gave his men confi- 
dence, for they always knew that, however exposed 
a poste might be, the "Lieut." would be there. He 
was a man to whom danger was a tonic, an ideal 
leader for a volunteer unit such as ours. Afterwards 
in the tense days the Squad experienced at Verdun 
it was his smilingly imperturbable front which helped 
us through. On the side of the Boers, he had fought 
through the South African War, purely from love of 
adventure, and had the distinction of having had a 
thousand pound reward offered for him by the British. 
In one of the few speeches I ever heard him make, 
Lieutenant de Kersauson that night outlined our 
probable future program. The section which had 
been on active service in the field for nearly a year, 
had been sent back of the line to Beauvais, where 
there was a motor pare, for the general overhauling 
and repair of the cars. He hoped, the Lieutenant 
stated, that we should be in Beauvais no longer than 
a fortnight by which time the cars should be in shape 
and he promised us that then we should "see action." 

The day following Christmas we received word 
that Dick Hall of Section III had been killed by shell 
fire on Christmas eve, news which had a sobering in- 



13 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



fluence upon us all and brought a more intimate reali- 
zation of the conditions we should face. 

Now commenced the work for which the Section 
has been sent to Beauvais. Twelve of the cars were 
driven to the army automobile pare, there to undergo 
renovation ; the remaining eight were placed in a 
walled yard near quarters, where was established our 
atelier. These eight cars were to be repaired by our- 
selves and we at once got to work on them. It was 
here I first made the acquaintance of "Old Number 
Nine," the car assigned to me and which I was des- 
tined to command for the next five months. She was 
the gift of Mr. Cleveland H. Dodge of New York 
City, and had already seen eight months service at 
the front. Caked all over with an inch thick coat 
of mud, with battered hood and dilapidated lockers 
and guards, certainly she was not a "thing of 
beauty" and, after listening to the gasp and grunts 
which issued from her protesting motor, I had serious 
doubt as to her ever being a "joy forever." There 
was about "Old Number Nine," however, an air of 
rakish abandon and dogged nonchalance that gave 
promise of latent powers, a promise she well fulfilled 
in the months to come. 

It is difficult for one who had not led the life to 
appreciate just what his car means to the ambidan- 
cier. For periods of weeks, mayhap, it is his only 
home. He drives it through rain, hail, mud and dust, 
at high noon on sunshiny days, and through nights so 



14 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



dark that the radiator cap before him is invisible. Its 
interior serves him as a bedroom. Its engine furnishes 
him with hot shaving water, its guards act as a dresser. 
He works over, under and upon it. He paints it and 
oils it and knows its every bolt and nut, its every 
whim and fancy. When shrapnel and shell eclat fall, 
he dives under it for protection. Not only his own 
life, but the lives of the helpless wounded entrusted to 
his care depend on its smooth and efficient function- 
ing. Small wonder then that his car is his pride. You 
may reflect on an ambulancier's mechanical knowledge, 
his appearance, morals, religion, or politics, but if 
you be wise, reflect not on his car. To him, regard- 
less of its vintage or imperfections, it is not only a 
good car, it is the best car. No millionaire in his 
$10,000 limousine feels half the complacent pride of 
the ambulance driver when, perhaps after days of 
travel, he has at last succeeded in inducing it to "hit 
on four" and with its wobbly wheel clutched in sympa- 
thetic hands he proudly steers its erratic course. 

I had "Old Number Nine's" engine down, ground 
her valves, decarbonized her motor, put in new bush- 
ings, replaced a spring leaf, and inspected and tight- 
ened every bolt and nut. Lastly I scraped, painted, 
and re-lettered her. A carpenter fitted new lockers 
and she was also supplied with a new canvas wind- 
shield. 

Permission had been granted us to secure indi- 
vidual quarters within the village limits of Maracel. 



15 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Freddie and I interviewed a garrulous old dame and 
after considerable negotiation and expenditure of 
countless "Mon Dieux" and "alors" succeeded in rent- 
ing from her a one-room stone cottage down the road 
from the mess. That cottage was undoubtedly the 
coldest, clammiest place which ever served as head- 
quarters for pneumonia and rheumatism. It had a 
stone floor and possessed "a breath," which 
want of ventilation rendered permanent. We con- 
ceived that having originally been designed for a tomb 
it had been found too damp and relegated to other 
uses. After three days we gave it up, preferring a 
less horrible death, and sought other "digs." George, 
with whom I had crossed and who had been delayed 
in Paris, had now joined the Squad and the three 
of us combined to rent a palatial suite of one room 
farther up the street. This room was on the second 
floor and hence dryer. Also it possessed what the 
landlady fondly regarded as a stove. At all events it 
looked as much like a stove as it did anything else. 
By dint of much stoking and blowing, this instrument 
at times could be induced to assume an almost fever- 
ish state and exude a small degree of warmth. Our 
new quarters possessed a table and three chairs so 
that altogether we were "bien installs." There was 
one drawback, however, and that was the children. 
We were prepared to concede that a reasonable number 
of children — say thirty or forty — were alright about a 
house, but when they oozed out of every corner, popped 



16 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



from beneath beds, dropped over the transom, emerged 
from clothes-closets, got themselves fallen over and 
tramped upon, and appeared in all shapes, conditions 
and sizes, in every conceivable and inconceivable place, 
they got upon our nerves. We used to wonder, if by 
any chance, we had engaged quarters in an orphan 
asylum. 

In the afternoon, we used to stroll into Beauvais. 
We found it a quaint old place of about thirty thou- 
sand inhabitants. Like so many of the French pro- 
vincial towns it was built around a central place. It 
had a number of very interesting wooden houses, 
curiously carved and dating back to the Tenth Cen- 
tury. Its most prominent structure is its incompleted 
cathedral, a building of some architectural pretensions, 
but owing its chief interest to the fact that it contains 
the world's most wonderful clock. Standing forty or 
more feet in height, this clock has the proportions 
of a small house. Countless dials give the time of 
the world's principal cities, record the astronomical 
and weather conditions, and on the hour various horns 
are blown, figures move, a cock crows and the Angel 
of the Lord appears and with extended arms drives 
Satan into the flames of hell. If the sea at Havre is 
rough, a small boat is violently agitated on undulating 
waves. If the sea is calm the boat remains motion- 
less. The seconds, the minutes, the hours, the days, 
the years and the centuries are shown and the mach- 
inery which operates all this needs winding but once 



17 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



in three hundred years — surely an ideal occupation 
for a lazy man. 

If for no other reason, we shall always remember 
Beauvais for its patisseries. Scattered all over the 
town they are, showing in their windows row on row 
of delicious, tempting gateaux. Cakes with cream 
filling, cakes with chocolate icing, cakes square, oblong 
and round, cakes diamond shape, tarts of cherry, apple 
and custard, eclairs, both long and round, chocolate 
and coffee. And how we used to "stuff" them. In 
the months to follow, and many times in the long 
Balkan winter, how often did we think of and long 
for those pastries. Also there was a little restaurant 
which will long flourish in our memory. It was not 
a pretentious place, not even on the place, but down 
a side street half-hidden by a projecting building. 
There, when we were tired of army food, we were 
wont to foregather, and there, served by a little 
waitress who was in a perpetual state of giggles, evi- 
dently considering us the funniest things in the world, 
we used to consume the flakiest of omlettes aux rog- 
nons, crisp pommes de terre f rites, tender salades, 
delicious fricandeau de veau and frontages and other 
delicacies the mere thinking of which makes my mouth 
water. 

Saturday was market day and the usually somno- 
lent place would then waken into life. Booths sprang 
up and the country people flocking in from round 
about would offer their produce. Rows of stolid 



18 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



looking cheeses were lined up like so many corpses 
awaiting identification. Cabbages, cauliflowers and 
apples were everywhere piled in heaps. The hot 
chestnut vendor called his wares and the ubiquitous 
faker harangued his credulous audience. The hum 
of voices in barter filled the air. And everywhere 
was the soldier, either back of the line en repos, or 
passing through from one sector of the front to 
another. Clad in his uniform of horizon-blue, topped 
with his steel casque, he strolled about singly or in 
groups and here it was I first mixed with the poilu 
and found him that rough, cheery philosopher whose 
kindly bonhomie makes him the most lovable of com- 
rades. At Beauvais too I saw my first "soisante- 
quinze" that most famous of all field guns and within 
range of whose spiteful voice I was destined to spend 
many days. 

Meanwhile the old year slipped out and the mellow 
tones of the church clock announced the coming of 
1916. Surely this year would bring victory. 

On the eleventh of January, "Old Number Nine," 
having undergone several major and many minor oper- 
ations, was re-assembled. I cranked her up — and she 
ran. What's more she ran smoothly. From that day 
she was my pride. 

Though life in Maracel was pleasant enough, the 
Squad was becoming restive and the Commander was 
continually besought for information as to when we 
were going to the front. To which query he always 



19 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



made evasive response, since he himself was no better 
informed than we. By the middle of the month the 
cars were back from the pare and everything was in 
readiness. Still no word came. And then at last one 
morning we received our orders. I remember I was 
employed in putting some delicate touches on "Old 
Number Nine" when the word came. We were to be 
in convoy at two o'clock that afternoon. It was then 
eleven. The cars were to be loaded with the section 
impedimenta. Our personal kits were to be packed 
and stowed ; oil, gas and water were to be put aboard 
and dozens of other details attended to. "Ah, then 
there was a hurrying to and fro in hot haste." But 
it was accomplished and as the church clock boomed 
the hour we were lined up in convoy waiting the 
starting whistle — and we knew not what. 



20 



CHAPTER III 



OFF TO THE FRONT 

IT was night when we crossed a wooden bridge span- 
ning the Oise, and halted the convoy in the muddy 
streets of a small town, Pont Ste. Maxence. We 
were tired, cold and hungry and time hung heavily 
while we waited in the common room of a small hostel 
for the patron and his staff to prepare a meal. This 
over, the convoy recrossed the river and parked in 
an open space beside the road. Then, with our 
blanket rolls on our shoulders, we made our way up 
the road to a barn where we were glad enough to 
kick off our boots and puttees and turn in on the hay. 
We slept well, though I remember once in the night 
as I sought a more comfortable position, I heard a 
rumble and wondered vaguely whether rain would 
follow the thunder and if the roof would leak. But 
in the morning when we turned out to perform our 
simple toilet at the barnyard pump, "the thunder" still 
continued and then it was I realized its meaning; it 
was the voices of the guns we heard. 

That day we worked rather steadily on our cars, 
installing tire racks and making some adjustments 



21 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



which our hurried departure from Beauvais had inter- 
rupted. As we worked, troops and transport convoys 
were continually passing along the road, and the 
clanking of arms and the rumbling of artillery wheels 
made us feel we were nearing the front. 

In the afternoon we sauntered into the town. In the 
wrecked bridge which had here spanned the Oise I saw 
my first evidence of war's destruction. Built in 1744, 
after nearly a century and a half of service, it had 
been blown up by the retreating French to delay the 
German advance in the early days of the war. Now 
its once graceful arches were but shattered masses 
of stone. Pont Ste. Maxence proved to be anything 
but prepossessing. Indeed I can recall few towns 
less attractive. With its narrow, dirty streets, its 
ugly houses and poor shops, all made dolorous by a 
falling rain, it offered little of cheer. However, 
Freddie, George and I found a cozy little inn whose 
warm, snug, buvette looked out over the river, and 
here we made a famous dinner. 

Since our cars were parked in an exposed place 
it was considered necessary to stand watch over them 
and that night I had my first experience of guard 
duty, my watch being from one to three in the morn- 
ing. Though the rain was falling gently, a full moon, 
swept fitfully by clouds, made the night one of silvery 
beauty. Now and again, from far away, came the 
rumble of the guns ; before long I knew I should be 
out there from whence came that rumble and I speoi- 



22 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



lated on just what my sensations would be and won- 
dered whether my nerve would hold when confronted 
with the conditions I had come to seek. 

We had hoped to linger not more than a day at 
Pont Ste. Maxence, but it was not until late after- 
noon of the third day that orders came in directing 
the Section to move on the following morning. And 
so when we turned in that night it was with a feeling 
of eagerness, for tomorrow would see us en route 
for the front. 

The first light had hardly grayed our loft before 
the blare of bugles and the "slog, slog" of hobbed 
shoes told us of the passing of a column. Petit 
dejeuner over, our blankets rolled and stowed, we 
drew our cars up by the side of the road to await 
the passing of that column. Eighteen months in the 
army have shown me no finer spectacle than we saw 
that morning. For here passing before us were the 
Tirailleurs d' Afrique, men recruited from the Tell 
and Morocco, the most picturesque soldiery in the 
world. Rank after rank they passed with a swinging 
steady cadence, platoon after platoon, company after 
company, regiment after regiment. Twelve thousand 
strong they marched. At the head of each company, 
flung to the breeze, was the yellow flag, bearing the 
hand and crescent of the Prophet, for these men are 
Mohammedans. At the head of each regiment 
marched a band, half a hundred strong, bands which 
surely played the most weird strains that ever stirred 



23 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



men's souls or quickened laggard feet. Bugles, drums 
and the plaintive hautboy, blared, thumped and wailed 
in tingling rhythm. Complete in every detail they 
passed, with all the apparatus belli, machine gun 
platoons, goulash batteries, pack trains, munition 
transports, every button and buckle in place, every 
rope taut, an ensemble of picturesque fighting effi- 
ciency. And the faces! — the dark, swarthy faces of 
the Arab, the Moor and the Moroccan, faces seamed 
with the lines implanted by the African sun and the 
gazing over desert wastes. There was no type. Each 
man was individual. But one thing they had in com- 
mon. In all the world there is but one lure that could 
unite and hold such men — for they are all volunteers 
— that lure, the primal love of strife. That love was 
stamped upon their very souls, showed itself in their 
carriage, their stride, and in their hawk-like gaze. 
We looked, and felt that verily these were men. And 
they had fought, fought in the lands of strange names. 
On many a tunic flashed forth the medals of hard 
fought campaigns, the Etoile d' Afrique, the Medaille 
Militaire, the Croix de Guerre, the Moroccan, the 
Indo-China Medal ; all were there, and sometimes one 
single tunic bore them all. 

In all that long column, one man there was we shall 
not forget. A captain, he strode at the head of his 
company. At least six feet four he must have been. 
Clad in the earthy brown of the African troops, his har- 
ness and trappings were of finest pigskin. Around his 



24 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



middle was wound a flaming crimson sash. From be- 
neath his kepi worn at a jaunty angle, peeped out 
a mane of tawny yellow hair, conspicuous against his 
sun-tanned skin. He fairly scintillated like a burn- 
ished blade held aloft by a brave hand. And when, 
in answer to our salute, he stiffened into "regulation" 
like a page out of the tactics manual, we felt it would 
be a privilege to follow such a man in hopeless charge 

It was ten-thirty when the last transport had passed. 
The last gun clinked by. The column had been four 
and one-half hours in passing. 

Now, with the bridge at last free, we crossed and, 
after skirting the river some distance, entered a forest. 
Emerging from this we came to another river, the 
Aisne — and nosed our way over a pontoon bridge. On 
the farther side we pushed up a rise and, turning 
sharply to our left, found ourselves in what had been 
a street, now but a way through a scattered waste 
of wrecked buildings, once the village of Choisy au 
Bac. The ruins had a singularly hoary look, as if it 
had been ages since this desolation had descended. 
Here and there stood the walls of a house, its windows 
blown away, sightless to the ruins about. Through the 
despairing streets we steered our course, and passing 
between two imposing stone pillars, entered the court 
yard of a once beautiful chateau. Of the structure 
there now remains but one room. It might have been 
the breakfast room — save that in France there is no 
breakfast — large, well-lighted and furnished with 



25 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



dainty bird's-eye chairs and a spindle-legged table 
which, in the midst of all this ruin seemed strangely 
incongruous. The remainder of the mansion was a 
fire-blackened ruin, destroyed, like the town, by the 
Germans when they had retreated. 

Choisy was much nearer the line than we had yet 
been — I think not above five or six kilometers away 
— and from the courtyard we could hear occasion- 
ally the "putt, putt, putt," of a machine-gun, while 
just outside the wall ran a reserve trench. 

While we were eating luncheon, an al fresco affair 
served on ambulance seats, stretched between mud- 
guards, the C. O. had been searching for a canton- 
ment. About three, he returned and with considerable 
complacency informed us that he had succeeded in 
having a beautiful chateau assigned us. Chateau life 
held strong appeal, so the Lieut, was lustily applauded 
and a few minutes later, the order having been given, 
the machines strung out along the road. Less than an 
hour later we "raised" our quarters, and a magnificent 
looking place it was. A modern structure of perhaps 
fifty rooms, the chateau stood in the midst of its own 
beautiful park at the foot of which passed the tran- 
quil Aisne. In general appearance and in surround- 
ings, the place resembled a modern country club. As 
we parked our cars in the open space facing the mag- 
nificent entrance we felt that at last our paths were 
to be cast in pleasant places. 

But our disillusionment, which shortly commenced, 



26 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



was before we left, complete. To begin with, we 
found that with the exception of two small rooms in 
the basement — one of which was employed as a 
kitchen, the other for a mess — and four other equally 
small rooms — servants quarters, located at the very 
top of the house — the building was shut and locked. 
To reach our sleeping quarters under the roof we 
were obliged to climb seven flights of stairs and after 
tumping a blanket roll and a ruck-sack up these, both 
our breath and enthusiasm had suffered abatement. 
The mess-room was dark and so small we could not 
all be seated at the same table. Another pleasing fea- 
ture was that the water was a half a mile distant. All 
things considered, we preferred our barn at Pont Ste. 
Maxence to this, and were not backward in telling 
the Commander so. It was evident that this was not 
"Moscow." 

We remained at the Chateau for three days, during 
which we were much bored since the park was made 
our bounds, and there was nothing to do ; and then 
early in the afternoon of the twenty-seventh of Janu- 
ary we once more climbed into our machines, knowing 
this time that when we shut off our motors it would 
be within range of the guns. Over roads cluttered 
with convoy and munition transport, we headed south- 
eastward in the direction of Soissons. Through vil- 
lages worn weary with the passing and repassing of 
countless troops, we went where the houses bore the 
chalked legends "20 Hommes" or "10 Cheveaux" or 



27 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



a 



u 2 Off icier s," according to the nature of the quarters 
within. The sound of the guns was all this time 
growing louder and more distinct. Toward four in 
the afternoon we emerged on a long straight road — 
the main Compiegne-Soissons route — and reaching a- 
forlorn little village, shut off our motors. This was 
our station. We were at the front. 



28 



CHAPTER IV 



IN ACTION — THE AISNE 



AS you come along the Compiegne-Soissons road, 
proceeding in the direction of Soissons, about 
midway between the two cities you sight a small 
cluster of gray stone buildings. It is the village of 
Julzy. Here it was we had cast anchor. Before 
reaching the village you will have noticed a dark 
round spot in the walls. As you approach, this re- 
solves itself into an arch. Passing through you will 
find yourself in a muddy stable yard. I say "muddy" 
advisedly for I firmly believe that whatever the season 
or whatever the weather conditions are, or may have 
been, you will find that courtyard muddy. Whether 
the mud is fed from perennial springs or gathers its 
moisture from the ambient atmosphere, I do not know. 
The fact remains, that courtyard was, is and always 
will be, muddy. Facing the arch on the farther side 
of the yard, stands a single-storied building of one 
room. Its inside dimensions are, perhaps, fifty by 
twenty-five feet. Access is had by a single door and 
three windows admit a dim light. We found it simply 
furnished with a wire-bottomed trough, raised about 



29 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



three and a half feet above the floor and extending 
about double that from the walls on three sides of 
the room. This left free floor space enough to ac- 
commodate a table of planks stretched across essence 
boxes, flanked on either side by two benches belonging 
to the same school of design. Such was our canton- 
ment. In the trough twenty of us slept, side by side. 
At the table we messed, wrote, mended tires, played 
chess or lanced boils. Two of the windows lacked 
glass, so there was plenty of cold air; a condition 
which a small stove did its inefficient best to combat. 
The galley was established in a tiny hut on the left 
of the yard and from here the food was transported 
to the mess by the two unfortunates who happened 
to be on "chow" duty. Since the courtyard was 
not sufficiently large to accommodate all the cars, half 
were placed in another yard about two hundred meters 
down the road, where also was established the atelier. 
At night a sentry was posted on the road between 
these two points and "le mot" was a condition prece- 
dent to passing, a circumstance which sometimes gave 
rise to embarrassment when the password was for- 
gotten. 

The village of Julzy is made up of some two score 
forbidding-looking houses. It is situated on the south 
bank of the Aisne and is bisected by the road from 
Compiegne to Soissons. At this time, February 1916, 
it was, as the shell travels, about four kilometers from 
the line. Though thus within easy reach of the 



30 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



enemy's field artillery, it showed no signs of having 
been bombarded and during our entire stay only five 
or six shells were thrown in. This immunity was 
probably due to the insignificant size of the place and 
the fact that no troops were ever quartered there. 
Back of the village proper, on the top of a steep 
hill, was Haut Julzy, or Upper Julzy. Here a large 
percentage of the houses was partially demolished — 
from shell fire, one of the few remaining inhabitants 
informed me. Half way up the hill, between upper 
and lower Julzy, stands an ancient stone church. A 
line of reserve trenches, crossing the hill, traverses 
the churchyard. Here are buried a number of soldiers, 
"mort pour la patrie." Above one grave is a wooden 
cross upon which appears the inscription: "To an 
unknown English soldier; he died for his father's 
land." And this grave is even better kept and pro- 
vided with flowers than the others. 

The region round about Julzy is surely among the 
most beautiful in all France. Hills, plateaus and 
wooded valleys, through which flow small, clear 
streams, all combine to lend it natural charm, a charm 
of which even winter cannot rob it. Numerous vil- 
lages are everywhere scattered about, and while those 
near the front had a war-worn aspect, in proportion 
to their distance from the line their freshness and 
attractiveness increased. Rail-head for this sector was 
Pierre fonds, a pleasant town overshadowed by the 
fairy-like castle from which it takes it name. It was 



3i 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



at Pierrefonds we obtained our supply of essence — 
gasoline. Off to the southwest, in a magnificent forest 
bearing the same name, is the quaint little city of 
Villers-Cotterets— by the Squad rechristened Veal 
Cutlets. It was here Dumas was born and lived. 
The city owed its chief interest to us, however, from 
the fact that here was located one of the field hospitals 
to which we transported wounded. Some twenty kilo- 
meters to the west of Julzy is the old city of Com- 
piegne, reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson, and 
here too were located evacuation hospitals. Its curi- 
ous town hall, its venerable houses, and dark, myste- 
rious shops are interesting, but our most lasting 
memories of the city will be of its silent, wind-swept 
streets through which we carried our wounded on 
those dark, icy nights. 

The day began at six-thirty A.M. when the detested 
alarm clock went into action, supplemented by shouts 
of "everybody out" and sleepy groans of protest. A 
quick shift from flea-bag to knickers and tunic, and a 
promissory toilet was accomplished by seven, by 
which time, also, the two orderlies for the day had 
set the table with coffee, bread and jam. This dis- 
posed of, the cars were cranked, and a bone-wrenching 
job this usually was, the motors being so stiff from 
the cold it was next to impossible to "turn them 
over." There was a squad rule for "lights out" at 
9 130 P.M. but as there were always some individuals 
who wished to write or play chess or read after tnis 



32 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



hour, excellent target practice was nightly furnished 
to those who had retired in the trough and who 
objected to the continued illumination. Thus I have 
seen a well-directed boot wipe out an intricate chess 
match as completely as did the German guns the forts 
of Liege. The "gunner" in these fusillades always 
endeavored to see that the ammunition employed — 
usually boots — was the property of someone else and 
the joy which a "direct hit" engendered was apt to 
suffer abatement on discovery that they were your 
boots which had been employed. 

The schedule under which the Squad operated while 
on the Aisne was a varied one and yet so systematized 
that a driver could tell a fortnight in advance, by the 
list of sailings posted on the order board, where he 
should be and what his duties at any given day or 
hour. There were three regular route runs, to each 
of which were assigned two cars a day. These were 
known as "evacuation runs" from the fact that the 
blesses — wounded — were picked up at regularly estab- 
lished field dressing stations, from two and a half 
to fifteen kilometers back of the line, and transported 
to an "evacuation hospital," either at Villers Cotterets, 
Compiegne, or Pierrefonds. The longer of these 
routes was made twice each day, a run of about forty 
kilometers. 

About two kilometers to the east of Julzy, on the 
north side of the river, is the village of Vic-sur-Aisne, 
at this time not much above a kilometer back of the 



33 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



line. Here was established our picket post and here 
we maintained always three cars, serving in twenty- 
four hour shifts. From this station we served nine 
frontal postes de secours, or line dressing stations, 
some of which were within five hundred meters of 
the German line. Such were the postes of Hautebraye 
and Vingre. The crossing of the Aisne to Reach Vic 
is made by a single-spanned iron bridge over which 
passed all the transport for this portion of the line. 
Because of the importance thus given it, the bridge 
was a continual object of the enemy's fire, it being 
within easy range. The village itself, considering the 
fact that it was within sight of the Germans and 
had been under more or less continuous fire for 
months, was not as complete a wreck as might be 
imagined. This was due to the fact that the buildings 
were of stone and the shelling was usually done with 
small calibre guns. To obstruct the enemy's view 
and prevent his spotting passing traffic the roads lead- 
ing from the village were screened with brush and 
poles. These served their purpose in winter when 
the roads were muddy, but when the roads dried, the 
rising dust betrayed the passing of the transport and 
then the enemy was able to shell with a greater de- 
gree of accuracy. Our station at Vic was located in 
the carriage house of a chateau which stood on an 
eminence overlooking the river, about a quarter of a 
mile to the east of the village. When on duty there, 
we messed with some sous-officiers in the cellar of the 



34 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



chateau, the place being fairly safe from shell eclat 
though not from a direct hit. 

Besides the three route runs described and the 
Vic service, the Squad was subject to special calls 
at any time of the day or night from any part of our 
sector or the surrounding country. This service was 
known as "bureau duty," from the fact that the cars 
assigned to it were stationed at our office or "bureau," 
which was in telephonic communication with the line 
and region about. Twice a week one of the cars on 
bureau service was dispatched to Compiegne on 
"chow" foraging, an assignment much coveted since 
it meant a chance for a hot bath and a good feed. 

Under this schedule a driver had one day in every 
seven for repos. This was more in theory than actu- 
ality, however, as the seventh day usually found 
work needed on his car. 

We had reached Julzy on the 27th of January. On 
the first day of February we took over the sector 
from the retiring French ambulance section and that 
day went into action. Heretofore we had watched 
the passing panorama of war; now we were of it. 
My first voyage was an evacuation route and hence 
wholly back of the line. I went in company with 
another car and as there were only four as sis — sitting 
cases — which the other car took, I had no passengers. 
Coming back from Courves, the road leads across 
a plateau which overlooks the Aisne valley, and the 
country behind the German lines was plainly visible. 



35 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



It was from this plateau road that for the first time 
I saw shells bursting. The French batteries in the 
valley below were in action and over there in Boche- 
land white puffs of smoke showed where the shells 
were breaking. 

Though I had several times been very close to the 
line, it was not until February was nine days old that 
I received my baptism of fire. On that day I was 
on twenty-four hour duty at Vic and my journal 
written just after I came off duty, will, perhaps give 
an idea of a typical shift at this station. 

"Julzy, February 10th. Relieved the other cars at 
Vic promptly at eight o'clock yesterday morning. The 
French batteries were already in action but there was 
no response from the enemy till about ten, when a 
number of shells whistled by overhead, dropping into 
the village of Roche, about a half mile down the road. 
Towards noon the range was shortened and as we 
went to mess in the dug-out an obus struck the wall 
back of the chateau, a hundred yards away. After 
lunch I went out with a soldier to look for the fusse, 
as the bronze shell head is called. To my surprise, 
the man suddenly dropped flat on his face. Then I 
heard an awful screech, followed by a crash, as 
though a pile of lumber were falling, and a cloud 
of dust rose in a field, perhaps 90 meters away. 
Almost immediately two more crashed in. I am un- 
able to analyze or describe my sensations and I ques- 
tion whether a trained psychologist would be much 



36 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



better off. There is something "disturbing" about 
shell fire which is not conducive to abstract or ana- 
lytical thought. I do not believe I was especially 
frightened; my feelings were more of curiosity. I 
knew this shelling would soon mean work for us, so 
I got back to my car and saw that everything was 
ready for marching. Meanwhile a shell had dropped 
just back of the chateau, getting one of the stretcher- 
bearers. Joe carried him to the dressing station at 
Roche where he died a little later. My first call came 
at two o'clock, from Roche. Here I got three men, 
just wounded by shell eclat, evacuating them to the 
field hospital at Atichy. Got back to Vic about four. 
Found the village still under fire, both our own and 
the enemy's fire having, if anything, increased. Both 
of the other cars were out, which meant I was due 
for the next call. Got into my sleeping bag to try 
to get warm but was hardly settled before a lieutenant, 
medecin, came in announcing a call for Vingre. In 
five minutes we were on our way. After leaving Vic 
the road was a sea of mud. An enemy observation 
balloon had the way in full view, so the word was 
vite. 

"Through deserted shell-shattered villages we 
ploughed, the mud spraying us from tires to top and 
filling our eyes over the wind-break. It was nearing 
dusk as we reached the poste, a dug-out in the side 
of a hill. Just above us, on the crest was the line 
and we could hear distinctly the popping of hand 



37 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



grenades between the battery salvos. Our men, one 
shot through the leg, the other hit in the chest, were 
brought in from a boyau and we started back, this time 
going more slowly. It was a desolate scene through 
which we passed, made more desolate by the fading 
light of a gray day. The miry, deserted road, the 
stricken villages, the overgrown fields — it seemed the 
very stamping ground of death and the voice of that 
death passed over head in whining shrieks. There 
was little of life to dispute its reign. Now and then, 
at the nozzle of a dug-out, there appeared a soldier's 
head, but that was all and, for the rest, there might 
not have been a soul within a thousand miles. 

"One of my blesses required an immediate opera- 
tion, so I passed on through Vic and headed for 
Compiegne, reaching there about 7 o'clock and evacu- 
ating to St. Luke's Hospital. At once started back to 
my station. Found the cook had saved me some 
dinner and after stowing this crawled into my flea- 
bag. The blankets were barely around me when a 
brancardier came in with a call for the poste at Haute- 
braye. The moon gave a little light but not enough 
to drive fast with safety, so we drove fast and let 
safety look out for itself, our motto being not "safety 
first" but "save first." We found our man ready, 
shot through the body, raving with delirium, his hands 
bound together to prevent him tearing his wound. 
Though a part of our way was exposed to the enemy's 
machine gun fire, the road was too pitted with shell 



33 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



holes to permit of fast driving with so badly wounded 
a man and so we crept back to Vic. The order was 
again to Compiegne. It was close to midnight when, 
numbed with cold, we rolled through the silent streets 
of the town. On my return trip I twice found myself 
nodding over the wheel. Nevertheless, we made the 
thirty-two kilometers in less than an hour. Found 
Vic quiet, the shelling having ceased and save for an 
occasional trench flare, little to indicate it was the 
front. At one o'clock I turned in on the stone floor, 
this time to rest undisturbed till morning. 

"Roused out at 6:30 to greet a gray winter day 
and falling snow. The batteries on both sides were 
already in action and the "put-put-put" of machine 
guns came to us through the crisp air. The relief 
cars rolled in at eight and we at once cranked up and 
set out for quarters. As we crossed the Aisne, the 
Germans were shelling the bridge, with 150's, I think. 
They had the exact range, as regards distance, but the 
shells were falling about a hundred yards to one side, 
throwing up great geysers of water as they struck 
the river. On reaching the other side I stopped and 
watched them come in. They came four to the minute. 
Reached quarters here, Julzy, at 8 130, — completing the 
twenty-four hour shift." 

So it was I had my baptism of fire. Perhaps I was 
not frightened by those first shells ; curiosity may have 
supplanted other sensations but as time went on, and 
I saw the awful, destructive power of shell fire, when 



39 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



I had seen buildings leveled and men torn to bloody 
shreds, the realization of their terribleness became 
mine and with it came a terror of that horrible soul- 
melting shriek. And now after a year and a half of 
war, during which I have been scores of times under 
fire and have lived for weeks at a time in a daily 
bombarded city, I am no more reconciled to shell fire 
than at first. If anything, the sensation is worse and 
personally I do not believe there is such a thing as 
becoming "used" to it. 

It was early in February that I got my first ex- 
perience at night driving without lights. To you gen- 
tlemen who have shot rapids, great game and billiards, 
who have crossed the Painted Desert and the "line," 
who have punched cows in Arizona and heads in Mile 
End Road, who have killed moose in New Brunswick 
and time in Monte Carlo, who have treked and skied 
and tumped, to you who have tried these and still crave 
a sensation, let me recommend night driving without 
lights over unfamiliar shell-pitted roads, cluttered with 
traffic, within easy range of the enemy, challenged 
every now and then by a sentry who has a loaded gun 
and no compunction in using it. Your car, which in 
daylight never seems very powerful has now become 
a very Juggernaut of force. At the slightest increase 
of gas it fairly jumps off the road. Throttle down 
as you may, the speed seems terrific. You find your- 
self with your head thrust over the wheel, your eyes 
staring ahead with an intensity which makes them 



4Q 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



ache — staring ahead into nothing. Now and then the 
blackness seems, if possible, to become more dense 
and you throw out your clutch and on your brake 
and come to a dead stop, climbing out to find your 
radiator touching an overturned caisson. Or may- 
hap a timely gunflash or the flare of a trench light 
will show that you are headed off the road and straight 
for a tree. A little farther on, the way leads up a 
hill — the pulling of the engine is the only thing that 
tells you this — and then, just as you top the rise, a 
star-bomb lights the scene with a dense white glare 
and the brancardier by your side rasps our "Vite, pour 
V amour de Dieu, vite; Us peuvent nous voir," and you 
drop down the other side of that hill like the fall of a 
gun hammer. Then in a narrow mud-gutted lane in 
front of a dug-out you back and fill and finally turn, 
your bloody load is eased in and you creep back the 
way you have come, save that now every bump and 
jolt seems to tear your flesh as you think of those poor, 
stricken chaps in behind. Yes, there is something of 
tenseness in lightless night driving under such con- 
ditions. Try it, gentlemen. 

On the afternoon and night of February 12th, there 
was an attack on the line near Vingre, preceded by 
drum fire. As such things go, it was but a small affair. 
It would perhaps have a line in the communique as, 
"North of the Aisne the enemy attempted a coup upon 
a salient of our line, but we repulsed him with loss." 
That and nothing more. But to those, who were 



41 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



there it was very real. The big guns spat their ex- 
change of hate ; rifle fire crackled along the line ; the 
machine guns sewed the air with wicked staccato 
sounds and men with set jaws and bayonets charged 
to death through barbed entanglements. As night 
closed down the flare-bombs spread their fitful glare 
on mutilated things which that morning had been 
living men. Now set in the bloody back-wash of 
wounded. With the coming of the night, the enemy 
lengthened the range of his artillery, so as to harass 
the transport, and the zone back of the line was 
seared with shells. The field dressing station at 
Roche, near Vic, suffered greatly and it soon became 
apparent that its evacuation was necessary. 

I had already been on duty fourteen hours when the 
call reached quarters for the entire Squad. My journal 
for the 13th reads: "I'm too tired for much writing 
as I've had but two hours sleep in the last forty, dur- 
ing which I have driven close to three hundred kilo- 
meters, been three times under fire, and had but two 
hot meals. The entire Squad was turned to just after 
I got into the blankets last night. Roche was being 
bombarded and it was necessary to take out all the 
wounded. There were a number of new shell holes 
in the road and this made interesting driving. It was 
one-thirty when I reached Compiegne, three when I 
had completed my evacuation, and four-fifteen this 
morning when I reached quarters. Up at six-thirty 
and working on my 'bus. This afternoon made route 



42 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



3. Tonight I am bien fatigue. Firing light today, 
possibly because of sleet and rain. The attack was 
evidently repulsed." 

The Squad did good work that night. Afterwards 
we were commended by the Colonel in command. It 
was in this attack that "Bill" won his Croix de Guerre 
when "a un endroit particulieremcnt expose, au 
moment on les obus tombaient avec violence, a arrete 
sa voiture pour prendre des blesses qn'il a aide avec 
courage et sang-froid." A week later he was dec- 
orated, our muddy little courtyard being the setting for 
the ceremony. 

In celebration of his decoration, Bill determined 
to give a "burst." There would seem to be few places 
less adapted to the serving of a banquet or less ca- 
pable of offering material than poor little war-torn 
Julzy. Nevertheless, at six o'clock on the evening of 
February 27th the Squad sat down to a repast that 
would have done credit to any hotel. Bill had enlisted 
the services of a Paris caterer and not only was the 
food itself perfection but it was served in a style 
that, after our accustomed tin cup, tin plate service, 
positively embarrassed us. Our dingy quarters were 
decorated and made light by carbide lights; a snowy 
cloth covered our plank table ; stacks of china dishes — 
not tin — appeared at each place; there were chairs 
to sit upon. Even flowers were not forgotten and Bill, 
being a Yale man, had seen to it that beside the plates 
of the other Yale men in the Squad were placed 



43 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



bunches of violets. The artist of the Section designed 
a menu card but we were too busy crashing into the 
food to pay any attention to the menu. For a month 
past we had been living mostly on boiled beef and 
army bread and the way the Squad now eased into 
regular food was an eye-opener to dietitians. Hors 
d'oeuvres, fish, ham, roasts, vegetables, salads, sweets, 
wines and smokes disappeared like art in a Hun raid. 
Twenty men may have gotten through a greater quan- 
tity and variety of food in three hours and lived, but 
it is not on record. And through it all the guns snarled 
and roared unheeded and the flare bombs shed their 
fitful glare. Verily, in after years, when men shall 
foregather and the talk flows in Epicurean channels, if 
one there be present who was at Bill's "burst," surely 
his speech shall prevail. 

February, which had come in with mild weather, 
lost its temper as it advanced; the days became in- 
creasingly cold and snow fell. The nights were cruel 
for driving. One night I remember especially. I had 
responded to a call just back of the line where I got 
my blesse, a poor chap shot through the lung. It was 
snowing, the flakes driving down with a vicious force 
that stung the eyes and brought tears. In spite of 
the snow it was very black and to show a light, meant 
to draw fire. We crept along, for fear of running into 
a ditch or colliding with traffic. At kilometer 8 my 
engine began to miss. I got out and changed plugs, 
but this did not help much and we limped along. The 



44 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



opiate given the blesse had begun to wear off, and his 
groans sounded above the whistling of the wind. 
Once in the darkness I lost the road, going several 
kilometers out of my way before I realized the error. 
The engine was getting weaker every minute but by 
this time I was out of gun range and able to use a 
lantern. With the aid of the light, I was able to make 
some repairs, though my hands were so benumbed I 
could scarcely hold the tools. The car now marched 
better and I started ahead. Several times a "qui vivc" 
came out of the darkness, to which I ejaculated a 
startled "France." The snow-veiled clock in Villers- 
Cotterets showed the hour was half after midnight 
when we made our way up the choked streets. But 
"the load" had come through safely. 

Uncomfortable as these runs were — and every mem- 
ber of the Squad made them not once, but many 
times — they were what lent fascination to the work. 
They made us feel that it was worth while and, how- 
ever small the way, we were helping. 

It was about this time that the Service was mili- 
tarized and incorporated into the Automobile Corps 
of the French army. Thereafter, we were classed as 
"Militaires" and wore on our tunics the red winged 
symbol of the Automobile Corps. We were now 
subject to all the rules and regulations governing 
regularly enlisted men, with one exception — the dura- 
tion of our enlistments. We were permitted to enlist 
for six month periods with optional three months ex- 



45 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



tensions, and were not compelled to serve "for dura- 
tion." As incident to the militarization, we received 
five sous a day per man — the pay of the French poilu, 
and in addition were entitled to "touch" certain articles, 
such as shelter tents, sabots, tobacco, etc. We had 
already been furnished with steel helmets and gas 
masks. We were also granted the military franchise 
for our mail. 

While at Julzy, the personnel of the Squad changed 
considerably. The terms of several men having ex- 
pired, they left, their places being taken by new re- 
cruits. Thus "Hippo," "Bob," "Brooke," and 
"Magum" joined us. Nor must I forget to mention 
another important addition to our number — the puppy 
mascot "Vic." He was given to us by a Tirailleur, 
who being on the march could not take care of him, 
and one of the fellows brought him back to quarters 
in his pocket, a tiny soft, white ball who instantly 
wriggled himself into the Squad's affection. When we 
got him he could scarcely toddle and was never quite 
certain where his legs would carry him. Yet even 
then the button, which he fondly believed a tail, stuck 
belligerently upright, like a shattered mast from which 
had been shot the flag. For he, being a child of war, 
had fear of nothing, no, not gun fire itself, and as 
he grew older we took him with us on our runs and 
he was often under shell fire. He was always at 
home, in chateau or dugout, always sure of himself 
and could tell one of our khaki uniforms a mile away, 



46 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



picking us out of a mob of blue clad soldiers. Such 
was Vic, the Squad mascot. 

On the evening of March 3rd, orders came in to be 
prepared to move and the following afternoon, in a 
clinging, wet snow, we left Julzy and proceeded to the 
village of Courtieux, some three kilometers distant. 
The village is in the general direction of Vic-sur- 
Aisne, but back from the main road. For months 
successive bodies of troops had been quartered here and 
we found it a squalid, cheerless hole, fetlock deep in 
mud. Our billet was a small, windowless house, squat- 
ting in the mud and through which the wind swept 
the snow. There was also a shed, with bush sides 
and roof wherein our mess was established. 

Why we had been ordered from Julzy to this place 
but three kilometers away, it would be impossible to 
say. We were maintaining the same schedule and 
Courtieux was certainly not as convenient a place from 
which to operate. We cogitated much on the matter, 
but reached no conclusion. It was just one of the 
mysteries of war. The three days succeeding our 
arrival were uncomfortable ones. The weather con- 
tinued bad with low temperature. When we were off 
duty there was nowhere to go, save to bed and there 
were no beds. What Courtieux lacked in other things 
it made up in mud and our cars were constantly 
mired. As a relief from the monotony of the village, 
three of us, being off duty one afternoon, made a 
peregrination to the front line trenches, passing 



47 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



through miles of winding connecting boyonx until we 
lost all sense of direction. We really had no right 
to go up to the line but we met with no opposition, 
all the soldiers we met greeting us with friendly 
camaraderie and the officers responding to our salutes 
with a "bonjour." We found the front line disap- 
pointingly quiet. There was little or no small arm 
firing going on, though both sides were carrying on 
a desultory shelling. Through a sandbagged loophole 
we could see a low mud escarpment about 90 meters 
away — the enemy's line. It was not an exciting view, 
the chief interest being lent by the fact that in taking 
it you were likely to have your eye shot out. All 
things considered, the excursion was a rather tame 
affair, though we who had made it did our best to 
play it up to the rest of the Squad upon our return. 

We remained at Courtieux but three days and then, 
at nine o'clock on the morning of the fourth, assem- 
bled in convoy at Julzy. It was one of the coldest 
mornings of the winter ; the trees were masses of 
ice and the snow creaked beneath the tires, while our 
feet, hands and ears suffered severely. As usual, we 
had no idea of our destination. That our division 
had been temporarily withdrawn from the line and 
that we were to be attached to another division, was 
the extent of our information. By the time the con- 
voy had reached Compiegne we were all rather well 



48 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



numbed. When the C. O. halted in the town, he had 
failed to note a patisserie was in the vicinity and the 
motors had hardly been shut off before the Squad 
en masse stormed the place, consuming gateaux and 
stuffing more gateaux into its collective pockets. 
Meanwhile, outside, the "Lieut." blew his starting 
whistle in vain. 

Shortly before noon we made the city of Montdi- 
dier, where we lunched in the hotel and waited for 
the laggard cars to come up. About three we again 
got away, passing through a beautiful rolling country 
by way of Pierre fonds and as darkness was falling 
parked our cars in the town of Moreuil. It was too 
late to find a decent billet for the night. A dirty, rat- 
infested warehouse was all that offered and after 
looking this over, most of us decided, in spite of the 
cold, to sleep in our cars. Our mess was established 
in the back room, of the town's principal cafe and the 
fresh bread, which we obtained from a nearby bakery, 
made a welcome addition to army fare. Moreuil 
proved to be a dull little town, at that time some 
twenty-five kilometers back of the line. Aside from 
an aviation field there was little of interest. 

On the third day of our stay we were reviewed and 
inspected by the ranking officer of the sector. He did 
not appear very enthusiastic and expressed his doubt 
as to our ability to perform the work for which we 
were destined, an aspersion which greatly vexed us. 
Our vindication came two months later when, having 



49 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



tested us in action, he gave us unstinted praise and 
spoke of us in the highest terms. 

After the review, the C. O. announced that we had 
received orders to move and would leave the follow- 
ing day for a station on the Somme. He refused to 
confirm the rumor that our destination was "Moscow." 



SO 



CHAPTER V 



THE SOMME 

IT was ten-fifty on a snowy, murky morning — 
Friday, March ioth — that our convoy came to a 
stop in the village of Mericourt, destined to be our 
headquarters for some months to come. There was 
little of cheer in the prospect. One street — the road 
by which we had entered — two abortive side streets, 
these lined with one or two-storied peasants' cottages, 
and everywhere, inches deep, a sticky, clinging mud: 
such was Mericourt. This entry from my journal 
fairly expresses our feelings at the time: "In peace 
times this village must be depressive ; now with added 
grimness of war it is dolorous. A sea of mud, shat- 
tered homes, a cesspool in its center, rats everywhere. 
This is Mericourt : merry hell would be more express- 
ive and accurate." 

Our first impression was not greatly heightened by 
viewing the quarters assigned to us, and we felt with 
Joe that "they meant very little in our young lives." 
Two one-and-a-half storied peasants' cottages, with 
debris-littered floor and leaking roof, these rheumatic 
structures forming one side of a sort of courtyard and 



51 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



commanding a splendid view of a large well filled 
cesspool, constituted our cantonment. It would have 
taken a Jersey real estate agent to find good points 
in the prospect. The optimist who remarked that at 
least there were no flies was cowed into silence by the 
rejoinder that the same could be said of the North 
Pole. However, we set to work, cleaned and disin- 
fected, constructed a stone causeway across "the 
campus," and by late afternoon had, to some extent, 
made the place habitable. A bevy of rats at least 
seemed to consider the place so, and we never lacked 
for company of the rodent species. 

The twenty of us set up our stretcher beds in the 
two tiny rooms and the attic, and were at home. One 
of the ground floor rooms — and it had only the ground 
for a floor — possessed a fireplace, the chimney of 
which led into the attic above. Here it became tired 
of being a chimney, resigned its duties and became 
a smoke dispenser. It was natural that the ground 
floor dwellers having a fireplace should desire fire. 
It was natural, also, that the dwellers above, being 
imbued with strong ideas on the subject of choking 
to death, should object to that fire. Argument ensued. 
For a time those below prevailed but the attic dwellers 
possessed the final word and when their rebuttal, in 
the shape of several cartridges, was dropped down the 
chimney on the fire, those below lost interest in the 
matter and there prevailed an intense and eager long- 
ing for the great outdoors. 



52 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



We established our mess in what in peace times 
was a tiny cafe, in the back room of which an 
adipose proprietress, one of the few remaining civiles, 
still dispensed "pinard" and hospitality. It was in 
the same back room one night that a soldier, exhibit- 
ing a hand grenade, accidently set it off, killing him- 
self, a comrade, and wounding five others, whom we 
evacuated. Incidentally the explosion scared our 
Zouave cook who at the time was sleeping in an 
adjoining room. He was more frightened than he 
had been since the first battle of the Marne. 

The front room, which was our mess hall, was just 
long enough to permit the twenty of us, seated ten to 
a side, to squeeze about our plank table. The remain- 
ing half of the room was devoted to the galley, where 
the Zouave held forth with his pots and pans and 
reigned supreme. The walls of this room had once 
bilious, colicky color. Great beads of sweat were 
been painted a sea green, but now were faded into a 
always starting out and trickling down as though the 
house itself were in the throes of a deadly agony. 

Mericourt is situated about one-fifth of a mile from 
the right bank of the river Somme, and at this time 
was about seven and one-half or eight kilometers from 
the front line. The Somme at this point marked the 
dividing line between the French and English army, 
the French holding to the south, the English to the 
north. Though within easy range of the enemy's 
mid-calibre artillery, it was seldom shelled, and I can 



53 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



recall but one or two occasions during our entire stay 
when shells passed over. 

As on the Aisne, we got our wounded from a num- 
ber of scattered postes, some close to the line, others 
farther back, some located in villages, others in mere 
dugouts in the side of a hill. Evacuations were usu- 
ally made to the town of Villers-Bretonneau where 
were located a number of field hospitals, or to an 
operating hospital at the village of Cerisy about fifteen 
kilometers from the line. A regular schedule of calls 
was maintained to certain postes, the cars making 
rounds twice a day. Such were the postes at the 
villages of Proyart, Chuignes, Chuignolles and in the 
dugouts at Baraquette and Fontaine-Cappy, all 
some kilometers back of the line, but under inter- 
mittent shell fire. Besides these postes there were 
several others which because of their close proximity 
to the enemy and their exposure to machine-gun fire 
could only be made at night. There was Raincourt, 
less than half a kilometer from the enemy's position, 
the Knotted Tree, four hundred meters from the 
Germans, and actually in the second line trench, where 
in turning, the engine had to be shut off and the car 
pushed by hand, less the noise of the motor draw 
fire. There, too, was the poste at the village of Eclu- 
sier, a particularly fine run since it was reached by a 
narrow, exceedingly rough road which bordered a 
deep canal and was exposed throughout its length to 
mitrailleuse fire. Besides this, the road was lined with 



54 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



batteries for which the Boches were continually 
"searching." 

We went into action on the afternoon of the same 
day we reached Mericourt. My orders were to go 
to a point indicated on the map as the Route Nationale, 
there pick up my blesses and evacuate them to the 
town of Villers-Bretonneau. I was farther in- 
structed not to go down this road too far as I 
would drive into the enemy's lines. How I was to 
determine what was "too far" until it was "too late" 
or how I was to determine the location of the poste, 
a dugout beneath the road, was left to my own solu- 
tion. With these cheering instructions I set out. I 
reached the village of Proyart through which my 
route lay, noted with interest the effect of bombard- 
ment, passed on and came to the Route Nationale. 
Here, as were my instructions, I turned to the left. I 
was now headed directly toward the line which I 
knew could not be very far away and which trans- 
versed the road ahead. I pushed rather cautiously up 
two small hills, my interest always increasing as I 
neared the top and anticipated what sort of greeting 
might be awaiting me. I was on my third hill and 
feeling a bit depressed and lonesome, not having seen 
a person since leaving the sentry at Proyart, when I 
heard a shout somewhere behind me. Looking back 
I beheld a soldier wildly semaphoring. It did not 
take me long to turn the car and slide back down the 
hill. Reaching the bottom, I drew up by the soldier 



55 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



who informed me that the crest of the hill was in 
full view of the enemy and under fire from the mach- 
ine guns. I felt that the information was timely. 

The poste proved to be a dugout directly beneath 
where I had stopped my car. Here I secured a load 
of wounded and by dusk had safely evacuated them 
to the hospital at Villers-Bretonneau. Consulting my 
map at the hospital it became evident that there was 
a more direct route back to quarters and I determined 
on this. As I was by no means sure of the location 
of the line I drove without lights, and as a result 
crashed into what proved to be a pile of rocks but 
which I had taken to be a pile of snow, the jar almost 
loosening my teeth fillings. The car was apparently 
none the worse for the encounter and I reached quar- 
ters without further mishap. 

The aftermath of the mishap occurred next day. 
Driving at a good pace up a grade — fortunately with 
no wounded on board — I suddenly found the steering 
gear would not respond to the wheel. There was 
half a moment of helpless suspense, then the car 
shot off the side of the road down a steep incline, 
hit a boulder, and turned completely upside down. As 
we went over I managed to kick off the switch, lessen- 
ing the chance of an explosion. The Quartermaster 
who was with me, and I were wholly unable to ex- 
tricate ourselves, but some soldiers, passing at the 
time, lifted the car off us and we crawled out none 
the worse. "Old Number Nine," save for a broken 



56 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



steering rod, the cause of the spill, and a small radia- 
tor leak, was as fit as ever and half an hour later, the 
rod replaced, was once more rolling. 

Our picket poste was established at the village of 
Cappy. To reach the village from Mericourt we 
passed over a stretch of road marked with the warn- 
ing sign "This road under shell fire: convoys or 
formed bodies of troops will not pass during day- 
light." Continuing, we crossed the Somme, at this 
point entering the English line, and proceeded to the 
village of Bray. Thence the road wandered through 
a rolling land for a kilometer or so, again crossing 
the river and a canal at the outskirts of the village. 

Cappy lay in a depression behind a rise of ground 
about a kilometer and a half from the line. In peace 
times it was doubtless a rather attractive little place 
of perhaps three hundred people. Now, devastated 
by days and months of bombardment, and the passing 
of countless soldiers, deserted by its civil population 
and invaded by countless rats, it presented an aspect 
forlorn beyond imagination. On a gray winter's day, 
with sleet beating down and deepening the already 
miry roads, and a dreary wind whistling through the 
shattered houses, the place cried out with the desola- 
tion of war. And when, at night, a full moon shone 
through the stripped rafters, when the rats scuttled 
about and when, perhaps, there was no firing and only 
the muffled pop of a trench light, the spirit of death 
itself stalked abroad and the ghosts of the men who 



57 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



had there met their doom haunted its grewsome, clut- 
tered streets. And then while the silence hung like 
a pall until it fairly oppressed one, there would come 
the awful screech, and the noises of hell would break 
loose. There was no way of telling when the bom- 
bardment would come. It might be at high noon or 
at midnight, at twilight or as the day broke. Nor 
could the duration be guessed. Sometimes a single 
shell crashed in ; sometimes a single salvo of a battery, 
or again, the bombardment would continue for an 
hour or more. It was this uncertainty which gave the 
place a tense, uncomfortable atmosphere so that even 
when there was no shelling the quiet was an uncanny 
quiet which was almost harder to bear than the shelling 
itself. 

In Cappy no one remained above ground more than 
was necessary. Nearly every house had its cellar 
and these cellars were deepened, roofed with timbers 
and piled high with sand-bags. A cave so constructed 
was reasonably bomb-proof from small shells — 77s — 
but offered little resistance to anything larger and I 
recall several occasions when a shell of larger calibre, 
making a direct hit, either killed or wounded every 
occupant of such a shelter. The resident population 
of the town was limited to a group of brancardiers, 
some grave-diggers, the crews of several goulash bat- 
teries and some doctors and surgeons. I must not 
forget to mention the sole remaining representative of 
the civil population. He was an old, old man, so old 



58 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



it seemed the very shells respected his age and war 
itself deferred to his feebleness. Clad in nondescript 
rags, his tottering footsteps supported by a staff, at 
any hour of the day or night he could be seen making 
his uncertain way among what were the ruins of what 
had once been a prosperous town — his town. With 
him, also tottering, was always a wizened old dog who 
seemed the Methuselah of all dogs. Panting along be- 
hind his master, his glazed eyes never leaving him, the 
dog too staggered. There, alone in the midst of this 
crucified town, the twain dwelt, refusing to leave 
what to them was yet home. And daily as their town 
crumbled, they crumbled, until at last one morning 
we found the old chap dead, his dog by his side. That 
day was laid to rest the last citizen of Cappy. 

The dressing-station was located in what in peace 
times was the town hall or Mairie, a two-story brick 
building having a central structure flanked by two 
small wings. The building was banked with sand- 
bags which, while not rendering it by any means shell- 
proof, did protect it from shrapnel and eclat. The 
central room was devoted to the wounded who were 
brought in from the trenches on little, two- wheeled, 
hand-pushed trucks, each truck supporting one 
stretcher. A shallow trough was built around the 
sides of the room and in this, upon straw, the wounded 
were placed in rows, while awaiting the doctor. In 
this portion of the building was also located the mor- 
tuary where those who died after being brought in 



59 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



were placed preparatory to burial. The bodies were 
placed two on a stretcher, the head of one resting on 
'the feet of another. It was a ghastly place, this little 
• room, with its silent, mangled tenants, lying there 
lwaiting their last bivouac. On one side of the room 
,vas a small, silver crucifix above which hung the tri- 
i colored flag of the Republic guarding those who had 
died that it might live. 

In the left wing was the emergency operating-room 
where the surgeons worked, frequently under fire. At 
the opposite end of the building was the room we 
had for our quarters and where we slept when occa- 
sion permitted. The place was quite frequently hit — 
on five separate occasions while I was in the building 
— and its occupants suffered many narrow escapes. 
The location was regarded as so unsafe that an elabo- 
rate abri was finally constructed back of the Mairie. 
This was an extraordinarily well-built and ample 
affair, consisting of several tunnels seven feet high 
in the center, walled and roofed with heavy galvan- 
ized iron supported by stout beams. The roof at the 
highest point was fully ten feet below the surface of 
the ground. There were two rows of shelves run- 
ning along both sides of the tunnels which had a total 
capacity of forty stretcher cases. At one end was a 
small operating room, and there were two exits so that 
if one became blocked the occupants might find egress 
through the other. Both of these exits were winding 
so as to prevent the admission of flying shell frag- 



60 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



ments and were draped with curtains to keep out the 
poison gas. Beside these curtains stood tubs of anti- 
gas solution for their drenching. This structure was 
proof against all save the heaviest shells and took 
some eight weeks in building. 

When on duty at Cappy we messed with some 
medical sous-officiers in a dugout, entrance to which 
was had by descending a steep flight of steps. Down 
in this cellar, in the dim twilight which there prevailed, 
we enjoyed many a meal. The officers were a genial 
lot, like most Frenchmen delightfully courteous, and 
much given to quaffing pinard. Their chief occu- 
pation was the making of paper knives from copper 
shrapnel bands, and they never lacked for material, 
for each day the Boche threw in a fresh supply. 

One of these chaps through constant opportunity 
and long practice could give a startling imitation of 
the shriek of a shell, an accomplishment which got 
him into trouble, for happening one day to perform 
this specialty while a non-appreciative and startled 
Colonel was passing, he was presented with eight days' 
arrest. 

The cook of the mess was a believer in garlic — I 
might say a strong believer. Where he acquired the 
stuff amidst such surroundings was a mystery beyond 
solution, but acquire it he certainly did. Put him in 
the middle of the Sahara Desert and I am prepared to 
wager that within a half hour that cook would dig 
up some garlic. He put it into everything, rice, meat, 



61 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



whatever we ate. I am convinced that, supposing he 
could have made a custard pie, he would have added 
garlic. His specialty was beef boiled in wine, a com- 
bination hard on the beef, hard on the wine, and hard 
on the partaker thereof. 

Coming out of the cellar from mess one noon — a 
wet dismal day I remember — I was startled into immo- 
bility to hear the splendid strains of the "Star Spangled 
Banner," magnificently played on a piano. I was still 
standing at attention and the last note had barely died 
away when the one remaining door of a half-demol- 
ished house opened and a tall, handsome young fellow 
with the stripes of a corporal appeared, saluted and 
bade me enter. I did so and found myself in a small 
room upon the walls of which hung the usual mili- 
tary trappings. Stacked in the corners and leaning 
against the walls were a number of simple wooden 
crosses with the customary inscription "Mort pour 
la patrie." Five soldiers rose and bade me welcome. 
They were a group of grave diggers and here they 
dwelt amid their crosses. Their profession did not 
seem to have affected their spirits, and they were as 
jolly a lot as I have ever seen, constantly chaffing 
each other, and when the chap at the piano — who, 
by the way, before the war had been a musician at 
the Carlton in London, and who spoke excellent Eng- 
lish — struck a chord they all automatically broke into 
song. It was splendidly done and they enjoyed it as 
thoroughly as did I. The piano they had rescued from 

62 




'In Scores — Hundreds — of Places There Remained but a Pile 
of Stones and a Yawning Hole" 



I 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



a wrecked chateau at the other end of the town and 
to them it was a God-send indeed. Before I left, at 
my request they sang the Marseillaise. I have seldom 
heard anything finer than when in that little, stricken 
town, amidst those grewsome tokens of war's toll, 
these men stood at attention and sounded forth the 
stirring words of their country's hymn. When I left 
it was with a feeling that surely with such a spirit 
animating a people, there could be but one outcome 
to the struggle. 

We had another twenty-four hour station at the 
village of Cerisy some fifteen or more kilometers back 
of the line where was located an operating hospital. 
Here we maintained always one car for the transpor- 
tation of such wounded as required evacuation to rail- 
head. At this station we were privileged to sleep on 
stretchers in the same tent with the wounded. Per- 
sonally I found one night in their quarters was quite 
enough for me. The groaning, the odor of anaes- 
thetics, the blood, the raving of the delirious and 
"the passing" of two of the inmates before morning 
drove me out to my car, where I often slept when 
on duty at the station. 

We soon began to feel completely at home at Meri- 
court. Our schedule kept us busy without overwork- 
ing us and there was just enough risk in the life to 
lend it spice. We had a splendid commander, an effi- 
cient chief, and as a result the squad worked in entire 

63 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



harmony. At this time we were attached to the 3rd 
Colonials, a reckless, hard-fighting bunch, as fine a 
lot as serve the tri-color. The relations existing be- 
tween ourselves and the French could not have been 
more cordial. The innate courtesy and kindness 
which is so characteristic of the people found ex- 
pression in so many ways and their appreciation so 
far exceeded any service we rendered that we could 
not help but be warmly drawn toward them, while 
their cheerful devotion and splendid courage held 
always our admiration. 

Perhaps a few entries taken at random from my 
journal will serve as well as anything to give some 
idea of our life and the conditions under which we 
worked. 

"Tuesday, March 14th. After a rat-disturbed night, 
got away on Route No. 3 to Proyart and Baraquette, 
evcauating to Cerisy. At four this afternoon, with 
Brooke as orderly, made same route, evacuating to 
Villers Bretonneux. There were so many blesses 
that I had to return to Baraquette for another load. 
We are just in from Villers-Bretonneux at ten P.M. 
after a drive through the rain. 

"Saturday, March 18th. On route No. 2 to Chuig- 
nolles. Road was under fire so sentry refused to 
let me return over it, as the way was up grade and 
with a loaded car I could not go fast. Ran down it 
this afternoon, evacuating by another route. Put in 
an hour today making an almost bedstead out of old 



64 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



bloody stretchers and now the rats will have to jump 
a foot or so off the floor if they want to continue to 
use me as a speedway. 

"Thursday, March 22nd. Slept well in the car at 
Cappy but lost all inclination for breakfast on open- 
ing door of stretcher bearer's room and seeing two 
bodies, one with its jaws shot away, the other, brought 
in from "No Man's Land" — half eaten by rats. Got 
a call to Chuignes before noon, evacuating to Cerisy. 
Of course worked on my car this afternoon ; that goes 
without saying — the work, not the car. Tomorrow 
we have another one of those dashed inspections, this 
time the General commanding the Division. 

"Thursday, March 30th. To Cappy early, with as 
many of the Squad as were off duty, to attend the 
funeral of the Medecin Chef. He was killed yesterday 
when peering over the parapet. It was a sad affair, 
yet withal impressive. We walked from the little 
shell-torn town, Cappy, to the cemetery just beyond 
the village, following the simple flag-draped box upon 
which rested the tunic and kepi; and then while the 
war planes circled and dipped above us and all around 
the guns spoke, we paid our last respects to a very 
gallant man. Waited till ten for wounded. At the 
exact minute I was leaving three shells came in. One 
burst by the church and the other two just back of 
my machine as I crossed the bridge. They must have 
come from a small bore gun, possibly a mortar, as they 
were preceded by a screech as with a rifle shell. Vis- 



65 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



ited regimental dentist this afternoon and found him 
operating on a poilu whose teeth had been knocked 
out by a Boche gun butt in a recent charge. Tonight 
the guns are going strong. 

"Wednesday, April 8th. The messroom presented 
a ghastly sight this morning, a hand grenade having 
been accidently exploded there last night, blowing two 
men to bits which bits are still hanging to the walls. 
Got my spark plugs in shape this morning. This after- 
noon attempted to take a nap but a confounded bat- 
tery just stationed here insisted on going into action 
and as the shots were at half minute intervals I got to 
counting the seconds in the intervals, banishing all 
chances of sleep. Two of the Squad are down with 
the gale — a skin disease contracted from the blesses, 
and which seems almost epidemic with the Division." 

It was towards the end of March and hence some 
three months after leaving Paris, that one morning I 
received orders to evacuate a load of wounded to the 
railroad hospital at Amiens some forty kilometers 
from Mericourt. Amiens is a modern city, one of the 
most pleasant in France, a city of about one hundred 
thousand inhabitants with up-to-date shops, tram- 
ways, tea rooms and a decided air of gaiety. As I 
drove my mud-spattered ambulance down its main 
street I felt singularly out of place. An hour and a 
half before I had been within the rifle range of the 
German trenches where men were battling to the death 
and big guns barked their hate and now, as though 



66 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



transported on a magic carpet, I found myself in the 
midst of peace where dainty women tripped by, chil- 
dren laughed at play and life untrammeled by war 
ran its course. After the weeks amid the mud and 
turmoil of the front, the transition was at first stupe- 
fying. After evacuating my wounded I parked my 
car and being off duty for the rest of the day I strolled 
about gaping like a countryman. "A burst" at the 
best restaurant I could find and a good cigar put me 
in an appreciative frame of mind and my impression 
of Amiens will always remain the most favorable. 
Though the city had been in the hands of the Huns 
for nearly a fortnight in the early part of the war 
and had several times been the object of air raids, 
there was little indication of either. The beautiful 
cathedral was piled high with sandbags and the beau- 
tiful windows were screened as precaution against 
bomb eclat, but of the precautions such as I later saw 
in Bar-le-Duc, there were none. 

Amiens at this time was the administrative head- 
quarters of the English army of the Somme. Its 
streets were alive with English officers and Tommies. 
There were many "J oc ^ s " m their kilties, besides, of 
course, many French officers. Being well back of the 
lines it was a great place for swanking, a condition of 
which the English officers especially took full advan- 
tage, and in their whipcords and shining Sam Brouns 
they were the last word in military sartorialism. 

Having now been at the front for three months I 



67 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



became entitled to la permission, the six days' leave 
in theory granted the soldier once every three months. 
George's permission was also due and we managed 
to arrange it so that we secured leave simultaneously. 
One of our cars was so well wrecked that it had to be 
sent to Paris, and accordingly we secured the assign- 
ment of taking this in. This car had lost its mud- 
guards and part of the top of the driving seat, its 
lockers were gone and its sides had been pierced by 
shell splinters. It certainly looked as if "it had been 
through the war." It was afterwards sent to New 
York and there put on exhibition at the Allied Bazaar. 
We set out for Paris on the morning of April fifteenth. 
It was a fearful day for driving, hail and rain and a 
piercing wind, but we were en permission so what 
cared we. It was on this voyage that, for the first and 
only time during my service in the army, I saw 
lancers. This group was some seventy kilometers 
back of the line. With their burnished casques, grace- 
ful weapons and fluttering pennants they have left 
me one of the few memories of the picturesque which 
the war has furnished. 

We made Beauvais in time for luncheon ; found the 
little restaurant and our mere appearance was suffi- 
cient to set the little waitress off into a severe attack 
°f giggles- By four that afternoon we were in Paris. 
After one hundred days in the war zone, it seamed 
like another world. We took the military oath not 
to reveal information likely to be of value to the 



68 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



enemy and were free to do what we liked for six 
days. Personally, as I remember it, I pretty well 
divided the time between taking hot baths and con- 
suming unlimited quantities of white bread and fresh 
butter. Often we found ourselves subconsciously lis- 
tening and missing something, the rumble of the guns. 
We enjoyed the respite but the end of our permission 
found us willing, almost eager, to get back "out there." 

It was after midnight — Easter morning — and the 
rain was falling when we ploughed our muddy way 
across "the campus" at Mericourt. It was cold and 
the rat-infested garret in the flickering light of an oil 
lamp, looked dismal enough as we felt our way across 
its dirty floor. Outside the sky was now and then 
lighted by a flare and from all around came the boom 
of the guns. We were home. 



69 



CHAPTER VI 



THE SOMME CONTINUED 

MAY opened with delightfully warm weather, a 
condition that was not to continue. The brown 
fields were clothed in green. Up to within a few kilo- 
meters of the line the land had been cultivated and 
wheat and oats flourished as though shells were not 
passing over and the grim Reaper himself were not 
ever present. 

Early in the month our Division moved, going into 
repos some fifteen kilometers back of the line. It is 
a simple statement — "our division moved." But think 
of twenty thousand men plodding along, twenty thou- 
sand brown guns bobbing and twenty thousand bay- 
onets flopping against as many hips. Think of twenty 
thousand blue steel helmets covering as many sweaty, 
dusty heads; think of the transport for the men, the 
horses straining in their traces, the creaking wagons, 
the rumbling artillery, the clanging soup wagons, the 
whizzing staff cars and the honking of camion horns 
— think of this and you have some idea of what is 
embraced in the statement "our division moved." We 
did not follow them, though we did assign four cars 
to serve them during repos and to take care of the 



70 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



sick. Instead we were attached to the incoming divi- 
sion, the 2nd Colonials. 

My journal shows there were some hectic days in 
May. In the record of May second I find: "Rolled 
pretty much all night, one call taking me to Eclusier. 
The road was shelled behind me while I was at the 
poste, knocking a tree across the way so that on 
my way back, the night being so dark, I could see 
absolutely nothing and I hit the tree and bent a guard. 
It's as nasty a run as I have ever made, a canal on 
one side, batteries on the other, and the whole way 
exposed to machine gun fire. Expected to be relieved 
here this morning but one of the replacement cars is 
out of commission so that I am on for another twenty- 
four hours. Today I measured the distance from 
where I was sitting last night to where the shell hit. 
It was exactly fourteen paces." 

Again a week later: "Two cars out of commis- 
sion, so I am fated for another forty-eight hours' 
shift here in Cappy. Last night was uneventful. 
Today we have been bombarded five times. So far 
have made but two runs, returning from second under 
fire. We have been ordered to sleep tonight in the 
partially completed dugout, so I am writing this fifteen 
feet underground, with sand bags piled high above 
my head. Verily the day of the cave man has re- 
turned. Now for the blanket and, thanks to the dug- 
out, a reasonable assurance of greeting tomorrow's 
sun." 



71 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



It was in May that Josh won his recognition for 
bringing in his wounded from Eclusier under machine 
gun fire. I was not there but I know he could not 
have been cooler had he been driving down Broadway. 

For me the month was made memorable by re- 
ceiving a new car. "Old Number Nine" I had driven 
close to seven thousand kilometers. In all these 
months she had never failed me and I had grown 
to have a real affection for the old bus. It was, 
therefore, with a distinct feeling of regret that I re- 
linquished her wheel to her new driver. My new 
command "New Number Nine — for I had obtained 
permission to retain the same number — was the gift 
of Mr. Edward W. Moore of Philadelphia. It had 
an all-wooden body and electric lights — no more car- 
bide to mess with — and was the first car within 
our Section to be provided with demountable rims. 
In front of the driving-seat was a steel shield, placed 
at a deflecting angle as protection against flying 
shrapnel and it had an improved "locker system." 
With some slight changes this car was the model 
adopted thereafter for all the ambulances. After look- 
ing it over I felt it must almost be a pleasure to be 
wounded to have the privilege of riding in such a car. 

On the thirtieth of May we received orders to 
change our base. The Squad was genuinely sorry to 
leave Mericourt. The village, which had looked so 
forbidding to us when we had first arrived, through 
the familiarity of three months' residence had grown 



72 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



to mean home. The peaceful canal with its graceful 
poplars where we used to swim, "the campus," the 
scene on moonlight nights of many a rousing chorus, 
the lane where the cars were parked, the little cafe, 
all held pleasant memories. Here we had endured 
the rigors of winter, had seen the coming and passing 
of spring and now as summer was upon us we were 
leaving. 

We left in fleet, about one in the afternoon, and an 
hour later drew up in the village of Bayonville on 
the farther side of the Route Nationale. We found 
it an attractive place, having two squares well shaded 
with fine trees. In peace times its population prob- 
ably numbered about four thousand. The town was 
far enough back of the line to be out of range of 
field artillery and showed no sign of bombardment. 
Being only slightly off the main road and about mid- 
way between the line and Bayonvillers, the location 
was a convenient one for us as for the present we 
were maintaining the same schedules and routes which 
prevailed at Mericourt. We were assigned quarters 
in the loft of a brick barn but some of us preferred 
more airy surroundings and pitched a tent under the 
trees in a little park in the center of the town, thus 
establishing the Bayonvillers Country Club. Later 
because of the arrival of a fleet of camions, we moved 
the club to a meadow on the outskirts of the town. 
Mess was also established in a tent. 

Early in the spring it had become apparent that 



73 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



something was in the air. Ammunition depots began 
to appear, placed just out of gun range; genie pares 
with enormous quantities of barbed wire, trench floor- 
ing and other construction materials were established ; 
a new road was being built from Bray to Cappy ; addi- 
tional aviation fields were laid out and rows of 
hangars, elaborately painted to represent barns and 
ploughed fields to deceive the enemy airmen, reared 
their bulky forms. Back of the line numerous tent 
hospitals sprang into being. Near Cappy immense 
siege guns, served by miniature railways, poked their 
ugly noses through concealing brush screens. Through 
the fields several new standard gauge tracks made 
their way. The roads back of any army are always 
cluttered with supporting traffic and as the spring 
wore on the traffic on the Somme increased day by 
day. There were huge five ton camions loaded with 
shells, steam tractors bringing up big guns, cater- 
pillar batteries, armored cars, mobile anti-aircraft 
guns, stone boats, mobile soup kitchens, oxygen con- 
tainers to combat poison gas, field artillery, search- 
light sections, staff cars, telegraph and telephone 
wagons, long lines of motor busses now used as meal 
vans, horse wagons piled high with bread, portable 
forges, mule trains carrying machine gun ammuni- 
tion, two-wheeled carts carrying trench mortars. All 
the transport of war was there until by the first of 
June the roads back of the Somme front presented 
a congestion of traffic such as the world has never 

74 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



before seen. To the most casual observer it could 
not but be apparent that all this tremendous activity, 
the enormous supplies, the preparations, were not 
solely for defensive purposes. It could connote but 
one thing — an offensive on a great scale. 

Directly opposite Cappy, within the German lines, 
lay the little shell-riddled village of Dompierre. Be- 
tween the sand bags of the first line trench I had 
peeped forth at it and as early as April I knew that 
the village was mined, for the electrician who wired 
the mine was a friend. I felt sure, therefore, that 
our section was to be in the offensive when it came. 
But as to the day of the attack, of course that was a 
matter of speculation. As the days wore on all the 
talk was of "the attack." There was no longer any 
doubt as to the fact that an attack was to be launched ; 
the question now was simply, when. Both the firing 
and activity in the air had increased. Sometimes for 
hours at a time there would be continuous drum fire 
and scarcely an hour passed without a fight between 
planes. 

The opening days of June were wet and sodden. 
The weather was raw, almost cold, with frequent 
hail storms so that it was difficult to determine just 
what season was being observed. The roads, trodden 
by thousands of hobbed feet and cut by horses' hoofs 
and by tires, were deep with mud. It was saletemps. 
We found Bayonvillers teeming with troops. But if 
we thought the place already crowded, it was nothing 



75 



A 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



compared to the congestion which the succeeding days 
brought. Day by day, almost hour by hour, the 
troops continued to come in, Colonials, Chasseurs, the 
famous Zouaves, the Senegalese, and the sound of 
drum and bugle scarcely ever died. 

The Senegalese were an amusing lot. I have been 
in Senegal and when in the Congo, had a Senegalese 
for a headman, so I know a few words of their 
language. When I hailed them in this they would 
immediately freeze into ebony statues, then their 
white teeth would flash in a dazzling smile as they 
hailed me as a white chief who knew their home. 
They were armed with deadly bush knives, and for 
a dash over the top made splendid soldiers. In the 
trenches, however, they were nearly useless, as artil- 
lery fire put fear into their souls. It was said they 
never took or were taken prisoners and many grew- 
some tales were current regarding this. Most cer- 
tainly they must have been useful in night manoeuvres 
for with that complexion it would be a matter of 
impossibility to determine which was the Senegalese 
and which was the night. 

The lot upon which the "country club" had been 
the original and only squatter began to fill. A 155 
battery moved in alongside us and several 75 batteries 
with their ammunition transports became our neigh- 
bors; some horse transport convoys also creaked their 
way in. Horses by the hundred plunged and pulled 
at restraining ropes or stood with downcast heads — 



76 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



bone-weary of the struggle. All around us rose the 
little brown dog tents and at night countless small 
fires flickered. It was like camping in the midst of a 
three-ring circus. 

We mingled with our neighbors and talked with 
them, but no matter how the conversation started it 
was sure to come around to the one, great, all-impor- 
tant subject — the attack. Even for us who were not 
to be "sent in" but whose duty it would be merely 
to carry those who had been, the delay and suspense 
were trying. How much worse then, it must have 
been for those men who "were going over the top," 
waiting, waiting, many of them for their chance 
to greet death. I remember one afternoon talking 
with a chap who before the war had kept a restaurant 
in Prince's Street in Edinburgh, a restaurant at which 
I remember having dined. He was an odd little 
Frenchman, alert and bright-eyed, and every now 
and then as he talked he would pat me on the shoulder 
and exclaim "Oh, my boy." He assured me that 
very soon now we should see the attack. "Oh, my 
boy, the world very soon will talk of this place. You 
will see the name of this village on maps" — a true 
prophecy, for when the New York papers came to us 
weeks after the attack had started, I saw a map with 
Cappy marked upon it. "Soon greater than Verdun 
we shall see, great things, and oh, my boy, we are 
here to see them; we are part of them. C'est mag- 
nifique! but the waiting, the waiting, why can't they 



77 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



end it? Send us in. Quant a moi — I go with the 
second wave, and if I come out, apres la guerre, you 
will come to my place, my place in Prince's Street 
which you know, and for you I will open the finest 
champagne of La belle France and we will raise our 
glasses and drink to these days, but oh, my boy, the 
waiting, e'est terrible." 

My journal for these days reflects a feeling of 
suspense. "Tuesday, June 13th: on repos today for 
which I was thankful, since the rain still continues, 
with a low temperature. Spent most of the day in 
my bag reading as being about the only place I could 
keep warm. The 20th Zouaves marched into town 
today, their bugles playing. Their arrival and the 
presence of the Senegalese can mean but one thing: 
the attack will soon be launched. Well, if it's coming 
it can't come too soon. This suspense is trying. If 
this weather continues I will have trench foot again 
as my shoes are leaking. Firing has been unusually 
heavy today, and tonight a terrific bombardment is in 
progress. 

"Thursday, June 15th. Encore this ghastly weather. 
More Senegalese coming in until the place looks like 
a Georgia camp meeting. Three runs today; slow 
progress working through the traffic. Surely attack 
cannot be far off. Passed wreck of plane near Villers- 
Bretonneux which was fired on, falling and burning to 
death both pilot and driver. 

"Sunday, June 18th. To Fontaine-les-Cappy, which 



78 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



incidentally was being shelled, evacuating to Villers- 
Bretonneux. Changed rear spring on my bus this 
afternoon, other having proved too light. Have fixed 
some hooks and straps on the car so that I can carry 
blanket roll and dunnage bag in event the line breaks 
and we follow the advance. "New Number Nine" is 
ready for attack. Rumor says it will start in three 
days. Now that the clock has been set ahead — this 
occurred several days ago — we turn in by daylight." 

Dry, hot weather succeeded the rains and in a day 
the mud of the roads had been beaten into dust. A 
khaki-colored fog hung over the sinuous line of never- 
ceasing traffic and choked man and beast. It was 
trying work driving now but still it was exhilirating, 
the feeling of being a part of a great push. By the 
middle of June the advance position from which we 
should operate from the time the first wave went 
over the top had been chosen. It was close back 
of the line near the boyau of Fontaine-les-Cappy. It 
was very much exposed and much in advance of the 
position usually taken by transport sections, but it 
appeared the spot of greatest usefulness and this be- 
ing determined, our CO. was not the man to question 
further. 

On the morning of June 20th I left for duty at 
Cappy. My journal for that date reads: "Left quar- 
ters at eight this morning, reaching Cappy an hour 
later, taking on a load, evacuating at once to Villers- 
Bretonneux. This afternoon evacuated to Chuig- 



79 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



nolles. So far I have heard but one shell come in 
today. Our batteries, too, have been singularly quiet. 
The calm before the storm. If possible, the roads 
today were more congested than ever with every sort 
of vehicle from bicycle to steam tractor. It's now 
nine o'clock, though owing to change of time not 
nearly dark. Am a bit tired tonight but have small 
idea of getting much rest." Nor was I disappointed, 
for throughout the night the wounded came in and 
we drove almost without pause. From my last evacu- 
ation I got back to Cappy about six in the morning, 
and as our relief was due at eight I did not consider 
it worth while to turn in. The day promised to be 
hot and clear. Already the shelling had started. It 
was a point of honor among the Squad to be prompt 
in our relief and Gyles and I were therefore surprised 
when no cars had appeared by eight-thirty. It was 
about ten o'clock and we had exhausted our conjec- 
tures when two cars of a French Section rolled up. 
We sensed at once that something had happened. 
One of the drivers climbed down from his car and 
came over to where we were standing. We exchanged 
salutes. "Messieurs," he said, "Your Section has been 
replaced by ours. I am directed to instruct you to 
report at once at your quarters." The concussion from 
a 210 could scarcely have stunned us more than the 
announcement, "Replaced." It was impossible ; there 
must be some mistake. After all our months of work, 
which we knew had been efficient, after all our prepa- 



80 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



rations for the attack. Replaced? No, it could not 
be. We would find out there had been a misunder- 
standing. In a daze we cranked our cars and drove 
slowly away from the familiar old poste. 

Several shells had passed us as we had stood talk- 
ing, and as I reached the canal bridge I found one 
had hit there. Beside the road lay a dead man, and 
three wounded were being dressed. I got out my 
stretchers and evacuated them to the field hospital 
at Cerisy. It was my last evacuation from Cappy. 
I reached quarters about noon, finding the Squad at 
mess. One glance at the fellows confirmed the morn- 
ing's news. I have seldom seen a more thoroughly 
disgusted bunch of men. It was true; we had been 
replaced and were leaving for parts unknown tomor- 
row. Somewhere back in Automobile Headquarters 
in Paris a wire had been pulled and that wire at- 
tached to us was to pull us away from the greatest 
offensive in history. We felt rather bitter about it 
at first, for we felt that in a way it reflected on our 
ability or even our nerve, but when we learned that 
the Medecin Divisionaire and even the General of our 
Division had protested against our removal, had spoken 
of our work in the highest terms, our disappointment 
was softened, and so with the philosophy which army 
life brings we said "e'est la guerre," struck our tents 
and prepared for the morrow's departure. 



81 



CHAPTER VII 



THE TREK TO THE VORTEX 

IT was a hot, sunshiny morning, the second of 
June, when at seven o'clock our cars lined up in 
convoy ready for the start. We had not been told our 
destination, but somehow the rumor had got about 
that we were bound for Verdun. The word ran along 
the line of cars and soon the fellows were sounding 
their hooters and yelling out "Ye-a-a Verdun" as 
though it were some summer resort toward which 
we were headed and not the bloodiest hole in history. 

The "Lieut." ran along the line to see that all was 
ready — the engines were purring — there was a short 
wait — the whistle sounded and we were under way 
Down the beautiful shaded road from Bayonville we 
wound, passing the replacing section, passed a 155 
battery and then out upon the Route Nationale. Over 
the road on which we had driven through rain and 
snow at every hour of the day and night, where every 
stone and bump was familiar, we passed for the last 
time. Down through La Motte, squirming through 
the dense mass of traffic until we reached Bayonvillers, 
the scene of so many evacuations, then straight on till 



82 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



we reached the outskirts of Amiens. Here we made 
our first stop in order to re-form the convoy. When 
traveling thus in convoy each car has its designated 
place, taking its position in the line in order of 
numbers and it was forbidden any car to pass the 
one in front of it so long as that car was rolling. Be- 
fore this rule was adopted a move in convoy was 
simply one, grand road race, every car doing its best 
to pass every car in front of it and attain the lead, a 
fine imitation of the chariot race from "Ben Hur." 
When a puncture or blow-out occurred, the car drew 
up alongside the road and the driver worked fran- 
tically to get a new shoe on and overtake the convoy 
at its next stop. Meanwhile the convoy went on, the 
drivers leaning out with a "Carry on, old man, hard 
luck." At the rear of the convoy, driven by one of 
the mechanics, came the repair car and when an am 
bulance was forced to drop out of line because of 
engine trouble or breakage, this car stopped with it, 
made the repairs and then the two came on after the 
convoy. Under this system, though all the cars might 
not come in at a rendezvous simultaneously, the lag- 
gards always had the atelier with them. At the head 
of the convoy, setting the pace, drove the "Lieut." 
while the Chief either brought up the rear or horned 
on the flanks keeping a watchful eye on the fleet. 
Everybody, even perhaps the mechanics and some of 
the mascots, enjoyed a move in convoy. Of the 
latter we had at various times a sheep named "Mrs. 



83 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Caesar," a rooster, two cats, a fox and numerous 
dogs. Mrs. Caesar in particular, possessed strong 
views on the matter of riding in an ambulance, and 
with the perversity of her sex usually insisted on"mak- 
ing a scene" before she would consent to become a 
passenger. 

To the dogs, however, and especially to Vic, convoy 
life held great appeal as there were limitless possi- 
bilities for getting in the way and no end of new 
things at which to bark. 

We did not enter Amiens, the CO. having a pench- 
ant for avoiding cities when the Squad was en masse, 
but turned off on the Montdidier road, at which town 
we lunched about one. By two-thirty we were again 
en route, passing through Pont Ste. Maxence, which 
we had last seen in January. Under the smiling in- 
fluence of summer, it looked quite a different place 
and we scarcely recognized the little park where we 
had stood guard over the cars on those bleak winter 
nights. We went on to Senlis, now a crumbling 
example of German rapacity, where blackened walls 
frowned grimly down on us as we rolled by. Through- 
out the afternoon we drove through choking clouds 
of dust, passing through La Chapelle and Fontenay 
and at seven in the evening reached the quaint little 
city of Ecouen. Here we stopped for the night, hav- 
ing come one hundred and fifty kilometers. 

The convoy had drawn up along the main street 
and at a nearby cafe we had dinner. For quarters we 



84 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



were assigned military billets in different private 
houses throughout the town. At Ecouen we were 
only eighteen kilometers from Paris — we had sighted 
the Eiffel Tower on our way in. Many a longing 
glance was turned in the direction of the city as the 
Squad thought of their marraines, the lighted restau- 
rants and teeming boulevards, but, so far as our 
chances of getting into Paris were concerned, it might 
as well have been within the enemy lines. So after 
a stroll about the quiet, rambling streets of the town, 
everyone sought quarters in anticipation of a hard drive 
on the morrow. 

We turned out at six next morning and after 
coffee and bread, got away as the city clock boomed 
the hour of seven. Our way lead us through pictur- 
esque little towns to Meaux which we reached some 
four hours after starting. Then on down through 
the beautiful valley of the Marne we passed, through 
quaint, slumbering, little villages where ancient men 
dozing in the summer sun, gazed at us through glazed 
querulous eyes, where chubby children rushed to the 
doors to crow with wild-eyed joy, and buxom girls 
nearly caused us to ditch our cars by waving a 
friendly hand. Down through the beautiful sun-lit 
valley where grow the grapes which give bottled joy 
to the world, we rolled under shady rows of trees, 
across moss-grown stone bridges, by ancient grey 
church towers and crumbling walls, until about one 
o'clock we entered the wide peaceful streets of 



85 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Chateau Thierry. War seemed very far away. 

We shook off some of the dust which fairly en- 
cased us and sought the cool interior of a cafe. There 
we were not long to be at ease, however, for that 
night's destination, Chalons, was still many a kilometer 
away. In an hour the whistle blew and we were 
off. Still following the Marne Valley, we held a 
good pace through Dormans to Epernay due south 
from Reims, and at five o'clock made an anchorage 
in the city of Chalons. Here we went into camp 
beside the river, pitching a tent by the lock, and then 
every one went in swimming. After the choking dust 
through which we had been driving, the water was 
a tremendous treat. 

The third day of the trek was, in a way, to be the 
most interesting of all. Our ordre de mouvement read : 
"Chalons, Trois Fontaines, Sermaize, Vevey le Grand, 
Pargny, St. Dizier, Bar-le-Duc." We were passing 
through the field of the Battle of the Marne. 

Owing to the necessity of replenishing our gas 
supply we got away rather late. At Trois Fontaines, 
the seat of Count Fontenoy, we halted and viewed 
one of the most beautiful and picturesque ruins in 
France, the ancient abbey dating from the fifth cen- 
tury. The wonderful, vine-clad walls, shadowed by 
the graceful trees which grew within and about the 
edifice made a singularly restful picture. From Trois 
Fontaines we passed on to Sermaize or rather what 
once was Sermaize. Here, too, were ruins but no 



86 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



softening influence of time blurred their harsh out- 
lines; no vines and trees hid their harsh ugliness. 
They stood out in all their pitiful nakedness, the 
wrecks of homes — the completed product of the Hun. 
Through other deserted towns and villages we passed 
along the withering trail of the Vandae where the 
German first established that reputation for cruelty 
and rapacity which shall be his and the heritage of 
his children for generations to come. 

At noon we lunched at the cheery town of St. Dizier, 
parking in the main square. We enjoyed the noon- 
ings ; there was relaxation, relief from the wheel, 
cheery talk and chaff as we gathered around the board, 
the relating of the morning's adventure and specula- 
tion as to what the afternoon would develop, and 
afterwards a soothing pipe as we drank our coffee. 
Then the preliminary whistle would sound, we would 
swarm to our cars and assure ourselves they were 
ready — sad news for the man who discovered a flat 
tire at this time — another blast and the engines would 
throb and the convoy wind its way out while the curb 
would be lined with people watching our passage and 
waving us a friendly hand. 

At four that afternoon, Saturday, June twenty- 
fourth, we reached the city of Bar-le-Duc and halted 
in a side street while the Lieutenant repaired to the 
fitat-Major for orders. The first thing we noticed 
was that practically every building bore a placard with 
the legend, "Cave woutee — personnes," and around 



87 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



each cellar window were piled sandbags. What the 
signs meant was that beneath the buildings upon which 
they appeared, was a cellar capable of sheltering the 
number of persons indicated. The reason for their 
being was that Bar-le-Duc was a city likely at any 
minute to be bombed by an enemy air fleet. Already 
this had occurred a number of times and many people 
had been killed or wounded. Wrecked buildings 
around the city showed where the bombs had struck. 

We left our cars, walked down to the corner and 
turned into the main street. At the farther end, 
at the point where the street forked, stood a trans- 
parency. In large black letters, below which was a 
directing arrow, appeared a single word — Verdun. 
Even as we paused in silence to gaze upon that mystic 
sign there came the growl and rumble of distant heavy 
guns — the guns of Verdun. 

Whatever may have been the aspect of Bar-le-Duc 
in normal times, now it impressed me as a city utterly 
weary, a city sapped of vitality. As a weary man, 
exhausted by constant strain and tension to a con- 
dition of listless indifference — thus did Bar-le-Duc im- 
press me. And well might it be weary. For months 
troops had poured through its streets, men of a score 
of races, men from far countries and from the heart 
of France. Here they had passed on their way to 
the Vortex and through these streets* the bleeding 
wrecks of the same men had been borne back. Day 
and night without ceasing the munition camions had 



88 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



rumbled by. While winter ended, spring came and 
passed, and summer blossomed, the thundering guns 
had not ceased to sound. For five months this unre- 
lenting strain had endured and Bar-le-Duc was like a 
weary soul. 

The Lieutenant having received his orders, the 
signal was given to take the wheel and we climbed 
rather wearily into our seats. Some five kilometers 
beyond the city we came to a cluster of buildings — 
the village of Veil — and here in an open field we drew 
up our cars. Of the twenty-one ambulances which 
had started for the Somme, twenty had arrived. All 
of the auxiliary cars, with the exception of the repair 
car which was back with the missing ambulance, had 
also come through. In the last three days we had 
covered over four hundred kilometers. As convoy 
driving involves considerable strain we were all rather 
tired. Rain had set in but we were too weary to 
pitch a tent. Everyone cleared a place in his car and 
turned into his blankets glad of the prospect of a 
night's repose. 

It was close to midnight, and "dark as the inside of 
a cow," when the camp was startled into wakefulness 
by the cry "Show a leg ; everybody out, we're called." 
Outside the rain beat against the cars and a mournful 
wind slapped the branches overhead. It was a pain- 
ful transition from the warm comfort of the blankets 
to the raw chill of the night but no one hesitated. 
Lanterns began to flicker ; figures struggling into tunic 



89 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



and knickers tumbled out of cars ; objects were pulled 
forth and piled on the ground, bedding was thrown 
under ground-sheets. Stretchers shot into places. 
Engines began to cough and snort, and searchlights 
pierced the night. The CO., moving from car to car, 
issued the order, "In convoy order; gas masks and 
helmets. Head-lights till further orders." In twenty 
minutes after the first call, every car was ready, every 
man in his place, and the convoy formed. "Where 
are we going?" was the inquiry which shot from car 
to car and, though no one knew, the answer was in- 
variably "Verdun." 

Presently the whistle blew and we moved out. 
Down through the sleeping city of Bar-le-Duc we went 
and there where the transparency blazoned the legend 
"Verdun" we obeyed the silent injunction of the point- 
ing arrow and turned to the left. We passed through 
the outskirts of the city and presently entered upon 
a broad, pitted road. Well might the road be pitted, 
for there was the Voie Sacre — the Sacred Way — over 
which had passed every division of the French Army, 
the way over which thousands of the men of France 
had passed never to return. 

Beyond question one reason why Verdun was chosen 
by the Germans as the point against which their great 
offensive was launched was the weakness of the sup- 
porting railroad facilities. Normally the city is served 
by two lines of railways, one running north from St. 
Mihiel, the other coming in from the west by Ste. 



90 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



Menehould. Since St. Mihiel was in their hands, the 
first road was eliminated and though the second was 
not in the enemy's hands it was commanded by his 
batteries. This left the position of Verdun without 
supporting railroads, heretofore considered necessary 
for maintaining an army. But the Hun had reckoned 
without two things, the wonderful organization of the 
French motor transport, and the Voie Sacre. Never 
had a road been called upon to bear the burdens which 
now were thrown upon this way. An armada of 
ten thousand motor camions was launched, and day 
and night in two unbroken lines this fleet held its 
course and served the defending armies of Verdun. 

Now we, too, passed down the road, privileged to 
become part of that support. 

A half-moon, blood-red as though it, too, had taken 
on the hue of war, appeared in the broken sky, de- 
scribed a half arc and disappeared. Once a tremen- 
dous light illuminated the whole northern sky. Pos- 
sibly it was the explosion of a mine. We never knew 
what. The noise of the guns grew louder as we went 
on. The gray fore-tone of dawn was streaking the 
east when we halted by a group of tents at the road- 
side. We were beyond Lemmes, someone said, but 
this meant nothing to us. It was a field hospital and 
here we found our men, a hundred of them. They 
were all gas victims as their wracking, painful coughs 
indicated. 

The rain had ceased. The sun rose and warmed 



rv 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



things a bit. It was seven o'clock in the morning and 
Bar-le-Duc was beginning to stir itself for another 
weary day as we reached the evacuation hospital. 
Three-quarters of an hour later we straggled into 
Veil, having covered over a hundred kilometers since 
midnight. 

After the hard rolling of the last few days there 
was much to be done about the cars. Bolts needed 
tightening, grease cups had to be filled and many 
minor repairs were to be made. This consumed most 
of the day and with only a couple of hours' sleep to 
our credit from the night before, we were genuinely 
tired when we rolled into our blankets that night and 
fervently hoped for an undisturbed rest. 

But such was not to be our fortune. At two-thirty 
in the morning it came— the call. In the gray of 
dawn we wound through Bar-le-Duc. In the doorways 
and on street benches we could just discern the motion- 
less forms of soldiers wrapped in chilly slumber. 
Once more we turned out upon the Sacred Way. 
Our destination was the village of Dugny, of which 
I shall have more to say later,— perhaps seven kilo- 
meters from Verdun. A blowout just beyond Bar-le- 
Duc lost me the convoy, which in turn lost me the 
road, and I wandered through a series of half de- 
molished villages, not knowing how near I might be 
to the line, before I finally again emerged on the Voie 
Sacre and reached Dugny. Here I was surprised 
to see another Section of the American Ambulance. 

92 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



It proved to be Section Eight which we were shortly 
to replace. 

We found the driving station at Dugny overflowing 
with wounded and the men placed in rows on straw 
in a stable. Again we filled our cars, this time mostly 
with couches, as before, gas victims. It was now 
broad daylight. The roadway even at night was a 
mass of traffic, mostly convoys of heavy camions. 
These followed each other in an endless belt, the 
loaded ones coming toward Verdun, the unloaded 
going away. They proceeded at an average speed of 
eighteen kilometers an hour at a distance of sixty feet 
from each other. It became necessary for us if we 
were to make any progress at all, to squirm our way 
through the maze, continually dodging in and out of 
the convoys to avoid staff cars, yet always working 
by the slower moving vehicles. It was the most trying 
kind of driving and required extreme care lest our 
cars be crushed beneath the giant munition trucks or 
lest the unforgivable sin of causing a block be com- 
mitted. It was disheartening to work by a convoy of 
eighty camions, dodging in and out to avoid cars com- 
ing in the opposite direction, and then just as the head 
of the line was reached to have a tire go bang. It is 
such happenings that try the soul of the ambulancier. 

Not till two o'clock in the afternoon did we reach 
Veil, having completed the evacuation, and get our 
first meal of the day. We were content to rest the 
remainder of the day and the day following, doing 



93 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



only such work as the cars required, and we were 
very glad that no demand came for our services. On 
the third morning a number of us secured permis- 
sion to go into Bar-le-Duc in the "chow" camion. 
We had just completed a hot bath and were making 
for a patisserie when the Lieutenant's car came up. 
"Get everybody together," he shouted, "we're leaving 
for Verdun at one o'clock." 

At camp we found the tents already struck and a 
cold singe (tinned meat) lunch awaiting us. Promptly 
at one we formed in convoy and again headed for 
the Sacred Way. At four o'clock that afternoon we 
reached the village of Dugny. This was the twenty- 
eighth of June. The trek from the Somme to Verdun 
was finished. 



94 



CHAPTER VIII 



THE VORTEX 



LOOKING at any of the maps of the Verdun 
battle front you will observe a dot near the 
left banks of the Meuse directly south of the city. 
It is the village of Dugny, on a direct line perhaps five 
kilometers from Verdun. The village consists of one 
long, rambling street, in dry weather fetlock-deep in 
dust, which the rain converts to a clinging, pasty mud. 
At the farther end of the street, where it bends north- 
ward toward Bellray, stands a square towered stone 
church. The village lies in a hollow, a hill formerly 
crowned with a fort rising steeply between it and Ver- 
dun. To the south the country spreads out flat for 
some kilometers — the valley of the Meuse — to a range 
of hills. It was to these hills the Germans expected to 
force the French retirement once the city was taken. 
Between Dugny and the hill directly to the north ran 
a narrow-gauge railroad, and daily during our occu- 
pancy the enemy searched this road with 130s. These 
bombardments usually took place around two in the 
afternoon and at that hour it was considered unsalu- 
brious to adventure up the Verdun road which skirted 



95 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



the hill at this point. The hill, itself, was cratered 
with enormous holes where 380s had landed. Some 
idea of the tremendous force of modern H-E shells 
could be had by viewing these holes, each capacious 
enough to hold half a dozen of our cars and with 
blocks of clay as large as single cars tossed about like 
so many pebbles. 

At Dugny our cantonment was, I think, the most 
uncomfortable I have ever experienced. We were 
assigned a good-sized barn about midway down the 
village street. The building was divided by a wide 
passage one side of which during our stay was car- 
peted with straw, upon which, were placed rows of gas 
victims. On either side of this passage raised about 
twelve feet from the ground, were platforms, pre- 
sumably intended for the storage of hay. On these 
platforms, access to which was had by a ladder, we 
slept — or rather were supposed to sleep, it being 
largely a matter of theory. In the spaces beneath the 
platform were stabled horses. In a room next to the 
horses was established the kitchen, a thoughtful ar- 
rangement whereby an unfailing supply of flies was 
secured. Diagonally opposite the kitchen, under one 
of the platforms, was the bureau and for want of 
other quarters the atelier was set up in the passage 
way. The mess tent was in a small yard just at the 
rear of the barn. What with the stamping of the 
horses, the forging and pounding of the atelier, the 
coming and going in the bureau, the coughing and 

Q6 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



moaning of the gassed men, the roar of the guns and 
the rumbling of the traffic passing just outside the 
entrance, compared to our cantonment a boiler fac- 
tory would have been a haven of quiet. Though our 
cars were parked flush with the road I preferred mine 
as a chambre a voucher to the stable, and whenever 
there was opportunity for sleep, which was not very 
often during our stay at Dugny, I occupied this 
blood-stained booth. 

Our principal poste was Cabaret. It is a festive 
name and certainly there was always under way a 
"continuous performance." Cabaret was nothing 
more than a large stone barn. It was situated some 
two kilometers up the Etain road beyond Verdun and 
hence on the east side of the Meuse. Here the 
wounded were brought in on stretchers from the shell 
craters which formed the line. Their dressings were 
adjusted and from here we carried them to the dress- 
ing station in the stone church at Dugny. 

All around the building were stationed batteries. 
In the field back of it they stood almost wheel to 
wheel. To the right and to the left and across from 
it they were placed. All along the Etain road they 
ranged. Within a few kilometers of the front at 
the time, there were said to be concentrated more 
than five thousand pieces of artillery. These guns 
were continuously in action. They were continuously 
searched for by the enemy's guns. The resulting 
cataclysm is beyond description. Once in northern 



97 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Ontario I encountered an old Scotchman whom I 
quizzed regarding some rapids I contemplated shoot- 
ing. "Mon," he replied, "they're pr-rodugious, ex- 
traordinaire." Such was the gunfire of Verdun 
"pr-rodugious, extraordinaire." 

Besides the poste at Cabaret, we nightly dispatched 
one car to Fort de Tavanne and one car to the 
Moulainville-Etain Cross roads, the latter a particu- 
larly ghastly place strongly recalling Bairnsfather's 
cartoon, "Dirty work at the cross roads." Our direc- 
tions for finding the place were "to go to the fifth 
smell beyond Verdun," — directions inspired by the 
group of rotting horse carcasses which were scat- 
tered along the way. These comprised our regular 
runs. In addition we were subject to special calls to 
Fort Fiat, to Bellray and to Fort Belrupt. At first 
our schedules called for one car every ninety minutes 
to leave Dugny for Cabaret. This was found to be 
insufficient and soon the intervals were shortened to 
sixty, then to forty-five, and finally to thirty minutes. 
At times the wounded came in so fast that all pre 
tense of a schedule was abandoned, a car returning at 
once to the poste after having evacuated to Dugny. 
To facilitate matters the Squad was divided into two 
sections of ten cars each and each of these sections 
was again divided. It was hoped by the arrange- 
ment that a man would be able to get one full night's 
rest out of three and sufficient day repos to keep him 
fit. 



98 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



We had, as I have said, reached Dugny late in the 
afternoon of the twenty-eighth. There was not much 
time wasted in turning over the sector to us, for at 
seven o'clock the following morning we went into 
action. The order of rollings posted in the bureau 
showed I was scheduled to leave for Cabaret at ten- 
thirty. There were two routes leading to the poste, 
one by the way of the village of Bellray, thence over 
a hill skirting the city, through a wood and out upon 
the Etain road. This route circumnavigated the city. 
The alternative route led directly north from Dugny, 
passing into Verdun by the Neuf Porte, thence on 
through the city following the river and across a 
bridge near the Porte Chaussee, through which egress 
was had to the Faubourg Pave around "dead man's 
corner" to the Etain road. The first of the two routes 
was considered the quieter. I had misgivings that 
this was but a comparative term, but being by nature 
of a reposeful disposition I determined that my first 
run, at least should be by the Bellray route. 

The entrance to Bellray village is had over a nar- 
row wooden bridge spanning marshy ground. The 
ground on both sides was pocked with shell holes, some 
not six feet from the bridge and none farther than 
fifty yards. Considering that the guns which fired 
these shells were at least six kilometers away on the 
other side of a range of hills, this might be consid- 
ered reasonably accurate shooting. Just beyond the 
bridge the road turns sharply to the left, making a 



99 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



steep ascent and comes out to the east of the city, 
passing by several barracks or casernes. It was at 
this point that the whole fury of the bombardment 
broke on one. Even when we had learned to expect 
it and steeled our nerves accordingly, it came as a 
shock — a roaring wave of noise from the inferno 
below. Down past the casernes the road dipped to 
the left and entered the woods. The trees were shat- 
tered and stripped of limbs as though by countless 
bolts of lightning, and the ground beneath was 
ploughed by shell fire and sown with shrapnel. 
Emerging from the woods on to the Etain road the 
course for some distance was bordered with houses, the 
outskirts of Verdun. There was not a house but showed 
the effect of bombardment and some had been re- 
duced to heaps of debris. From here on the buildings 
became less frequent and both sides of the road, to 
the east in the open field, on the west, under the pro- 
tection of a small rise of ground, the batteries stood 
and belched forth their hate. The ground shook with 
the reverberation and overhead the air whined and 
screeched. Down this corridor of hell the road made 
its way to Cabaret. When I reached Cabaret on that 
first trip, the sweat was standing out on my face as 
though I had been through a great agony and my 
hands were aching with the grip on the wheel. "If this 
be the quieter route," I thought, "what in the name 
of Mars must the other be ?" 
They did not happen to be shelling Cabaret and 



ioo 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



as my wounded were ready I was soon on my way 
back. Near the casernes I noticed the bodies of two 
horses killed by a shell since I had passed on the out 
trip. Reaching the driving-station at Dugny, I helped 
unload my blesses and then went into the church. 
The pews had been removed save a few placed along 
for assis. A row of stretchers flanked the wall. 
From above, a dim religious light filtered down 
through the stained glass windows upon the bandaged 
forms below. The altar was still intact and the images 
of saints adorned the walls. One corner was roughly 
screened and curtained, enclosing the emergency op- 
erating-room where cases too urgent to permit of 
delay were put under the knife. There was no con- 
fusion and the place was singularly quiet. 

At three in the afternoon came my second call for 
Cabaret. As in the morning I chose the Bellray 
route. The firing had let up somewhat, though things 
were scarcely tranquil, and in the field back of the 
poste shells were breaking. As I came through the 
woods on my way back the enemy was searching there 
with 155s, hunting for hidden batteries. I saw three 
shells burst within seventy-five meters of the road, 
one piece of eclat passing through the car body. As 
I bore along I could hear many of the shells coming 
in. This trip shattered all my confidence in the Bell- 
ray route and thereafter I went by way of the city. 

It was on the following day I received a call to 
Fort Fillat, one of the outlying defenses of Verdun. 



101 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



My knowledge of its location or of what a fort should 
look like was of the vaguest. 

Fort Fillat was, or rather had been located on the 
crest of a hill. The entire region round about Ver- 
dun had a seared, desolate look, but this hill was, I 
think, the most despairing spot I have ever seen. The 
lawn slope had been clothed with trees. Now, none 
but a few shattered stumps remained. The way up 
was strewn with wrecked camions, tumbrils, shell 
cases and scattered equipment and the air was fetid 
with the stench of rotting carcasses. Below in the 
valley the guns thundered and roared, and directly 
opposite, Fleury was in the throes of a terrible bom- 
bardment. Having passed beyond the Fort without 
realizing it, I found my way — I cannot call it a road — 
impassable because of shell craters. I noticed with 
considerable interest that while some of these craters 
were old, being half -filled with water, others appar- 
ently were of very recent make. I descended from 
my car in an endeavor to find a way through, and 
the enemy chose this opportune time to shell the hill. 
It was then I performed a feat which for years I 
had essayed in the gymnasium without success — the 
feat of falling on the face without extending the arms 
to break the fall. Whether it was the concussion 
of the shell which blew me over, or whether I really 
did accomplish the stunt unaided, I am unable to say. 
At all events I found myself flat on the ground, my 
head swimming from the explosion, and a cloud of 



1 02 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



dust above me. My first impression — that this was 
a particularly unhealthy spot — here found confirma- 
tion. I managed to get my car turned and made my 
way back to where I had noticed a crumbling wall. A 
head appeared from beneath the stones and a bran- 
cardier crawled out of a subterranean passage. It 
was Fort Fillat. 

It was two-fifteen in the morning when my next 
call for Cabaret came. There were two cars of us 
and I followed the other, for the first time passing 
through Verdun. It was intensely dark, too dark to 
see anything save when the gun flashes gave a flicker- 
ing glimpse of a shattered wall. Along the Etain 
Road the firing was furious. So many guns were in 
action that, at times, there was an almost unbroken 
line of flame. In the day-time the run was bad 
enough but nothing to be compared with this. 

It was on my return from the second trip that 
night that I got my first view of Verdun. The firing 
had slackened. Day had come and the sun, rising a 
golden ball, swept the smoke-masked valley and 
touched the shattered towns and walls. Though it 
was a landscape of desolation, of demolished homes 
and wrecked fortunes, it was not a picture of despair ; 
rather it was a picture of great travail nobly endured, 
a symbol of France assailed but unbeaten. 

It is impossible for me to give any consecutive 
narrative or account of those days we served in the 
Vortex. The communiques show there were attacks 

103 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



and counter attacks, that the French took ground, 
lost it and retook it, that gas wave after gas wave 
came over, that "the fighting in the Verdun sector 
continues heavy." All this meant we worked without 
thought of schedule, with little sleep and without re- 
gard to time. Now and then we ate, more from habit 
than because we were hungry, but when we were not 
rolling we did not rest; we could not, the agitation 
of unrest so permeated the very air. "How does it 
go?" we would ask our blesses. ."Ah, monsieur, nous 
nous retirons," one would answer. Would the city 
fall? But soon we would be reassured, for the next 
man, his fighting eye gleaming from beneath a bloody 
bandage would affirm : "lis ne passeront pas; on les 
aura" (They shall not pass; we will have them). 
And so I say, I can give no very clear account of 
those days. My journal does not help much. It is 
disconnected, jerky and without proposition. Certain 
incidents and pictures there are, however, which 
stand out in my memory as sharply pricked as the 
flash of a machine gun on a pitchy night. I remember 
one morning very early as I rounded "dead man's 
corner" en route to the poste, encountering Mac re- 
turning and that he leaned out and shouted : "Be care- 
ful, they are shelling the road ahead," and that I pro- 
ceeded on my way, half-dead for want of sleep, won- 
dering dully how a chap was to "be careful." 

I remember a night when, the road blocked, I was 
forced to make a detour through the woods, I ran into 



104 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



a tangle of horses and caissons thrown into confusion 
by a shell, and I recall that I flashed my torch for 
an instant and it fell full on the face of a dead man 
who lay square in the center of the road, a gaping 
hole in his head. I remember that first dawn in 
Verdun and yet another dawn when I went down 
the Etain road as the French were drawing a tire de 
barrage, and passed just inside our batteries and just 
outside the enemy's curtain fire on the hill above. 
Clearer than all, I remember one scene at Cabaret. 
It was close to midnight after a hot, muggy day. 
There was a change of Divisions and within the 
stone barn there must have been about a hundred and 
fifty men. The outgoing surgeons were consulting 
with those just arrived. The departing brancardiers 
were awaiting the order to move, while those of the 
incoming division were moving about, storing their 
packs preparatory to leaving for the line. Around 
the walls lay the wounded. A single calcium light 
threw a white glow on everything, sharply marking 
the shadows. The door was draped with a blanket, 
as were the shell-holes in the walls, and the air was 
close and foul with the war smell, that compound of 
anaesthetics, blood and unwashed bodies. Outside, for 
the moment, the batteries were silent and within, the 
hum of voices was distinctly audible. And then, sud- 
denly, as though every man were stricken dumb, the 
silence fell, silence save for the whirring screech of 
a shell. It seemed hours in coming. Something told 



'05 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



us it would strike very close, perhaps within. As 
though mowed down, we had dropped on our faces. 
Then it burst — just beyond the wall. £clat tore gaps 
in the door drapings, and whined spitefully across 
the room, raining against the wall, one hitting my 
casque. "Le luminaire, le luminaire," shouted a voice 
and the light was dashed out. There we lay — a mixed 
mass of arms and legs — lay and waited for other 
shells. But no more came and presently we were up 
and the place roused into activity. 

At eight o'clock on the morning of Wednesday, July 
twelfth, we came off duty in the Verdun sector, com- 
pleting fourteen days of service, at that time, I believe, 
a record, as ambulance sections were not supposed 
to serve more than ten days consecutively in this 
sector. We were relieved by a French Section. This 
relieving Section had, before we left Dugny, in its 
one day of service lost two men, one gassed, the 
pther killed by a shell. Though we had had six cars 
hit, one almost demolished, we had not lost a man nor 
had one injured. American luck! 

The remainder of the twelfth we loaded our cars 
and got everything ready for departure. We were 
glad enough at the prospect of getting away from 
Dugny. It had been an uncomfortable fortnight with 
much rain, broken by hot, searing days. Our quar- 
ters were now shared with gas victims, the poor chaps 
coughing almost continuously. We were all feeling 



106 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



the need of sleep but it was impossible to rest amidst 
our surroundings. 

We were up at five next morning and by eight the 
convoy was formed. In a drizzling rain we pulled 
out through Dugny's one street and proceeding by 
a circuitous route amid the traffic of the Voie Sacre 
we finally reached "Bar." We did not stop here but 
pushed on for some eight kilometers beyond and drew 
up at a village. As we climbed down from the cars 
the voices of the guns came to us only as a faint 
rumble, for the Vortex was some fifty kilometers 
away. 



107 



CHAPTER IX 



Repos 

THE village at which the convoy had halted was 
Tannois. We shall not soon forget Tannois. Not 
that there is anything remarkable about it, for it is 
just the ordinary, uninteresting French provincial 
village with an unpretentious inn, a few epiceries, 
and some stolid-looking stone houses, but we shall 
remember it for the peace and calm it brought us. 
We did not linger long in the village proper but passed 
through and entered a little valley just beyond. It 
was a beautiful spot. On either side and at the far 
end were green-clad hills, and down through the valley 
flowed a clear, sparkling spring. Sweet-smelling hay 
carpeted the ground and poppies and wild flowers 
were scattered everywhere. Beneath a row of trees 
whose protecting branches offered pleasing shade we 
parked. The whole environment was one of peace 
and restfulness and after the inferno we had just 
left we were in a mood to appreciate the change. 
We were content to lie on our backs and gaze at 
the hills and listen to the trickling of the brook. 
But we were not destined to remain long at Tan- 



ic8 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



nois, for on the night of the sixteenth orders came 
in and the following day we moved. As usual we 
went through Bar-le-Duc without stopping and pro- 
ceeding by way of Mericourt and a number of half- 
demolished villages, in mid-afternoon reached our des- 
tination, Givry-en-Argonne. Givry is one of those sad 
little towns which make one wonder why the French, 
being a kind-hearted people, permit it to linger and 
suffer. Its dirty main street opens into a sad little 
square where dejected buildings face each other in 
an attitude of hopeless boredom. Even the ubiquitous 
cafes seem burdened with ennui. It required but 
one look at our cantonment, a buggy-looking stable, 
to convince us that we should prefer our cars as 
sleeping quarters. These we parked on two vacant 
lots by the side of the main road where the dust 
from passing traffic swept over them. We messed in 
a commandeered private residence and I remember 
we had especially good food while at Givry. Though 
nominally en repos, the Squad did a certain amount 
of work, the evacuation of malades or an occasional 
blesse, the victim of hand grenade practise, and in 
this way saw considerable of the surrounding country. 

In the French Army, each automobile section has 
some distinguishing emblem painted on its cars, a 
stork, a Pierrot, a ballet dancer, some symbol as a 
sort of trade mark as it were. Among the Squad's 
French contingent was a man who in civil life was a 
distinguished painter. He now designed a splendid 



109 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Indian head, resplendent with feathers, and this was 
adopted as the Squad's mark and was emblazoned on 
the sides and back of each car. This head at once 
caught the fancy of the poilu. It soon made the Sec- 
tion well known and thereafter wherever we were, 
we were hailed as Les Peaux Rouges — the red skins. 
Incidentally this decoration started an epidemic of 
car painting and with the war-gray paint nearly every 
car was freshened. Poor old "Ting" suffered the 
hardest luck when, after laboring all day, covering 
his car and himself with paint, perspiration and pro- 
fanity, we received orders to move, the roads at the 
time being ankle deep in dust. 

We left Givry without regret and after an unevent- 
ful roll of twenty kilometers, we hove to at the village 
of Triaucourt. Just outside Triaucourt is a pretentious 
villa, the property of M. Poincare, the brother of the 
President of France. It was at the villa that the 
Crown Prince stayed before the Germans were swept 
back. It is situated in its own beautiful grounds, or 
rather park. To the left of the house, as it faces the 
road, is a large open sward, along one side of which 
flows a small stream, the headwaters of the Aisne. All 
around are groups of trees. In this beautiful spot, 
through the courtesy of the authorities, we were per- 
mitted to park our cars. They were aligned in two 
rows facing each other and about sixty feet apart. 
The mess tent was pitched in a magnificent grove of 
pines at one end of the cars, and the CO.'s and a 



no 




During Heavy Engagements the Stretcher Bearers Eat 
When and Where They Can 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



sleeping tent in another grove on a small rise of 
ground. Never had we had such an ideal cantonment. 

Triaucourt itself we found to be not entirely with- 
out interest. It possessed a church of some architec- 
tural pretensions which bore the marks of war, for 
the Germans in their first advance had shelled the 
place rather thoroughly. The church contains one 
picture said to be a genuine Van Dyck. Certainly 
it was dingy enough to be. From the back of the 
church extends a row of ruins the length of two 
city blocks, another token of the passing of the Huns. 
There were the usual cafes and epiceries and several 
field hospitals. 

Those were pleasant days we spent at Triaucourt. 
We were forty kilometers back of the line ; our Divi- 
sion was en repos, reforming, so there were no 
wounded. Occasionally we would receive a call to 
transport a malade from one hospital to another. On 
such duty I went several times to Revigny or rather 
what was left of the town. Whole blocks lay in ruins 
presenting a picture of desolation such as only war — 
the war of the Hun — is capable of producing. At 
Le Roi, not far from Revigny, lay the gigantic frame 
of the Zeppelin brought down some months before. 

But for the most part our days were of idle dalli- 
ance. Beautiful weather prevailed. We sat in our 
cars chatting or reading or lolled about on the grass. 
In the later afternoon we used to pair off and go 
for long walks about the country. A series of soccer 



in 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



matches was arranged and played between a team 
made up from the Squad and a team from the Divi- 
sion. Considering that our opponents had six thou- 
sand men from whom to draw and we were but 
twenty-one and not familiar with the game, we did 
remarkably well for, while we were never victorious 
neither were we ever blanked and once we tied. 
They were good sportsmen — the French — and always 
applauded when we made a good play and cheered 
at the end of every match. 

Of course we had a baseball and bat — were there 
a score of Americans in any part of the earth that 
the makings for the national game were not forth- 
coming? Our scrub games attracted an enormous 
amount of attention and created great speculation and 
interest. At times the gallery exceeded a thousand 
poilus and a score or more of officers. Once or twice 
an officer joined in, holding his hands wide apart, 
and when a hot grounder burned his palms a great 
shout of joy would rise from the spectators. 

There seemed something in the air 'round about 
Triaucourt that was particularly salubrious to the 
raising of dogs; not dogs of any one kind or breed, 
or in fact of any recognized kind or breed, but, never- 
theless, in the general acceptation of the term, dogs. 
This condition prevailing, it occurred to some in- 
spired soul, to take advantage of the material thus 
provided by the gods, and hold a bench show, each 
ambulancier being entitled to one entry. The idea 



112 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



was received with enthusiasm, and thereafter in the 
by-ways of Triaucourt might be seen khaki-clad fig- 
ures holding forth a morsel of meat in one hand, the 
other concealing behind their backs a piece of rope, 
the while cajoling the prospective canine victims with 
supposedly soothing terms of mixed French and Eng- 
lish. The result was as astonishing a collection of ani- 
mals as was ever gathered outside the precincts of a 
museum. And when they all got to uowling and yowl- 
ing and yapping, the ensemble was truly magnificent. 
The prize was eventually awarded to a weird-looking 
animal with quaint legs, an abortive tail and of an 
indescribable greenish hue. The decision of the 
judges was contested by the disappointed proprietor 
of another entry on the ground that the animal 
awarded the prize was not a dog at all, a protest, 
however, which was disallowed. 

In the reaction from the strain of front line work 
there was an effervescence of spirits which found ex- 
pression in pranks as well as sports. One favorite 
diversion was the morning "evacuation." The Squad 
was supposed to turn out at seven and to report for 
coffee at seven-thirty. There were usually several 
recalcitrant risers and it was the self-constituted duty, 
or I should say pleasure, of the early risers to 
"evacuate" such cases. Silently "the committee" 
would proceed to the car of the evacue; two "mem- 
bers" would carefully grasp the projecting handles 
of the stretcher upon which the unconscious victim 



"3 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



was sleeping; then, at a given signal the stretcher 
would be shot out of the car, the other end grasped 
by the remaining committeemen, hoisted shoulder high 
and in a second the evacue would find himself torn 
from the arms of Morpheus and traveling at a high 
rate of speed towards the center of the town. Here 
he was deposited in a prominent place, preferably the 
middle of the square, and immediately he would be- 
come what the society people would term the "cyno- 
sure of all eyes." Ancient dames, children, dogs, wan- 
dering poilus and "le population civile" would crowd 
wonderingly about. There would be many ejacula- 
tions of "Qu'est-ce que c'est" and "Qu'est-ce qu'il y 
a," whereupon "the committee" in furtherance of its 
duties would spread the rumor that the occupant of 
the stretcher was a contagieux. After a reasonable 
period — though it could hardly be thus defined by 
the victim, he would be again hoisted aloft and borne 
solemnly back to camp to the whistled strains of the 
dirge. 

While at Triaucourt three new recruits joined us, 
replacing men whose enlistments had expired. A 
"new man" was always treated with distant courtesy 
and called formally by his last name until such time 
as he might be proved, which might be a matter of 
days or weeks or, perhaps, never. Certain privileges, 
however, he always had. For one thing, he was in- 
variably "permitted to subscribe" to the Bulletin des 
Armees, paying therefore ten francs. Inasmuch as this 



114 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



journal, the official army paper, was furnished free 
to every enlisted man, "the subscriber" could not be 
heard to say that he did not receive his paper. Then, 
too, a recruit was liable to be "sold" a gas mask and 
helmet, both of which are furnished free by the army 
in any desired numbers. The money obtained from 
these activities, was devoted to the purchase of 
gateaux for the table which, when served, were an- 
nounced as "the gift" of the new man. Whereupon 
he realized, perhaps for the first time, that in the 
words of the song, he was "in the army now." New 
men were apt to be confused by the talk, for the Squad 
possessed a vocabulary and language all its own. 
Everything was either "good news" or "bad news" 
depending on how it struck the Squad. Anything 
incredible of belief was "a lota." If a man died he 
"huffed" or "passed." A helmet was a "trench 
derby," a gas mask, "a muffler." A friend was "Mon 
Vieux," furlough was "perm." The mess was referred 
to as "chow," beans were known as "dum-dums." 
Salt was "doosel" A car was a "buss," a "peanut 
roaster" was a "Rolls-Royce." Wine was "ink" and 
the cook "the Zouave." A dug-out was "a rathskel- 
ler," shell fire was "heaving eggs ;" "be careful" was 
"mind your eye, Judge." Of nick names there was 
no end. "Breakbands," "Sparkplugs," "Wilkins," 
"Doc," "Sample," "Slack," "Betty," "Skinnay," "Si- 
lent," "Claxson" were all real characters. The Squad, 
too, had its favorite songs, among which were 



"5 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



"Ephriam Brown, the Sailor," "Here's to the Land," 
"Mary Ann McCarty,' "How Well I Remember 
the Days of '49," "There Was An Old Man Named 
Bill," "Here Lies the Body of a Cigarette Fiend," 
"When I Die," "The Kaiser Has No Hair At All," 
"She Wore It For a Lover Who Was Far, Far away." 
Through many a weary wait and in many a queer place 
have these choruses rolled forth their cheer. 

On the twenty-fifth of July we received word that 
the Section, as a section, had been cited to the Order 
of the Division for its work at Verdun. The day 
following we were paraded. The Medecin Division- 
aire appeared with his aide. The Citation was read 
and the Cross of War pinned to one of our battered 
ambulances, symbolizing the Decoration of the Sec- 
tion. 

The citation follows: 
2e Armee 

Direction du Service 

de Sante du Groupement E 

Extrait d'Ordre No. 78 
En execution des prescriptions regle- 
mentaires, le Directeur du Service de 
Sante du 6 e Corps d'Armee cite a l'ordre 
du service de Sante le Corps d'Armee. 

La Section Sanitaire Automo- 
bile Americaine No. 1 



116 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



Sous la Direction du Lieutenant de 
Kersauson de Permemdreff et des Offi- 
ciers Americains Herbert Townsend et 
Victor White, 

La Section Sanitaire Americaine 
No. i 

a assure remarquablement le service 
quotidien des evacuations en allant 
chercher le blesses le plus loin possible 
malgre un bombardement parfois violent. 
C'est particulierement distingue le II 
Juillet 1 91 6 en traversant a plusieurs re- 
prises une nappe de gaz toxiques sous un 
feu intense sans aucun repel pendant 32 
heures pour emmener au plus vite aux 
Ambulances les intoxiques. 

Q. G. le 26 Juillet 1916 
Le Directeur du Service de Sante 
Seal. 

J. Toubert 

Delivre copie du present ordre a 
Robert Whitney Imbrie 
H. P. Townsend 

Seal 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Xhe days were passing pleasantly. July ended and 
still we remained at Triaucourt. We were begin- 
ning to tire of inaction and to wish for the front — 
yes, even though it meant the Vortex. Therefore we 
were delighted when at the beginning of the second 
week in August orders came in for us to move. But 
we were not yet to go to the front. It was merely 
to the village of Vaubecourt, seven kilometers dis- 
tant from Triaucourt that we shifted. The change 
meant our Division, which for the past month had 
been en repos, was now en reserve and as Vaubecourt 
was in the Verdun section, in all probability we should 
again go up to the Vortex. 

Vaubecouri is now little more than a name. A 
few blackened walls still stand, a few houses remain 
unscathed. That is all. Here it was the Germans 
made a stand from which the French finally drove 
them. The village is on the edge of a considerable 
forest, part of the Argonne. On the outskirts of this 
forest we established our camp. A really beautiful 
spot it was and save that in places the forest was 
traversed by splendid roads, the region was as wild 
as the Adirondacks. Everywhere the spoor of the 
wild boar was visible. The CO. was an ardent sports- 
man and together we spent the greater part of the 
ensuing nights roaming the woods or sitting motion- 
less in a thicket, waiting for a shot, returning as the 
rising sun began to light the forest. On the way we 
used to exchange hunting reminiscences, as we had 

118 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



both shot great game in Africa — he in the Transvaal, 
I in the Congo. 

Five months had now elapsed since I had been 
en permission. The Squad now being part of the line, 
permissions were "open ;" two men at a time were 
permitted to leave. So on the morning of August 
twelfth, Josh and I left in the staff car for Bar-le-Duc 
where we caught the train and that same evening 
reached Paris. 



"9 



CHAPTER X 



ENCORE VERDUN 

PERMISSION was over. It was five o'clock in 
the afternoon and I had just reached Bar-le-Duc. 
My orders were to report to the officer in charge of 
the pare here, where I would be told the whereabouts 
of my Section. So I at once sought out the com- 
mandant who informed me: "Votre Section est a 
Verdun," a cheering little piece of news. None of 
our cars were in Bar-le-Duc, so there was no way of 
getting to the front that night. With me were three 
recruits for Section 4, at the time quartered at the 
village of Ippecourt some thirty kilometers from 
Verdun. As there would be a machine in for them 
next day I decided to remain in Bar-le-Duc for the 
night and go out with them. Accordingly on the fol- 
lowing morning, through the courtesy of Section 4's 
commander, I was taken out to Ippecourt and after 
lunching with the Squad was driven over to my own 
Section. 

I found the Squad quartered in the Chateau Bille- 
mont, some three kilometers from Dugny and about 
equal distance from Verdun. It was a fine, large 



120 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



place splendidly situated with numerous trees which 
offered concealment for the cars from scouting aero- 
planes. I was somewhat puzzled to know why we 
had been assigned such elaborate quarters until I 
saw the answer in a number of shell holes about the 
house. The place was under intermittent bombard- 
ment. Prior to our occupancy it had been the head- 
quarters of a high officer and had been evacuated by 
him because of its frequent shelling. We were per- 
fectly willing to take our chances with shells to have 
such comfortable quarters. Here we had half a 
dozen rooms for sleeping — the irony of the situation 
being we got very little chance to sleep — a fine large 
dining-room, a lounging-hall, kitchen and salon. There 
was even chateau stationery and a telephone, though 
this of couse did not function. 

On this, our second time at Verdun, we served but 
one poste — the Caserne Marceau. This caserne, — 
now demolished by shell fire — had topped the crest of 
a considerable hill which rose to the northwest of the 
city, and about two kilometers beyond. It was an 
exposed spot and it and the approach were swept by 
almost continual shell fire. The poste itself was a 
half -dugout in the side of the hill just below the 
crest, shored with timbers and both roofed and banked 
with sand bags. 

To reach this poste after leaving Chateau Bille- 
mont we proceeded north along the road which passed 
the Chateau grounds. A kilometer or so beyond, the 



121 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



road turned to the left and for a way paralleled a spur 
railroad track. On this track was operated a mobile 
ioo marine battery mounted on specially constructed 
cars. The "hundred" takes a shell about four feet 
in length, the detonation from which is terrific. Fre- 
quently the guns would be in action as we passed and 
the concussion fairly rocked our heads. The road 
about here bore testimony of the accuracy of the 
enemy's fire. But the battery being mobile, changed 
its position frequently and never suffered a hit. Again 
bending to the north this road entered a little patch 
of shell-torn timber. Here was a transparency with 
the information Zone Dangereux and an equally su- 
perfluous injunction to Alles Vite. Beyond the timber 
the road turning to the east entered the city gate. 
Traversing the city and emerging as before on the 
Etain road, our new run left this about a kilometer 
beyond and commenced a long ascent on the left at 
the end of which, near the hill crest, was located the 
poste. The entire run was under the enemy's fire. 
This poste served that portion of the line of which 
Fleury was the central objective. Evacuations, as be- 
fore, were made to the church at Dugny. 

Though we served but one poste this time our work 
was much more severe than at our first time up at 
Verdun. Consulting the communiques you will find 
that at this time there was a series of attacks and 
counter attacks upon Fleury; that the Germans took, 
lost and retook the village, that the French regained 



122 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



it, advancing toward Thiaumont, and that the enemy's 
line near the Vaux-le-Chapitre Wood was captured 
on a length of sixteen hundred meters. These gains 
were paid for in bloody toll. Thousands of wounded 
poured through the poste at Caserne Marceau. 

At first there was pretense of a schedule, the cars 
leaving quarters at stated intervals, but this was soon 
abandoned, having been found impracticable, and when 
on duty a car rolled almost continuously. As before, 
the Section was divided into two Squads of ten cars 
each, but as the wounded frequently came in such 
numbers that one Squad could not handle them all, 
twenty of the cars were put into service. This meant 
that sleep "went by the board" and many of the men 
served forty-eight hours without a wink, some of them 
falling asleep at the wheel as they drove. To facili- 
tate the service, at night ten cars were stationed in 
Verdun itself. The stand here was at what had been 
the Military Club (Circle Militaire), an imposing 
brick building now half-wrecked by shells. Within 
those elaborately decorated rooms, the scene of so 
much festivity and high living, we wandered about or 
sat upon the plush chairs awaiting our call, the while 
the bombardment raged about. 

The nights during this period were especially dark. 
In the pitchy streets of Verdun with the debris piled 
high on either side it was impossible to see a bayonet 
thrust ahead. Eyes were of no avail; one steered by 
feel. Several times cars met head on. Twice when 



123 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



this occurred both the colliding cars were put tempor- 
arily out of commission. Again, on several occasions, 
it occurred that a driver, overcome with weariness, 
fell asleep at the wheel to be awakened by his car's 
crashing into a wall or ditch. The mechanical force 
was kept busy with repairs and rendered yeoman 
service. At times there were several cars en panne 
at once and we should have been swamped had it not 
been for the fact that our rolling stock had been sup- 
plemented by a large truck ambulance capable of 
transporting twenty sitting cases simultaneously. With 
this and the entire Squad in action, we were able at 
all times to handle our poste. 

There were the usual miraculous escapes. Giles 
was blown off his feet by the concussion of a shell. 
Bob's car was pierced by eclat which wounded the 
already wounded men therein. Some were knocked 
down by concussion. Some of the cars were hit but 
the Squad did not suffer a scratch. 

We came off duty at Caserne Marceau at three 
o'clock on the afternoon of Saturday, September 
ninth, it falling to my lot to evacuate the last load of 
blesses. As I descended the hill from the poste, a 
number of cars of the replacing French Section were 
coming up. Within two days after taking over our 
section, two of the drivers were killed and two seri- 
ously wounded. On the same night three brancardiers 
were killed at the poste. 

Though relieved from duty, we were not to leave 



124 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



Billemont for another day and accordingly on Sun- 
day several of us obtained permission to go into Ver- 
dun. Though I had been through the city scores of 
times, I had been always in my car or on duty. Hence 
I had had little opportunity to really view the place. 
At the city gate the gendarme stopped us and in 
spite of my laisser-passer was disinclined to allow me 
to pass since I had neglected to wear a helmet and it 
was strictly forbidden to enter unless thus crowned. 
But after some argument he consented to turn his 
head and we went in. It was a strange experience, 
thus wandering in this deserted, stricken city. It gave 
one something of the sensation Pompeii does. Though 
the sun shone brightly enough, the chill of ruin and 
desolation prevaded. In all the city there was scarcely 
a house that did not bear the scar of shell, while in 
scores, hundreds of places there remained but a pile 
of stones and a yawning hole where once had stood 
a house. In many places a shell coming from above 
had entirely wrecked the interior of a building leaving 
the four walls standing. 

We ascended the hill to the citadel. Its walls were 
scarred and shattered but its two towers still bravely 
reared themselves four-square to the world, guarding 
the ruins below. As we left the citadel, and turned 
into a side street a quaint corner cafe attracted our 
attention. Entering through a shell-made orifice we 
seated ourselves at one of the dust-covered tables. It 
must have been a cosy place once. Low smoke- 



125 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



browned ceilings above, paneled walls, seats with high 
backs and at one end the barrette. Here many an ab- 
sinthe has been sipped. And there on the shelves back 
of the bar still stood the glasses which in the happier 
days, avant la guerre, had clinked to merry toasts. 
We passed down the street and entered a private 
house, one side of which was blown in. The room 
in which we stood had evidently been the salon. On 
the mantel stood some ornaments and a joyous china 
chanticleer with raised head seemed to pour forth the 
defiance of France. Below, on the same street was 
a hardware store — or, as the English would say, an 
ironmonger's shop. Its front was smashed in and 
scattered about the floor were bolts, screws, tinware 
and all the goods of the trade. We entered an hotel and 
continuing down the corridor came to the "bureau." 
Here the keys to the guest rooms still hung in orderly 
array, waiting for the patrons who would never come. 
There was the open register in which after knocking 
off the dust we inscribed our names. Rain and snow, 
coming through the shattered roof, had stained the 
hangings, and the upholstery was beginning to rot. 
Broken marble-topped tables and wrecked chairs lit- 
tered the bar. The upper floors or what was left of 
them, were cluttered with furniture. Bed linen lay 
scattered about and over everything was a coating of 
plaster, while underfoot glass crackled. 

In the rear of the building, the front of which had 
been some sort of a shop, we found a room three 



126 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



sides of which were lined with rows of books. Some 
were solid-looking tomes bound in calf, now rotting 
from the exposure. There were scientific treatises and 
works of reference as well as a few paper-backed ones 
and on one shelf were a number of works printed in 
German. The roof of this place was gone and pools 
of water stood on the floor and mildew was every- 
where. In a closet leading from this room, clothing 
still hung, one pompous evening coat of ancient cut 
jet buttons still preserving its dignity — being supported 
by a coat hanger. 

For three hours we wandered about but during all 
our ramble we did not encounter one single soul. Not 
so much as a dog or a cat moved among the ruins 
and when the guns quieted not a sound was heard save 
the crunching of the glass beneath our feet. 

While within the city we had heard no shells, but 
as we passed through the gate a crash sounded and 
looking back we could see a cloud of dust rising in the 
still air. The Hun was hurling his hate. 

It had been arranged for that afternoon that the 
regimental pasteur should hold service for the Squad 
at quarters. Though not a bearer of arms, no braver 
man wears the blue, and he was a great favorite. 
After noon mess we all gathered in front of the 
chateau, lounging about on the grass awaiting the 
chaplain's arrival. Suddenly, out of nothing, sounded 
the screech of a shell. It did not need much experience 
to tell that it was coming close. Conversation ceased ; 



127 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



pipes remained poised in the air; not a soul moved. 
There was an explosion. The shell had hit about one 
hundred yards down the road. Then came a faint 
"boom" and eleven seconds later another shell came 
in, this time somewhat nearer. The chateau was being 
bombarded with i3o's. We were all pretty well scared 
— at least I can speak for myself — but no one had the 
nerve to be the first to run for the cellar. So we 
lounged there waiting. At this moment the staff car 
with the pasteur came through the gate, a shell hitting 
not fifty meters behind and the eclat whirring viciously 
overhead. For perhaps ten minutes the bombardment 
continued — trying minutes they were too — and then 
the firing ceased as suddenly as it had commenced. 
Beneath a fine old tree we grouped ourselves about 
the chaplain and lowered our heads while he prayed 
to "le bon Dieu, our protector in times of peril, our 
strength in moments of trial." 

At nine the next day we formed convoy in front 
of the chateau. The sun, smiling on our departure, 
came out from behind a bank of clouds. The guns 
were in action and their thunder followed us, gradually 
growing fainter as we passed through Dugny and on 
toward Ippecourt. Shortly before noon, we "spoke" 
Triaucourt and dropped anchor in our old harbor. 



138 



CHAPTER XI 



THE ARGON NE 

ON the same afternoon upon which we reached 
Triaucourt the Squad drove over to the small 
nearby village of Eire. Here we found the brancar- 
diers of the Division had preceded us and shortly 
afterwards the commanding general and his aides ap- 
peared. The names of the soldiers of the Division 
who had especially distinguished themselves under fire 
were called out and among the others, two from the 
Squad, "Hutsie" and Gyles. After congratulating the 
men as a whole, the individual citations were read and 
the Croix de Guerre pinned to their tunics. In the 
meanwhile the entire region was suffused with an 
erubescent glow from Gyles' embarrassed blushes. 

We remained at Triaucourt but three days and on 
the morning of the fourth pulled out towards the 
northward, passing through the city of Ste. Mene- 
hould to the village of La Grange aux Bois, the bois 
in the case being the forest of the Argonne. 

La Grange is a sleepy little village which lies 
sprawled along the side of the road about midway be- 
tween Reims and Verdun. At the time we reached 



129 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



here it was some fifteen kilometers back of the line. 
There were two picket stations, La Chalade, a wretched 
village about two and a half kilometers from the line 
and another small village at about the same distance. 
Evacuations were made to a dressing station located 
in La Grange and to Ste. Menehould, a place too small 
and too sleepy to warrant the name "city," and too 
large and populous to be called a town. (The sector 
was at this time one of the dullest and most dormant 
in the whole line and were it not for the newspapers 
which reached us occasionally, we would never have 
known the war was going on.) 

Our runs took us through neighboring towns, Cler- 
mont — now almost totally destroyed, La Claon, Les 
Islettes, where the church steeple was tilted awry, the 
work of a passing shell, Les Controllere, and to a vil- 
lage which bore the somewhat cryptic name of Corrupt. 

Just off the main road at La Grange stood a portable 
wooden barracks which was assigned to us for quar- 
ters. It was too airy to heat and leaked like a five 
dollar raincoat. Almost overnight fall seemed to have 
set in. Cold rain fell day after day; the mud deep- 
ened and a mournful wind swept through the dismal 
little village. Josh, Gyles and I, stimulated by a de- 
sire to avoid pneumonia and an aversion to sleeping 
in wet blankets, moved up the road to a deserted one- 
room house. The place was a perfect replica of 
Fagin's Den as usually staged in the third act of the 
dramatized version of "Oliver Twist." We succeeded 



130 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



in borrowing a wooden bench and table and we ob- 
tained a small stove. We exerted much effort in set- 
ting up the pipe and the more in digging a hole 
through the wall to accommodate it, after which it 
occurred to us that we had no fuel nor was any obtain- 
able. Our quarters we shared with a sociable family 
of rats, or perhaps I should say they permitted us to 
share their quarters. The prospect held little of cheer. 
Winter was coming — in fact was almost upon us. The 
deadness of the sector meant little work and that of 
the dull back-of-the line sort. There was absolutely 
no excitement, nor prospect of any. For all we could 
see the Section might be doomed to put in the entire 
winter at La Grange. Permission was nearly three 
months away. For the first time some of us were be- 
ginning to realize that even war may have its monot- 
onous side. And then something occurred which prom- 
ised to change matters. 

"Hutsie" brought the news. He came into Fagin's 
Den one dismal afternoon and with a caution born of 
former collapses gingerly lowered himself on the 
bench. He sat silently looking at me a moment or two 
and then grinned "How'd you like to go to the 
Orient?" "Fine," I answered, "When do we start?" 
"I'm speaking seriously," he affirmed. "The Army of 
the Orient has asked for a section of our cars, and 
headquarters has just wired asking for three volun- 
teers from the men in the Service. Yours is one of 
the names mentioned. The enlistment is for seven 

131 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



months and your answer must be given by tomorrow 
morning." 

Outside the rain came down, the wind blew the 
smoke down the leaky pipe and there was a little of 
the picturesque to be seen from the rug-stuffed win- 
dow. But in the Orient, the sun-smitten Orient, surely 
there would be no more cold feet and always there 
would be the picturesque. Perhaps even "Moscow" 
was there. Of course it would not be so pleasant in 
a new Section. Old S. S. U. I. after nine months had 
become home. There was not a man in the Squad 
for whom I did not possess a genuine liking. And it 
was not only the Squad — the Americans — to whom 
the regret of separation would extend. There were 
the French members of the Section. There was the 
genial La Blanch of the bureau, the smiling De Ville, 
the ever obliging Zouave, Bonner, the provident quar- 
termaster, "Old Sleeps" — so called because in further- 
ance of his duties he was always demanding our 
"sleep" — expired ordre de mouvement, "Celt," the 
cook's mate and surely not least, there was Gen. 
"George Washington" Rop with his half-dozen Eng- 
lish words, of which "shocking" was one, his ready 
willingness and grave demeanor. 

I sought out Gyles whom I found administering 
nourishment to an invalid tire. He had heard the 
news. "Are you going?" I asked. "If you will," he 
answered. "C'est bien," and we shook hands. We 
found Bob strong for the prosposition and our names 



132 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



we wired into headquarters as having volunteered for 
the Army of the Orient. Jacta est alia. 

It was on the next day but one that I made my last 
"roll" as a member of Section I, taking some malades 
into Ste. Menehould. On my return I relinquished 
"New Number Nine" to her future driver, bespeaking 
for her careful treatment. 

On the morning of the twenty-eighth of September 
our ordre de mouvement which we had impatiently 
awaited arrived. The four of us — for "Vic." the little 
terrier, had also volunteered for the Orient — climbed 
into the staff car — the fellows crowded round shaking 
hands, "Hutsie" threw in the clutch, there was a cheer 
and we were on our way. 



133 



CHAPTER XII 



ON BOARD THE "MADEIBA" 

"We are those fools who found no peace 
In the dull world we left behind, 
But burned with passion for the East 
And drank strange frenzy from its wind. 
The world where wise men live at ease 
Fades from our unregretful eyes, 
And blind across uncharted seas 
We stagger on our enterprise." 

IT was close to midnight. The hush of Paris in 
war time had long since fallen on the city and 
save for the occasional hoot of a distant automobile 
horn there was nothing to break the silence. We, the 
Squad for the Orient, were clustered around our dun- 
nage down in a freight yard. There were twenty- 
six of us, men recruited from every Section in the 
Service — and the Corps now numbered ten Sections — 
chosen because of experience and ability to meet the 
conditions which the work presented. The frenzied 
period of preparation was over; the outfits had been 
gathered, the cars had been assembled, reviewed and 



134 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



crated, good-byes had been said and now we were 
waiting the word which would send us on our way. 
Along the track stretching away into the blackness 
of the yard, was our train, a line of "open-face" trucks 
upon which were the forty-two cars which represented 
the rolling stock of the Section. 

There was a movement down the line and we looked 
up to see several officers, one wearing the uniform 
and insignia of the Commander of the Automobile 
Service of the Army. It was for him we had been 
waiting. He responded to our salute, as we gathered 
around him, and presently he spoke : "Messieurs, you 
have proven your worth with the armies of France. 
Now you are about to join the Army of the Orient 
in the Balkans. You are going to a hard country 
where you will be confronted with harsh conditions — 
conditions far more severe than you have here en- 
dured. That you will meet these unflinchingly and 
conquer, your record here proves. I shall observe you 
with interest and wish you the success which your 
courage in volunteering for this service merits. Mes- 
sieurs, adieu and Vive la France." 

We turned and climbed into the two passenger 
coaches which were attached to the train. There was 
the usual blowing of tin whistles, without which no 
continental train ever starts; the wheels began to 
grind and creak and we wound slowly out on the first 
stage of our journey to the East. Somewhere a clock 
struck the hour of midnight. 



135 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



There is no great cheer in endeavoring to sleep in 
a place quite evidently designed with particular care 
for promoting sleeplessness and though some of us 
managed to stretch out in the space between the seats 
and in the corridor, it was not an especially restful 
night. However, "Buster" with his "shining morning 
face," proceeding down the aisle unheedful of what 
lay beneath, opened the day auspiciously, as he stepped 
upon Giles's face, a performance appreciated by all, 
save perhaps Buster and Giles. The day passed 
slowly, as the stops, though frequent, were not of suffi- 
cient duration to permit of our wandering and there 
was no opportunity to obtain any hot food. About 
two, we reached the city of Macon and, as the train 
was announced to remain here for an hour and a half, 
we took advantage of the opportunity thus afforded for 
a brisk walk. Another crampful night we endured 
and then, about eleven in the morning of the second 
day after leaving Paris, we detrained at Marseilles. 

Until the transport was ready to take on board our 
cars, we had nothing to do. Quarters were established 
in a hotel, quite the most luxurious cantonment the 
Squad had ever known, and our sole duties were to 
report each morning at eight o'clock for possible 
orders. 

It had been nine years since I had been in Mar- 
seilles. Then it had impressed me as being a rather 
sleepy city, partaking of the repose of the South. Now 
we found it bustling with life, the gayest city, I think, 



136 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



I have ever seen. The point of departure for the 
French expeditionary force, or to use the official des- 
ignation, l'Armee Franchise d'Orient, the port had 
taken on all the activity incident to an undertaking 
in which hundreds of thousands of men were involved. 
Then, too, many of the units of the British Army of 
the Mediterranean either passed through or touched 
here. This city of the south had been too far from 
war's theatre to experience any of its horors and the 
soberness which Paris had assumed was lacking. At 
night, when thousands of electric bulbs made the city's 
streets streams of light, when the cafes blazed and 
the sidewalks teemed with the sailors from the seven 
seas rubbing elbows with the soldiers of two armies, 
it was worth going far to see. In Marseilles the lid 
was not merely off ; it had been thrown away and 
within the civic cauldron there was the seething and 
bubbling of unrestrained revelry. There were hetero- 
geneous days and hectic nights. 

Meanwhile we had assisted in the loading of our 
cars. On reporting at morning mess we received 
orders to report on board our transport at four 
o'clock that afternoon. We found the S. S. Madeira 
warped alongside the quay. She was a converted 
tramp and even after her conversion we found her 
sinfully filthy. Formerly a German, the flag of Por- 
tugal now flew at her mast. Around, about and on 
board her was the hurry and confusion incident to 
departure. As we ascended one gang plank, a convoy 



137 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



of mules was being driven up another. A number 
of cattle, penned on the main deck, forward, bel- 
lowed their protest. Dogs dodged about underfoot, 
chains clinked, winches creaked, steam hissed and 
orders were being shouted in three languages. The 
decks were piled high with hay, life rafts and miscel- 
laneous cargo. As the novels say "confusion 
reigned." 

We did not seek our steamer chairs, principally 
because there were no steamer chairs, and no place 
to put them had there been any. Neither were we 
bothered with looking up our staterooms or our places 
at table ; in fact most of the usual worries of a steamer 
passenger were saved us. So, lacking other occupation 
we lined the rail and like voyagers the world over 
watched and commented upon our fellow passengers 
coming aboard. And they were enough to excite com- 
ment. For plodding up the gangplank came eight 
hundred yellow men from Indo-China, French colonial 
troops. A sinuous line, they stretched along the quay, 
the end disappearing within the hold. Their high 
nasal twang reminded one irresisttibly of the notes of 
a banjo, punctuated now and then by a laugh as though 
a few flute notes had been introduced into the pro- 
gram. How their officers ever told them apart was 
a mystery, for to occidental eyes they were exactly 
alike, the same slanting eyes, the same black, wiry hair, 
the same lack of expression. Each was simply a bi- 
furcated yellow ditto of the others. 



138 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



I fancy none of the Squad will soon forget that 
first night on board the Madeira. Into the vessel's 
hold had been built tier on tier of iron shelves. One 
section of these shelves had been assigned to us for 
our very own. Above, below and all around us were 
our yellow friends. Close proximity revealed another 
of their characteristics — like Kipling's camels, "they 
smelled most awful vile." There was no air in that 
hold, but there was plenty of atmosphere, a sort of 
gaseous Gorganzola. I doubt if any of us slept; we 
were merely bludgeoned into insensibility by lack of 
oxygen. A stiff breeze, which had blown up during 
the afternoon, with the coming of night had freshened 
into half a gale, so that departure had been postponed 
till morning. The ship strained at her hawsers and 
tossed about, the groaning of the timbers vying with 
that of the seasick "chinks." Dante, peering into that 
hold, would have found ample material for another 
cycle. 

With the coming of daylight we were on deck. The 
wind had abated somewhat. The gangways had been 
run in the night before and the lines were now loosed 
off. By seven o'clock we were winding our way out 
of the harbor past the curious rock formations which 
guard its entrance and by mid- forenoon had dropped 
its headlands. In the open sea there was a distinct 
swell on, and this with the smells and sights gave 
us cause for internal reflection. Durinj the morning 
we made a sortie into the fetid hold and dragged out 



139 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



our belongings. We were all fully determined that 
come what might we should not spend another night 
below hatches. We proceeded to pitch camp on the 
boat-deck where, during the remainder of the voyage, 
we remained, sleeping in the lea of the smallboats at 
night and lounging about the decks during the day. 

The voyage from Marseilles takes normally about 
four days. But there was nothing normal about the 
Madeira. With an entire disregard of submarines, 
she proceeded with the phlegmatic complacency of a 
stout old lady going to a funeral. The fact that it was 
likely to be our funeral did not lend cheer. Nothing 
seemed to disturb her. She would steer perhaps half a 
knot on one course, then change her course, proceeding 
an equal distance on a right-angle tack before again 
coming about. The theory was that, should a torpedo 
be launched, we should be where it was not, a theory 
which might have worked, had the Madeira possessed 
such a thing as speed. 

On coming on board, each man had been supplied 
with a life-belt, which he was supposed to keep on 
or by him at all times. Once each day a life drill was 
held and the small boats manned. Frequently, too, 
the bugle sounded "to arms," at which time the rails 
were lined with all hands prepared to let go at a 
possible submersible. Mounted on the main deck aft 
was a swivel "75," served by a naval ere at. In addi- 
tion to these precautions, as we approached the nar- 
rows between Sicily and the coast of Africa, lookouts 



140 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



were stationed, two in the bows, two on the bridge, 
and two with the gun crew aft. This duty was as- 
signed to our Squad and we stood four hour watches, 
day and night, throughout the remainder of the 
voyage. 

There was more or less monotony, but this is true 
of most voyages and we had some unusual distractions. 
There was the ever-present menace of the submarine ; 
there was the slaughtering of cattle on the deck, for- 
ward; there were the yellow men to watch and listen 
to, for the matter of that, for they frequently "picked 
out" a high falsetto chant which rang of the East. 
Their favorite ditty had a chorus which they would 
sing for hours on end, "ling, hio ah ee ah, ling hio ah 
ee ah" and with which we became so familiar that we 
could sing it ourselves, much to their delight. 

One day — it was the twenty-fifth of October — the 
monotony was broken by an impressive incident — a 
burial at sea. At two in the afternoon watch, a blare 
of bugles sounded forward. Massed on the main 
deck, aft, three hundred of the yellow men were 
under arms. On the port quarter, supported on two 
casks, rested a plain, wooden box, draped with the tri- 
color of France. As the bugles ceased the ship's com- 
mander and the commandant, the highest ranking offi- 
cer on board, both clad in full dress and bearing side- 
arms, descended the companionway stairs and ad- 
vanced to a position behind the casket. A squad of 
eight soldiers, flanking the casket, came to attention, 



141 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



their bayonets flashing in the sun. The commander 
raised his arm ; a bell struck ; the engines slowed down, 
stopped. Somewhere forward a dog barked and then 
an unnatural silence settled down and enveloped the 
ship. Amidst this, itself almost a benediction, the 
commandant read the burial service, his voice sound- 
ing very solemn there in the unbroken waste of the 
tropic sea. He ceased speaking; the bugles sounded 
forth the plaintive, mournful notes of le repos. As 
the last sound died away, the hand of every officer 
rose to his kepi in salute, and with a swish and click 
three hundred guns presented arms. The casket was 
slowly upended and the remains of Mohammet San 
Chu, a soldier of the army of France, sank to its last 
cantonment. 

Mohammet San Chu had died of spinal meningitis. 
That night three more yellow men were crumpled up 
with the disease, and from then on it tore through 
their ranks like a salvo from a shrapnel battery. We 
never knew how many succumbed, for the bodies 
thereafter were merely shotted and heaved overboard 
at night ; but certainly the number must have run into 
the scores. A distinct feeling of uneasiness pervaded 
the ship. Crowded as we were, a thousand and a 
half of men, on that one small ship, to avoid contact 
with the "chinks" was impossible. Sanitation was 
non-existent. Filth collected on the decks and, to 
make matters worse, water, both for bathing and drink- 
ing, gave out. During the day the sun beat fiercely 



142 



In This Boyau, or Communicating Trench, One of the Squad 
Was Killed 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



down on decks littered with cargo and unprotected by 
awnings. The restless "chinks" cluttered the spaces 
and filled the air with their everlasting twanging; 
dogs scuttled about the slippery decks ; the cattle bel- 
lowed. Below the engines throbbed and occasionally 
a clot of cinder-laden smoke belched from the stack 
and hung over the ship. But at night, as the ship 
wallowed along in the darkness, not a light was per- 
mitted, not even the glow from a cigarette, then it 
was better. The glare was gone ; a cool breeze swept 
away the smoke ; the stars came out and blinked at us 
as we lay beneath the small boats. Someone would 
start a chorus and "just a song at twilight" would 
sound out over the waters. Then we would fall silent, 
wondering what the East held in store, till presently, 
wrapping ourselves in the blankets, we drifted off into 
sleep. 

It was on the morning of the ninth day after em- 
barking that we awakened to gaze out upon the most 
famous mountain and saw the sun reflected from the 
snow-clad Olympian slopes. A few hours later we 
passed the torpedo net which guards the outer harbor, 
and presently caught our first glimpse of the white 
minarets of Salonika. About us were dozens of 
battleships and merchantmen, some flying the tri- 
color, others with the Union Jack, others with the 
green, white and red of Italy. The gigantic four 
funneler La France, now- a hospital ship, rode at 
anchor, while close in shore were ranged many wooden 



H3 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



boats with the peculiar Peloponnesian rig. We passed 
the length of the harbor before dropping anchor. The 
yellow quarantine flag flew from our masthead and 
presently the health officers came off. We were all 
anxious to learn their ruling. Rumor spread that the 
entire ship was to be held forty days in quarantine. 
The thought of remaining two score days on that 
filthy craft, while she rode at anchor off shore, nearly 
made us wild. A line of signal flags was broken out 
and presently, in answer, three launches came along 
side. Into these were loaded half a hundred of the yel- 
low men, victims of the spinal meningitis. The ship 
then swung about and we proceeded to the other end 
of the harbor, where we again dropped anchor. The 
yellow flag was still flying. We lay here for the 
rest of the day and speculation ran rife on our 
chances of being held thus indefinitely. On the fol- 
lowing morning, much to our relief, the yellow flag 
was lowered; we warped alongside the quay and 
about noon disembarked. It was the tenth day after 
leaving Marseilles. 



144 



CHAPTER XIII 



INTO SALONIKA 

TO the northeast of the city, where the barren 
plains merge into the barren foot-hills, which in 
turn rise into barren, scraggy mountains, was estab- 
lished our camp. It was night when we reached 
the spot and as our tents had not arrived we spread 
our blankets on the bare ground and turned in under 
the sky. 

Until our cars should be unloaded, there was no 
work for the Squad. We were, therefore, given 
every alternate day for "shore liberty," when we were 
free to go down into the city and wander at will. 

We found it a city well worth seeing. Dating back 
three hundred years before the birth of Christ, it has 
been and is the stamping ground of history. The 
Avar, the Goth, the Hun, the Saracen, the Norseman 
captured and sacked it. The Serb, the Bulgar, the 
Venetian and the Turk have fought over it. For five 
hundred years the latter held and ruled over it, until, 
after the second Balkan war, it passed to Greece in 
191 3. "There will always be fighting in the Balkans," 
says one of Kipling's men and when we found the 



H5 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



armed men of six nations guarding the prisoners of 
four others through the streets of Salonika, we felt 
that it was so. Before the allied occupation, Salonika 
had a population of perhaps 150,000, about fifty per 
cent of whom were Spanish Jews. The remainder 
of the population was divided among Turks, Serbs, 
Roumanians, Greeks, Cretans, Czechs, Albanians and 
the bastard tribes of the near east. With the coming 
of the allies and the influx of refugees, the population 
trebled. Rarely, if ever, in the world's history had 
there been such a mixture of men and races as now 
thronged the rough, slippery streets of the city and 
filled the air with a conglomeration of languages un- 
equalled since the I. W. W. knocked off work on the 
tower of Babel. All the characters of the Orient were 
there ; the veiled woman, the muezzin, the bearded, be- 
fezzed Turk, the vendor of wine with his goat-skin, 
the money-changer, the charcoal-seller, the Mace- 
donian mountaineer with his ballet skirt and pom- 
pommed shoes, the rag-clad leper, the porter, the 
black-hatted Greek priest, women in bloomers, women 
with queer parrot-like headdresses, dignified rabbinical 
looking old men in white turbans and loose, flowing 
robes; and mingling with this throng in the narrow, 
twisting streets were the soldiers of France, Anna- 
mites, Senegalese, Moroccans, the English Tommy, 
the Italian in his uniform of elephant-hide gray, the 
sturdy Russ, the weary Serb, the Cretan Guards, sol- 
diers of the newly formed Venezelos army and now 



146 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



and again guarded German, Austrian, Bulgar and Turk- 
ish prisoners. From the battleships in the bay came the 
sailors of four nations and from the merchantmen a 
half score of other nationalities found representation 
and mingled with the crowd. Lest some fragment 
of the way remain unoccupied, that ubiquitous Ford 
of the east, the burro, jostled the passerby and droves 
of sheep and goats scuttled about his legs. Over all 
this shifting mass sounded the curious hum of many 
languages, punctuated by the cries of the street ven- 
dors and the honk and rattle from army motors. 

You are led to believe that everybody is in the 
street until you enter a cafe and find it difficult to 
obtain a seat. Here you can drink delicious black 
Turkish coffee, served in tiny brass cups, or, if you 
like, a sticky white liquid tasting exactly like sweet- 
ened paregoric and reminiscent of collicky nights. 
Here, too, you may try the giant hookah, or water 
pipe, though, after reflecting on the generations of 
Turks who must have curled a lip over its mouth- 
piece, you probably will refrain. 

Then there are the bazaars. They are booth-like 
shops which open directly on the streets. And the 
streets on which they open are roofed over so that 
business is conducted in a subdued light, conducive to 
meditation and also, perhaps, (but whisper it) to the 
concealment of defects in the wares. Here are dis- 
played flint-lock pistols, embroideries, laces, sheep-skin 
coats— and ye gods, how they do smell !— leather san- 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



dals ; beaten copper ware, knitted socks, beautiful lace 
silver work, amber beads and cigarette holders. And 
if you inquire "From whence come these things?" 
he of the shop will make answer, "From Albania, O 
Sire," whereas, be the truth known, none save per- 
haps the silver work ever saw Albania. 

We had been told that the flies would be all over 
by October. They were — all over everywhere. In 
Salonika the fly is ever present; they festoon every 
rope, crawl over every exposed article of food, flop 
into every liquid, swarm about your head, skate over 
your person and generally act "just as happy as 
though invited." Heretofore, I had always considered 
a little restaurant in Gettysburg, Md., only slightly 
mis-named "The Busy Bee," as being the world's 
headquarters for flies, but a Salonika fly, if trans- 
ported to that restaurant, would hunger for compan- 
ionship and pine away and die of lonesomeness. It is 
beyond dispute that should the rest of the world run 
out of flies, Salonika would be able to re-stock it and 
still have enough left to bat in the .300 class. They 
do not seem to bother the Turk. He accepts them 
as decreed by Allah; it is enough. As for the 
Greek, he is too busy frying fish to notice. The 
Greek considers that day lost whose low descending 
sun sees not a mess of fish fried. Everywhere, in 
little open-faced booths, you will see him with a tiny 
charcoal brazier — frying fish. At early morn, at dewy 
eve, all through the sunny day, this piscatorial pastime 



148 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



proceeds. What is done with these schools and oceans 
of fish, I wot not. Never have I beheld mortal man 
eat thereof. Indeed, I question whether he could 
eat one without giving quick proof of his mortality. 
Possibly the frying has to do with the mysteries of 
the Greek religion ; possibly it is a form of sport, like 
tatting or solitaire. I know not. Whatever the cause, 
whatever the result, certain it is, its popularity is be- 
yond question. 

Of course there be other foodstuffs. Exposed to 
sale — and flies — you will see them. Many weird and 
curious shapes they have, deterring to all save an 
ostrich, or a Macedonian. One sort there is, a brown 
ball, slightly larger than a shrapnel ball — also slightly 
heavier. These are served with honey. Having con- 
sumed a salvo of these, one is prone to meditate on 
the vicissitudes of life. There is another dish re- 
sembling lamp chimney packing. 

This, too, is chaperoned with honey. The sub- 
stance most in demand, however, is a ghastly sort of 
plaster exactly resembling putty. Personally, I have 
never eaten putty but after trying this other stuff, 
I am convinced I should prefer putty as being more 
digestible and equally palatable. Then there are nu- 
merous white, fly-sprinkled sour milk products, rather 
pleasing from a scenic standpoint, but fearful to the 
unaccustomed taste. All of these concoctions are re- 
garded by the populace as being cibarious, nay more, 



149 



BEHIND THE WHEEL Ut 



as being delightful to eat. Truly the ways of the 
East be strange. 

The setting for the street life and characters is ap- 
propriate. The quaintly colored houses with their 
overhanging second stories and latticed windows, the 
narrow twisting ways, the stately minarets add to the 
mystery and lend atmosphere. But incongruities there 
are, the West clashing with the East, the modern op- 
posing the ancient. It was disheartening to the lover 
of the picturesque to behold motor lorries speeding 
down the Street of the Vardar, that street dating 
from Roman times, a part of the way over which 
passed the caravans from the Bosphorus to the Adri- 
atic. Then, too, it jarred one's sensibilities to see 
a trolley car passing beneath the triumphal arch of 
Galerius, dating from the year 296, or the walls of the 
White Tower of Siile Iman the Magnificent reflecting 
the lights of a cinema palace, or to hear the plain- 
tive cry of the muezzin, calling the faithful to 
prayer, broken by an auto hooter. And the regret- 
table part of it all is that when there is a co-mingling of 
the Occident with the Orient, it is the latter which 
gives way with a loss of the picturesque and the 
tranquil. 

As the sun sinks across the harbor and the after 
glow pricks out the jagged mountains and paints 
every spar and rope of the battle fleet with an orange 
glow, the bazaars become deserted, the easterner be- 
takes himself within his doors and the life of the 

150 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



city moves down toward the water front. The night 
life of Salonika was not nearly so extensive or unre- 
strained as that of Marseilles. While not under mar- 
tial law, the streets were at all times patrolled by 
military police, French, English, Italian and Cretan, 
and no disorder was permitted. Along the great street 
which faces and follows the waterfront for several 
miles, are scattered cafes, cinema palaces, restaurants, 
theaters and dance halls. The cinema shows are like 
such affairs the world over, the restaurants are Greek 
— which is to say the worst in the world ; the theaters 
produce mediocre burlesque but the cafes and dance 
halls offer more of interest. There are a few danc- 
ing girls — mostly thick-ankled, swarthy Greeks, — 
a singer or two and a persevering pianist, to whom no- 
body pays any attention. But most of the entertain- 
ment is furnished by the patrons themselves. You 
may see a couple of tipsy Zouaves, from the Tell, 
gravely performing the "dance of the seven veils"; 
a score of Serbs, grouped around a table, occasionally 
break into one of their wild, weird chants, thumping 
their mugs in rhythm but never laughing — I never saw 
a Serb laugh. If you call out "Cobra" — "good" — to 
them when they finish, however, they will smile. 
When things quiet down a bit someone starts "Keep 
the home fires burning" and instantly there is a thump 
of hobbed feet and every Tommy present swings into 
the chorus. Presently a poilu is pushed to his feet 
and in a rich voice sings the prologue from Pagliacci. 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



The Italians present applaud vociferously and every- 
one bangs on the floor while there come cries of 
"encore," "bravo," "dobra" and "good" which bring 
the singer back. 

We fall into conversation with a Tommy at our 
table. He has "been up country," as he calls it, in fact, 
is just back. "How is it up there?" we inquire. 

"It's 'ell, that's wot it is, 'ell," he responds. 

"Out monsieur," chimes in a poilu, "it is all that 
there is of terrible." 

Nice cheery talk, this for us who are going up 
there. The Tommy is named " 'Arvey." In his opin- 
ion the " 'ole blinking country ain't fit to kill a balmy 
dog in." We have his mug replenished, in acknowl- 
edgment of which he hoists it, nods toward us and re- 
marks "top 'ole," to which etiquette requires we respond 
"every time." His "pal" joins the group and 'Arvey 
informs the newcomer we are "priceless fellows," 
which, considering we have paid for the rounds, is 
an ambiguous compliment. The chum is full of dig- 
nity and beer. He regards 'Arvey solemnly, for some 
time listening to him describe his own prowess with 
the bayonet. At the conclusion of this not overly 
modest recital, he leans forward, gravely wags his 
finger and demands, "Tell me 'Arvey, 'ave you ever 
'ita'Un"? 

On the days when we did not have permission to 
go into the city, we remained in the vicinity of camp 
or took walks back into the barren hills. The ground 

IS2 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



»n which our tents were pitched was, I am convinced, 
the hardest in the world and it was a week or more 
before our bones and muscles accustomed themselves 
to its surface. Not far from the camp was a tiny 
cafe, kept by a Greek who spoke French, and here 
we would repair and in the course of a day drink 
quarts of thick Turkish coffee. Here, too, could be 
obtained sausages, or at least what passes for saus- 
ages in Macedonia. Nearly everyone in the Squad 
tried them — and found them guilty. They must have 
been heirlooms in that Greek's family. Certainly they 
antedated the first Balkan war. 

At this time there was in progress one of those in- 
comprehensible revolutions, without which no Mace- 
donian or Central American is happy. No man knew 
what it was all about, but there were great march- 
ings and countermarchings and, as one of the revolu- 
tionary camps was near ours, we saw considerable of 
the "goings on." They made a fearful row about it 
all and at night, when the moon shone, they would 
cluster together and with heads tilted upwards bay 
out some agonizing choruses. We fervently hoped 
that the revolution would suffer a speedy suppression 
and its participants meet a just retribution. 

Our illusions, formed in France, respecting the 
warmth and sun of the Orient underwent speedy 
change. We found the climate much like that we had 
left. Heavy torrential rains set in. Outside our tents 
the yellow mud was inches deep. After a fortnight, 



153 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



with no work to occupy our attention, we became rest- 
less. The vessel, in which were our cars, remained at 
anchor in the harbor and apparently did naught save 
issue bulletins that "demain" it would discharge 
cargo. Our spirits were further depressed by a sad 
incident which happened about this time. Sortwell, 
whose "cot was right hand cot to mine," a splendid, 
big chap, one of the most popular men in the Squad, 
was struck one night by a staff car and knocked un- 
conscious. He never came to and died the following 
morning. He was buried with full military honors. 
On the morning of his burial we received word that 
our cars were ready for discharge at the dock. 

We set to work the following day. That it rained, 
goes without saying. The crated cars were lowered 
over the ship's side and with crow-bar, pick and sledge 
we crashed into them. As soon as the crates were 
knocked away, gas was put into the tanks and the cars 
driven out to camp. We worked throughout the day 
and by ten that night had the satisfaction of releasing 
the last car. 

The camp now became a scene of industry. The 
cars were parked in a hollow square formation. They 
had suffered some damage in transportation but this 
was soon remedied. The tire-racks, which had been 
demounted for the packing, were now re-installed. 
The lockers were replenished with spare gas and oil; 
tires were re-inflated and everything tuned up for de- 
parture. It had been determined to leave ten ambu- 

154 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



lances in Salonika as a reserve and we also estab- 
lished a depot of spare parts from which the field 
atelier could replenish its store from time to time. The 
remainder of our rolling stock, including the staff 
cars and the kitchen truck were now ready for de- 
parture. Reports had come in of lively fighting and a 
steady advance in the direction of Monastir, for which 
front rumor had it we were destined. We were 
anxious to be away. Finally on an afternoon in the 
middle of November we were reviewed by the com- 
manding officer of the automobile corps of the A. F. O. 
Our cars were packed and it but remained to strike 
the tents and roll the blankets. Enfin, we awaited the 
word. 



155 



CHAPTER XIV 



INTO THE BALKANS 

THE first flicker of dawn was showing as we 
wound our way down through the outlying parts 
of Salonika, a sinuous line of ambulances and auxil 
iary cars. On the water front the convoy halted for 
final adjustment. The fore-glow, coming across the 
harbor, filtered through the spars of the shipping 
and gave promise of a clear day. A few early porters 
and rugged stevedores paused to gaze wonderingly 
upon us. The CO. passed down the line to see if all 
were ready ; the whistle sounded and we were off. 

Passing through the already livening streets we 
paralleled the quay, turned towards the northwest and 
then, as the muezzins in the minarets were calling 
upon the faithful to greet the rising sun, entered upon 
the great caravan trail which runs back into the moun- 
tains, and Allah knows where. Past trains of little 
mountain ponies, laden with hides ; past lumbering, 
solid-wheeled wagons, drawn by water buffaloes and 
piled high with roughly baled tobacco, tobacco from 
which are made some of the choicest Turkish cigar- 
ettes in the world; past other wagons with towering 

156 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



piles of coarse native matting ; past the herdsman and 
his flock, his ballet skirt blowing in the morning 
breeze; past the solemn Turk, mounted athwart his 
drooping burro, his veiled woman trudging behind. 
The city lay behind us now; the passersby became 
fewer, until oniy an occasional wayfarer and his burro 
were sighted. The road, pitted and gutted, stretched 
away through a barren, dreary country. The sun's 
early promise had not been fulfilled and a gray, slaty 
day emphasized the dreariness of the landscape. To 
our right bleak mountains rose to meet a slaty sky — 
nowhere appeared tree or shrub, not even a fence 
broke the monotony of the landscape, never a house, 
not even a road, though occasionally a muddy track 
wandered aimlessly through the waste. We rounded 
the mountains and crossed a sluggish stream, the 
Galiko. Once we saw a village far away, its white 
minarets rising above the dull gray of the ensemble. 
Then the desolation closed down. Farther on, over 
a shaky wooden bridge, we crossed the Vardar, the 
Axius of Virgil. Hereabouts the country was flat 
and swampy, but suddenly it changed, scattered trees 
began to appear, here and there rocks jutted out. The 
trail began to mount and presently as we twisted our 
way through the first settlement, the village of 
Yenize, mountains came into view to the northeast 
and then moved towards the south and west. About 
eleven we sighted some whitewashed houses clinging 
to the side of a cliff, the overflow of the town of 



157 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Vodena through which we presently passed over a 
winding road of mountainous steepness; up we went, 
three hundred, four hundred meters, finally stopping 
where a fountain gushed from the roadside, a kilo- 
meter or so beyond the town. 

We were in the heart of the hills now. On three 
sides of us the mountains rose to a height of six thou- 
sand feet or more. Their tops were covered with 
snow and from this time on we were never to lose 
sight of it. 

Some biscuits, ham and chocolate found a good 
home and there was time for a couple of pipes before 
the whistle blew and we again cast off. And now our 
troubles began. Up to this time our way could at 
least lay claim to the name "road," but now even an 
attorney, working on a percentage basis, could estab- 
lish no such identity for the straggling gully through 
which we struggled, — sometimes a heap of boulders, 
sometimes a mire, but always it climbed. The cars 
coughed and grunted and often we were forced to 
halt while the motors cooled. In mid-afternoon the 
rain, which had been threatening for some hours, set 
in and the ground quickly assumed the consistency of 
sticky paste, through which we sloughed our way. 
About four we spoke the Lake of Ostrovo and shortly 
afterwards passed through the straggling village of 
the same name. Deep sand here made the going hard 
but we soon left the shores of the lake and again 
headed straight into the mountains. So far as possible 



158 




When the Road Ahead Was Being Shelled It Became Necessary 
to Make a Detour Along This Sunken Way 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



the trail held to the passes but even so, the ascent was 
very great. As night fell we came to an especially 
steep stretch slanting up between snow covered moun- 
tains. From a little distance it looked as though some- 
one, tiring of road building, had leaned the unfinished 
product up against a mountain side. Time and again 
we charged but without avail ; no engine built could 
take that grade. Physics books tell us, "that which 
causes or tends to cause a body to pass from a state 
of rest to one of motion is known as Force." With 
twenty men to a car, pulling, pushing and dragging, we 
assumed the function of "force" and "caused a body" 
— the cars — to "pass from a state of rest to one of 
motion," hoisting them by main strength over the crest. 

Night had shut down for some hours when the 
last car had topped the rise. A bone-chilling wind 
had swept down from the snow, the rain still fell. The 
lights were switched on and over a trail, flanked on 
one side by a towering cliff and on the other by a 
black chasm of nothingness, we kept on. Once we 
rounded a sharp curve, there was a sudden dip in the 
trail and in the darkness we almost shot off into the 
space below. 

It still lacked some two hours of midnight when 
ahead we discerned a few flickering lights. The Lieu- 
tenant gave the signal and we came to a stop at the 
fringe of a miserable village. We had been sixteen 
hours at the wheel but had covered no more than one 
hundred and fifty kilometers. We were all cold and 



159 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



hungry, but the soup battery was mired somewhere 
miles in the rear. Our lanterns showed us but a few 
stone hovels. Had we known more of the Balkans, 
we would not even have thought of finding a shop. 
We gave up thoughts of dinner, crawled within our 
cars and wrapping our great coats about us, sought 
to dream of "a cleaner, greener land." 

The tramping of many feet and the sobbing of a 
man woke me next morning. I looked out to see a 
column of Russian infantry passing. One big fellow 
was crying as though his heart would break. Ba-ne-a 
or Ba-netz-a, the village at which we had halted — 
proved to be a miserable collection of huts, constructed 
of rounded stones, with which the surrounding hills 
were covered. Like most Turkish villages, it clung 
to the side of a hill, sprawling there with no attempt 
at system or a view to streets. The buildings were 
of one story; a few had glass but in by far the most 
part straw was employed to block the windows. The 
twisting paths which wandered about between the 
houses were knee deep in black mud. There were 
no shops, not even a cafe. 

Other and higher hills rose above the one on which 
the village was situated. These hills were barren 
and covered with loose stones, their tops were crested 
with rough breastworks behind which were empty car- 
tridge cases, torn clothing, ponchos, and scattered 
bodies in faded uniforms, for here the Bulgar and 
Serb had opposed each other. To the north of the 

160 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



village stood a few trees and here within a barbed- 
wire corral a few armed Serbs guarded several hun- 
dred Bulgar prisoners. The villagers were as unat- 
tractive as their surroundings, the men dull, dirty- 
looking specimens, the women cleaner but far from 
comely. The latter were dressed in skirts and blouses 
of many colors. Their heads were covered with shawls, 
the ends of which were wound about their necks. 
From beneath these straggled their hair, invariably 
woven into two plaits into which was interwoven hair 
from cow's tails dyed a bright orange. Upon their 
feet they wore wooden, heelless sandals which, when 
they walked, flapped about like shutters in a gale of 
wind. The little girls were miniature replicas of their 
mothers, save their faces were brighter — some almost 
pretty. They wore their many petticoats like their 
mothers, at mid-leg length, tiny head shawls and 
striped wool stockings. The endless occupation, both 
of the women and children, was the carrying of water 
in clay jars. They must have been building a river 
somewhere and judging from the amount of water 
they were transporting, it was to be no small size 
stream either. 

Not all of the cars had come through to Ba-netz-a 
and so we awaited their arrival. Several had broken 
axles and the big atelier car and the soup battery had 
mired in crossing the Ostrovo flats. Meanwhile, 
perched on the side of a hill with the snow above us 
and a falling temperature, we, of the advance squad, 

161 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



were reminded that winter was almost upon us. The 
days were gray and as there was nothing to do while 
awaiting the stragglers, save gaze across the valley 
which stretched southward below us, the time dragged. 
The boom of heavy guns came to us from the north- 
west and occasionally, when the wind was right, we 
could hear the crackle of infantry fire. Some couriers 
riding back from the front brought word that Monastir 
had fallen after fierce fighting and the French were 
advancing northward. 

By evening of the third day all the cars had come 
up and, with the kitchen wagons once more in our 
midst, we were again able to have a hot meal. Our 
spirits rose and that night, clustered round a small 
fire, we sang some mighty choruses. At nine on the 
morning of the twenty-fourth of November — a cold, 
drizzly morning — we wormed our way down through 
the village and out upon the transport road northeast 
toward the Serbian frontier. Though hundreds of 
German, Bulgar and Turkish prisoners were at work 
upon the road it was scarcely passable. Everywhere we 
passed mired couriers and camions ; dead horses and 
abandoned wagons were scattered about. The way led 
across a level valley floor. On the flat, muddy plains 
-bordering the road were camps of French, English, 
Italians and Russians. Several aviator groups were 
squatted in the miry desolation. 

As we advanced the road accomplished something 
we had deemed impossible — it grew worse. The trans- 



it 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



port of five armies struggled along, or rather through 
it and contributed everything from huge tractors to lit- 
tle spool-wheeled cow-drawn Serbian carts. We passed 
through one squalid, war-festered village where the 
road reached the sublimity of awfulness and then 
about mid-day spoke the village of Sakulevo. Several 
demolished buildings, pocked walls and shelled houses 
showed the place had been recently under fire. Pass- 
ing through, we crossed a sluggish stream, from which 
the village takes its name, and on a shell-scarred flat 
on the north bank halted and pitched our tents. 

The road at this point bends to the east before 
again turning northward, and enters the long valley 
at the farther end of which lies the city of Monastir. 
About a mile northward from our camp was a stone 
which marked the border between Macedonia and 
Serbia. High ranges of mountains stretched along 
the side of the lonesome valley. No words of mine 
can describe the landscape as do the words of Service : 

"The lonely sunsets flare forlorn 
Down valleys dreadly desolate, 
The lordly mountains soar in scorn 
As still as death, as stern as fate. 

"The lonely sunsets flame and die, 
The giant valleys gulp the night, 
The monster mountains scrape the skv 
Where eager stars are diamond bright" 



163 



CHAPTER XV. 



"where the best is like the worst 

WE had reached Sakulevo on the afternoon of the 
twenty- fourth of November. On the morning 
of the twenty-fifth we started to work. On the other 
side of the river was a cluster of tents. It was a field 
dressing-station and, appropriate to its name, was lo- 
cated in a muddy field. Since Sakulevo was at this 
time some thirty kilometers from the fighting, our 
work consisted of evacuations, that is back of the 
line work, the most uninteresting an ambulancier is 
called upon to do, since it wholly lacks excitement. 
Here it was made more trying because of the fearful 
roads over which our route lay. At this time the vil- 
lage of Eclusier, some forty kilometers southeast of 
Sakulevo was rail head and to this point we evacuated 
our wounded. It was a matter of three and a half 
hours of the most trying sort of driving. Perhaps 
a better idea of our work at Sakulevo may be had if 
we go together on a "run." It's seven-thirty in the 
morning, a cold raw morning with ice on the pools 
and a skim of ice on the inside of the tent. The sun 
has not long appeared over the snow-clad mountains 

164 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



and there is little warmth in its rays. We have just 
had breakfast — heaven save the name — some black 
coffee and army bread — so it's time to be off. The 
crank up — a none too easy performance, since the 
motors are as stiff witht cold as we are, and then 
toss and bump our way across the little bridge dis- 
regarding a sign which, in five languages, bids us "go 
slowly." A couple of hundred meters farther on in 
a field at the left of the road is a group of tents, be- 
fore which whips a sheet of canvas displaying a red 
cross. It is the field dressing-station. We turn the 
car, put on all power and plough through a mire and 
then out upon more solid ground, stopping in front 
of the tents. A short, stocky soldier with a heavy 
beard and the general aspect of Santa Claus comes out. 

We exchange salutes : "Qa va?" he queries. 

"Toujours, et vousf" 

"Bien, merci." 

The formalities, which no matter what the stress 
are never omitted, being over, business commences. 
"Many blesses?" you inquire. 

"Yes, many"; he answers. "Last night there was 
an attack; you heard the guns? Il'y'a tout couches." 

So, since all your passengers will be stretcher cases, 
you pull down your third rack, assemble your stretch- 
ers and arrange your blankets. A number of wounded 
have now come out of the tent and are standing about. 
Later they will be removed as assis or sitting cases, 
but first the more urgent cases must be evacuated. 



165 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



One chap, in the peculiar yellow-green uniform of the 
Zouave attracts your attention. He is very large for 
a Frenchman, close to six feet. His head is swathed 
in bandages and his right arm is in a sling. Across 
his tunic is a row of decoration and service ribbons 
which show him to be a professional soldier. Above 
his sergeant's chevron is already one wound stripe. 

"Bon jour, camrade," he greets. 

"Bonjour, sergeant," you respond, "hit badly?" 

"Ah, ga ne fait rien, but now I shall not be able to 
face them for two months." 

At this moment two German prisoners, carrying a 
stone boat, pass by within six feet of us. The colo- 
nial's lips draw back like the unsheathing of a bay- 
onet, his eyes fairly stab and his unbandaged hand 
opens and closes, as though gripping a throat. "Sales 
cochons," he mutters. "Nom, de Dieu, how I hate 
them." The prisoners pass placidly by and you feel 
it is well that your friend cannot have his way with 
them. 

Now the tent flap opens and two brancardiers ap- 
pear, bearing between them a stretcher upon which 
lies a limp figure covered with a dirty blanket. A 
gray-green sleeve dangles from the stretcher and 
shows your first passenger is a German. He is slid 
into place and by this time your second passenger is 
ready. He is a giant Senegalese with a punctured 
lung. Your third man is a sous-off icier whose right 
leg has just been amputated. He has been given a 



166 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



shot of morphine and his eyes are glazed in stupor. 
The third stretcher is shot home, the tail board put 
up and the rear curtain clamped down. Over these 
roads we can take no more, so we are ready for the 
start. 

Through the slough and then out upon the road, 
which is little more, we go. Through war's traffic we 
pick our way, beside shell-laden camions, pack trains, 
carts, past stolid lines of Russians, dodging huge Eng- 
lish lorries whose crews of Tommies sing out a 
friendly "are we downhearted?" Between rows of 
Bulgar and Boche prisoners your way is made, the 
hooter sounding out its demand for the rights of a 
loaded ambulance. Along the road-side, out there in 
the fields, sprinkled everywhere, we see the little 
wooden crosses, war's aftermath. Everywhere war's 
material wastage is apparent. Wrecked wagons and 
motors, dead mules, hopelessly mired carts, military 
equipment, smashed helmets, dented douilles. Your 
way is lined with these. The road from there on 
becomes freer but is still too rough to permit much 
quickening of speed. As we turn a bend a frenzied 
Italian comes charging across the fields. He seems 
greatly excited about something and unwinds reels 
of vowels not one word of which we understand. We 
try him in English and French, not one word of which 
he understands, so finally we give it up and go on, leav- 
ing him to his "que dises." 

Through two passes, in which the white low-hanging 



167 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



clouds close down, through several deserted villages 
over a road which, save in the Balkans, would be con- 
sidered impassable, we carry our load. It is impos- 
sible to prevent lurching and the black within groans 
and cries aloud in his pain. The Boche, too, when 
there is an exceptionally bad bit, moans a little, but 
the sous-officier makes not a sound throughout the 
voyage. At one point the road passes near the rail- 
road and, dangling over a ravine, we can see the re- 
mains of a fine iron bridge dynamited during the 
great retreat. At last, rounding the jutting point of 
a hill, we see far below us the blue waters and barren 
shores of Lake Petersko. Squatted beside the lake 
is a little village, Sorovicevo. Railhead and our des- 
tination, the station of Eclusier, lies a mile or so to 
the west. Down the hill we brake our way, then 
over a kilometer of wave-like road into a slough, 
where for a time it seems we are destined to stick, 
and at last the tossed and moaning load is brought 
to a stop at the hopital d' evacuation, a large cluster of 
tents. We assist in removing the wounded — the 
Senegalese is gray now, with the shadow of death 
upon him and his breath gushes with great sobs through 
his torn lung. The Frenchman and Boche seem to 
have come through all right. 

It is now eleven-thirty o'clock and we are probably 
becoming conscious that we could use a little food, 
but it will be at least two hours before we can reach 
camp, so we get out a spark-plug wrench and break 



168 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



up several army biscuits to munch on the way home. 
En route we are hailed by three Tommies who have 
been left behind and are seeking to join their detach- 
ment. They desire a lift so we take them aboard and 
are repaid by hearing their whimsical comments on 
the "filthy country." It is nearly two o'clock — a blow- 
out has delayed us — when we reach camp and the 
motor has barely stopped churning before we are in 
the mess tent clamoring for our "dum-dums" — beans 
— and "singe", tinned beef. You will find your appe- 
tite has not suffered because of the "run." 

The days were rapidly growing colder. Our tents 
were sheathed with ice and the snow foot crept far 
down the mountains each night. We got our sheep- 
skin coats and inserted an extra blanket in our sleep- 
ing bags. Each night we drained our radiators to pre- 
vent damage from freezing. The few sweets we had 
brought with us had now given out. In the French 
army save for a little sugar — very little — and occa- 
sionally — very occasionally — a small amount of apple 
preserve, no sweets are issued. It was impossible to 
purchase any, so presently there set in that craving 
for sugar which was to stay with us through the long 
winter. The arrival of Thanksgiving, with its mem- 
ories of the laden tables at home, did not help matters 
much. Dinner consisted of lentils — my own particular 
aversion — boiled beef, bread, red wine and black cof- 
fee. However, the day was made happy by the arrival 
of our first mail and we feasted on letters. 



169 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



It's wonderful what a cheering effect the arrival 
of the post had on us. Throughout the winter it was 
about our only comfort. In France it had been wel- 
come but down in the Orient we seemed so cut off 
from the world that letters were a luxury, the link 
with the outside. When they came it didn't so much 
matter than a man was cold or hungry and caked with 
mud, that the quarters leaked and the snow drifted 
in on his blankets. The probability of its arrival was 
an unfailing source of pleasurable conjecture, its ar- 
rival the signal for whoops and yowls, its failure, the 
occasion for gloom and pessimism. 

Some fifteen kilometers to the north and west of 
Sakulevo was the large town of Fiorina, the northern- 
most town of Macedonia. Here was located a large 
field hospital. At the hospital, for a time, we main- 
tained a post of two cars on five day shifts. 

We found Fiorina one of the most interesting towns 
in the Balkans. Long under the rule of the Turk, 
it possessed a distinctly Oriental aspect which gave it 
charm. It nestled at the foot of some high hills which 
had been the scene of heavy fighting in the dispute 
for its possession. The town itself had suffered little, 
if any, in the fighting. Its long main street followed 
a valley, turning and twisting. Booths and bazaars 
lined the thoroughfare and in places vines had been 
trained to cover it. There were innumerable tiny 
Turkish cafes, yogart shops, little shops where beaten 
copper ware was hammered out, other booths where 



170 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



old men worked on wooden pack saddles for burros. 
There were artisans in silver and vendors of goat's 
wool rugs. The streets were always alive with "the 
passing show," for the normal population of fifteen 
thousand souls had been greatly augmented by the 
influx of refugees from Monastir. There was an air 
of unreality about the place, an indefinable theatrical- 
ism which gave one the sense of being part of a play, 
a character, and of expecting on rounding a corner, 
to see an audience and then to hear the playing of 
the orchestra. 

It was while on duty at the hospital at Fiorina that 
I made the first run into Monastir. My journal for 
December 2nd reads: "At one o'clock this afternoon 
received orders to proceed to Monastir en raison de 
service. My passengers were two corporals. It has 
been a cold, overcast day, the clouds hanging low 
over the snow-capped mountains. A cold, penetrating 
wind hit us in the face as we drew away from the 
hospital. 

"When the Fiorina road joins the main caravan road 
to Monastir, we passed from Macedonia into Serbia. 
Here we turned sharply toward the north. The flat 
fields on either side were cut up with trenches, well 
made, deep ones, from which the enemy was driven 
less than a fortnight ago, and shallow rifle pits which 
the French and Serbs had used in the advance. Even 
now, so soon after their evacuation, they were half 
filled with water. Everywhere there was evidence of big 



171 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



gun fire and in one place where we crossed a bridge 
the ground for yards about was an uninterrupted series 
of craters. For the first time in the war I saw piles 
of enemy shells and shell cases showing that his 
retreat had been unpremeditated and hasty. In one 
place stood a dismantled field piece. 

"About a quarter of an hour after leaving Fiorina, 
we reached the village of Negocani. There had been 
heavy fighting here and many of the houses had been 
reduced to piles of dobe bricks. Two miles away to 
the road, we could discern the remains of another vil- 
lage, Kenali, where the enemy made his last stand 
before falling back upon Monastir the other day. The 
sound of the guns had all the while been growing 
louder and not far beyond Negocani I caught my first 
glimpse of the minarets of Monastir. It had been two 
months since I was under fire and I had some curi- 
osity as to how it would affect me. Before reaching 
the environs of the city it became apparent that this 
curiosity would not long remain unsatisfied, for ahead 
we could see the smoke and dust from bursting shells. 
Approaching the city, the way becomes a regular road, 
quite the best I have yet seen in the Balkans. I was 
speculating on this marvel when, perhaps, five hundred 
yards ahead, a columnar mass of earth spouted into 
the air. The whirring of speeding eclat had scarcely 
ceased when another came in slightly nearer. The road 
was under fire and that same old prickly feeling shot 
up my spine, the same "gone" sensation moved in and 



172 




The B. E. F. Ambulances Have Both Upper and Lower "Berths" 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



took possession of my insides. Suddenly the familiar 
sound pervaded the air. There was the crash as though 
of colliding trains and not forty meters away the 
earth by the roadside vomited into the air. In another 
second the debris and eclat rained all about us, show- 
ering the car. The shell was a good-sized one — at least 
a 150, and we owed our lives to the fact that, striking 
in soft ground, the eclat did not radiate. Meanwhile, I 
had not waited for the freedom of the city to be pre- 
sented. The machine was doing all that was in her 
and in a few seconds more we shot by the outlying 
buildings. The fire zone seemed to be restricted to 
the entering road and the extreme fringe of the city 
and when we reached the main street, though we could 
hear the shells passing over, none struck near. Within 
the city our batteries, planted all about, were in action 
and the whirring of our own shells was continuously 
sounding overhead. 

"We parked in a filth-strewn little square lined with 
queer exotic buildings. While I waited for the cor- 
porals to perform their mission, I talked with an Al- 
gerian Zouave who lounged in the doorway. He 
pointed out where a shell had struck this morning, 
killing three men, two civilians and a soldier. He 
further informed me that the streets of the city were 
in full view of the enemy who occupied the hills just 
beyond its outskirts. This revelation was most dis- 
concerting to me, for I had no desire to work up a 
"firing acquaintance." A number of officers of high 



173 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



rank passed — among them a three-star general. A 
colonel of infantry stopped, shook hands with me and 
spoke appreciatively of the work of the Corps in 
France, saying he was glad to welcome a car in the 
Orient. 

"By three o'clock we were ready. My passenger 
list was augmented by a lieutenant, medecin, who 
wished to reach Fiorina. He cautioned me with much 
earnestness to "allez vite" when we should reach this 
shelled zone, a caution wholly unnecessary as I had 
every intention of going as far as Providence and 
gasoline would let me. The firing now — praise to 
Allah — had slackened and only an occasional shell was 
coming in. So, making sure the engine was function- 
ing properly, I tuned up and a second later we were 
going down the road as though "all hell and a police- 
man" were after us. 

"We reached Fiorina without mishaps. Tonight 
there is a full moon. Don and I strolled down into 
the town. It was singularly beautiful, the white min- 
arets standing out against the sombre mountains, the 
silvery light flooding the deserted streets. We strayed 
into one of the tiny little cafes. It was a cozy place. 
Divans covered with rugs and sheepskins lined the 
walls. A few befezzed old men sat cross-legged on 
these, sat there silently smoking giant hookahs and 
sipping their syrupy coffee. We, too, ordered coffee 
and then sat in the silence helping in the thinking. 
After a while the door opened and a short, hairy man 



174 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



entered. He was clad in long white wool drawers, 
around which below the knee were wound black 
thongs. On his feet were queer-shaped shoes which 
turned sharply up at the end and were adorned with 
black pom-poms. He wore a short jacket embroidered 
with tape, and thrown back from his shoulders was a 
rough wool cape. Around his waist was wound a 
broad sash into which was thrust a revolver and a 
long-bladed dirk. About his neck and across his 
breast were hung many silver chains, which jingled 
when he moved. His head was surmounted by a white 
brimless hat. He talked in an unknown tongue to 
the patron and then, bowing low to us, was gone amid 
a clinking of metal. This strange looking individual 
was — so we learned from the cafe's proprietor — an 
Albanian, a man learned in the ways of the moun- 
tains, a scout in the employ of the French. 

"We sipped another coffee, smoked a cigarette and 
then, bowing to the old men, went out into the moon- 
lit street, leaving them to their meditations. As I 
write this from the tent, the sky is darkening, a chill 
wind sweeps down from the snow and gutters the 
candle. I am glad that our blankets are many." 

As the days went by, our camp site, where we were 
the first comers, began to assume the aspect of a 
boom mining town. Several camion sections appeared. 
Numerous avitailement groups moved in. Tents and 
nondescript structures of earth and ammunition boxes 
sprang up. Across the river ten thousand Russians 



175 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



were encamped and all night their singing came to us 
beautifully across the water. All day and all night 
war's traffic ground and creaked by us. The lines had 
shaken down; the two forces were now entrenched, 
facing each other just beyond Monastir and the trans- 
port was accumulating munitions for an offensive. In 
the first camp opposite long lines of Serbian carts, 
carts such as Adam used to bring the hay in, struggled. 
The sad-faced burros plodded by, loaded with every- 
thing from bread to bodies. Soldiers, French, Italian, 
Serb and Russian slogged by. But this activity was 
confined to the narrow zone of the roads. Beyond, 
the grim, desolate country preserved its lonesomeness 
and impressed upon the soul of man the bleakness and 
harshness of a land forlorn. For the most part the 
days were gray and sombre, with low-hanging clouds 
which frequently gave out rain and sleet and caused 
the river to rise so that more than once we were in 
danger of being flooded out. But occasionally there 
would be a clear morning, when the clouds were 
driven back and the rising sun would light the moun- 
tains, turning the snow to rose and orange. We were 
growing very tired of the evacuation work, of the 
long, weary runs. There was no excitement to tinge 
the monotony. We were becoming "fed up." The 
Squad, therefore, hailed with joy the news that the 
Section was to move up to Monastir and there take 
up the front line work. 

Though the exact date of our departure was not 



176 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



announced we knew it would be soon and we com- 
menced at once to make ready. Helmets once more 
became items of interest and motors were tested with 
an interest born of empirical knowledge that the fire 
zone was no place to make repairs. Everybody bright- 
ened up; interest and optimism pervaded the camp. 
And then the word came that we should leave on the 
seventeenth of December. 



177 



CHAPTER XVI 



MONASTIR : HELL'S CAPITAL 

MEN stumbled about in the darkness falling over 
tent pegs or pulling at icy ropes. Now and then 
a motor in response to frantic cranking, coughed, 
sputtered and then "died." Down near the cook 
tent someone was swearing earnestly and fervently 
at the mud. It was three o'clock in the morning and 
the only light was that given off by the stars. The 
Squad was breaking camp and we were to be in 
Monastir, twenty-five kilometers distant, before day- 
break. Somehow in spite of the darkness, the tents 
were struck and packed and the cars rolled out on 
the bumpy roads. 

Our orders issued the night before were: (i) every 
man to wear his helmet, gas masks to be slung; (2) 
on reaching a designated spot five kilometers outside 
of Monastir, to extinguish all lights; (3) thereafter 
cars to maintain intervals of a hundred metres, so 
that if shelled, one shell would not get more than one 
car; (4) in the event of losing the convoy after enter- 
ing the city, to stop, unless under fire, at the point 
where the car preceding was last seen. 



178 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



With the assistance of our lights we were able to 
hold a good pace until we reached the dip in the road 
which had been designated as the point where the 
convoy should halt. Here we extinguished all our 
lights and made sure that everything was right. Ahead 
we could see flashes, but whether from our own guns 
or bursting shells we could not determine. The sound 
of firing came plainly to our ears. The cars now 
got away at fifteen seconds' intervals. A faint, gray 
light was showing in the east, just permitting a dim 
vision of the car ahead. At the entrance to the city 
in a particularly exposed spot, there was some con- 
fusion while the leading machine circled about in an 
endeavor to pick the right street, then we were off 
again, heading for the northeast quarter of the city. 
Crossing a small wall-confined stream by a fragile 
wooden bridge, we wound and twisted through a maze 
of crooked streets, and finally just as the first glow 
lightened the minarets, came to a halt in a narrow 
street. Where my car stopped was a shattered house 
and the street was carpeted with debris, the freshness 
of which testified to the fact that the shells causing 
the damage must have come in not long before. Even 
as I clambered out of the machine two shells crashed 
in somewhere over in another street. 

Our cantonment consisted of two five-roomed, two- 
storied Turkish houses which stood within a small 
walled compound. The top floors, or attics, of these 
houses were free from partitions and gave just suffi- 



179 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



cient space for our beds, ranged around the walls. 
The place was clean and dry and though, of course, 
there was no heat and no glass in the windows, it was 
infinitely better than the tents. The rooms below 
were used for the mess, the galley, and for the French 
staff, and one room which had windows and a stove 
was set aside for a lounge. The "C. O." occupied a 
small stone building which formed part of the com- 
pound wall, a sort of porter's lodge. Beneath the 
houses were semi-cellars, and in one of these we 
stored the spare gas and oil. The cars were at first 
parked along a narrow, blind street which extended a 
short distance directly in front of quarters. As it 
was ascertained, however, that here they were in 
plain view of the enemy, they were moved back on 
another street and sheltered from sight by interven- 
ing buildings. The atelier was established in a half- 
demolished shed about 200 yards up the street from 
the compound. 

Our quarters were situated about midway between 
two mosques. In front of one of these mosques which 
faced on a tiny square hung a tattered Red Cross 
flag, betokening a field dressing-station. Here we got 
our wounded. The lines at this time were just be- 
yond the outskirts of the city, and the wounded were 
brought directly from the trenches to this mosque, 
from whence it was our work to carry them back to 
the field hospitals out of range of the guns. I doubt 
if there ever was a more bizarre paste than this of the 



180 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



mosque. The trappings and gear of Mohammedanism 
remained intact. The muezzin's pulpit draped with its 
chain of wooden beads looked down on the wounded 
men lying on the straw-carpeted floor. On the walls, 
strange Turkish characters proclaimed the truths of 
the Koran. The little railed enclosure, wherein the 
faithful were wont to remove their sandals before 
treading the sacred ground, now served as a bureau. 
All was the same, save that now the walls echoed, 
not the muezzin's nasal chant, but the groans of 
wounded men who called not on Allah, but on God. 

At first we found the twisted streets very confusing. 
They rarely held their direction for more than a 
hundred yards and their narrowness prevented any 
"observation for position." There seemed no names 
or identifications either for streets or quarters, and 
did one inquire the way of some befezzed old Turk, 
the reply would be "Kim bilir? Allah"— Who knows ? 
God. But gradually we grew to know these ways until 
on the darkest of nights we could make our way 
through the mazy blackness. 

The city sprawled about on a more or less level 
plain at one end of the long valley which extended 
southward to the Macedonian frontier. Some of its 
houses straggled up the hills which rose immediately 
back of the city proper. Beyond these hills rose the 
mountains from which at a distance of two kilometers 
the enemy hurled down his hate. The normal popu- 

181 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



lation of Monastir was perhaps fifty thousand souls, a 
population of that bastard complexity found only in 
the Balkans. When we reached the city, a month after 
its capture and occupation by the French, something 
like forty thousand of this civilian population yet re- 
mained, the others having fled to Fiorina or gone 
even farther south. Conditions were still unsettled. 
Daily, spies were led out to be shot, and we were 
warned not to wander unarmed in the remote sections. 
Snipers, from the protection of covered houses, shot 
at passing soldiers and at night it was unsalubrious 
to go about. Lines were drawn about the town and 
none but military transport permitted to pass. Famine 
prices prevailed. In the bazaars, captured dogs were 
butchered and offered for sale. A few stores remained 
open. Above their doors were signs in the queer, 
jumpy characters of the Serbian alphabet, signs which 
it would take a piccolo artist to decipher. Within, 
matches were sold for half a drachmi (ioc) a box, 
eggs, 7 drachmi a dozen, and sugar at 6 drachmi a 
kilo. All moneys, save Bulgar, were accepted ; the 
drachmi, the piaster, the franc, the lepta, the para, but 
the exchange was as complicated as a machine gun, 
and no man not of the Tribe of Shylock could hope 
to solve its mysteries. 

Though most of the houses were closed and shut 
tered as protection against shell splinters, life seemed 
to go on much as usual. There was no traffic in the 
streets, save at night when the army transports came 

182 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



through, or when our machines went by with their 
loads, but the populace passed and repassed, bartered 
and ordered its life with the phlegmatic fatalism of 
the Easterner. The enemy from his point of vantage 
saw every move in the city. His guns commanded its 
every corner. His surveys gave him the range to an 
inch. Daily he raked it with shrapnel and pounded it 
with high explosive. No man in Monastir seeing the 
morning's sun, but knew that, ere it set, his own 
might sink. At any time of the day or night the 
screeching death might come, did come. Old men, old 
women, little children were blown to bits, houses were 
demolished, and yet, because it was decreed by Allah, 
it was inexorable. The civil population went its way. 
Of course when shells came in there was terror, panic, 
a wailing and gnashing of teeth, for not even the fa- 
talism, of Mohammed could be proof against such 
sights. And horrible sights these were. It was noth- 
ing to go through the streets after a bombardment and 
see mangled and torn bodies ; a man with his head 
blown off; a little girl dead, her face staring upward, 
her body pierced by a dozen wounds; a group in gro- 
tesque attitudes, with, perhaps an arm or a leg torn 
off and thrown fifty feet away. These in Monastir 
were daily sights. 

One afternoon I remember as typical. It was within 
a few days of Christmas, though there was little of 
Yuletide in the atmosphere. At home, the cars were 
bearing the signs, "Do Your Christmas Shopping 



i83 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Early," but here in Monastir, where, as "Doc" says 
"a chap was liable to start out full of peace and good 
will and come back full of shrapnel and shell splin- 
ters," there was little inducement to do Christmas shop- 
ping. Nevertheless we started on one of those prowl- 
ing strolls in which we both delighted. We rambled 
through the tangled streets, poked into various odd 
little shops in quest of the curious, dropped into a hot 
milk booth where we talked with some English speak- 
ing Montenegrins, and then finally crossed one of 
the rickety wooden bridges which span the city's bi- 
secting stream. By easy stages, stopping often to 
probe for curios, we reached the main street of the 
city. Here at a queer little bakery, where the pro- 
prietor shoved his products into a yawning stove oven 
with a twelve-foot wooden shovel, we got, for an out- 
rageous price, some sad little cakes. As we munched 
these, we stood on a corner and watched the scene 
about us. It was a fine day, the first sunny one we 
had experienced in a long time. Many people were 
in the streets, a crowd such as only war and the Orient 
could produce : a sprinkling of soldiers, mostly French 
although occasionally a Russian or an Italian was 
noticed ; a meditative old Turk, stolid Serbian women, 
little children — a lively, varied picture. Our cakes 
consumed, "Doc" and I crossed the street and a short 
way along a transverse street, stopped to watch the 
bread line. There were possibly three hundred people, 
mostly women, gathered here waiting for the dis- 



184 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



tribution of the farina issued by the military to the 
civil population. For a while we watched them, and 
then, as the street ahead looked as if it might yield 
something interesting in booths, we continued along 
it. In another fifty yards, however, its character 
changed ; it became residential and so we turned to 
retrace our steps. Fortunate for us it was that we 
made the decision. We had gone back perhaps a 
dekameter, when we heard the screech. We sprang 
to the left hand wall and flattened ourselves against 
it as the crash came. It was a 155 H. E. Just be- 
yond, at the point toward which we had been making 
our way, the whole street rose into the air. We sped 
around the corner to the main street. It was a mass 
of screaming, terror-stricken people. In quick suc- 
cession three more shells came in, one knocking "Doc" 
off his feet with its concussion. The wall by which 
we had stood and an iron shutter close by were rent 
and torn with eclat. One of these shells had struck 
near the bread line. How many were killed I never 
knew. "Doc" for the moment had disappeared, and 
I was greatly worried until I saw him emerge from 
an archway. There was now a lull in the shelling. 
All our desire for wandering about the city had ceased. 
We started back towards quarters. Before we were 
half way there, more shells came in, scattered about 
the city, though the region about the main street 
seemed to be suffering most. Crossing the stream, we 
saw the body of a man hanging half over the wall and 

185 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



nearby, the shattered paving where the shell had 
struck. 

In such an atmosphere we lived. Each day brought 
its messages of death. On December 19th, I saw a 
spy taken out to be shot. On the 20th, a house next 
to quarters was hit. Two days later, when evacuating 
under shrapnel fire, I saw two men killed. Constantly 
we had to change our route through the city because 
of buildings blown into the street. 

Our work was done before the coming of light in 
order that the moving machines might not draw the 
enemy's fire. One morning, the 21st of December, a 
dark wet morning, thick as the plot of a problem play, 
I had gotten my load, and had left Monastir behind. 
As I entered the little village of Negocani, where the 
road bends sharply to the left, I beheld in the dim 
half-light the figure of a man. As I drew near he 
flashed a torch and extended his arms. I threw on 
the brake, brought the car to a standstill, and peering 
out over the shrapnel hood looked into the eyes of — 
George. George whom I last saw as we left Verdun 
last July. We had crossed together in 191 5, had 
served together on the Aisne, on the Somme and 
throughout those trying days at the Vortex. Then 
he had left to return to the States. Rejoining the 
Corps in November, he had been sent out to fill the 
place left vacant by Sortwell's death, had come up 
from Salonika to Fiorina by rail, had reached Nego- 
cani the night before on an Italian camion, and here 

186 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



he was, adrift in the wretched Serbian village trying 
to locate the Section. I dare say two people never 
were more delighted to meet. We pounded each other 
on the back and made strange noises till my blesses 
exclaimed in wonder. I drove on to the village of 
Kenelic, just over the Macedonian line, where was 
located the field hospital to which we were then evacu- 
ating, and after discharging my wounded, returned to 
Negocani for George. He brought news from home, 
from Paris, Christmas packages, and the football 
scores. There were five Yale men in the Squad and 
when they learned that Yale had triumphed over both 
Harvard and Princeton, the noise that went up caused 
passing citizens to scuttle for cover. 

On "the night before Christmas" we hung up our 
coarse woolen stockings for each other to fill, and 
there was some speculation as to whether the morrow 
would bring the usual shelling. Dawn of the day had 
not come before we heard our batteries sending their 
message of Christmas hate. In the cheerless dimness 
of early morning we gathered around the coffee urn 
and wished each other "Bon Noel." Far away, we 
knew the sun was shining on peaceful homes, cheery 
towns, beautiful women, happy children. Here it 
struggled up over the mountains, lighted the minarets 
and looked down on a city stricken with war. It saw 
bedraggled, helmeted soldiers leading weary pack 
mules over pitted, sloughy streets, veiled women glid- 
ing along in the shelter of mud walls, masked batteries, 



187 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



starved, pitiful children, pariah dogs feasting on dead 
horses, long lines of trenches, filled with half frozen 
men, debris-cluttered spaces where shells had fallen. 
The sun looked down and wondered if this could be 
the anniversary of Christ's birth. 

Towards nine o'clock our batteries ceased firing. 
The enemy's guns, too, were silent, and we hoped this 
presaged a quiet day. Four of us decided on a bath 
and made our way over toward the ancient, arched 
stone structure where generations of Turks had per- 
formed their ablutions. It was a Turkish bath, but 
picture not to yourself a sunny "hot room," needle 
showers and limpid pools, for the real Turkish bath 
is a vault-like chamber reached by double doors which 
serve to shut in the air which has been in captivity 
since the walls were reared. Around the walls are a 
number of shallow stone basins, into which trickles 
tepid water. After disrobing, the bather throws this 
water over himself, using for the purpose a small 
copper bowl. We brought our own towels, otherwise 
we might have had to resort to limp cloths by no means 
resembling our conception of Turkish towels. Such is 
a real Turkish bath. 

Emerging on to the street we visited a hot milk 
booth. Some of us were already acquiring the yogart 
habit. Yogart is fermented goat's milk, and when it 
comes to flourishing, it is the green bay tree of the 
Balkans. It waxeth loud in the land. The taste for 
yogart is strictly an acquired one, but once one becomes 

188 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



a "yogartist" he wades into the product with all the 
enthusiasm of a newly converted golf fiend. Yogart 
possesses the unique property of mixing well with 
anything. Thus it is made better by adding sugar, or 
chocolate, or jam, or honey, and I even caught "Bus- 
ter" one day stirring in macaroni. 

We had left the yogart palace and were on our way 
back to quarters. As was natural, our talk was of 
the night's dinner, at which two plum puddings, 
brought from France, were to appear prominently. 
Report had it too, that other delicacies would be forth- 
coming; it was to be a regular "burst." There was a 
distant whistle, increasing to a crescendo screech, and 
we "froze in our tracks." Two seconds, and over in 
the direction of quarters there was the crash of the 
explosion. 

Monastir is a city without cellars, a city for the 
most part of flimsy mud walls, through which an obus 
crashes like a hammer through an eggshell. About 
all one can hope for in a bombardment is that by stick- 
ing close to a house the smaller eclat may be stopped. 
We had plenty of time to realize this as we flattened 
out against a building, on the other side of which was 
a gaping hole, the result of a former bombardment. 
As we lay there, we speculated as to the welfare of 
the fellows at quarters, for the shells all seemed to be 
falling in that locality. We speculated on the size 
of the missiles, deciding that they were 155 H. E., and 

189 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



finally we speculated on whether they were coming 
nearer. Up to that time they had been dropping at 
a distance which we estimated as possibly three hun- 
dred yards. Now they seemed to be coming nearer. 
We accordingly moved, going down towards the center 
of the city, where we once more became "wall-flowers." 
We were particularly disgusted. To be strafed on 
Christmas Day, "mustered for foreign service," before 
the only real meal in months, was surely the refinement 
of cruelty, worthy of the Huns. There was no help for 
this, however, and so, while the people at home were 
on their way to church, we lay beside a mud wall in 
a Balkan town, liable any minute "to go out" without 
benefit of clergy, and wondered, perhaps, if after all 
the "life of safety first" was not preferable. 

Suddenly, as suddenly as it had begun, the firing 
ceased. We consulted our watches; it lacked five 
minutes to mid-day. The bombardment had lasted 
one hour and twenty-five minutes, during which time 
about one hundred and fifty shells had come in. The 
shelled area was about a quarter of a mile square. 
The enemy was after a particularly troublesome seven- 
ty-five battery which had its station about two hundred 
yards from our compound. His efforts had been suc- 
cessful, the battery having been silenced, two of the 
guns being put entirely out of commission. We started 
for quarters with considerable apprehension as to what 
we should find. The streets which at the first shell had 
been depopulated were now swarming again, and it 

190 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



was "business as usual." We were immensely relieved 
on reaching the compound to find quarters intact. The 
yard and house had been showered with iclat but no 
one had been hit. 

The noon meal was not half over before the shelling 
was resumed. This time a battery on the southeastern 
edge of the city was catching it. From our attic win- 
dows we watched the shells strike and the columns of 
smoke and mud mount into the air. For perhaps an 
hour this continued and then quiet fell, broken only by 
the occasional fire of our guns. The day had become 
gray and dull. The sun, as though saddened by such 
a spirit on Christmas, withdrew behind thick clouds. 
As the afternoon advanced, the firing on both sides 
grew less and less, until when night fell only the in- 
termittent rap of a machine gun broke the silence. 

Somehow the dinner was not a great success. I 
think we were all just a bit homesick. Not even the 
plum puddings aroused our spirits. There was only 
one toast— 'To the folks back there." The choruses 
lacked vim. "She wore it for her lover who was far, 
far away" served only to emphasize the feeling that, 
though we might not be "lovers," still we were far, 
far away, and "When I Die" possessed such potential 
possibilities that it quickly "died." So I think we were 
all rather glad when the day was over and we could 
crawl into our flea-bags and forget it was Christmas. 

The Huns seemed determined to make the last 
days of the old year memorable for Monastir. Day 



191 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



by day the shelling increased. The city crumbled 
about us. Some of the streets were blocked with 
fallen houses. Few of the stores or booths were now 
open. The population remained within their frail 
walls and were killed in their homes. The Franco- 
Serbian Bank was blown into the street. As some- 
one remarked, a check drawn on it would be returned 
marked not "no funds," but "no bank." The bakery 
where we had bought little cakes was reduced to a 
pile of rubbish, its proprietor buried beneath. I went 
around to get some silver work I had ordered from 
an artisan, to find his place no longer existed. It was 
wiped out by a single shell. On the 28th of December 
the enemy shelled throughout the night. The follow- 
ing day we had five cars partially demolished, my own 
among the number. Its sides were blown in and the 
entire machine was plastered with blood and strips of 
human flesh, the shell which did the damage having 
torn to shreds a little girl who was standing by it at the 
time. In all the war I have seen no more horrible sight 
than that of the child's family gathering the still warm 
particles of flesh, finding here a hand, there a finger 
or a foot, the while moaning in anguish, and then 
rolling on the ground. The scene was appalling. 

On the 30th of December, we began to excavate a 
dug-out beneath our quarters. The shelling was now 
almost continuous, and this lent impetus to the work. 
We dug the shelter in the form of a cross, seven feet 
deep and with a roof of banked timber. It would 



192 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



not have survived a direct hit, even of a 77, but it 
was splinter-proof and at least it took our minds off 
the shelling. 

I was hard at work on this abri when I was told 
that the Commander wanted to see me in his quarters. 
He greeted me with his usual winning courtesy, and 
without wasting time on preliminaries, informed me 
that that there was a call for two cars to serve the 
division now occupying Southern Albania ; that I had 
been selected to take one of these cars through — the 
one going to the most advanced post — and would have 
a reserve driver "in case anything happened." My 
orders were to leave the same afternoon, taking suffi- 
cient oil and gas for three hundred kilometers, and to 
report to the Commanding Officer at Fiorina for fur- 
ther instructions. 

I at once set about preparing for the trip. It was 
uncomfortable working on the car as the afternoon 
shelling was at its height, but by four o'clock all was 
ready and, after taking on some wounded at the 
mosque, I scuttled out of town, headed for Fiorina. 

It was nearly nine o'clock the next morning, the last 
day of the old year, before we finally got away and 
drove down the long, winding main street of Fiorina 
headed towards the mountains. Just beyond the town, 
the road turns towards the west and begins to rise. 

The main road from Southern Serbia into Albania 
runs from Monastir almost due west, skirting Lake 
Prespa. Across this road, however, stretched the 



193 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



enemy's line. To hold Southern Albania and flank 
the Austro-Bulgarian army, the French had thrown a 
division of troops across the mountains, advancing 
from Fiorina by the little-used trail over which we 
were now making our way. A number of attempts 
had been made to get motors across the divide — our 
own cars had twice essayed the task but without avail. 
The grade was terrific. The trail clung to the moun- 
tain sides and wound its way almost perpendicularly 
upward. Rains, snows and the supply trains of an 
army had kneaded the soil into a quagmire. Motors 
bucked this, stalled, bucked again, mired and finally 
had to be dug out, to abandon the attempt. 

But those other cars had neglected to bring with 
them the one thing that could get them across: they 
had neglected to provide themselves with a real live 
general. With commendable foresight we had stocked 
up with "one general" — the Commander of the Al- 
banian Division seeking to join his command. With 
such a tool in our locker there could be no doubt of 
the success of our attempt. The first time we mired, 
he displayed his usefulness. Hastily commandeering 
the services of all the soldiers in sight, he ordered 
them to leave their various tasks of road-building, 
mule-driving, etc., and to get their shoulders against 
the cars. Then with a tremendous "alle, hup," a. grind- 
ing and heaving, we pulled out and struggled on and 
upward for several metres. It was slow work. Time 
and again we were mired and had to be dug out. 



194 



4 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



Sometimes we even dropped back to get a start and 
then charged the mud with every bit of gas the throttle 
gave. But always at the end of an hour we were a 
little farther on. By two o'clock, when we stopped to 
eat some sardines and bread, we had ascended to a 
height of fifty-four thousand feet above sea level, 
and were on top of the Divide. The surface here was 
more solid, for the snow froze as it fell, and with 
chains, the wheels gripped. 

During the afternoon we worked our way down on 
a trail from which a sheer wall rose on one side, and 
the other dropped away into nothingness. Often, 
passing traffic forced us to hang literally with two 
wheels clinging to the edge, where, had the brakes 
slipped, we would have been classed among "the miss- 
ing." The sun had long made its westing, and a half- 
gloom filled the valleys when we came to a pocket in 
the mountains. On the opposite side of a gorge 
through which rushed a stream, were clustered a num- 
ber of stone houses, clinging to the mountain side. It 
was the forlorn village of Zelova. We parked the 
cars in a small open space by the roadside, and cross- 
ing the stream, clambered up among the houses. There 
were one or two pitiful little stores, but they were 
without stocks. There was even a one-roomed cafe, 
but although this was New Year's Eve, there seemed 
no demand for tables, perhaps because there were no 
drinks of any sort to put on those tables. The few 
villagers we saw were a depressed-looking lot, as in- 

19* 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



deed they well might be. The murky huts offered 
very little cheer, so I spread my blankets in the ambu- 
lance. Outside the snow was coming down and drift- 
ing against the side of the car. 191 6 was dying but 
I was too weary to await the obsequies, and was soon 
asleep. 

Shortly after daybreak we roused out. The snow 
was still swishing through the paths, blotting out all 
but the nearest objects. By eight o'clock we were en 
route, and following the course of the stream, we 
reached a narrow valley. The brook had now assumed 
the proportions of a small river, and, because of the 
configuration of the ground, we were forced to cross it 
time and time again. There were no bridges, and each 
time as we charged through the water we expected 
to be checked by the flooding of the carburetor. 

About ten o'clock the snow ceased to fall, and occa- 
sionally the sun looked out on a scene grandly beau- 
tiful. For the first time we entered a region partly 
forested. Stunted oaks grew on the mountain side 
and along the river were poplars. We were entering a 
more populous country. We saw numbers of queerly- 
costumed people. Mostly, they were clad in white 
homespun wool, embroidered with vivid reds and 
greens. Farther on, we passed into a region more bar- 
ren and desolate than any we had yet encountered, a 
region of towering cliffs and stone strewn ground, de- 
void of all verdure. Shortly afterward we passed an- 
other stone village, Smesdis. Five or six kilometers 



196 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



beyond the road, which all this time had been terrible, 
suddenly became better. Though no boulevard, it 
seemed so by contrast, and, since we no longer had to 
push the car, we regarded our troubles as over. 

We had now emerged from the mountains and were 
in a considerable valley. At noon we entered a good- 
sized village, Beclista. We were now in Albania 
having crossed the frontier somewhere between Be- 
clista and Smesdis. To our surprise, there was a sort 
of restaurant near where we had stopped our cars, 
and here we were able to obtain a stew of mysterious 
and obscure composition, together with some very good 
corn bread. 

At Beclista the other car remained. My orders were 
to continue on to Coritza and accordingly, at one 
o'clock, I again set out, Vive accompanying me as a 
reserve driver. The snow had once more begun to 
fall but the way had so much improved that we were 
able to proceed at a fair speed. The road led through 
a broad valley, which in summer must be very beauti- 
ful. On either side, mountains stretched away in ser- 
ried ranks. Here the Comitaje had their lairs, from 
which they issued to raid and terrorize the country 
round about. The whole of Albania is infested with 
these mountain bandits. They were constantly making 
sallies against isolated detachments of the transport, 
swooping on the men before they could defend them- 
selves, plundering the supplies and then making off 
into the mountains where no man could follow. In 



197 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Albania, every man went armed and a soldier found 
without his gun was subject tp arrest. On leaving 
the General at Beclista, he had directed that I be 
armed with a carbine, besides the army revolver which 
I already carried, and the gun thereafter always hung 
beside the driving-seat. 

As we drove along, we left consternation in our 
wake. Mountain ponies, forsaking habits of years, 
climbed imaginary trees and kicked their loads loose 
with a carefree abandon born of a great desire to be 
elsewhere. Terror-stricken peasants gave us one look 
and took to the fields. Bullock wagons went into 
"high" and attained a speed hitherto deemed impos- 
sible. We created a Sensation with a capital S. And 
well we might, for we were the first motor to pass 
this way. 

Towards four in the afternoon we were challenged by 
the outpost and, presenting our papers, were permitted 
to pass. A half mile beyond we again answered the 
"Qui vive" and then entered Coritza. An elephant 
pulling a baby-carriage up Fifth Avenue, would excite 
no greater wonder in New York than did our car 
rolling through the streets of Coritza. When we drew 
up in front of the etat major, it became necessary to 
throw a cordon of troops about the machine to hold 
back the wondering, clamoring populace. Reporting 
to the officer in command, we were assigned quarters 
and the car was placed within the courtyard. 

Coritza in many ways is a unique city. It is situated 



198 




One of the Gars That Bucked Its Way Through the "Impass- 
able" Mountain Roads of Albania 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



about midway between the Adriatic and the Macedon- 
ian border, about one hundred and eighty kilometers 
from deep water and one hundred and fifty from a 
railroad. Normally it is reached by three caravan 
routes, the one from Fiorina over which we had just 
come, the trail from Monastir, and the road up from 
the Adriatic. These two latter were now closed, the 
Monastir trail by the Bulgar line, the other by the 
Comitaje. The houses, for the most part, are solid 
structures of gray stone, and some sections remind 
one strongly of a Scotch town. The streets are well 
surfaced and there are sidewalks made of stone slabs. 
The most prominent edifice in the city is a two- 
buttressed Greek church. The Turk, though long 
nominally exercising suzerainty over Albania, never 
succeeded in really conquering the country or in im- 
pressing his religion upon the people. There are but 
two mosques in the place and the atmosphere and 
aspect are much more occidental than oriental. From 
a place, formed by the junction of two broad avenues, 
radiate smaller streets, and on these are found the 
bazaars. Here are workers in silver and leather and 
copper; also iron-workers who seem constantly en- 
gaged in producing hand-wrought nails, and several 
artisans whose sole product is the long-bladed Albanian 
dirk. Besides the bazaars, there are a number of 
modern stores — hardware, grocery and two pharma- 
cies, all well stocked. Everywhere is exposed for sale 
maize bread in cakes, slabs, squares and hunks. 



199 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



Through the streets wandered an extraordinary, 
diverse crowd, displaying a strange admixture of cos- 
tumes. There were a few veiled women, a few robed 
Turks, a few men clad in the European fashion of a 
decade ago, but the great majority of the people were 
in the native Albanian dress, the women in long, blue 
homespun coats, with red braid trimming, and multi- 
colored aprons, their heads bound in blue cloths which 
were tied under the chin. Upon their legs they wore 
homespun stockings, dyed red or blue. The men, fre- 
quently bearded, wore red or white fezes without 
tassels and white short-waisted skirt coats, from the 
shoulders of which hung two embroidered wing-like 
appendages. Their baggy pantaloons were thrust into 
high white stockings. Upon their feet they wore, as 
did the women, curious red shoes which turned sharply 
up at the toes and were adorned with large black pom- 
poms. About their middle was a broad leather girdle 
into which were thrust poinards. Some of these knives 
are really finely made with elaborate silver handles. 
Their owners set great store by them, and it is with 
difficulty that they can be induced to part with them. 
For an outer garment the Albanian wears a rough 
woolen cape with hood attachment which hangs from 
his shoulders to mid-leg. For ornaments, the more 
wealthy wear silver chains draped across the chest. 
The girls wear long loose bloomers, drawn in at the 
ankle. Both sexes of all ages smoke cigarettes. Big, 
lean, wolf -like dogs follow their masters around and 



200 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



fight each other with great fervency. Also there are 
burros, millions of them. 

We were much surprised that many of the people 
— more especially the storekeepers — had been to 
America and spoke English. When they learned we 
were Americans, they were delighted. The news 
quickly spread, and as we walked through the streets, 
the people crowded around us, shaking hands and in- 
viting us to take tea. One storekeeper had been the 
proprietor of a dairy lunch in Washington at which I 
remembered I had eaten. Another had a brother who 
was a waiter in Washington's largest hotel. The barber 
had for five years worked in New Haven and had, 
perhaps, cut my hair when I was at Yale. It seemed 
queer enough to find these people in this remote 
mountain town. 

After a few days Vive and I decided to move our 
quarters from the hospital to the inn which stood at 
a point formed by the junction of the two principal 
streets. Here we secured a commodious room, fur- 
nished with a charcoal brazier, a couple of chairs and 
two almost-beds. Upon the latter we spread our flea- 
bags, a case of otium cum dignitate. The inn was kept 
— or perhaps in the interest of accuracy I should say 
has existence — under the proprietorship of "Spiro." 
Spiro was his first name, his family name partaking 
of a complexity too intricate to dwell in the memory 
of one not imbued from birth with Albanian tribal 
genealogy. He was a man of sorrows, a victim of what 

201 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



economists call "The ratio of exchange." In the 
cafe which occupied the ground floor of the inn, Spiro 
dispensed weird drinks to those whom war had ren- 
dered fearless of death. And the price of these drinks 
was such that five sous bought one. Now the exchange 
on French paper in Albania at this time was twelve 
sous on a five franc bill. But those that did patronize 
the tavern paid for their refreshment in notes of 
the denomination of five francs, demanding in return 
therefrom sous to the amount of ninety-five in change. 
Howbeit, it came to pass that Spiro did lose seven sous 
on every drink he did sell, besides the value of the 
drink. This situation, he confided to me, "makes me 
craz." 

Though we had changed our quarters, we still messed 
with the sous off icier s at the ambulance. With charac- 
teristic French courtesy, they insisted on giving us the 
best of everything and welcomed us as one of them- 
selves. We shortly grew to know their individual 
characteristics and to feel entirely at home with them. 
We ate in a stone room, which had evidently been the 
kitchen of a considerable establishment. The table 
was waited on by the cook who, in the democratic way 
of the French army, took part in whatever discussion 
happened to be going forward. He was as comical a 
chap as ever I have seen, short in stature, with spark- 
ling black eyes and a voice like the rumble of an artil- 
lery wheel. His nose was so large the burden of 
carrying it around seemed to have bowed his legs, 



202 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



which were quaintly curved. His beret he wore at an 
astonishing angle curved down from a hump in the 
middle so that the headgear more nearly resembled 
a poultice. From somewhere he had secured a bright 
red waistcoat, the better which to display, he always 
appeared sans tunic. 

Petit dejeuner we ate down in the town. Our break- 
fast consisted of boiled eggs, corn bread and Turkish 
coffee, and the amount of labor necessary to assemble 
this repast was about the same as required in getting 
up a thousand-plate banquet in New York. The mere 
buying of the eggs was in itself no small task, since 
the vendors refused to accept paper money, having, I 
suppose, seen too many paper governments rise and 
fall; and silver was very scarce, since it was horded 
and retired from circulation. The eggs once obtained, 
there remained the matter of their cooking. The science 
of boiling eggs seems never to have been understood 
or else is one of the lost arts in Albania, and we were 
forced to expound anew each morning this mystery to 
the pirate who presided over what the Coritzians in- 
genuously regard as a restaurant. Each morning we 
appeared with our hard-won eggs, Exhibit A, and 
made known that it would be pleasing to us could we 
have said eggs boiled and chaperoned by two cups of 
Turkish coffee, into which we proposed to stir some 
condensed milk, Exhibit B. The board of governors 
having considered this proposition, after some minutes 
usually reached the conclusion that this thing might be 



203 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



done. A la carte orders, banquets and such extra- 
ordinary culinary rites as egg boiling were conducted 
in the cellar of the place, and thither our eggs would 
be conducted, it being necessary, owing to the absence 
of inside communication, for the proprietor to go out- 
doors, trudge around the corner and descend by an out- 
side stairway. Through a crack in the floor, we could 
presently see our eggs in the process of cooking. At 
three minutes, having called time, they would be taken 
off, carried out into the street, around the corner, 
through a wondering throng at the door, and presently, 
if our luck held, we were actually confronted with a 
half dozen boiled eggs, a rare sight in Albania, judging 
from the interest their eating invoked. Such is break- 
fast in the Balkans. 

Powers has described Albania as "a burlesque prod- 
uct of embarrassed diplomacy." The country was in 
the process of one of its burlesques. But a fortnight 
before, under the benevolent toleration of the French, 
it had proclaimed itself a republic and we found it in 
the travail of birth. Already a flag had been adopted, 
a paper currency established, self-appointed officials 
had assumed office, and an army which would have 
gladdened the eye of General Coxey was in formation. 
The whole affair was extraordinarily reminiscent of an 
opera bouffe; and, looking at these people — in many 
respects the most splendid in the Balkans — one could 
not but hope that the comedy might continue a comedy 
and not degenerate into bloody tragedy. 



204 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



In the center of the town rose an ancient, square- 
walled tower, erected by the Turks. Now, the French 
maintained an outlook from this vantage point. The 
sector of Albania presented a unique situation, un- 
paralleled at this time on any front. There were no 
trenches, in fact no sharply denned line between the 
opposing forces. The fighting consisted largely of 
cavalry skirmishes between the Chasseurs dAfrique 
upon our side, mounted Comitaje on the other. These 
bandits were not regular troops but outlaws accoutered 
and supported by the Austrians. The difficult nature 
of the country and the absence of roads had prevented 
both sides from bringing up artillery, though rapid 
firers were from time to time brought into action, so 
that the fighting was of the open kind unknown on 
other fronts since the first days of the war. This held 
true of the front to the north and west of Coritza. 
Further eastward in the border mountains, the Mon- 
astir line found its beginning, and here the Zouaves 
were entrenched. 

: It was from this region our calls came. The main 
road from Serbia, now cut off by the line, rose some 
eight kilometers to the southeast of Coritza and, by a 
series of loops, zigzagged up from the valley below to 
a height of five thousand feet, at which altitude it 
entered into a pass. Midway along this pass a view, 
exceeded in beauty by nothing in Switzerland, opened 
out below, where the vividly blue waters of Lake 
Prespa stretched away from a barren shore to a daz- 

205 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



zling snow-clad mountain range. It was as wild and 
lonesome a scene as nature presents. Undoubtedly 
ours was the first motor ever to enter this pass, and 
there, amidst the immensity of a scene which showed 
no traces of man's dominion, it looked strangely out 
of place. 

There were not many calls, but when one did come 
in it meant biting work. One afternoon, I remember, 
we left Coritza in response to a call from a little 
village nestling up in the foothills to the eastward. 
Dusk was coming on and a nasty, chill wind, fore- 
runner of the night's cold, was blowing steadily through 
the pass when we reached the narrow gut which 
formed the only approach to our objective. Here we 
shut off the motor and prospected our way. It led 
along the base of a hill and the mud was such as I 
have never seen on road or trail. At times, as we 
plodded, it gripped us so that our lumbermen's boots 
became imbedded and in an effort to extract them we 
would topple and then, in kangaroo posture, kick our- 
selves loose. It was apparent no car could be forced 
through this morass, and that the wounded would have 
to be brought out by hand. We found them on some 
rotting straw in a roofless stone court halfway up the 
mountain side and fully two kilometers from the near- 
est point to which the car could approach. There were 
three of them, all Anamites (Indo-Chinese) and all 
badly hit. They were the first wounded Anamites 1 
had ever seen, for the yellow men are deemed unre- 



206 



All the Comforts of Home" Are Not More Appreciated Than 
These Crude Bating Places 




Mustard Gas Cases with Protecting Compresses Over the Eyes 
Are Awaiting the Ambulance 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



liable and are rarely sent into the line. These men, 
we were told, had been shot by their own officers 
when attempting a break after being sent into a 
charge. 

Night had now shut down. It was deemed unsafe 
to show a light lest it draw the fire of the enemy's 
patrols. Thus a pitchy darkness added to our task. 
There were several brancardiers in attendance and we 
all now set to work to get our men to the car. None of 
that little group, neither the wounded nor those who 
bore them, will, I fancy, ever forget that night. For 
six hours we wallowed through that slough of des- 
pond, steaming and struggling till the cold sweat 
bathed our bodies, and every muscle and tendon cried 
out in weariness. Not a star helped out a blackness 
so deep that at one end of a stretcher I could not see 
my fellow bearer before me. How we made it we 
shall never know but somehow we came through and 
stowed the last blesse within the car. A wet, clinging 
snow had commenced to fall and to beat down into 
our faces as we drove. Once the car mired and we 
groaned with apprehension lest we be held till morn- 
ing but we "rocked" it through. Once the lights — for 
we had now switched them on — showed us figures 
ahead in the road. We loosened our arms and stripped 
off our gloves the better to handle them, but passed 
the group without incident. 

Sometime after two in the morning we glimpsed the 
red light which showed the field hospital. We knocked 



207 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



the place up and commenced the unloading of our 
wounded. They were still alive, as the groans showed. 
The medecins urged us to stay the night, but the snow 
was coming down harder than ever, and afraid that 
morning might find us snowbound, we determined to 
push on at once. Coritza was something like thirty 
kilometers away down the valley, but we had no load 
now, and in spite of the roughness of the way it was 
less than ninety minutes later when we passed the 
sentry, drove the car into the compound, and climbed 
stiffly down. 

But all nights were not like this. On the second 
floor of a building midway down a crooked street in 
the town was a cosy cafe, and here, when there were 
no calls, we spent the evening sipping Turkish coffee 
and smoking interminable cigarettes. The walls were 
draped with exotic hangings. On the floor were 
crudely woven rugs. A small, raised platform occu- 
pied one end of the room. Cross-legged upon this sat 
grave old Turks nodding meditatively over their 
hookahs. Scattered about were tables where fore- 
gathered many men of many tongues. All were armed 
and sat with their guns across their knees or handily 
leaning against the walls by their sides. 

It was at the cafe we encountered the Zouave. A 
fascinatingly interesting chap he was. He had been 
everywhere, seen queer sights and made strange jour- 
neyings. He was a child of adventure. All over the 
world you meet them, in the dingy cabins of tramp 



208 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



steamers, around balsam camp fires, in obscure cafes of 
the polyglot ports, beneath tropical palms, in the tea 
houses of the Far East, in compounds and bomas from 
Bankok to Bahama. And always their setting seems ap- 
propriate, as they tone into it. They are usually just 
coming from, or are just going to some place beyond. 
Of some things their knowledge is profound ; of others, 
theirs is the innocence of children. They may be tall or 
short, old or young but usually they are lean, and 
about their eyes are tiny wrinkles which have come 
from much gazing over water or from the searing 
glare of the tropics. They are apt to be of little 
speech, but when they talk odd words from queer 
dialects slip out. They know the food terms in a half 
dozen languages and the fighting words in as many 
more. They have met cannibals and counts. They 
eat anything without complaint or praise. Nothing 
shocks them; nothing surprises them, but everything 
interests them. They are without definite plan in the 
larger scope of life but never without immediate pur- 
pose. For a good woman they have respect amounting 
to reverence. Without doctrinal religion, they live a 
creed which might shame many a churchman. Living 
and wandering beyond the land of their nativity, they 
love her with the true love of the expatriate and 
should she need them they would come half around the 
world to serve her. So the Zouave talked to us 
of Persia and Peru, of violent deaths he had seen, 
of ballistics and sharks and opium dens and oases, and 



209 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



the while a sentry challenged without in the street 
"somewhere in Albania." 

My orders, when leaving the Squad, had been to 
proceed to Coritza and remain there until relieved, the 
C. O. adding that this would probably be in five days. 
This time passed and twice five days, yet no word or 
relief came. The weather had been almost continu- 
ously bad with rain and snow, so that there seemed 
a probability that the pass was blocked and the stream 
swollen beyond the possibility of a crossing. Even 
the most unusual surroundings may become common- 
place through forced association and Vive and I were 
beginning to tire of Coritza. We took turns in walk- 
ing about the town; we worked on the machine till 
nothing remained to be done ; we chatted with the 
soldiers; we read. Our library contained one book, 
Dombey and Son. As I was about half way through 
this, we cut the book in two, Vive reading the first 
part at the same time I was pushing through the latter 
half. 

On the seventh of January the Albanians celebrated 
their Christmas and on the fourteenth, following the 
Greek calendar, New Year's. All the stores and ba- 
zaars were closed on these days, giving the streets a 
particularly desolate appearance. Some astounding 
costumes appeared, those of European descent being 
the most extraordinary, the fashion of a decade gone by 
suffering revival. Bands of urchins roved about and 
upon small provocation broke into what I suppose were 

210 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



Yuletide carols, though it would indeed be a "merry 
gentleman" who could "rest" when under fire of such 
vocal shrapnel. 

At last one gloomy evening, when January was half 
over, as we crouched over our charcoal brazier, we 
heard the hoot of a motor horn and knew that our 
relief had come. We tumbled out to find the Lieuten- 
ant with two of the fellows. It had been found im- 
possible to get another ambulance across the moun- 
tains, but the C. O. had managed to pass his light 
touring car through with the relief drivers. My car 
was to remain in Albania until conditions in the pass 
improved in the spring, and Vive and I were to return 
with the C. O. 

With the passing of the days, these plans material- 
ized and soon Vive and I found ourselves referring in 
the past tense to the time spent in Albania. The re- 
turn trip from Coritza was in reality the beginning of 
the end which was attained four months later. Ulti- 
mately Monastir, Salonika, the Island of Melos (where 
we put in to escape a submarine), Taranto, Rome, 
Paris and New York were cities along the trail which, 
in May, led to the magic place that men call "home." 



211 



CHAPTER XVII 



"down valleys dreadly desolate" 

"IJ^TE started next morning de bonne heurc, the 
¥ V C. O. assigning me the wheel. Transport had 
so kneaded the melting snow and mud that the way 
was little better than a bog. Frequently, indeed con- 
stantly after reaching the foothills, it was necessary 
for all hands save the helmsman, to go overside in 
order that the machine might be lightened. All day 
we stuck to it and the mud stuck to us and night found 
us still in the lower hills with several streams yet to 
cross. Once, in the darkness, we lost our way and 
had to cast about in the gloom for tracks. At last, 
long after dark, we glimpsed the flicker of camp fires 
and shortly hove to at the lonesome little mountain 
village of Zelovia. 

Though it was sometime after evening mess, a 
friendly cook mended his fire and got us some food. 
Then we were glad to spread our blankets on the straw 
within one of the stone huts and drift off to sleep. 

At daylight we roused out and commenced the 
ascent of the pass. With a heavy ambulance the way 
would have been impossible and even with the voiture 



212 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



legere it was the next thing to it. The others walked 
— or rather plodded — and, at times, when the going 
was particularly bad, put their shoulders to the car 
and heaved. At the wheel, I struggled and threw gas 
into her until it seemed the engine must fly to pieces. 
But we kept at it without pause, save now and then to 
allow the radiator to cool, and at mid-day topped the 
divide. The descent, narrow and clogged as it was 
with packtrains and other transport, was a particu- 
larly nasty piece of navigation, but by mid-afternoon 
we were winding through the streets of Fiorina. 

Fifteen kilometers south of Monastir, just where 
the Serbian-Macedonian line crosses, lie the war- 
festered remains of the village of Negocani. Here we 
found the Squad. By early January the cars had 
suffered so severely from shell fire in Monastir that 
the division commander had ordered the retirement 
of Section headquarters to this village beyond mid- 
calibre range. 

It is not a cheerful place, Negocani. Situated in the 
center of a barren valley the snows and winds of 
winter and the suns and rains of summer sweep its 
dreary ruins. On either side, across the plain, the 
frowning, treeless Macedonian mountains look down 
upon it. Through its one crooked street five armies 
have fought and the toll of that fighting is everywhere. 
By the roadside, in the adjacent fields, in the very 
courtyards are the little wooden crosses, the aftermath 
of war's sowing. A third of the mud houses have 



213 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



been levelled and those remaining are pocked with 
rifle fire or are gaping from shells. Trenches parallel 
the road and zig-zag across the fields. The debris of 
war litters the place, the very odor of war hangs am- 
bient over it. 

On the edge of the village stands a two-storied 
'dobe building, its windows without glass, its walls 
marked with machine-gun fire. This, with its scat- 
tering of out buildings, was our billet, our maison de 
campagne, and the gods of war never frowned upon 
one more forlorn. The upper floor of the principal 
building was divided into two rooms by a hall. Ten 
men, packed like cartridges in a clip, were quartered 
in each of these rooms and four of us, "the hall-room 
boys," shared the space between. That hall, I am 
convinced — and so are the others who therein shiv- 
ered — was the draughtiest place known to man. Over 
the glassless windows we hung blesse blankets, which 
were about as effective in shutting out the wind as 
the putting up of a "no admission" sign would have 
been. It was a great place for a fresh air crank, that 
hall, though he could never have held to his theories ; 
they would have been blown out of his system. The 
snow sifted in and swirled about; overhead the roof 
leaked and from the open companionway, whence led 
the ladder to the ground below, rushed up the winds 
of the world. Giles, George, Tom, will you ever for- 
get the "hall-room," that bone-searching cold, those 
shivery nights, the rousings out before the dawn, the 



214 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



homecoming at night to wet blankets? Not while mem- 
ory lasts, not "if the court knows itself !" 

Below, the two rooms were used, one by the French 
attaches of the Section, the other for the sick— for 
there was always someone "down." Across a sort of 
courtyard, formed by flanking sheds, was a low mud 
cowhouse. In this we messed. To obtain sufficient 
light we were obliged to knock holes in the walls on 
all four sides and when it came to draughts this salle 
a manger was a close second to the hall-room. At the 
rear our field kitchen or "goulash battery," was drawn 
up and here the cook concocted his vicious parodies 
on food. There may have been worse cooks — there 
are some strange horrors in interior Thibet but I have 
never been there— but in the course of a somewhat 
diverse career I have never met the equal of our cook 
as a despoiler of food and meal after meal, day after 
day, week after week he served us macaroni boiled 
to the hue of a dead fish's belly, till we fairly gagged 
when it was set before us. Sometimes, by way of 
change, we had half -raw "dum-dums"— beans— but 
macaroni was never long "reported missing" and the 
Squad mathematician calculated that during the winter 
we consumed sufficient to thrice encircle the globe, with 
enough left over to hang the cook. We had "dog bis- 
cuits" — hardtack — too. There were two kinds — with 
and without worms. By toasting the former the latter 
was produced. Our greatest craving was for sweets, 
the French army ration substituting inn ordinaire. 



215 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



We were seldom ever "filled" and hence was forced 
upon us the strictly acquired taste for yogart, or kuss, 
as the Albanians call it. 

At first, as I have said elsewhere, the Squad scorned 
this dish but one by one we grew first to tolerate, then 
to accept and, finally to enjoy yogart. To see us 
humped up around our plank table eating the stuff and 
solemnly discussing the particular "brew," would have 
gladdened the heart of Metchnikoff. Daily we dis- 
covered new properties in yogart. It possesses the 
quality, found but rarely, of mixing well, and being 
improved by the introduction of other substances. 
Thus it is delicious with sugar, delectable with choco- 
late and ambrosial with jam, and we even discovered 
"Buster" adding macaroni to his portion, in explana- 
tion of which inexcusable faux pas he stated that "it 
made the dish go farther." 

Food, or the lack of it, was not the only element 
which contributed to our discomfort; there was the 
cold. It was not merely the lowness of the tempera- 
ture, though the thermometer frequently lingered 
around ten degrees below zero, Fahrenheit ; it was the 
dampness which accompanied it, the snow and the 
never-ceasing, penetrating wind. Fuel was very scarce. 
Since history's dawn armies have marched and bivou- 
acked in this land and its trees have gone to feed 
their camp-fires. So that now wood, save in the hills 
remote from the trails, does not exist. What little we 
did get was furnished indirectly by the enemy him- 



216 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



self for when one of his shells demolished a house we 
salvaged the timbers thereof. As an aid to the cooking 
we had a little gasoline stove which, when it got under 
way, made a noise like a high-powered tractor. It 
possessed the pleasing habit of exploding from causes 
unknown and altogether was about as safe as a primed 
hand grenade. Indeed we had a theory that it was 
originally designed as some deadly engine of war, 
found too dangerous and relegated to its present use. 

Though headquarters had been moved from Mon- 
astir, we continued to serve the same sector of line. 
Two cars remained constantly in the City on twenty- 
four hour service, subject to special call, and from 
four to eight, according to need, left one hour before 
daylight each morning to evacuate the Mosque dress- 
ing-station. Our loads were taken to the new field 
hospital, established at Negocani or, as before, to the 
evacuation hospital at Fiorina. 

Our billet, as I have said, was on the edge of the 
village and so stood some two hundred yards from 
the main road, to reach which we wound in and out 
among some half destroyed houses. The constant 
passing and repassing of our cars so churned this 
piste that by the end of January it became impassabV 
and we were forced to park our cars on a wind- 
swept flat by the roadside. This meant additional 
vexation, since we were obliged to transport by hand 
our gasoline from quarters, where it was stored, to 
the cars. As the days wore on, our courtyard and the 



21,7 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



way to the cars became one great bog, a foot deep in 
mud, through which we sloshed about, breaking 
through the ice when it thawed and slipping about 
when it froze. Only in Manchuria have I seen such 
mud. 

The dismal cold of these days, their grayness, the 
forlorn feeling that to the end of time we were doomed 
to slog our weary way down 'valleys dreadly desolate" 
I cannot hope to convey. Perhaps the entries in my 
journal may reflect "the atmosphere." 

Thus: January 21st. "Snow fell during the night 
and continued throughout the day. Four of us put 
in the morning wrecking some half-demolished build- 
ings, getting out the beams for fire wood and then 
spent the afternoon crouched around the blaze. I 
have never experienced such penetrating cold. In 
this windowless, doorless house with an icy wind 
searching one's very bones but one thought is possible, 
the cold, cold, cold. The mountains, seen through the 
swirling snow have taken on an added beauty, but 
this village, if anything, seems more desolate. At dusk, 
set out for Monastir where "Beebs" and I are now on 
twenty- four hour service, quartered at the old canton- 
ment. As we entered the city, the road being clogged 
with transport, the enemy shelled. I thought they had 
"Beebs," but his luck held. Another salvo has just 
gone over, evidently for the crossroads." 

And on the 23rd: "A piercing cold day. Tried to 
write a letter this afternoon but gave it up as my 



218 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



fingers were too numb to hold the pen. Worked on 
my car this morning. Meals unusually awful — that 
horrible wine-meat stew, of course macaroni. Have 
blanketed the windows. Possibly we can now sleep 
without holding on to the covers. The roof still leaks, 
but of course one can't expect all the luxuries." 

The following day was "Cold and overcast with a 
biting wind. Up and in Monastir before daylight, 
evacuating three bad cases to Fiorina. Made a find 
in a newly shelled house in Monastir, a window with 
three unbroken panes. Have installed it at the head 
of my bed. It ought to help. For the last three nights, 
in spite of all my blankets I have been unable to sleep 
for the cold. Today we saw the sun for the first time 
in two weeks. The impossible has been attained ; our 
courtyard is even deeper in mud. Service never wrote 
truer words than : 

"It isn't the foe we fear; 
It isn't the bullets that whine; 
It isn't the business career 
Of a shell, or the bust of a mine; 
It isn't the snipers who seek 
To nip our young hopes in the bud; 
No, it isn't the guns, 
And it isn't the Huns — 
It's the Mud, Mud, Mud." 

Our costumes these days were more practical than 



219 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



pretty. Beneath our tunics we wore woolen under- 
wear and sweaters, and over them sheepskin coats. On 
our feet, felt lumberman's boots over which were 
drawn rubber half-boots. Our heads and faces were 
covered with woven helmets on top of which we wore 
fatigue caps, or, when under fire, steel helmets. Our 
hands were encased in wool gloves with driving gaunt- 
lets pulled over. Altogether we were about as bulky 
as a Russian isvozatik. 

Towards the end of January we took over another 
segment of the line, a section southeast of Monastir, 
collecting our blesses from a village called Scleveka, 
situated on the banks of the Tcherna, some twenty- 
five kilometers from Negocani. Scleveka was the high- 
est point reached by wheeled transport, though some 
fifteen kilometers back from the line. From here 
munitions and ravitaillement were carried into the 
mountains on mule back, the wounded coming out by 
the same torturing transport. A few kilometers before 
reaching Scleveka we passed through the town of 
Brode, the first Serbian town re-taken by the Allies 
after the great retreat of 191 5, the point at which 
the Serbs first re-entered their country. Here the 
Tcherna was crossed by two bridges. Through the 
pass beyond poured French, Serbs and Italians to 
reach their alloted segment of line. The congestion 
and babble at this point was terific. 

We saw much of the Italians. Long lines of their 
troops were constantly marching forward, little men 



220 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



with ill-formed packs. As soldiers they did not im- 
press us, but they had a splendid motor transport, big, 
powerful cars well adapted to the Balkan mud and 
handled by the most reckless and skilful drivers in 
the Allied armies. The men were a vivacious lot and 
often sang as they marched. 

In marked contrast were the Serbs, "the poor rela- 
tion of the Allies." For the most part they were 
middle-aged men, clad in non-descript uniforms and 
with varied equipment. They slogged by silently — 
almost mournfully. I never saw one laugh and they 
smiled but rarely. They were unobtrusive, almost un- 
noticed, yet when a car was mired, they were always 
the first to help and withal they were invested with a 
quiet dignity which seemed to set them apart. I never 
talked with a soldier of any army who had seen them 
in action, but who praised their prowess. 

The going, or rather ploughing, beyond Brode was 
particularly atrocious and it frequently took from two 
and a half to three hours to cover the fifteen kilo- 
meters. At one point the way was divided by two 
lonely graves which lay squarely in the middle of the 
road, the traffic of war passing and repassing on either 
side. Brode service was particularly uninteresting as 
the point at which we collected our blesses was too 
far back of the line to offer the excitement afforded 
by being under fire, save when there was an air raid. 
Then too the roads were so congested and in such 
terrible condition that the driving was of the most try- 



221 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



ing sort and it frequently meant all day evacuation 
without one hot meal. Our work at this time was par- 
ticularly heavy; we were serving three divisions, the 
one back of Monastir, the Brode division, and the divi- 
sion in Albania. In short we were covering the work 
of three motor Sections. My journal reflects our 
life: 

February 6th: "Our hopes of spring and bright 
weather shattered. This has been one of those dismal, 
iron days which emphasize the grimness of war. 
Evacuated from Necogani to Fiorina. The rumor 
persists that America has declared war against Ger- 
many. If this be so we have a time of trial ahead. 
War as a theory is a magnificent, spectacular adven- 
ture — playing bands, dashing horses, flying colors; as 
a reality it is a gray, soul-wearying business, a busi- 
ness of killing and being killed, a business from which 
there can be no turning back and the learning of which 
will mean much agony for America. 

February 7th : "A hard day. Up before four, slop- 
ping through the mire to the cars. Heavy rain, so I 
got quite well wet. In Monastir before daylight. An 
enormous shell hole — must be 210 — near the bridge, 
made since I crossed last. Rain ceased by noon and 
I worked till night on my gear case. 

February 8th: "Temperature fell during night. In 
snow, driven by biting northeast wind, I worked on my 
car throughout the morning and till two this afternoon. 
By this time I was numb with cold. Unable to use 



222 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



gloves in handling tools with the result have frozen two 
fingers of my left hand. Tonight the snow is coming 
down harder than ever though wind has abated some- 
what. It promises to be our coldest night. The water 
bottle at the head of my flea-bag has frozen solid. 

February 9th : "Up at four-thirty to greet the coldest 
day of the winter. Had great difficulty in breaking 
the ice in the creek to get water for my radiator. In 
the still, driving snow to Monastir. Evacuated to 
Scleveka. From there to Brode, evacuating again to 
Scleveka, then two more round trips, reaching quar- 
ters at four this afternoon, where I got my first hot 
food of the day. 

February 12th : "It's a cold, snowy night with a wind 
whistling through every crack of this shelterless shel- 
ter. Occasionally a patch of snow flops down on the 
pup tent I have rigged over my bed, but I am fairly 
snug in my bag. Left Monastir this morning at 6:30, 
having been on service there all night and evacuated 

to S . On the return trip my engine refused duty. 

Finally diagnosed the trouble as a short circuit in the 
main contact. On removing the point, a matter of con- 
siderable difficulty, as I had only a large-sized screw- 
driver, found a small fragment of wire. I was unable 
to fish it out and it dropped back into the gear case. 
However, the short circuit was broken, for the mo- 
ment—and I got the engine started. As I reached the 
triangle at the entrance to the City the wiring again 
short circuited and the engine died. It was now day- 



223 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



light and here I was, stuck in the most bombarded 
spot in all Monastir, in plain view of the enemy glasses. 
For an hour I worked — and such an hour. I could feel 
the eyes of every man in the enemy forces fastened 
upon me. At last I succeeded in removing the bit of 
wire and praise be to Allah — not a shell came in dur- 
ing this time. 

February 13th: "I got in at the end of a perfect 
day at 1 130 A. M., having experienced the usual delay 
at the Greek hospital, then getting lost in the pitchy 
blackness of Monastir's streets, finally crawling for 
five kilometers at a snail's pace through an incoming 
division of troops to reach a point where it was safe 
to turn on the lights. The run to Fiorina was a tor- 
ture as my load were all badly hit and the road is so 
terrible that it's almost impossible to prevent the 
wrenching of the blesses. Returning found Fico en 
panne with a loaded car, so we transferred the wounded 
and I again evacuated to Fiorina. Then the weary 
grind back to quarters." 

During all these days the enemy continued to rain 
his fire upon Monastir. Gradually but none the less 
surely the city was withering away. Here a house, 
there a shop or bazaar became a mass of debris. Huge 
holes gaped in the streets ; tangled wire swung mourn- 
fully in the wind ; once I saw a minaret fairly struck, 
totter a second and then pitch into the street, trans- 
ferred in a twinkling from a graceful spire into a heap 
of brick and mortar, overhung by a shroud of dust. 



224 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



Though perhaps half of the city's forty thousand in- 
habitants had fled as best they might, as many more 
remained. Generally they stayed indoors, though the 
flimsy walls offered little protection and there were no 
cellars. When they emerged, it was to slink along in 
the shadows of the walls. Scuttling, rather than walk- 
ing, they made their way, every sense tensed in anti- 
cipation of the coming of "the death that screams." If 
Verdun had seemed the City of the Dead, Monastir 
was the Place of Souls Condemned to Wander in the 
Twilight of Purgatory. The fate of the population 
civile was a pitiable one. In a world of war, they had 
no status. Food, save the farina issued by the mili- 
tary, was unobtainable and fuel equally wanting. 
Scores were killed. As for the wounded, their situa- 
tion was terrible. Drugs were too precious, bandages 
too valuable and surgeons' time too well occupied for 
their treatment. Their case would have been with- 
out hope had it not been for a neutral non-military 
organization of the Dutch which maintained in Mon- 
astir a small hospital for the treatment of civilians. 
This hospital established in a school did splendid work 
and its staff are entitled to high praise and credit. 

"Their's was not the shifting glamour 
Where fortune's favorites bask, 
Their's but the patient doing 
Of a hard, unlovely task." 



225 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



From this hospital, one morning, I got the strangest 
load my ambulance ever carried — four little girls. As 
I lifted their stretchers into the car, their weights 
seemed as nothing. Three were couches, the fourth, 
a bright little thing, wounded in the head by H. E. 
eclat, sat by my side on the driving seat and chatted 
with me in quaint French all the way to the hospital. 

This was the last load I was to carry for many a 
day. It was the 16th of February. Since the 13th I 
had been unable to keep any food down, but had man- 
aged to stay at the wheel. Now on reaching Quarters 
I found myself too weak and dizzy to stand. The 
weeks and days which followed were weary ones. 
"Enteric fever and jaundice" the doctor pronounced 
it, limiting me to a milk diet. As there was no milk, 
matters were further simplified. It was too cold to 
hold a book and read, even had I been able to do so, 
thus day after day I lay on my back watching the 
snow sift through the cracks and listening to the 
rumble of the guns. February passed and March came 
in with terrible weather and still I was unable to 
struggle out of my bag. The doctor became keen on 
evacuating me to Fiorina and from there to Salonika, 
from whence I would be carried to France on a hos- 
pital ship. But I had seen enough of field hospitals 
to give me a horror of them, besides which I could not 
bear the thought of leaving the front in this ignomin- 
ious fashion and before the end of my enlistment. So I 
begged for a respite. The Squad was very kind and 



226 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



gave me every care their limited time and our sur- 
roundings permitted. 

Meanwhile the days grew perceptibly longer and 
the sun, when it appeared, had a feeble warmth. A 
new Section coming out from France relieved our 
cars in Albania and Giles and the others coming back 
from Coritza reported that the city was under frequent 
plane bombardment and the population demoralized. 

For some time the talk of an attack on Hill 1248 
and the line back of Monastir had been growing. 
There seemed little doubt now that such an attack 
would shortly be launched with the object of driving 
the enemy back and freeing the city from artillery fire. 
Daily our fire grew more intense and, at times, lying 
in my bag, I could hear it reach the density of drum- 
fire. The fellows coming in reported the roads as con- 
gested with up-coming troops and new batteries going 
into position. Word came in that the Section was to 
hold itself in readiness to shift quarters to Monastir. 
Then, at last one night came the order that on the 
following day the Squad would report for action in the 
city. 



227 



CHAPTER XVIII 
"the wild disharmony of days" 

FOR several days I had been up and I have seldom 
felt keener disappointment than when, at dusk, 
I watched the cars roll out at five minute intervals, 
headed for Monastir and action, and realized that I 
was not to be one of them. The doctor had absolutely 
forbidden my handling a wheel as yet, save for very 
short periods and I was to remain at Negocani with 
two of the mechanicians, Vincent, the second cook, 
and Le Beau, the chef de bureau. Lieutenant De Rode 
with that thoughtful tact which characterized him as 
a man and made him the most beloved of commanders, 
endeavored to console me by saying I would be of 
much use by remaining at Negocani, subject to call 
with the rescue car. But this did not prevent a realiza- 
tion that I was not sharing to the full the risk and work 
of the Squad. However, I had been in the army long 
enough to acquire its philosophy and to down my dis- 
appointment with "c'est la guerre." 

And the days which ensued were not without their 
compensations. Vincent proved an excellent cook and 
a sympathetic nurse and all the Frenchmen bons 
camarades. The weather had grown markedly milder 



228 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



and I was able to walk about a bit. Not far from 
quarters the French had built a huge wire pen, ca- 
pable of containing a thousand men and as the attack 
pressed forward, this began to fill with prisoners. I 
used to walk over to the corral and watch its be- 
draggled tenants come in. Mostly they were Bulgars 
but there were also some Germans, Austrians and 
Turks. 

It was on the 16th of March — exactly one month 
since I had left the wheel — that I again climbed into 
the driving seat for a run up for ravitaillement some 
six kilometers from Monastir. From this point a 
splendid view could be had of our curtain fire as it 
burst on the slope of Hill 1248. Our own division, the 
— Colonials, had not as yet I learned, attacked but 
were awaiting the consolidation of the newly won po- 
sitions. The general opinion, I gleaned, was that the 
attack was not marching any too well. 

On the following days I responded with the "rescue 
car" to several calls of distress and on the 19th, 
just a week after the Squad had gone up, I got permis- 
sion to join them in Monastir. 

It was four o'clock in the afternoon when I left 
Negocani. Passing the corral, I noticed that since 
morning the number of prisoners had been augmented 
and that now there must be close to a thousand within 
the enclosure. About five kilometers outside the city, 
I began to encounter a stream of wounded — head and 
arm cases — plodding along the roads, the bloody back- 

229 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



wash of the attack. Evidently the volume of wounded 
was so heavy that the ambulances were all needed to 
transport the more serious cases. The noise of the 
guns had now grown very loud. Back of the city 
Hill 1248 reared its barren slopes. All along its crest 
shells from our batteries were breaking. It seemed 
impossible that anything could endure in that zone and 
yet even then the enemy crouched there awaiting the 
onslaught of our division. Below, the spires of the 
minarets reared their graceful forms and caught the 
rose-hue of the setting sun, but no muezzin appeared 
on their escarpments to summon the faithful to prayer. 
The narrow, stone bridge a half mile from the city's 
entrance showed it had been the object of the re- 
newed interest of the enemy. Scores of shell holes 
flanked it but as yet it remained intact. From here 
on, the way was scattered with the freshly-killed car- 
casses of horses. Newly posted batteries marked the 
entrance to the city and as I entered a salvo banged 
out like the slam of hell's door. 

The Squad had been literally shelled out of the old 
cantonment and had moved to another, my directions 
for finding which were rather vague. I had simply 
been told to go up the main street to a point where a 
building had been blown into it and turn to the left. 
But as buildings had everywhere been blown into 
the street, this availed me little, save as indicating the 
general quarter. It was now dusk, I was anxious to 
locate the cantonment before darkness fell, as of course 



230 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



lights were strictly forbidden. Cruising about through 
the southwest portion of the town, I glimpsed one of 
our cars as it vanished around a corner. Proceeding 
in the direction from which it had come, I presently 
came on a large, windowless stone building in the door- 
way of which stood one of the fellows. The building 
proved to be the new cantonment, formerly some sort 
of a school. As billets go, it was very good, one of 
the few solidly constructed buildings in Monastir. 

As soon as I entered the Chief handed me a gas 
mask and warned me to keep it slung. The night 
before the enemy had, for the first time, shelled with 
gas. As a result, 344 civils had been killed and some 
few soldiers. Dead horses, dogs and the few remain- 
ing fowls now lay about the streets, suffocated by the 
deadly chlorine. Those of the Squad who had been 
in quarters, had experienced a very close thing of it. 
A number of shells had struck around the building — 
two actually hitting it. Several of the men had been 
nearly overcome before they were awakened and their 
masks fixed. As evidencing the luck with which the 
Squad was "shot," one shell — a H. E. — had entered 
the building and exploding inside, had wrecked things 
generally, tearing several beds to shreds. It so hap- 
pened that the men quartered in this room were out 
on duty at the time. 

The Chief informed me that, for the present, he 
would only call on me in case of a "general alarm," 
for which I was very glad, since I was still feeling a 



231 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



bit crumpled. So I sought out a comer where two 
walls intervened between me and the enemy's line of 
fire and spread my bag. The shells were crashing in 
rather steadily — from two to six thousand now fell in 
the city in each twenty-four hours — but, though our 
guns to the number of two or three hundred were 
adding their din, I slid off to sleep. 

Our division had now "gone in" ; there was no lack 
of work for the Section. Heretofore our orders had 
always been to move our cars only during the hours of 
darkness, lest they draw the enemy's fire. Now, on 
account of the volume of wounded, it was necessary 
to disregard this caution and we "rolled" continuously 
throughout the twenty- four hours. 

It is not possible to convey an idea of the horror 
of Monastir during this period. The panic-stricken 
population fleeing the city, the burning houses — for 
the enemy had added incendiary shells to his repertoire 
of frightfulness — the rotting carcasses of the gassed 
animals, the field dressing-stations with their black- 
ened, bloody occupants, the debris-littered streets and 
shattered houses, the air itself, bearing the breath of 
death, these gave to Monastir an awfulness that can- 
not be expressed in words. Another horror was added 
late in the afternoon of the 20th when the enemy's 
planes flew over the city dropping a salvo of bombs. 
The fire of our anti-aircraft guns did not seem to 
have the slightest effect and the flying crosses circled 

232 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



their leisurely way about before turning southward 
back of our lines. 

This same afternoon we received word that our 
division was being withdrawn from the lines and that 
consequently Squad headquarters would be moved back 
to Negocani. Immediately after evening mess, I se- 
cured a load from the dressing-station and started 
back for Fiorina. As I left the town, the enemy planes 
were coming back and our guns were again opening 
on them. A little farther along I came upon their 
work. The road at this point — just out of range 
of the enemy artillery — was lined on either side with 
ravitaillement depots, large tents, where the stores were 
sheltered, and scores of smaller tents occupied by les 
tringlots. Here the aircraft, hovering low, had 
dropped some forty bombs but a few moments before 
I reached the scene. A dozen or more torn corpses 
were scattered about and surgeons were hard at work 
over the wounded, of which there were several score. 
Mangled horses were lying about and great pools of 
blood reflected the last light of the day. Fresh earth 
flared away from the bomb holes and the excited hum 
of men's voices rose in the evening air. My car was 
already full so there was little I could do, save carry 
a doctor a little way down the road from one group 
of wounded to another. 

This air raid was the first of many with which the 
enemy harassed our lines of communication and 
depots. They penetrated as far as forty kilometers 



233 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



back of the line, driving our transport camps from 
the open plain to the shelter of the mountains. At 
this time our own air service seemed inferior to that 
of the enemy, both in personnel and in machines, 
and offered us little protection. The anti-aircraft 
guns, especially those mobile ones mounted on high- 
power motors served best for though they rarely made 
a hit, they did keep the crosses at a height of six or 
seven thousand feet and prevented their bombing with 
any great accuracy. 

Normal fighting was now resumed; the attack had 
failed and a period of comparative quiet set in. While 
the enemy had at several points been forced back a 
kilometer or more, the chief object of the offensive — 
the freeing of Monastir from artillery fire — had not 
been achieved and the commanding mountains back 
of the city still remained in his hands. Hill 1248 had 
changed hands no less than seven times and the losses 
on both sides in prisoners and dead were heavy. So 
far as we were concerned, the net result was the taking 
of some two thousand prisoners, mostly Bulgars, 
though with a sprinkling of Austrians and Germans. 
Much of the artillery brought up for the attack was 
now withdrawn, preparatory to shifting to another 
front in support of the British, who were shortly to 
launch an attack. 

As March waned the snow, leaving the plains, re- 
ceded slowly up the mountain sides; the few shrubs 
put forth their leaves, doing their puny best to relieve 



234 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



the barren grayness of the landscape ; millions of frogs 
tuned up their batrachian banjos ; back of the line the 
peasants drove their caribaos, pulling the crude wood- 
en-shafted ploughs; mosquitoes and flies began to 
appear; quinine and pith helmets were issued; at 
night we no longer drained our radiators to prevent 
freezing — in short, spring had come to the Balkans. 

With the coming of spring and the drying of the 
mud, walking became popular with us. Scattered 
about the valley and nestled in the foothills were nu- 
merous villages which were made objectives. Perhaps 
the most interesting was Kenali, lying about four kilo- 
meters across the valley southeast of Negocani. Here 
it was that the Bulgars made their last stand before 
falling back on Monastir and where on November 
14th the decisive battle of Kenali was fought. The 
story of that battle was seared into the earth, as plain 
to read as though written in print. The enemy had 
entrenched on a triangular salient which rose some 
eight or ten feet above the dead level of the valley 
floor. From this elevation he could rake the ap- 
proaches with machine gun fire. But it was not rapid- 
firers that won the battle ; it was the French artillery 
which, concentrating on that salient, had swept the 
ground with such deadly accuracy that the terrain be- 
fore the elevation showed scarcely a mark of fire, while 
the trenches had been wiped out of existence and the 
earth for scores of yards rearward had been tossed 
about as though by subterranean ebullition. Half- 



235 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



buried in the harried soil lay the rotting bodies of 
men. Here a leg, there an arm protruded. On some 
the flesh was intact; others had been picked clean by 
the carrion birds and where a head appeared the eyes 
had been plucked out. Not a green thing, not a leaf 
or blade of grass grew within the cursed area. It was 
as though some blight had descended and, wiping out 
all life, had poisoned the earth itself. 

On the opposite side of the valley, crowning the 
lower hills, were a number of quaint old monasteries. 
There also we made pilgrimage. They, too, had suf- 
fered from the scourge of war. Half-wrecked, de- 
spoiled of their hangings, deserted by the monks, they 
stood desolate, looking out over the valley and the 
distant passing of war's panorama. Sometimes we 
trudged over to Fiorina, hopping a camion en route. 
The town had taken on added activity. The refugees, 
who daily poured out of stricken Monastir in a pitiful 
stream, flowed into Fiorina and filled its queer streets. 
Business took on unwonted activity and the coffee- 
houses and yogart shops were crowded, so that fre- 
quently when we went into "J onn ' s " place he in- 
formed us, "Yogart, no got." 

With the coming of spring, the location of the 
Squad in the low-lying ground of Negocani became 
unhealthful. Fever, the bone-shaking Balkan type, 
was prevalent and the need became imperative to seek 
the hills. Such a move was made the more desirable 
because of the increasing activity of the enemy planes. 



236 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



Brode service had now been abandoned and there 
was no longer need of remaining at a mid-way point ; 
we could move nearer to Monastir. The C. O., ever 
careful of the health of his command, began to cast 
about for a spot which would combine a high altitude 
with accessibility. On the nth of April it was an- 
nounced that on the following day we would leave 
Negocani. 



237 



CHAPTER XIX 



THE CLUTCH IS THROWN OUT 

JUST where the long, barren valley at the head of 
which stands Monastir narrows down, where the 
jutting foot-hills encroaching on the plain form a 
series of ravines, we pitched our camp. A single spur 
intervened between us and the city, which, as the 
plane flies, was three kilometers away. To reach the 
camp, we left the main road by an ascent at first 
gradual but becoming rapidly steeper, and wound up 
from the plain into the hills a distance of two kilo- 
meters or more. At a height of, perhaps, five hundred 
feet, the ravine through which the way led flattened out 
into a small park-like pocket, along one side of which 
roared a mountain torrent. Here our cars were 
parked. Here, too, was established the mess tent, the 
stores tent and the atelier. On both sides the hills rose 
sharply and beyond, the mountains. On the crest of 
the hills, a hundred feet above the cars and mess tent, 
we pitched several large "snoring-tents." 

The sides of this hill were scarred with earth plat- 
forms, formed by digging into the sides of the hill. 
These had originally been constructed and used by 

238 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



Bulgar and German soldiers, who had been forced to 
abandon them when the French advanced on Monastir 
By erecting a ridge pole on two supporting poles, cov- 
ering this frame with two pup tents and stretching the 
whole over one of these excavations, a very snug 
"wickyup" was formed. A number of us preferred 
this style of residence to a tent and the "Aztec Col- 
ony" formed no mean proportion of the Squad roster. 

Giles and I were the joint proprietors of one of these 
cliff dwellings. Its inner and end walls were formed 
by the hillside, its other two walls by earth and stone 
removed in excavating. When the wind blew, the 
canvas roof had a disconcerting way of billowing out 
like a captive Zeppelin. When it rained, sociable little 
streams of water strolled unobtrusively in and spread 
themselves over the mud floor. Between times the 
walls fell in on us. Altogether that "wickyup" re- 
quired about as much attention as a colicky baby and 
nearly wore us out with its demands. But the view 
offered from its V-like door compensated for much. 
Lying stretched out on our blankets, we could look 
out on a scene than which I have seldom seen one 
more beautiful. Below, the valley floor spread out to 
the mountains on the farther side. The play of light 
and shade over its surface gave a constant change of 
aspect. There were many strata of colors, blue, brown, 
pink, green, gray and then the crowning white of the 
mountains. Now and then a haze would settle down 
and fill the valley, so that we seemed to be gazing 



239 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



out on some great lake. Then the mist would rise 
and again we could discern the toy villages scattered 
about or perhaps make out some puny, crawling trans- 
port, overhung with a yellow dust-cloud, wending its 
laborious way. Again a storm would sweep along, 
away down there below us, blotting out the sunshine in 
its progress and leaving a glistening trail. Off in the 
distance, it all seemed very peaceful and war very far 
away, save for the muttering of the guns, which, in- 
deed, might have been thunder. But then suddenly 
nearby guns, the anti-aircraft batteries might go into 
action. In the sky planes haloed with bursting 
shrapnel puffs, darted and dodged while, beneath, 
scurrying mites of men ran crazily about and clouds 
of smoke and dust showed where bombs were bursting. 
At night the picture changed. It took on the added 
mystery of obscurity. The stars sent down a silvery 
glow. Sometimes a light flashed weirdly in the im- 
mense gloom and now and then the darkness was 
ripped apart by the searing flare of a rocket and the 
quiet, which had descended with the going down of 
the sun, would be pierced with the crackle of machine 
gun fire or shattered, perhaps, with artillery. 

From the next ridge beyond ours, we could look 
down upon Monastir and the enemy. In turn we were 
in his view and range. Beyond we could see plainly 
the road to Prelip, down which came his transport, 
commanded by our fire. 

We had moved into the hills to escape the heat of 



240 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



the plains, believing winter to be over. We had barely 
become established before an unceasing, freezing wind 
set in from the mountains. A vardar, it is called. It 
carried with it small particles of sand and grit which 
penetrated every crack and crevice, filled our eyes, 
impregnated the food and generally made life miser- 
able. Our "wickyup" suffered severely and many 
times, day and night, we were forced to go aloft and 
mend sail as the roof threatened to fetch loose and 
leave for parts unknown. The vardar blew itself out 
in three days and we had just begun to believe that 
perhaps, after all, life was worth living, when the 
glass fell and a wet, clinging snow set in. It was hard 
to determine just what season was being observed. 
At no time in the winter had we suffered more than 
we did in the next few days. On leaving Negocani, 
with gypsy-like improvidence, we had abandoned our 
sheep-skins and woolens, so the cold caught us en- 
tirely unprepared. The snow continued intermittently 
for three days. When not on duty, we lay in our bags, 
as the only method of keeping reasonably warm. We 
spent the time in sleeping and in talking of les meilleurs 
fois, of wonderful meals we had eaten and of still 
more wonderful ones we should have if we ever saw 
Paris again. 

I had seen considerable of Monastir service during 
April and on the night of the 29th it again fell to my 
lot to go on duty there. With Giles I left camp at 
eight o'clock. The snow, at the time, was beating 

241 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



down in such masses that all objects were obscured 
and we drove simply by "feel." Only our perfect 
familiarity with Monastir's streets enabled us to make 
our way through the city. 

For some time, since the attack, in fact, we had been 
securing our blesses from beyond the city, from the 
line itself. The place was known as La Grande 
Roche, from a huge boulder which rose beside a ravine 
at this point. This poste could only be approached 
at night, as the enemy was very near and half en- 
circled it, his line bending back on either flank. To 
reach La Grande Roche it was necessary to traverse 
the city, ascend a slight hill, along which batteries 
were posted, cross a small stream by a bridge which 
we ourselves constructed, then proceed across a wide 
open space to a point from whence led a mule road. 
From here the way wound through a fringe of woods, 
finally crossing a narrow, shell-damaged viaduct down 
to the Rock. 

No man of the Squad ever saw this route, save by 
the light of the moon or the stars, for it was swept 
by the enemy's machine guns and to attempt a passage 
in daylight would have meant certain death. On this 
night — the darkest, I think I ever drove — it was im- 
possible to see the hood of the car before one. The 
streets were so mapped on our minds that we did 
not need to see to make our way through them, but 
on this route it was impossible to cross the wide open 
space and find the exit road on the other side. In 



242 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



order, therefore, to proceed, we found it necessary for 
one man to walk immediately in front of the car, 
his back against the radiator, calling directions to 
the man at the wheel. As Giles' car was not behaving 
well, I drove mine while he acted as my eyes. Even 
with this arrangement, it was often necessary for us 
to halt, while we both cast about in the intense dark- 
ness for the way. It was desperate, tense work for 
occasionally a flare-bomb would go up and leave us 
in a sphere of light feeling as conspicuous as an actor 
who has forgotten his lines. Three torturing trips we 
made that night. Twice when we were near the 
"Great Rock," shrapnel screamed overhead and burst 
a little beyond us in the ravine. Once we lurched 
fairly into a shell hole. Fortunately it was on our 
outward trip and we had no wounded on board, so 
we were able to get the car out. 

Somehow the night passed — one of the longest I 
ever experienced — and the gray,snowy dawn appeared. 
With our loads we drew out of the ambulance yard, 
passed down the Street of the River, crossed the dilapi- 
dated wooden bridge and wound through the shattered, 
deserted bazaars out upon the main street and then — 
though I did not know it — I passed out of Monastir 
for the last time. 

The period of our enlistment with the Army of 
the Orient was nearing its end. The news that Amer- 
ica had entered the war had now been definitely con- 
firmed. Some of the Squad — about half believing that 



243 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



they could do greater service to the cause by con- 
tinuing with the French, were re-enlisting. Others of 
us were anxious to get to France or the States at the 
earliest moment, some to enter French aviation, others 
to join our own army. Finally the 23rd of April, the 
last day of enlistment arrived. Yet no men had 
reached us to take our places so we continued to serve 
as before. The date was notable only that it brought 
us our last snow. 

Since leaving the valley, we had experienced a sense 
of security which our position there, exposed to the 
fire from hostile planes, had not permitted. But this 
feeling was rudely shattered on the morning of the 
24th. It was a fine, clear morning, the first for many 
days. The men were scattered about the camp, work- 
ing on their cars, in the sleeping tents or the "wicky- 
up." Over by Monastir the anti-aircraft guns were 
banging away at some planes, a procedure which had 
long ceased to hold any interest. As the "crosses" 
passed out of range, quiet settled down. Then we 
became aware of the hum of propellers overhead. 
Scarcely a man looked up — taking for granted that 
the noise was of our own planes. Suddenly without 
warning there was a sickening swish terminating in 
an explosion and the camp stampeded into action. 
Before a man could reach the cover of the overhang- 
ing rocks two more bombs swished down. The eclat 
spun spitefully through the air and whanged into the 
hillside. The planes passed on, followed by the fire 

244 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



of our guns. For a while we lay flat against the rocks 
and then cautiously issued from our holes. One of 
the bombs had struck near the cars, the others just 
across the ravine. A Frenchman had been hit by 
glancing eclat: that was all. The Squad's luck had 
held. A fraction of a second's difference in the release 
of the bombs and — but why speculate? 

Three days later a courier coming into camp brought 
the word that six men of the relieving Squad were 
in Salonika. This meant that six of us could leave 
that very night. So we drew lots to determine the 
six. My slip bore a cross. I was to leave. 

For the last time the Squad sat down to mess. We 
knew that in all probability we should never all mess 
together again — as I write these lines, already two of 
the Squad have paid their highest toll — but sentiment 
or heroics are the last emotions that could find place 
in the Squad, so the last mess was much like many 
others. Six times "For he's a jolly good fellow" rose ; 
there were six rounds of cheers — and the last mess 
was over. 

There was a deal of hand shaking and back-pound- 
ing, more cheering and we rolled out, the six of us, 
in two of the ambulances. Just beyond where the 
camp road joined the main road we passed out of 
range of the enemy's guns. 

Darkness had fallen when we reached Fiorina Sta- 
tion. A dumpy little engine, to w r hich was attached 
a long line of freight cars, wheezed impatiently at the 



245 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



platform. There was but time to heave our dunnage 
into an empty box car and swing on ourselves, and 
the train bumped out. Throughout the night we 
lurched and rattled about, getting but fitful naps in 
our bags. 

At noon the next day we reached Salonika. It was 
a case of rus in urbe. To us after months of grime 
and grind at the front, the city seemed magnificent. 
It was Saturday and that afternoon the band played, 
in the place. None of us, I fancy, will ever forget 
the thrill of pride which ran through us as we stood 
at salute that afternoon and heard there in that exotic 
setting for the first time during the war, the wonderful 
strains of the Star Spangled Banner. 

For three days we remained in Salonika, dividing 
the time between taking hot baths and eating sticky 
Turkish pastry. The morning of the fourth saw us 
on the quay, preparatory to going aboard the transport. 

It was on the quay we encountered the Comman- 
dant. Someone of the Squad in Albania had done him 
a favor and he was not the man to forget it. It was 
his kindness and consideration that was to make our 
voyage on the transport not only endurable but enjoy- 
able. He was a Chasseur d'Afrique, a splendid type 
of the French professional soldier. His face was 
keen and aggressive, with an eye which glinted like 
a bayonet and a mouth that in anger could thin to a 
sword edge, yet I have never seen a man of greater 
courtesy. Across his breast stretched the ribbons of 

246 



A WAR AMBULANCE 



seven decorations. His favorite gesture was a sudden 
advancing of his clenched right hand as though raising 
a sword in charge, and when he assured us that if 
there was anything we wanted, we were to tell him, 
and he would see that it was done "avec impressment," 
we felt that indeed that thing would be done "avec 
impressment." We shall long remember the Com- 
mandant. 

Our transport, Le Due d'Aumale, steamed out of 
the harbor with two others, convoyed by three de- 
stroyers, a cruiser and a dirigible. During the night 
we were wirelessed the approach of two enemy sub- 
mersibles. Under forced draught, we made for the 

emergency harbor of , where we glided safely 

in behind the torpedo net. Here we found a score 
of ships, transports, freighters and their fighting con- 
voys. We lay in this little harbor for three days, 
putting in the time pleasantly enough, sailing, swim- 
ming and burro-riding ashore. Late in the afternoon 
of the third day, with our convoy in line of battle, 
we steamed forth. 

Two days later we entered the harbor of , in 

Italy. That same night we entrained and the follow- 
ing day reached Rome, where we broke our journey 
for forty-eight hours. At Turin we again stopped over 
and finally, just a fortnight after leaving camp in 
Serbia, we reached Paris and reported to Army Head- 
quarters for discharge. 

* * * * 



247 



BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 



The captain looked up from the papers. "So, 
monsieur, you have served as a volunteer for eighteen 
months. It is long; two service stripes mean more 
than days — they mean a lifetime. I congratuate you, 
and for France, I thank you." My hand snaps up in 
salute — my last salute, for the clutch is thrown out. 



THE END. 



248 



FACE TO FACE 
WITH THE WAR 



A Group of Books That 
Will Help You to Under- 
stand the Present Struggle. 



NOTHING OF IMPORTANCE" 



By BERNARD ADAMS 



334 Pages. With maps. $1.50 net. 




"'VTOTHING of Importance" say the 



taken this phrase as a title for the series of 
swift, vivid impressions which compose his 
book; his chapters, with their glimpses of 
scenes in billets, in the trenches, of snipers, 
working parties and patrols, bring the reader 
more clearly in touch with the reality of war- 
fare than do many more spectacular books. 

"Few, very few books have come out of 
the war more real in their message or more 
poignant in their appeal." — The Cleveland Plain 
Dealer. 

"Of the scores of books which are pushing 
their way into print nowadays as part of the 
war propaganda, none more truthfully and 
satisfactorily fulfills its mission than 'Nothing 
of Importance'." — The Springfield Union. 



communiques when there is no big 
action to report. Lieut. Adams has 



Publishers, Robert M. McBride & Co., New York 



How five thousand men founded a Brit- 
ish community in the heart of Germany. 

INTERNED IN GERMANY 

By H. C. MAHONEY 

jpo pages. Illustrated. $2.00 net. 



IF you would know what life at a German 
prison camp is like, live through it in this 
book. The author, a British civilian, was 
a guest at four, ending up with a long sojourn 
at the notorious Ruhleben. Here is the story 
of the life that he and his fellow-prisoners 
lived; how they organized their own com- 
munity life, and established stores, banks, 
churches, theatres — in fact all the appurten- 
ances of civilized life. There are also numer- 
ous stories of escapes, of adventures in the 
camp and even of the treachery of some of 
their pro-German fellow-prisoners. 

The book shows a side of the war which 
has not previously been dealt with in full 
detail, and it is, besides, an unusual record of 
hardship and suffering and of the many ways 
in which the indomitable spirit of these men 
rose above the trials of prison life. 



Publishers, Robert M. McBride & Co., New York 



The Red Battle Flyer 

By 

CAPTAIN MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN 



12 mo. Illustrated. $1.25 net. Postage extra. 
At all Bookstores 

By Captain Manfred von Richthofen 

THE most famous of German aviators was 
Freiherr von Richthofen who was killed in 
action in April of this year, after being 
credited with eighty aerial victories. 
This book is the story of this German's ex- 
ploits and adventures told in his own words. It 
is the story of countless thrilling battles in the 
air, of raids, and of acts of daring by the flying 
men of both sides. 

"Richthofen's Flying Circus" has become fa- 
mous in the annals of aerial warfare. This book 
tells how the "Circus" was formed and of the ad- 
ventures in which its members participated. 

"The Red Battle Flyer" is offered to the Ameri- 
can public, not as a glorification of German achieve- 
ments in the war, but as a record of air fighting 
which, because of its authorship and of the in- 
sight it gives into the enemy airman's mind, will 
prove of interest and value to our own flyers as 
well as to readers generally. 



Publishers, Robert M. McBride & Co., New York 



5 69 3 

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