KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS
The Martial Adventures of Henry and Me by William Allen White

CHAPTER III



IN WHICH WE ENCOUNTER BOMBS BURSTING
IN AIR



THERE is something, though Heaven knows not much, to be said for war as war. And the little to be said is said when one declares that it refreshes life by taking us out of our ruts. Routine kills men and nations and races; it is stagnation. But war shakes up society, puts men into strange environments, gives them new diversions, new aims, changed ideals. In the faint breath of war that came to Henry and me, as we wend about our daily task inspecting hospitals and first aid posts and ambulance units for the Red Cross there was a tremendous whiff of the big change that must come to lives that really get into war as soldiers. Even we were for ever pinching our selves to see if we were dreaming, as we rode through the strange land, filled with warlike impedimenta, and devoted exclusively to the science of slaughter. By rights we should have been sitting in our offices in Wichita and Emporia edit-
83




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ing two country newspapers, wrangling mildly with the pirates of the paper mills to whom our miserable little forty or fifty carloads of white paper a year was a trifle, dickering with foreign advertisers who desired to spread before Wichita and Emporia the virtues of their chewing gum or talking machines, or discussing the ever changing Situation with the local statesmen. At five o'clock Henry should be on his way to the Wichita golf course to reduce his figure, and the sullen roar of the muffler cut-out on the family car should be warning me that we were going to picnic that night out on the Osage hills in the sunset, where it would be up to me to eat gluten bread and avoid sugars, starches and fats to preserve the girlish lines of my figure.

But instead, here we were puffing up a hill in France, through underbrush, across shell holes to a hidden trench choked with telephone cables that should lead underground to an observation post where a part of the staff of the French army sat overlooking the battle of the Champagne. As we puffed and huffed up the hill, we recalled to each other that we had been in our offices but a few weeks before when the Associated Press report had brought us the news of the Champagne drive for hill 208. Among other things the report had



"Bombs Bursting in Air"--85

declared "a number of French soldiers were ordered into their own barrage, and several were shot for refusing to go into action thereafter!" And now here we were looking through a peephole in the camouflage at the battlefield! We were half way up the hill; below us lay a weedy piece of bottom land, all kneaded and pockmarked by shells, stretching away to another range of hills perhaps five miles, perhaps ten miles away, as the valley widened or narrowed. The white clay of the soil erupting under shell fire glimmered nakedly and indecently through the weeds. It was hard to realize that three years before the valley before us had been one of the great fertile valleys of France, dotted with little grey towns with glowing red roofs. For as we looked it seemed to be "that ominous tract, which all agree hides the Dark Tower!" There it all lay; the "ragged thistle stalk," with its head chopped off; "the dock's harsh swart leaves bruised as to balk all hope of greenness." "As for the grass, it grew scantier than hair in leprosy; thin dry leaves pricked the mud, which underneath looked kneaded up with blood!" It was the self-same field that Roland crossed! In the midst of the waste zigzagged two lines--two white gashes in the soil, with a scab of horrible



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brown rust scratched between them--the French and German trenches and the barbed wire entanglements. At some places the trenches ran close together, a few hundred feet or a few hundred yards marked their distance apart. At other times they backed fearfully away from one another with the gashed, stark, weed-smeared earth gaping between them. We paused to rest in our climb at a little shrine by the wayside. A communication trench slipped deviously up to it, and through this trench were brought the wounded; for the shrine, a dugout in the hillside, had been converted into a first aid station. A doctor and two stretcher bearers and two ambulance men were waiting there. Yet the little shrine, rather than the trenches that crept up to it, dominated the scene and the war seemed far away. Occasionally we heard a distant boom and saw a tall cone of dirt rise in the bottom land among the trenches, and we felt that some poor creature might be in his death agony. But that was remote, too, and Major Murphy of our party climbed to the roof of the dugout and began turning his glasses toward the German lines. Then the trenches about us suddenly grew alive. The Frenchmen were waving their hands and running about excitedly. Major Murphy was a Major--a regular United States Army major in a



One of our party...

One of our party climbed to the roof of the dugout and
began turning his glasses toward the German lines




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regular United States army uniform so grand that compared with our cheap cotton khaki it looked like a five thousand dollar outfit. The highest officer near us was a French second-lieutenant, who had no right to boss a Major! But something had to be done. So the second lieutenant did it. He called down the Major: showed him that he was in direct range of the German guns, and made it clear that a big six-foot American in uniform standing silhouetted against the sky-line would bring down a whole wagon-load of German hardware on our part of the line. The fact that the German trenches were two miles away did not make the situation any less dangerous. Afterwards we left the shrine and the trenches and went on up the hill.

The view from the observation trench on the hill-top, when we finally got there, was a wonderful view, sweeping the whole Champagne battle field. Hill 208 lay in the distance, still in German hands, and before it, wallowing in the white earth were a number of English tanks abandoned by the French. Lying out there in No Man's Land between the trenches, the tanks looked to our Kansas eyes like worn out threshing machines and spelled more clearly than anything else in the landscape the extent of the French failure in the



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Champagne drive of the spring of 1917. It may be profitable to know just how far the pendulum of war had swung toward failure in France last spring, before America declared war. To begin: The French morale went bad! We heard here in America that France was bled white. The French commission told us how sorely France needed the American war declaration. But to say that the morale of a nation has gone bad means so much. It is always a struggle even in peace, even in prosperity, for the honest, courageous leadership of a nation to keep any Nation honest. But when hope begins to sag, when the forces of disorder and darkness that lie subdued and dormant in every nation, and in every human heart are bidden hy evil times to rise--they rise. Leadership fails in its battle against them. For a year after the morale of the French began to come back strong, the French newspapers and French government were busy exposing and punishing the creatures who shamed France in the spring of 1917. German money has been traced to persons high in authority. A network of German spies was uncovered, working with the mistresses of men high in government--the kaiser is not above using the thief and the harlot for his aims; money literally by the



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cartload was poured into certain departments to hinder the work of the army, and the tragic disaster of the Champagne drive was the result partly of intrigue in Paris in the government, partly of poverty, partly the result of three winters of terrible suffering in the nation, and partly the weakening under the strain of all these things, of this "too too solid flesh and blood." During the winter of 1917 soldiers at the front received letters from home telling of starvation and freezing and sickness in their families. And trench conditions in the long hard winter were all but unbearable. When a soldier finally got a leave of absence and started home, he found the railroad system breaking down and he had long waits at junction points with no sleeping quarters, no food, no shelter. French soldiers going home on leave would lie all night and all day out in the open, drenched by the rain and stained by the mud, and would reach home bringing to their families trench vermin and trench fever and trench misery untold, to add to the woe that the winter had brought to the home while the soldier was away. Then when he went back to fight, he found that a bureaucratic clash had left the soldiers without supplies, or food or ammunition in sufficient quantities to supply the battle needs.



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In the bureaucratic clash some one lost his head in the army and ordered the men into their own barrage. Hundreds were slaughtered. Thousands were verging on mutiny. A regiment refused to fight, and another threatened to disobey. The American ambulance boys told us that the most horrible task they did was when they hauled eighty poor French boys out to be shot for mutiny! Spies in Paris, working through the mistresses of the department heads, the sad strain of war upon the French economic resources, and the withering hand of winter upon the heart of France had achieved all but a victory for the forces of evil in this earth.

And there we were that summer day, when time and events had changed the face of fate, looking out across the blighted field of Champagne at what might have been the wreck of France.

All is changed now. At every railroad junction the American Red Cross has built cantonments, where beds and food and baths and disinfecting ovens for trench clothes are installed for the homeward bound soldiers of France. The American Red Cross has the name of every French soldier's family that is in need, and that family's needs are being supplied by the American Red Cross. And the sure hope of victory



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has given the leadership of France a mastery of the forces of evil in the lower levels of the Nation's political consciousness that will make it impossible for the kaiser's friends, the courtesans to accomplish anything next winter.

We gazed across the field that afternoon and seeing the blotched acres, weed blasted, shell-pocked, blistered with white trenches and scarred with long jagged barbed-wire rents for miles and miles, and we thought how perfectly does the spirit of man mark the picture of his soul's agony upon his daily work.

It was late in the afternoon when we left the sector of the line. We passed a bombed hospital where two doctors and three nurses had been killed a night or two before. It was a disquieting sight, and the big Red Cross on the top of the hospital showed that the German airmen who dropped the bombs were careful in their aim. Gradually as we left the Champagne front the booming guns grew fainter and fainter and finally we could not hear them, and we came into a wide beautiful plain and then turned into the city of Rheims. It was bombed to death--but not to ruins. Rheims is what Verdun must have been during the first year of the war, a phantom city, desolate, all but uninhabited, broken and battered



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and abandoned. Here and there, living in caves and cellars, a few citizens still stick to their homes. A few stores remain open and an occasional trickle of commerce flows down the streets. We went to the cathedral and found its outlines there--a veritable Miss Havisham of a ruin, the pale spectre of its former beauty, but proud and --if stone and iron can be conscious--vain of its lost glory. A gash probably ten feet square has been gouged in the pavement by a German shell, and the hole uncovers a hidden passage to the Cathedral of which no one in this generation knew. In the hovering twilight we walked about, gazing in a sadness that the broken splendour of the place cast upon us, at the details of the devastation. The roof, of course, is but a film of wood and iron rent with big holes. The walls are intact, but cracked and broken and tottering. The Gothic spires and gargoyles and ornaments are shattered beyond restoration, and the windows are but staring blind eyes where once the soul of the church gazed forth. Men come and gather the broken bits of glass as art treasures.

That evening at supper in Chalons, we met some American boys who said the French were selling this glass from the windows of Rheims made from old beer-bottles and blue bottles and



"Bombs Bursting in Air"--95

green bitters bottles, and still later we saw an English Colonel who had bought a job lot of it and found a patent medicine trade mark blown in a piece!

We had been in the place but a few minutes when we went to the back of the cathedral where we found an excited old man on the sidewalk with a broom in front of a postcard printing office. He spoke to Henry and me, but we could not understand him. He pointed to the stone dust and spawl freshly dropped on the sidewalk and to a hole in the pavement, and then to a broken iron shell. It must have weighed twenty-five pounds. He kept pointing at it, and made it clear we were to touch it. It was still hot! It had dropped in but a few minutes before we came We went into his shop to stock up on post cards and as Major Murphy and Mr. Norton, who could talk French, learned that another shell would be due in three or four minutes, we left town.

The road out of Rheims was in full view of the German lines, hidden only, and at that rather poorly, by camouflage--straw woven into mats and burlap, badly torn. We were between the German guns five miles away, and the sunset. Great holes in the ground beside the road indicated where they had been dropping shells, so our



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driver tramped on the juice, the machine shot out at fifty miles an hour and we skedaddled.

From the road out of Rheims we dropped into the valley of the Marne, a most beautiful vine-clad valley, where the road turns sharply from the German lines and soon passes out of the German range and the shell holes at the side of the road disappear. But even shell holes would not have taken our eyes from the beauty of that valley as we wound down into it from the hill. Vines were everywhere. Rows and rows of vines, marking a thousand brownish green lines in the earth as far as the eye could see. The grapes were ripe and they gave a tint of purple and brown to the landscape. It glowed with colour. Half a score of little grey, red roofed towns dotted the checkered fields. The sun was slanting through the plain. Tall dark poplars slashed it with sombre greens. As we whizzed through the quaint little villages dashes of colour seemed doused in our faces; soldiers in horizon blue with crimson trimmings and gold on their uniforms, black Moroccans with their gaudy red fezes, flags of staff and line officers fluttering from doors and window sills, all refreshed our eyes with new, strange, gorgeous combinations of colours. And when we passed a town where no



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soldiers were quartered, there the dooryards were brilliant with phlox and dahlias--even the door yards of those poor wrecked villages deserted after the German bombardment--villages roofless and grey and gaunt and wan, from which the population fled in July, 1914, and from which the Germans themselves a few weeks later were forced to flee, running pell-mell as they scurried before the wrath of the French soldiers.

As we went down into the valley of the Marne where division after division of the French army was quartered upon the population, thousands in a village, where normally hundreds were sheltered, we realized what social chaos must stalk in the train of war. Every few weeks these soldiers go to the front and other soldiers come in. Fathers, husbands, sweethearts of peace times are at the front or dead. The visiting soldiers come "from over the hills and far away," but they are young, and the women are young and beautiful, and they live daily with these women in their houses. Moreover, the emotions of France are tense. Death, doubt, fear and hope lash the home-staying hearts every day. And amid those raw emotions comes the daily and hourly call of the deepest emotion in the human heart. It comes honestly. It comes inevitably.



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And then, in a day or an hour, the lover is gone, and new faces appear in the village, in the street, in the home. Five millions of men during the last three years and a half have passed and repassed, through those fifty miles or so back of the firing line in which soldiers are quartered for rest, where in times of peace less than a million men have lived. And the women are the same honest, earnest, aspiring women that our wives and sisters are, and the men are as chivalrous and gentle and as kind.

For nearly an hour we had been going through these villages crowded with soldiers--kindly French soldiers who were clearly living happily with the people upon whom they were billeted. Then Henry burst forth, "My good Heavens, man--what if this were in Wichita or Emporia! What if your house and mine had ten or twenty fine soldiers in it, and we were away and our wives and daughters were there alone? Thousands and thousands of these young girls flitting about here were just little children three years ago when their daddies left. What if in our streets soldiers were quartered by the hundreds in every block, with nothing in the world to do but rest! What would happen in Wichita and Emporia--or back East in Goshen, New York,



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or out West in Fresno or Tonapah? What an awful thing--what a hell in the earth, war is!"

And yet we know that young hearts will express themselves as they were meant to express themselves even in the wrack and ruin and waste of war. And this strange picture of love and death sitting together some way reminded us of the phlox and the dahlias blooming in the dreary dooryards of the shattered homes near the battle line. And then our hearts turned to the youth on the boat--that precious load of mounting young blood that came over with us on the Espagne where we were the oldest people in the ship's company. And we began talking of the Eager Soul and her Young Doctor and the Gilded Youth. If the war could lash our old hearts as it was lashing them, so that even our emotions were raw and more or less a-quiver in the storm of the mingled passions of the world that overwhelmed us, how much--how fearfully much more must their younger hearts be stirred ? How could youth come out of it all unscarred! And she was such a sweet pretty girl, the Eager Soul, so fine and brave and wise--yet her heart was a girl's heart, after all. And the Young Doctor, his keen sensitive face showed how near to the surface was the quick in him. As for the Gilded



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Youth, we had seen there on the hill in the misty night the great hammer of the guns pound the dross out of him! And here they were all three alone, in the fury of this awful storm that was testing the stoutest souls in the world, and they were so young and so untried!

The roads over which we had been travelling for two days in our car were military roads. And we could tell instantly when we were inside the thirty kilo limit of the firing line, by looking at the road menders. If they were German prisoners we were outside the thirty kilo strip. For when the Germans discovered last spring that the Allies held more prisoners than the Germans, the Germans demanded a rule for the treatment of prisoners, which should keep them thirty kilos from danger. It was a rule that the Allies had been observing; but the Germans were not observing it, until they found that they might suffer by non-observance. So when we left the German prisoners and came to French road menders--generally French Chinamen or Anamites, or negroes from Dahomey or other oriental peoples, we knew we were soon to come in sound of the big guns. These road menders always were at work. Beside every road a few yards apart, always were little neatly stacked cones of road



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metal. A road roller always was in sight. No road ever got bumpy and at given distances along the road were repair stations for the government automobiles. Nothing was allowed to stop the machinery of war. At night along these country roads, thirty kilos back from the line we travelled with lights; so that night out of Rheims, we hurried through the night, passed village after village swarming with soldiers, black and yellow and white; for the colour line does not irritate the French; and we saw how gay and happy they were, crowding into picture shows, listening to the regimental band, sitting on the sidewalks before the cafés, or dancing with the girls in the parks. Then a time came when the village streets were lonely and dark and we knew that the bugle had sounded taps. And so in due course we came to the end of the day's journey, at the end of a spur of the railroad, near one sector of the Verdun front. There we found a field hospital of four thousand beds. And when there is to be renewed French activity on the Verdun sector, the first thing that happens is the general evacuation of all the patients in the hospital. It takes a great many railroad trains to clear out a hospital wherein six thousand wounded men are jammed. We saw one hospital train loading.



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This hospital had handled twenty-six hundred cases in one day the week before we arrived. The big guns that we had heard booming away for three days as we went up and down the line had been grinding their awful grist. We walked through the hospital, which covered acres of ground. It is a board structure, some of the walls are not even papered, but show the two-by-fours nakedly and the rafters above. Stoves heat most of the wards, and hospital linoleum covers the runways between the rows of beds. Of course, the operating rooms are painted white and kept spotless. The French are marvellous surgeons, and their results in turning men back to the line, both in per cent of men and time are up to the normal average of the war; but they are not so finical about flies and fresh air and unimportant dirt as the English or the Americans. They probably feel that there are more essential things to consider than flies and their trysting places! In this hospital we saw our first wounded German prisoners. We saw boys fifteen years old, whose voices had not changed. We saw men past fifty. We saw slope-shouldered, hollow-chested, pale-faced men of the academic type, wearing glasses an eighth of an inch thick. We saw scrubby looking men who seemed to "be the



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dirt and the dross, the dust and the scum of the earth."

And we saw also some well-set-up Germans, and in a bull-pen near the railroad station waiting for the trains to take them to the interior of France were six thousand German prisoners--for the most part well-made men. Here and there was a scrub--a boy, a defective, or an old man; showing that the Germans are working these classes through the army; but indicating, so far as one batch of prisoners from one part of the battle line may indicate, that the Germans still have a splendid fighting army. But the old German army that came raging through Belgium and northern France in 1914 is gone. Germany is well past the peak in man power as shown in the soldiers of the line. It is also likely that the morale of the German line has its best days behind it. The American ambulance men in the Verdun sector told us of a company of German soldiers who had come across a few nights before to surrender, after killing their officers. They appeared at about ten o'clock at night, and told the French to cease firing at exactly that time the next night for ten minutes and another troop of Germans would come across. The French ceased at the agreed hour and thirty more came



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over and brought the mail to their comrades! That, of course, is not a usual occurrence. But similar instances are found. The best one can say of the German morale in the army is that it is spotted. In civilian life the nearer one gets to Germany the surer one is that the civilian morale seems to be sound. These things we found in the air up near the front line trenches, where German prisoners talk, and where one sees the war "close up."

But we were going still nearer to the German lines, and the next day we set out for Recicourt and arrived there about noon. It is a little bombed village where a few thousand soldiers are quartered, and a few score villagers huddle in cellars and caves by night and go forth to their farms by day. The village lies in a ravine. The railway runs in front of the town, and the week we were there a big naval gun was booming away on the railroad throwing death into the German lines eight or ten miles away. At the back of the town, across a bridge over a brook the white wagon road runs, and that day the road was black with trucks going up to the front line with supplies. We could hear the big guns plainly over in the woods a few miles away. But we had no thought of danger as we tumbled out of



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our car. We should have known that bombed villages don't just grow that way! Something causes the gaping holes in roofs, the shattered walls, the blear-eyed windows and battered outbuildings! Generally it is German shells; but we had been seeing bombed towns for days, and we forgot that sooner or later we must meet the bombs that did the miserable work. As we stood by the automobiles at Recicourt, kicking the wrinkles out of our cotton khaki riding breeches--and mine, alas, had to be kicked carefully to preserve that pie-slice cut from my shirt tail that expanded the waistband from 36 to 44 inches--little did it seem to Henry and me that we should first meet a German shell face to face in a place like Recicourt. The name did not sound historic But we had scarcely shaken hands around the group of American Ambulance men who gathered to greet us before we heard a B-A-N-G!--an awful sound! It was as if someone suddenly had picked up the whole Haynes Hardware store--at Emporia--tinware, farm implements, stoves, nails and shelf-goods, and had switched it with an awful whizz through the air and landed it upon the sheet-iron roof of Wichita's Civic Forum, which seats six thousand! We looked at each other in surprise, but each realized that he



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must be casual to support the other; so we said nothing to the Ambulance boys, and they, being used to such things, let it pass also. We went on talking; so did Major Murphy, being a soldier. So did Mr. Richard Norton, being head of the American Ambulance Service. In a minute there was a fearful whistle--long, piercing, and savage, and then they had taken the Peters Hardware stock in Emporia and dumped it on the Wichita Union Station. This time we saw a great cone-shaped cloud of dirt rise not 400 feet away--over by the wagon road, across the brook from us. Still no one mentioned the matter. It seemed to Henry and me to be anything but a secret, but if the others had that notion of it, far be it from us to blab! An ambulance driver came lazying around the corner and began to start his car.

"Any one hurt, Singer?" asked a handsome youth named Hughes, of the Corps.

"Man hit by the first shell up here by the railroad. I'm going after him."

"Hurt badly?" asked another boy.

"Oh, arm or shoulder or something blown off. I'll be back for lunch."

The details interested us; we could see that the secret was being uncovered. Again came an



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awful roar and another terrific bang--this time the dust cloud rose nearer to us than before--perhaps 300 feet away. Every one ducked. In five seconds they had taught me to duck. It's curious how quickly the adult mind acquires useful information. But Henry for some reason got a bad start, and his duck needed correction. To duck, you scrooch down, and shrink in, to get as much as possible of your body under the eaves of your steel helmet. Somewhere between the second and third bang, they got a helmet on me. No one knows where it came from, nor how it got there. But there it was, while they were correcting Henry's duck. In spite of them, when he ducked, Henry would lean forward, thus multiplying his exposure by ten. But it really does a fat man little good to duck anyway; the eaves of his helmet hardly cover his collar. It was while they were trying to telescope Henry that some one grabbed me by the arm and said:

"Come on! Let's go to the abri!"

Abri was a brand new word to me, but it seemed to be some place to go and that was enough for me.

"Where" (read this line with feeling and emphasis) "is the abri?" The ambulance boy took me by the arm and led me on a trot to a dugout



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covered with railroad iron, and logs and sand bags, and we went in there and found it full of French officers. They have some sense. The abri would not turn a direct explosion of a shell; but it would shield one against a glancing blow and against the shrapnel which sprays itself out from the point where the shell hits like a molten iron fountain. After the ninth bomb had come over we left the abri. The Germans had been allowancing Recicourt to nine a day. But that day they gave us three more prunes for dessert. They came very close and fairly fast together. As they came Henry was sitting in the barn where the ambulance boys had their meals. Lunch was on the table and Henry was writing. The shells sounded just outside the barn. "What are you writing, Mr. Allen?" asked Major Murphy. "I'm sketching," stuttered the Wichita statesman, "a sort of a draft of the American terms of peace!"

After three extra bombs had come in the Germans turned their guns from the town, and we had our lunch at our ease. And such a lunch! A melon to begin with; a yellow melon that looks like the old-fashioned American muskmelon and tastes like a nectar of the gods, followed by onion soup. Then followed an entree, a large thin slice



Come on!...

"Come on! Let's go to the abri!"




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of cold sausage which they afterward told us was made of horse meat, a pate of some kind, then roast veal sliced thin and slightly underdone with browned potatoes; then new beans served as a separate course; then fruit and cheese and coffee and cigars! And that in a barn!

We had to go up to a first aid station after lunch so we piled into an ambulance, were buttoned in from the back by the driver, and went sailing up the hill and into the woods. They told us that we were in the Avecourt Woods in the Forest of Hess. We remembered that but a few weeks before when we were in our newspaper offices, that the Avecourt Woods had been the scene of some fierce and bloody fighting. And as we rode up the hill we heard the French cannon roaring all about us. We were told that four thousand cannon were planted in the Avecourt Woods, but only about a thousand of them were active that day. Yet we could see none, so completely were they hidden by camouflage. The woods were barren of leaves or branches though they should have been in foliage. We gazed through the windows of the ambulance into the stark forest with its top off, and then rather gradually it occurred to me that the white objects carefully corded against the tree trunks were



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not sticks of cord wood at all, as they seemed, and as they should have been if the wood had been under the ax instead of under fire. They were French seventy-five shells--deadly brass cartridges two feet long, all nicely and peacefully corded against the trunks of the big trees! We rode through them for several miles. Beside the road always were the little heaps of road metal, little heaps of stone, and always the engineers stood ready to refill the holes that might be made by the incoming shells. And occasionally they were coming in; though they seemed to be landing in a distant part of the forest. The ear becomes curiously quick at telling the difference between what are known as arrives and departs. The departs were going out that day at the ratio of 32 to one arrive. For the Germans had wasted enough ammunition on the Verdun sector and were trying to economize! Still the arrives were landing in the Avecourt wood every minute or so, and they were disquieting. Only the chirping of our own broad-mouthed canaries there in the roofless forest gave us cheer. For some way the sound of the shells of our own guns shrieking over us is a deep comfort: it is something like the consolation of a great faith.

At last, seven or eight miles in the forest, we



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came upon the first aid post, a quarter of a mile from the opposite edge of the wood and but half a mile from the front line trenches of Verdun. The first aid post there was a cellar, half excavated, and half covered with earth, and roofed with iron rails, logs and sandbags. The usual French doctors, stretcher bearers and American Ambulance men were there. And there was the little cemetery, always found at a first aid post where those are buried who die on the stretchers or in the dugout. It was lovingly adorned by the French with the tri-colour of France, with bronze wreaths, with woodland flowers, and was altogether bright and beautiful in the bare woods. They showed us a shell by the cave--a gas shell that had come over during the morning and had hit on the oblique and had not exploded. It was gently leaking chlorine gas, which we sniffed--but gingerly. Other shells were popping into the place and fairly near us with some regularity and enthusiasm, and it seemed to Henry and me that we had no desire to stare grim war's wrinkled front out of countenance, and we hoped that the Major and Mr. Norton were nearly ready to go back. But we heard this:

From the Major: "How far forward can we go toward Hill 304; we would like to see it, but



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have no desire to go further than you care to have us."

And from the French lieutenant in charge: "Go to Berlin if you want to!"

It occurred to Henry and me, considering our feelings, that the Major's nonchalant use of that "we" was without the consent of the governed. But when he started forward we followed. Our moral cowardice overwhelmed our physical cowardice, and our legs tracked ahead while our hearts tracked back. The Major Swung along the road at a fast clip: Mr. Norton went with him. For short-geared men we followed as fast as we could, but it was at a respectful distance. Nearer and nearer we came to the open field, and by the same token, quicker and nearer and hotter came the German shells. We were continually on the duck. Our progress had an accordion rhythm that made distance come slow. We came to a dead mule in the road. He had been bombed recently, and was not ready for visitors. Now a mule is not nature's masterpiece at his best; but in the transition state between a mule and hamburger, a mule leaves much to be desired. As we passed the forward reaches of the mule, Henry began his kidding. He always begins to guy a situation under emotion. "Bill," he cried, "if



"Bombs Bursting in Air"--115

we die we'll at least save our nice new hundred dollar uniforms down there in Paris! "And from me he got this: "And say, Henry--if we die we won't have to face our wives and tell 'em we paid that much for a two-piece suit! There's that comfort in sudden death!"

It seemed to Henry and me that we had seen all there was to be seen of the war. Hill 304 would be there after the treaty of peace was signed and the Major and Norton then could come to see it. But they were bound for Berlin; so we slowly edged by that poor mule; he seemed to be the longest mule we had ever--well, he seemed to be a sort of trans-continental mule, but we finally got past him and came to the edge of the woods. It took about three ducks to twenty yards, and passing the mule we had four downs and no gain. That gave the Germans the ball. So when we got to the edge of the wood and were standing looking into the French trenches and at Hill 304 off at our right, after the Major had handed Norton the field glasses and Norton had considerately handed them to Henry, who passed them to me for such fleeting glance as politeness might require, the Germans came back with that ball. It came right out of Berlin, too. One could hear it howl as it crossed the Thier-



116--Martial Adventures of Henry and Me

garten and went over Wilhelm Strasse and scream as it whizzed over Bavaria. There never was another such shell. And we ducked-- all of us. Henry said he never saw me make such a duck--it was the duck of a life-time. And then that shell landed. It was a wholesale hardware store that hit--no retail affair. The sound was awful. And then something inside of me or outside tore with an awful rip. We had been reading Dr. Crile's book on the anesthesia of fear, and suddenly it occurred to me that the shell had hit me and torn a hole in me and that fear had deadened the pain. Slowly and in terror my right hand groped back to the place of the wound, expecting every moment to encounter blood and ragged flesh. We were still crouched over, waiting for the fountain of junk to cease spraying. Nearer and nearer came the shrinking fingers to the wound. They felt no blood, but something more terrible! There, dangling by its apex, hung that pie-shaped slice of shirt from those cotton khaki trousers--ripped clear out! And Paris fifty miles away!

Slowly we unfolded ourselves from the duck. And as we came up--sping! went a sharp metallic click on Norton's helmet. A bit of shrapnel had hit it. Under a hat he would have been



Bombs Bursting in Air"--117

killed! So we went back to the first aid post--me holding those khaki trousers up by sheer force of will, and both hands!

So long as Norton and the Major had led the way from the dugout, it simultaneously flashed over Henry and me that we should lead the way back, and not leave all the exertion to our companions. So we set the pace back.

At the first aid post we stopped for breath. The French welcomed us back, and we rested a moment under their hospitality. Our own French guns were carolling away; the arrives were coming in. It seemed to Henry and me that we were not so badly frightened as we knew we were. For we kept a running fire going of airy persiflage--which was like the noise of boys whistling through a graveyard. Henry said: "That German gunner is playing by ear! His time is bad, or else it's syncopated." Then to Major Murphy: "Nice sightly location that Hill 304; but I noticed real estate going up a good deal in the neighbourhood!" And to the assembled company in the dugout he remarked as he pulled out his pipe, a short Hiram Johnson, bulldog model that he had bought on the Rue de Rivoli, "If you gentlemen will get out your gas masks now I'll light my dreadnaught!" Which



118--Martial Adventures of Henry and Me

he did and calmed his iron nerves. So in a few moments we came out of the post and went to our ambulance which would take us back to Recicourt. Clouds had blown across the sky and as we passed the gay little cemetery by the dugout, we were shocked to see the body of a French lieutenant laid ready for burial. He had met death while we played the fool in our twenty minutes' walk. We rode to Recicourt greatly sobered, and it was hours before we could get back our spirit. Of course, eventually, kind hands pinned up the rent in the corsage of those khaki trousers. They used a dozen big steel safety pins as large as railway spikes. And that night as we were preparing for bed in a shack near a hospital, Henry gazed curiously at the job as it glittered before him in our corner, when, his friend's tunic being removed, the wealth of metal was uncovered. Henry was impressed. "Bill," he said gently, as he gazed admiringly at his friend's armour, "I don't know as I ever saw a man before with so much open plumbing on him as you're wearing these days!"

For a long time we lay awake and talked about the day's experience, and particularly our half day under fire. We agreed that really it was not so bad. We were scared--badly scared; but we



So we went back...

So we went back--me holding those khaki trousers
up by sheer force of will and both hands!




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"Bombs Bursting in Air"--121

could laugh at it, even at the hottest of it, and it was never so exceedingly hot. Yet we might have been killed. Thousands who died, went out in just such mild places as we had been through, and probably went out laughing as we might have gone, by a jiggle of a quarter of an inch one way or another of the German's gun. Our Wichita and Emporia soldiers, we said, would doubtless live days and weeks under what we had seen and would grow fat on it. Then Henry mused: "I wonder if that young French lieutenant there in the woods went out smiling!" And then for a long time no one spoke, and at last we slept.





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