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Chapter 13 After the Armistice


HISTORY OF THE 304th FIELD ARTILLERY
by
James M. Howard
1920


CHAPTER XXI

AFTER THE ARMISTICE

At first we could not believe that the great task was finished. Somehow it was impossible to realize that the proud enemy, who for more than four years had overrun all Europe and set at defiance practically all the armies of the civilized world, had laid down his arms. The news spread rapidly among the batteries, and while there was a feeling of universal relief, there was little exuberance of joy such as might have been expected. Officers and men discussed the situation, and some doubts were expressed as to whether this were not, after all, only a temporary suspension of hostilities.

Down in Raucourt, however, there was a holiday atmosphere abroad. The streets were thronged with soldiers, walking about and talking in groups. Presently a band struck up, and with colors flying marched past our headquarters to the town hall. There the French and American flags were hoisted, and while soldiers of both armies stood at attention and the few civilians bared their heads, the band played "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "La Marseillaise."

The people most moved were the French civilians. All along our line of march during that last drive we had met these released captives in the villages and on the roads, and as soon as the fighting ceased more and more of them appeared from nowhere as if by magic. Old folks with bent backs and slow of foot and young mothers with their children were pushing in wheelbarrows or carrying on their backs all that was left of their earthly possessions. They wanted to go back to their old homes and start again to build their lives on the pitiful ruin that was left them, ready to eke out a precarious existence in that land of wasted fields and desolate villages, if only they could be left alone.

On Tuesday, November 12th, a genial French commandant arrived with his battalion to take over our positions, and that afternoon our whole artillery brigade was on the road that led southward, away from the front, on the first stage of what we all believed to be the journey toward home!

We went back along the same route we had traveled before. The traffic congestion was as bad as ever, and the mud was just as deep; but how different were the circumstances of that march! Were we held up at a crossroad? There would be impatience about getting ahead and reaching the end of the hike, but there was none of that desperate fear lest, if we did not move on, the Germans might open fire on us. Was there a jam in the darkness? Hitherto no lights had ever been permitted on the roads or in camps, but now a dozen flashlights gleamed and the trouble was soon located. Were there shell holes, which threatened the safety of the trucks? Headlights were switched on and the whole road was illuminated. And wherever the regiment encamped there blazed great roaring fires around which the men gathered to warm themselves and to dry their clothes.

Our first stop was at Sommauthe, where, in the empty houses, sheds and stables, the men were billeted. The First Battalion, which had moved forward from Verpel in order to get nearer their source of supplies, had taken tip their abode at a large f arm not far from the town, so that the whole regiment was once more united, and we were looking forward to a congenial time. But within a day or two the Second Battalion was ordered to proceed to a front line position to the east near Stenay, and there for nearly a week they lived once more under what would have been battle conditions if there had been a renewal of hostilities. Eventually, however, they were brought back, and presently the whole regiment moved southward to the little town of Briquenay.

Just before leaving Sommauthe we were joined by a new regimental commander, Colonel Copley Enos. A West Point graduate and an old cavalry officer, he had been with an artillery regiment in training when he was sent to take command of the 304th. The order assigning him had reached us on November 4th, while we were in the midst of our mad pursuit of the retreating Huns. For a while we had vaguely expected him, but inasmuch as he had not appeared we thought that he was probably not coming. He himself, however, did not receive the order until after the armistice, and he made what speed he could in getting to us, and finally arrived on November 2oth. It seemed a little hard on Lieutenant -Colonel McCleave, who had led the regiment through two months of hard fighting, to have an officer who ranked him come and assume command when the war was all over; but he showed a fine spirit, and Colonel Enos was soon at home with his new regiment.

Of Colonel McCleave we saw but little after that, for he went away shortly on sick leave and was gone for several weeks. He rejoined the regiment for a while later on, but on January 21, 1919, he was transferred as an instructor to the Field Artillery School at Valdahon, and we were obliged to part for good with the officer who had brought us successfully through the great, Argonne-Meuse campaign.

Meanwhile all our horses, except the few absolutely necessary to move the rolling stock, had been turned over to the 12th Field Artillery as the latter proceeded on its way to join the Army of Occupation. The Band, released at last from stable duty, went to work at making music, and every one enjoyed their concerts. Musician Stange, who already had a good quartet that had been singing together since the days on the Vesle, gathered in more singers from other organizations and soon had a glee club that was in constant demand.

Thanksgiving found us still in Briquenay, and preparations were made to celebrate. Captain Ewell took a truck to Chalons and brought back a supply of veal and lamb-a welcome change from the everlasting army beef-and with various extras secured by numerous foraging parties, the mess sergeants cooked up splendid dinners. There was a service of Thanksgiving held in the church that morning which was attended by as many men as could crowd into the building, and then each organization celebrated the day in its own way. It is safe to say that the band and the Glee Club ate more dinners that day than they had ever eaten in one day before, for they were welcome guests at every entertainment.

Soon after this, the order came to move the 77th Division to the Ninth Training Area, with headquarters at Chateau-Villain, a few miles south of the American General Headquarters in Chaumont. The 304th was to entrain at Autry, a little town on the western edge of the Argonne, near where some of our hardest fighting had taken place. After a billeting officer had been dispatched to arrange for lodging the troops in the new area, the regiment started to move on December 2nd. The guns and baggage, which had been kept at the now historic village of Grand Pre, were hauled to the railhead by trucks, and the men marched on foot. At Autry both officers and men were piled into American freight cars and shipped to Latr6cy, where they detrained on December 3rd after an uneventful journey.

The atmosphere, ever since the armistice, had been surcharged with rumors about going home. We were to be home by Christmas; we were to sail on December 14th; we were to go about the first of January; we were not to stop at the training area at all, but go straight to Bordeaux and embark at once. There was no end to either the number or the ingenuity of these reports, which circulated at their face value among the men. When the regiment detrained at Latrecy and marched to the villages where we were to be billeted, there seemed to be ominous preparations for a prolonged stay. Nevertheless, during the whole time of our occupation of that area, we lived from day to day on "the latest rumor," and the constant rising and falling of spirits with the Waxing and waning of every report created an atmosphere of uncertainty and discontent which was hard to combat.

Two villages were assigned to the 304th. Regimental headquarters was established in Aubepierre, a little town of several hundred inhabitants lying in a fertile part of the valley of the Aube. It was a quaint little place, built mostly along a single street. The billets were fairly comfortable, the inhabitants were hospitable, and had it not been for the overwhelming desire to get home, the men would have been very happy there. The Headquarters and Supply Companies were among the organizations assigned to the town, together with Batteries A, B, C, and F, and with Major Sanders' headquarters.

The rest of the regiment, including Batteries D and E and Major Devereux's headquarters, were stationed at Lignerolles, a smaller village about five kilometers away. This was also on a little stream, but because the town was built with more open spaces and not crowded all on one or two streets, it was freer from the mud with which Atibepierre was always filled.

There was sonic question as to just what the term "training area" might mean. We knew that during the war troops had been instructed there, but what had that to do with an outfit that was through with fighting and ready for demobilization?

We were soon to know, for the higher command issued an elaborate training schedule. Drills every morning, radio and telephone schools, equitation (enough new horses had been issued to equip one battery at a time for drill purposes), signaling, observation, map reading, and maneuvers, in which we attacked imaginary forces of the enemy and wrested from them farms and villages. New methods of liaison were evolved, and every one was schooled in the various means of communication between infantry and artillery, and between the commanding officers of all the units involved in military operations. "The axis of liaison" became a byword among officers and men. Just what it all signified no one could tell. There was more truth than poetry in the joke perpetrated in B ~Battery's minstrel show:

"Say, Mr. Interlocutor, can you tell me what in the world all dis yere drillin' is for ?"
"Why, yes. It's a sort o' hardenin' process. It gets harder and harder every day for the officers to know what it's all about."
Meanwhile Christmas was drawing near, a with no prospects of spending it at home, we set about making the most of it over in France. A check for two thousand dollars from the Regimental Association in New York opened alluring prospects of a glorious dinner, and a council of officers decided that nothing would contribute more to the atmosphere of Christmas than some turkey. It was very expensive, but money was the least of our worries just then, and we sent to Langres and ordered enough turkey and goose for the whole regiment-a pound to a man.

Then, to keep alive the childhood spirit, as well as to show our appreciation of the hospitality of the towns people, it was arranged that all the children of the two villages should be entertained. Through the efforts of Mr. Newberry, two Santa Claus outfits were procured, and enough toys and knick-knacks to provide every child with some sort of gift.

On the 23rd, we borrowed two little Ford trucks and sent them to Dijon to get the turkeys, which the dealers in Langres had ordered for us. When they arrived, and the mess sergeants gathered to see that their organizations received a full allotment, it was discovered that the birds had been packed without being cleaned and without waiting for them to cool off, and the result was that nine-tenths of them were not fit to eat!

In spite of the gloom which was cast by this misfortune, the men did their best to make the children's parties a success. In Lignerolles, the celebration took place on Christmas morning. The band was imported for the occasion, and as it came into the town, an impromptu procession formed, headed by Santa Claus in full regalia, with all the children and all the soldiers in town following. They marched to the mess ha where a beautiful tree was decorated and aglow with candle and there the presents were given out to the youngsters. In Aubepierre there was no place where all could assemble once, so the children were divided up among the various organizations. Each one in turn had the use of the Y.M. C A. hut with its Christmas tree and Santa Claus costume, and each in turn not only gave presents to the children, but entertain them and their parents with songs and recitations.

Battery C alone was absent on Christmas day. They ha been chosen to represent the artillery of the 77th Division in the grand review held for President Wilson near Langre When the day arrived, it was too muddy on the review ground to have the guns parade, but they had the honor of firing the salute of twenty-one guns when the President, accompanied by General Pershing and various other notables, arrived on the field. This event brought forth a song, written by Corporal Beveridge, which the battery sang when it returned to Aubpierre:

Battery C boys, Battery C boys! We never had a chance to see Paree. It was hike, hike, hike, and fire awhile, Then make up your packs and hike another mile. Battery C boys, Battery C boys! We'll soon be going home across the sea.

Although we never had a chance to see Paree, To have some fun and get run in by some M. P., President Wilson heard our guns, that's good enough for me! Battery C boys, Battery C boys, Oh, the Hoboken pier is where we want to be!

This was the season for new songs, and every event which happened produced one. Especially was this true among the officers, who all ate together in the little hotel and sang on all occasions. Was some one reported for overstaying his leave in Paris? Promptly a song commemorated the event. Was a battery commander taken to task for leading his men into a field where winter wheat was sprouting? That evening the story was told in song. The little waitress, Louise, who, occasionally assisted by her small sister, but usually alone, served all those tables full of officers, added much to the enjoyment of everybody by her unfailing brightness and naive sense of fun. She, too, was immortalized in song:

I want to go home, I want to go home! The children and chickens get under your feet, The cows go strolling all over the street; The mud is almost to your knees, And the only bright spot is Louise! I'm too young to drown in this hell of a town, I want to go home!

When it came to furnishing entertainment for the men, there was considerable difficulty. For a long time we could get no piano. Then, when we did succeed in borrowing one, the owner presently discovered that the case was getting banged up and the keys were all out of tune, and he took it back to his house only to be loaned on special occasions. Then the Glee Club, eight of whom had gone on leave together, taking along Corporal Hagan, of Battery F, one of our few star pianists, were detained at Aix-les-Bains to amuse the soldiers, and we had to get along without them for a solid month. While they were gone G. H. Q. sent down a special order for Bugler Reed, of C Battery, our versatile and inexhaustible accompanist, and he departed to play for them there.

Nevertheless some clever shows were produced. Battery F led off with an admirable vaudeville performance, featuring original battery songs. Then Headquarters Company went still further and put on a program which included a one-act skit, all in costume. These two had the advantage of the Glee Club's presence, but after the singers had gone, B Battery, riot to be outdone, got up a monster minstrel show-one act of straight minstrels, with a costumed chorus of twenty-eight men, followed by a screamingly funny courtroom scene, in which the "specialties" were introduced as prisoners. By that time we had a piano, and, more than that, an orchestra. "Tobacco money" from the Association had been diverted to buying violins and music, and twelve musicians, under the leadership of Corporal (afterward Sergeant) Hahn, of the band, added immensely to the effect of the show.

Besides these more elaborate performances, there were boxing contests and amateur nights, and whatever entertainments could be thought up by the ingenious mind of Private Hicks, of Headquarters Company, who had been detailed as master showman.

In Lignerolles the proposition was more difficult. They had no piano, no electric lights (there was a scarcity even of candles), and, until rather late in the game, no hall except the tiny village school house. For a while the men made few attempts to get up entertainments. There was a christening, at which Sergeant Pons of D Battery stood as godfather to a French baby, and, with the band, and speeches, and a gift to the infant, this was made an affair of some importance. But aside from that, and one or two small "battery nights," nothing much was done until B, Battery's minstrels were invited to come over. Then a half-empty barrack was turned into a theater, a stage was built, curtains hung, a pit dug for the orchestra, dressing' rooms provided, and presently a splendid entertainment hall was ready. While they were waiting for B Battery to come over, they put on a minstrel show themselves, borrowing the Aubepierre piano for the occasion, and proved that there was plenty of talent in D and E.

All those efforts were made at entertainment because it was absolutely necessary to give the men something to do and somewhere to go out of drill hours. Every one was yearn-ing for home, and the morale of the troops, while it kept up to a surprisingly high level, was hanging by a thread, and no one wanted to see that thread break.

At the beginning of January, evening classes were established in English, arithmetic, French, civics and history. The men responded well at first, hut they soon grew tired of it, and the classes dwindled down to a faithful few who were really bent on learning something as well as on passing the time.

At last, about the middle of January, after a long period when men fed their starving hopes on the most fantastic rumors, the order came to prepare all the materiel for the inspectors and have it in shape to turn in. This was glorious news, and the men worked with enthusiasm. It may be said right here that the inspector who looked over the ordnance affirmed that, in twenty-one years' experience, he had never seen material in such splendid condition. Other inspectors, too, spoke well of the regiment. One from the First Army headquarters, who had --one carefully over both the towns, looked :at billets, mess halls, kitchens, offices, and sizing up the whole appearance of the men, both on parade and about the streets, said in his report: "No comments except favorable. This organization is rated very high at these headquarters."

While preparations for departure were at their height, word came that General McCloskey, who had been in command of the 'brigade ever since we left Baccarat, had been ordered to the German frontier to command the artillery of the 2nd Division. During the fighting the men had seen but little of the general, and had known him chiefly as the mysterious authority who, controlled all their operations; but since the end of the war his frequent visits had revealed him as a genial and kindly officer who was intensely interested in the activities, the comfort and welfare of his troops. This impression was confirmed when, on the eve of his going, he came to bid us farewell. Instead of having the regiments assembled at some place convenient for him, General McCloskey visited each town where his men were quartered, and with a few words of appreciation for the work they had done, read then the following order which he had just issued:
6

HEADQUARTERS 152ND BRIGADE FIELD ARTILLERY
AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCES

GENERAL ORDER 5th February 1919.

No1
In relinquishing command Of the 152nd Field Artillery Brigade, the Brigade Commander desires to publish in orders his appreciation of the work done by its members. Entering the service at Camp Upton, drilling for weeks without guns, caissons or horses, you applied yourselves with a determination to do well which boded ill for the Boche. At Camp de Souge, your work won the merited praise of your French instructors. In the quiet of the Baccarat sector you learned the whistle of hostile shell. But it was in the Vesle that you received your baptism of fire and your reply showed the Boche that here was a foe to be reckoned with. In that long march from the Vesle to the Argonne, with sleepless nights and long distances, you acted like veterans and won the praise of French and Americans who saw you.

On September 24th you entered the great Argonne forest which for four years had belonged to the Boche. And here, regardless of privations and discomforts, un-mindful of personal danger, you manned your guns and gave the death blow to the Kaiser's ambitions.

From August 2nd when you left the Baccarat sector until November 11th when the Armistice was effective, you marched over-land 340 kilometers, gained 78 kilometers from the enemy in battle and had only five days of so-called rest.

This is indeed a record to be proud of. But to it, there must be added the praise which Brigade, Division, Corps and Army Commanders have given you. No matter where the Infantry was, you always had guns in position to fire in front of them and there was always plenty of ammunition close at hand.

The accuracy of your fire and cleverness in moving your guns were visible to all, but behind this, your Brigade Commander saw the hardships, the difficulties and the sources of worry which confronted you. All these, however, you overcame because you were determined to win.

With a full appreciation of this, your Brigade Commander congratulates you on your glorious accomplishment and your magnificent spirit. To have commanded you through this victorious career is, indeed, an honor and a privilege.
MANUS MCCLOSKEY,
Brigadier General U. S. A.,
Commanding.

Meanwhile we were gradually getting rid of our equipment. First the guns and caissons were hauled away; then the wagons, and last of all the horses. How the men did bless the day when those animals were led away! Finally, after the regiment was stripped down to the bare office equipment and the personal belongings of the officers and men, came the order to move. On February 8th the regiment said good-by to Aubepierre and Lignerolles and marched to Latrecy, where they boarded a train for the embarkation center at Le Mans.


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