The arrival at Manois gave the soldiers their first opportunity for studying a typical French village. This one lay almost in the center of Haute Marne Department, about midway between Chaumont and Neufchateau. Under the balmy June sun the surrounding green-cloaked hills or even the little field containing rows of barracks ready for occupation afforded a much more pleasing spectacle than the village itself, with its dirty streets through which cattle roamed at will. The rows of stone buildings seemed to represent the architectural skill and labor of the dark ages; at any rate, it represented nothing modern. Living rooms and cow stables were all one building. Wooden ladders led from the street below up to a second story hole-in-the-wall, and piles of manure made up the front yards. Manois had, undoubtedly, been a very quiet, sleepy village through the ages. Almost four years of war had drained it of all the vitalizing and pulsating influences which it might ever have possessed. The foundry just at the edge of the town was hardly in operation. The few girls, who were working there, begrimed with soot and dirt, looked like old bent women, as their frail, rounded shoulders bespoke manly efforts in pushing wheelbarrows and lifting heavy iron, that reels of wire might be turned out to meet the needs of France.
What the entry of the Battalion meant to the history of this little town and to the morale of the inhabitants, can be realized only after one has had a more complete picture of the situation. Every available man was at the Front. Not even a French soldier in uniform could be seen on the streets. The crucial moment of the great war was at hand; Paris was now being bombarded daily, and one could faintly hear the distant roar of the large caliber guns as the fight waged around Chateau Thierry. Everything looked dark and foreboding. But now, the actual sight of American legions with their irrepressible and dominating spirit which fairly breathed an air of victory, could not but raise their hopes.
Colonel Reeves established Regimental Headquarters in Manois with the First Battalion. Changes in the town began to appear immediately. Streets were cleaned; small stores commenced to do business and town people took a renewed interest in life. Every evening the band gave concerts of popular American selections. On one occasion French troops from the sectors of Alsace and Lorraine were passing through the town. This meant that Americans were quietly and effectively relieving these experienced fighters at the Front. The troop train bound for Chateau Thierry and the North was stopped at the depot and the concert began. The appreciation of the troops manifested itself in hearty cheers. With greater determination they looked back as the train departed; each had his hat
off and was standing at "Attention" for the "Marsellaise." These concerts brought the civilians and soldiers together and strengthened bonds of sympathy which made association increasingly pleasant as the days went by.
The schedule was doubly strenuous for the First Battalion. Scarcity of open ground resulted in the selection of a drill field upon a very high bluff. But this was part of the hardening process of intensive training. The march up to the drill field twice a day with the hot sun beating down on the tin hats and with full packs was more than a day's work in itself; many fell by the wayside during the first few days. But time unfolded joys as well as hardships. July brought the long awaited pay day. It was interesting to figure up centimes and francs at first but when it was learned that a franc was only nineteen cents and a centime was one one-hundreth of a franc the American doughboys generally paid in francs and called it square. Now they could buy fresh fruit and an occasional drop of vin rouge to supplement the "chow." And these purchases always included lessons in French. Mail from home brought more cheer into camp than anything else. Every man was on hand at mail call to shout "Yo" at the mention of his name. When the mail had all been distributed the fortunate ones moved away to themselves and forgot they were in France. So the days of intensive training passed quickly by.
Scarcely two weeks had been spent in the Training Area until the First Battalion was called to represent the 89th Division in Chaumont. Chaumont was famous as the Headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces. General Pershing with his entire staff was located there. A visit to this city was a coveted privilege, and the First Battalion of the 353rd Infantry was selected to parade before the Commander-in-Chief on July 14, the Independence Day of France.
The Regimental and Battalion Commanders spared no efforts to convince the reviewing authorities that the Regiment was ready for front line duties. The soldier who shortly before wore canvas leggings, and campaign hats with broad brim and a shoe-string chin strap was now transformed into an up-to-date soldier with spiral puttees and over-seas cap. The occasion itself could be depended upon to produce the military bearing. So they set out full of confidence.
The men had learned to march, and march well. It was eighteen dusty miles from Manois to Chaumont; the sun was stiflingly hot. Perhaps the thought of comfort was still unduly prominent in the minds of officers when they prescribed campaign hats and shirts for the march uniform. At any rate, a staff officer from Chaumont met the Battalion half way and gave orders to wear blouses. "Under no conditions would American soldiers appear in France without complete uniform!" In spite of this added handicap the men "carried on" and presented a fresh appearance in Chaumont on the evening of July 13. "Finest lot of soldiers I have seen yet," "Think of it,
marched eighteen miles in the heat and dust with blouses and those packs on their backs and still look fresh." Such were the comments on all sides. These men of the 353rd Infantry had scored the first point--they had demonstrated that they could march.
Accommodations in Chaumont were far better than the men had been accustomed to in Manois. The clerks at Headquarters turned over their mess. Such "chow" and such service these men of the line had not known since leaving Camp Funston. And then, too, the excellent baths were an improvement over the little shallow stream in their own camp. Chaumont afforded also a splendid opportunity to spend some of the francs for articles not available in Manois. Everbody needed razor blades and a change from Bull Durham tobacco. The Y. M. C. A. had a good canteen. Several real American girls were behind the counters. Such good company and an unusual amount of money (in francs!) made business pleasant and interesting. Officers, too, were known to walk five squares in order to inquire about over-seas caps which the Y. M. C. A. did not have. The French shop keepers with their keen business sense had procured a good supply of over-seas caps but the sizes bad been under-estimated, "Americaine head too beeg," repeated the little saleswomen in distress. In their hurry to meet the needs of customers, they had lost sight of size, the most important condition of sale as well as service.
Incidentally, the men picked up quite a bit of information about what was expected of them on the following day. The Marines had been in town on this same mission just previously. Everybody was talking about the Marines. "They've set the pace, it's up to us to make a showing equally as good," was the mutual agreement. And with this in mind they turned in for the night.
The big day set in bright and hot, "Here's where I ditch my shirt," said one doughboy and the rest followed the example. They must continue to look fresh.
The formation had all been carefully planned. As the streets were narrow, companies marched in column of platoons of two squads each. The Battalion was well up to war strength of one thousand men, and the men were at their best. An Artillery Band led the way between the lines of people and passed the grand stand. At the command, "Eyes Right," each man "turned his head toward the right oblique and fixed his eyes" not as required in "Infantry Drill Regulation," "on the line of eyes of men in the same rank"; but as nearly as possible on the face of the Commander-in-Chief. They seemed to have been too busy watching the step and line and the position of their rifles to remember how he looked. When they returned all they could say was, "He's a soldier for you." The comment of the General at the reception for the officers later in the day indicated a very favorable impression. The First Battalion had scored again. Three weeks from the day of the parade the 89th Division was called to the Front.
While on the return journey the following day, word came from Andelot that coffee would be served at that place. Thus came into the
life of the Regiment, Mother Fitzgerald and Miss Heermance. It later became impossible to tell whether they belonged to the Regiment or whether the Regiment belonged to them. During seven long weeks of heavy campaign, they stuck to their posts in the vicinity of Bouillonville, Beney and Gesnes to serve hot chocolate and coffee to the fighting men. They were Y. M. C. A. volunteers and served day in and day out without even removing a shoe until Colonel Reeves sent them back for rest. These were the good women who had sent the message from Andelot.
As the end of the journey neared, the men suffered from lack of water. It was hot and canteens had long since been emptied. An order limited the supply to one canteen for the trip, this being a part of the training for the trenches. Many became so desperate they broke ranks at a flowing fountain in a small town and disregarded the sign "Condemned Water."
These minor hardships led to what is known in the Army as "crabbing." It is often said that a good soldier is identified by the amount of "crabbing" he does. But in this war "crabbing" was dangerous; for enemy spies were ready to pick up information. The men of the First Battalion were surprised and humiliated by the following order:
The unfortunate incident referred to in the order occurred in Chaumont. The men had made a good showing at the parade and they wished to make it clear that they had done so in spite of difficulties and their zeal in enhancing their triumph was charged against them as "crabbing." They had been misunderstood but this experience taught them a lesson which they never forgot.
The arrival at Manois was followed by resumption of the strenuous training schedule. Specialization began with increasing vigor.
The men fairly tore up the dummies with their bayonets. Some were still afraid of grenades but their fear only helped them to greater distance. No one was able to make high score with the Chauchat. The targets looked like they had been hit by fragments of a shell; yet the men insisted they had aimed and held the same for each shot. The French instructors contended that the effect of this dispersion was even more destructive to the morale of the enemy than direct hits, but the American soldiers were never satisfied with the result on the range and distrusted the Chauchat in campaigns. American officers from the Army Schools versed in the latest tactics and French officers direct from the Front were added as Regimental instructors. More attention was now paid to extended formations than had been in the past but no formation was standard or final. Each new instructor and each succeeding pamphlet brought new combinations. All that they needed was information, and the formation took care of itself. While this instruction was indefinite and discouraging at the time it fitted well into the requirements of future campaigns.
The final touches of training were added in the trench system at Dome Fé. It was a preliminary movement to the Front. Each man carried his own equipment. The kitchens followed and the journey of nine miles was begun in final departure form. Each Battalion took its place in the outpost line in support and reserve. Reliefs were made even more conscientiously than they would ever be again at the Front. Actual demonstration of raid and patrol helped to clear up the theoretical instruction that had been received on the high bluff at Manois. When the First Battalion returned, the men were anxious to get to the front.
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