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After the Armistice


HISTORY
of
THE 306th Field Artillery

AFTER THE ARMISTICE


THE, final epoch in the career of the regiment was the return from the heat of battle to the discipline of routine. The night of November 11th, for the first time in years, Raucourt and Beaumont, where elements of the regiment were quartered, showed lights in all of the windows; and soldiers, with the civilians so recently liberated, went singing about the streets. Automobiles and trucks which had hitherto groped their way about dark, deserted villages, now ran with their lamps gleaming through the night. The change to peace-this minute the world a hell of shells, the next a heaven of rejoicing-was so sudden it seemed unbelievable.

Ten days' stay at Sommauthe, Beaumont and La Besace for Regimental Headquarters and the Second and Third Battalions-and the forward elements rejoined the First Battalion at Mareq. There, in the ruined village that but recently had been the scene of fierce fighting, the regiment marked time, practiced on the rifle range nearby and stood its first Saturday Inspection since going into action. The regiment awoke with a start to the fact that war was over, and drill had come to take its place. To veterans, this seemed strange.

Thanksgiving was celebrated here, on a splendid dinner of corned willie and jam, while six or eight mess sergeants fretted and fumed on a stalled truck full of good eats and dainties somewhere on the road between Bar-le-Duc: and Marcq. The dainties were to have been the mainstay of the dinner. The afternoon of Thanksgiving Day the mayors of the twin villages of Marcq and St. Juvin, for which the Americans had paid a heavy price a few weeks before, arrived to make a reconnaissance to find out whether the village was still suitable for habitation. Their population was scattered through France, but most of it was collected at Paris, where it had fled in the early war days.

These two dignitaries were quickly included in the regimental Thanksgiving celebration in the public square of Marcq. The Mayor of Mareq, a little weazened old man, in baggy trousers, a frock coat, and a yachting cap, summoned enough courage to make a neat little speech, but the Mayor of St. Juvin, tall, angular, and brawny, could only stand on the platform and twiddle his fur cap furtively in one hand, while with the other he fumbled at the buttons of his leather hunting jacket. Perhaps he was moved by the occasion-perhaps stunned by the sight of so many friendly soldiers standing on the reconquered soil of his boyhood. He was cheered lustily for all that. Then came a speech in which Colonel Winn made veiled promises, saying with a wink for which he was cheered-that "somebody at Headquarters had whispered something that sounded good."

Three days later, the regiment moved by truck through Chevieres, and around the wreck and ruin of hard-won Grand Pre, to Autry for entrainment. Gradually, ruined villages and tousled fields blended into scenes more peaceful, as the Big Mogul puffed and panted along the tracks with its long string of real American-made freight cars. Each car contained seventy-two crowded and growling men, looking for a bit of floor on which to place their feet. They were happy to be moving just the same.

December A Regimental Headquarters, and the First and Second Battalions hiked from the detraining point at Latrecey to Dancevoir, while the Third Battalion marched to Boudreville, five kilometers from the former village. The regiment found itself billeted in the Department of Haute-Marne, close to Chaumont, where G. H. Q. was located.

These little villages represented the regiment's first real intimacy with French rural life. They had come into contact with French life in their training camp at St. Medard, but not so completely as here. The streets were winding, narrow, and muddy on rainy days, which were the only kind prevalent, but. the houses, unlike those of the battlefield, had four walls and roof intact, with a picturesqueness that is not found in the more modern American villages. The little river Aube flowed through the valley, and tiny washhouses on its banks gave promise of washerwomen and clean clothing once more. Ducks and geese waddled about, and piebald cows pattered down the street to the watering place by the river. Fresh from war, these were cheerful sights for tired men.

Everywhere in the village the American was hailed as a "bon soldat," and with his diluted conversational supply of half a dozen French words, the 306th Artilleryman was soon to be seen sitting before every village fireplace "chauffing" himself and recounting with the aid of arms, legs, poker, or anything handy, his battle exploits. These tales never failed of being stamped with the mark of approval "bon" by the French family. Fireplaces adorned with pretty daughters were especially desirable. Several estaminets-the little wine shops of France-put on their holiday fronts and prepared for an influx of francs. Many were the savory dinners cooked up for hungry soldiers by the excellent French housewives. "American soldats tous gourmands" they said of the ever eating artilleryman. Then, too, there were sly oglings between John Gunner and little Jeanne, Marie, and Rosemarie. It was here that the regimental interpreter took unto himself a buxom wife, after an argument with " M. Le Maire, " who objected strenuously to the reduction of the village population by bad bold men who carried away the demoiselles of his best families.

The village of Dancevoir, too, boasts of a chateau, a quaint place by the river, inhabited by a sure -enough count who regaled the officers with the best from his cellars, and took them on boar-hunting expeditions. He was often to be seen, strolling about the village streets in wooden shoes, a hunting jacket, and a yachting cap. He was a tall, gaunt figure, with fierce mustaches. As country counts go, he was most democratic, and not averse to eating buns at a battery kitchen.

The officers and men, upon arriving amid these scenes of rural quiet, were a bit proud of the regiment's record at the front, and felt that as artillerymen and soldiers they had made good. They were now promptly and firmly convinced, that as soldiers they knew nothing about anything. It appeared that the Number One men at the guns, who for months past had been hurling high-explosive shells at Jerry, had been pulling the lanyard with the wrong finger! The gunners and cannoneers, veterans every one of them had forgotten to go by the book. Although it was admitted that in an advance the regiment had never allowed an obstacle to prevent its marching well up with the foremost, it was now pointed out that the regiment really knew nothing of regulation marching. All this must be learned by hours of concentrated practice, in mud, sometimes in snow, and always in drizzle. Inspections were frequent and strict. Guards were placed at the public wells to see that no one drank the unhallowed unchlorinated water upon which the villagers grew fat and healthy and red cheeked. A sort of gypsy bath was rigged up by the river, with hot and cold water,-just those two kinds, there was no "in between." The cold water was administered by the sergeant in charge of the bath, who took more than gleeful delight in giving his favorite officer the icy pailful.

Some of the men were detailed to work on roads and streets, raking off the mud that the rain had formed. When the regiment pulled out of the village it was said that the street levels were several feet lower than they had been on its arrival!

Evenings were the bright spots in existence in the Haute-Marne. The Regimental Stock Company, then formed, regaled the men with shows of its own conception, and so good were they, that the Stock Company was allowed to travel over the entire Divisional Area of forty or more villages to present them. " Movies," entertainments, and athletic activities took place each night at the Y. M. C. A. A commissary was established in town by Lieutenant Vollmer, and for a time the regiment lived in a luxury of jam, cigars, and cigarettes. But Lieutenant Vollmer was called to work for the Peace Commission and locked up his thriving business. Thereafter the sardine profits of Madame Zaza, of the village Epicerie, again increased.

Then came Christmas Day. "Home by Christmas " had been the enthusiastic battle cry from the first day of action. And here was the regiment, many miles from the land of toy departments and Santa Clauses with red-brick chimneys, in a little village where they call the old saint " Pere-Noel. " But Pere-Noel; was good to us, and although we did not hang our sox-" four pairs, regulation issue "-on the mantel, we had the finest dinner that was ever eaten in any army. Roast suckling pig, mashed potatoes, gravy, green peas, cauliflower, coffee, cocoa, punch, pie, jam, crackers, crullers, cigars, cigarettes, and chocolate-went the way of the glutton in sa-vory array. It was a dinner that would have made any homeboard groan, but it was not home. Christmas night it snowed, and the next morning the muddy streets and the hills and valleys were covered with a clean white blanket that transformed everything magically.

Rumors flitted through billet and barrack as always. Dates of homegoing were ventured, and heavy bets were placed on paydays-yet always, the rumored date would come-and pass.

While at Camp Upton, the War Department had given the regiment to believe that it was to be motorized. We sometimes rather wished the War Department would prove it while at the front, where no amount of "Allez!" could sometimes convince the horses that the artillery was a mobile and not a stationary unit. And now they did prove it. The S. 0. S. was going home, and had a good number of automobiles and tractors that might be spared us. Unfortunately the autos were delivered by way of Chateauvillain, and with the exception of one flivver " for the Supply Company, they were all borrowed " by Division Headquarters. But the tractors were smuggled in by railroad, and it was a proud day when the great camouflaged caterpillar power engines came grinding and rattling down the streets to their parks. But pride was short-lived, for in a few days nearly every one had been borrowed by sister regiments in neighboring towns. They returned to us in January just in time to be cleaned and repaired and turned in to the Ordnance Department! But we had been motorized. Our guns soon followed, and a final tribute was paid to the Regiment when the inspector from G. H. Q. declared our mat6riel to be without exception in the most perfect condition of any he had seen in twenty years experience.

Toward the end of December the many teasing rumors took definite shape. By January, moving was an assured fact, and the order arrived to entrain February 7th for Le Mans, the distributing center for embarkation points. Before the great day of departure came, we had been stripped of everything except uniforms and packs. And when the final policing had been completed, the last can buried, the last strip of paper covered, and we were plodding up the hill and out of the town forever, we looked back at the gray village, with its stone walls and muddy streets; its bareheaded children and red cheeked old women and men-and felt that in spite of restlesness and homesickness; in spite of drill and fatigue, the Haute-Marne had been not half bad. The villagers who thought us such "bons soldats" and who had so hospitably received us into their homes, waved a sorrowful good-by-and in the overseas cap of John Gunner flirted the tokens of little Jeanne, Marie, and Rosemarie.

ALLEN LEFFERTS,
First Lieutenant, 306th F. A.
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