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14. Again on the Move


A STORY
of
THE 305th MACHINE GUN BATTALION
77th DIVISION
A.E.F.
By

HENRY W. SMITH
Chapter 14
Again on the Move


CHAPTER XIV
AGAIN ON THE MOVE

0UR STAY at this point was very short for, as we have said, we had to hurry on to the rest camp near Paris. A short hike from the Cohan Woods, if that is the correct name, brought us to waiting motor lorries and all night we rumbled along over those French highways on another comfortless ride. This terminated at a town the name of which I never knew but one of the D Company men mentioned it as Bourtnenville and further states that we arrived there on the 17th of September.

I do not know what took place with the other companies of the Battalion but Lieut. Gorham, at the time in command of C Company, halted the outfit on the road and warned the men to keep out of estaminets until they could be inspected. We felt that this was a good smart piece of work on the part of Lieut. Gorham to enable the officers to make sure of their supply first. They probably got tired of having the enlisted personnel guzzle up all the available liquid refreshments before they could get around to them. No doubt, the officers were sometimes out of luck as there were certainly more enlisted palates to be wet down than there were commissioned palates. During our ride to this town there came over us a realization that Dame Rumor had played us a low down trick and hopes of the rest camp near Paris faded as we could see that what we had really been doing was paralleling the front line. We could see the flashes of the guns in the lines against the night sky.

One often wondered what other divisions of the Army were doing but there was no opportunity to find out and we were too busy with our own troubles.

In the course of a day or so or, more accurately, around the eighteenth or nineteenth of September, we moved out of Bourtnen-Ville or Bourswa or whatever the name was but the movement was veiled in the utmost secrecy. The only thing we were sure of was that we were not going anywhere near Paris. When we were about all set to start, Novak, of C Company, was nowhere to be found and, naturally, we had suspicions that he had gone over the hill. That, however, was uncharitable as Novak later proved himself a good, steady soldier who could not be stampeded. He was found fast asleep under a wagon when a Frenchman started to back it out. It was just a case of too much vodka. With an embarrassed grin he pulled on his pack and we were off. What lay ahead for us? No rest for the weary-we were heading back to the lines again for another strike at the enemy but what part of the line? Not that it made much difference, it was a rotten game at best. Another all-night hike and that steady tramp of hob-nails on those hard, white roads. That clanking of harness chains, the clump of horses hoofs and the rumble of the transport following on. How it all comes back, even now, years after.

At last the column was halted at the end of a long, steady grade and we were again in a dense woods. Flynn, of C Company, reeled in his tracks and went out cold. However, after some good, solid sleep, he was himself again; as good as new. French troops had occupied the area and had left the ground in such an unsanitary condition that it was a precarious job picking out sufficient space to spread blankets. Those French soldiers should have had Major Peake for a commanding officer.

During a brief stay at this point various members of the Battalion went further forward on inspection tours and, before long, the entire outfit moved forward. Presently we were passing the ruins of that church at La Chalade that stands out in the memories of all 77th Division men. On we went with dense woodland on every hand and it was not long before we were going down, down, down into dug-outs deeper than anything we had seen before. The town of St. Menenhold, we heard, was a few miles away. In the light of the next day we gazed upon the impenetrable forest all around us. We learned that this was the famed Argonne Forest and that we were in the support lines.

It may have been the support or any other place but at the moment it was just a quiet and peaceful forest scene. There did not appear to be any wild life to relieve that dead silence. Running in all directions were those deep ravines with their densely wooded slopes, which were to prove so trying later. During the daytime, in the sunlight, this forest land was a pleasant picture but at nightfall when the shadows deepened and the surrounding country became a black mass, one's imagination would certainly play tricks.

There were those, of course, who knew what this was all about but to the average man in the ranks it was indeed a mystery. Probably a move to put the 77th in the woods out of the way, there to be forgotten but what about that artillery that was being brought up and placed almost hub to hub? Certainly that was not being placed in dead storage. No, when the time arrived for those guns to speak, they would speak in no uncertain terms, as we of the 305th Machine Gun Battalion well remember.

This had been a quiet sector for a long time and we could not help but wonder what we were to be called upon to do. No army had fought through this forest and, if that is what we were to do, how in Heaven's name could we get through that mass of entangled underbrush and trees and at the same time clear that forest of the enemy concealed there. Well, THEY DIDN'T THINK WE'D DO IT BUT WE DID.
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