The Reading Militia in the Great War

Part I - The Career of Company I

Later known as Company D, 150th Machine Gun Battalion, Forty-second Division, American Expeditionary Force

Chapter I - Departure and Embarkation

Company I, at the time it was called into service in the war against the Germans, numbered one hundred and eighty-five men and six officers. Of the Berks boys, one hundred and three were from the City of Reading and nineteen from the County. A squad of twelve privates from the Tenth Pennsylvania Infantry was assigned to the Company. The average age of the Company was twenty-one years. All wars have required the services of youthful soldiers. As this war surpassed all others in stress and fiery acuteness, it peculiarly required the services of young athletic men. It was no raw, untrained body that assembled that hot Sunday morning at the Armory in Reading. The months of service on the Mexican border had trained the men, and given them the poise and self-reliance of the trained soldier. The intelligence of the officers, commissioned and uncommissioned, had been sharpened by the practice of actual warfare, albeit of the guerilla variety.

The call for mobilization came at nine o'clock on the morning of July 15th, 1917. The citizens who saw the khaki-clad forms making their way to the Armory on Walnut street had a vague feeling that the war had come home to us at last. An irksome period of forty days ensued, devoted to drills, practice hikes and perfection in the training of a soldier. Those of us who met the company in line of march on the roads near Reading were impressed with the earnestness with which all maneuvers were continued. The hour of the great adventure was near at hand and the boys were ready to confront it fearlessly and steadfastly.

On the 18th of August, an order was received transferring Captain Charles G. Miller, who had led the Company throughout its Border Campaign, to Company A, and transferring Captain Edward V. Kestner, of Company A, to Company I. The two lieutenants were also transferred to other companies and their place taken by Lieutenant Victor Garman of Company H, Fourth Pennsylvania Infantry, and Lieutenant David N. Trapnell of Company K, Fourth Pennsylvania Infantry. Second Lieutenant Glenn H. Ross of the Sixteenth Infantry and Second Lieutenant J.B. McCall of Company B, Tenth Regiment, were also assigned to the Company. First Lieutenant Fred Arsenau, from Wisconsin, joined the detachment at Camp Mills. The Company itself was formally transferred to the One Hundred and Forty-ninth Divisional Machine Gun Battalion. It was realized that these changes meant that the men would probably train abroad and that the day of embarkation must be near. On August 23d, it was announced that they would move to Camp Mills on Long Island.

At three o'clock on August 25th, the Company moved out of its Armory and entrained for Camp Mills. The fact that it had been chosen for a machine gun detachment and that it had been selected for early departure overseas, made the leave-taking a particularly impressive one. The departing Company was escorted to the station by various civic detachments, but without music, and in a manner befitting the solemnity of the moment.

It was realized by all that from this body would probably come the first sacrifices which Berks County was to offer in a great cause. Men who later served abroad and grew callous to the stress of actual conflict have been heard to say that their most lasting impression in the Great War was the sight of that column of white-faced boys marching out to the great empty station, ascending the hill down which so many of them were never to return.

The stress of the all-night journey bore hardly on the boys who were naturally under the strain of leave-taking, coupled with that of uncertainty. All of the Company were glad when the signal to detrain was given at eight o'clock in the morning of August 26th, at the Long Island rendezvous.

About two miles from the beautiful estates of Garden City there has arisen, in the last three years, a collection of ugly wooden barracks, stores and dining halls, reached by muddy company streets and dominated by a huge water tower. This is Camp Mills, famous as the pre-embarkation point of so many units of the American Expeditionary Force. Company I pitched its tents and made itself as comfortable as possible for what was to be a seven weeks' sojourn. The irksome hours of camp life were employed in bettering the men in their soldierly exercises. They seldom left camp except for stereotyped hikes on the flat Long Island roads. Weariness bore hard on the boys. It was very difficult to keep them within the bounds of discipline. It was no wonder that the A.W.0.L. (absent without leave) increased steadily. Some of the truants even found their way as far as Reading and had to be brought back through the ministrations of the Provost Guard.

It was at Camp Mills that the boys had their first experiences with the great welfare bodies, which were to contribute so much to the comfort of their life overseas. The American civil populace was aroused to an unprecedented pitch of activity. Not only did the great organized bodies, such as the Red Cross, the Y.M.C.A. and the Knights of Columbus, cater to their comforts, but the families in the neighboring towns took turns in entertaining the boys at their homes and in endeavoring to alleviate the inevitable homesickness.

No place is so prolific of rumors as an army camp. The date of sailing was announced at least twenty times before it actually came. At last, on October 18th, the welcome order to entrain was given and the Company left Garden City for Hoboken, where they embarked at half past six of a crisp fall evening upon the transport "President Grant."

The "President Grant" was a converted German liner, which formerly plied between Boston and Hamburg. It was a comfortable ship enough but very much overcrowded. Indeed, this was the condition that obtained on all transports which left American shores at that time. She carried on this particular voyage sixty-five hundred soldiers and a crew of fifteen hundred men.

To the millions of American youths who made the fateful crossing in 1917 and 1918, the trans-Atlantic passage is scarcely a pleasant memory. To those, who, like the writer, have made the trip under the stress of war conditions and in an overcrowded transport, it evokes memories of the horrors of the middle passage in the slave ships of other days. The horrible sickening odor that met one upon descending into the fetid, poorly lighted hold, will never be forgotten. Conditions on the "President Grant" were probably better than the average and yet they were bad enough. The men were fed twice a day, at eight in the morning and at two in the afternoon. The food, appears to have been deficient both in quantity and in quality. The sanitary conditions were indescribably bad. Discipline in the use of the latrines seems to have been wanting. Stout Sergeant Smith, whose diary we shall often have occasion to quote in the pages which shall follow, remarks naively, "It seems more like a lunatic asylum than a transport carrying United States troops."

Nor was the voyage to be an uneventful one. On the third day came a call for volunteers to work as stokers and firemen. To the credit of the Reading Company, be it recorded that fourteen of the boys, in all their misery and nausea, volunteered for this gruelling task. The ship lagged, however, and it soon became apparent that something was wrong. The voyage was finally abandoned on the evening of the third day.

"It was sure a disappointed bunch," says Sergeant Smith, "that watched the remainder of the fleet, which consisted of seven transports and their convoy, gradually disappear into the still night and we returned a failure."

After a rough tempestuous home voyage the boat load of heart-sick boys passed once more under the Statue of Liberty and docked at Hoboken on October 28th. Company A, as the Reading contingent was now designated, were assigned to quarters at Fort Totten on Long Island.

Now ensued a trying three weeks for the disappointed soldiers. Such letters, written during this period, as the writer has been able to peruse, testify to the low state to which their morale had fallen. One of them frankly writes, "Want of money is the only reason that we are still here." The weather was indescribably rainy and bad, and the men were assigned nine tents for the entire Company. Finally at three o'clock of a bitterly cold morning, on November 14th, 1918, the Company once more embarked on the British transport "Cedric."

Conditions were infinitely better on the "Cedric" than they had been on the "President Grant." The men had the privilege of the deck and enjoyed a pleasant run to Halifax, which they left on November 19th.

The second convoy was composed of four ships with a protecting flotilla of torpedo boats. The voyage was uneventful until November 28th, when the bare rainy headlands of the Irish coast were descried dead ahead. Here there was plenty of excitement as a submarine endeavored to attack the convoy. The ships immediately scattered as per preconcerted arrangement and the "Cedric" raced under forced draft into Belfast Harbor. They left there at one o'clock of the next day and reached Liverpool on the morning of December 1st. Two days' rations were issued to the men, who disembarked at eight o'clock. It was a solemn moment when the company first set foot on foreign soil. Each soldier had a feeling that the grim adventure had commenced in earnest.

Anyone who passed a trainload of American troops in England or France will remember the experience with interest. The men were crowded sixteen to a compartment in third-class carriages. They must sit upright as there was no room to lie down. The windows were open, to be sure, and these were always lined with the heads of excited doughboys singing, gesticulating and shouting, "We are on our way" or "Where do we go from here?" The equipment was carried in box cars behind. The officers rode in coaches ahead and were but little better off than the men. When the weather was fine, a two or three day trip was barely tolerable, but in extreme cold or extreme heat, the privations were severe. There were no toilets in the troop carriages and the men must watch their opportunity as best they might when the train stopped.

The Reading boys entrained almost immediately for the great camp at Winchester in Hampshire. At Paddington there was a stop and many a grateful letter brought its testimonial to Reading mothers of the coffee and food served by the English Red Cross women. Winchester was reached at ten o'clock in the evening. The city, in common with all the South English towns, was kept in complete darkness because of the air raids. The men stumbled about in the darkness, loaded their baggage as best they could and marched through the dark narrow streets to their destination. This proved to be an English rest camp, where they were quartered in wooden barracks, thirty men to a hut. Each hut was equipped with a stove, but as mere was no fuel it was an asset of doubtful value. There was no bed available and one of the Corporals plaintively remarked, "We damn near froze." Their stay at Winchester was uneventful except for hikes on the chalk downs and sightseeing tours of the noble cathedral.

On December 11th, the Company aroused in the darkness, at four o'clock, and entrained for the great embarkation port of Southhampton. They embarked from the same wharf which had been used by the gallant First Expeditionary Force in the fateful days of August, 1914. Their ship was the "Prince George" and was American-owned before the war.

Slipping down the Solent, they passed the historic Isle of Wight. No navigation lights were shown and the location of Southhampton was only to be detected by the rays of the giant search lights continually circling in the heavens for raiding Zeppelins. Further up, between Dover and Calais, the strait was guarded by a chain of torpedo boat destroyers. In the broad channel, however, where the Reading boys crossed, there was no protection save the darkness and the convoy.

They arrived at Havre and first set foot on French soil on the morning of December 12th. The lads were marched out two miles to an English camp where for the first time since their introduction into the services, they were given the privileges of the wet canteen, English ale and French wines. Small wonder that after the perils and privations of the voyage some of the boys succumbed to this unwonted temptation.

On December 13th, at 3:30 in the morning, the Company entrained for their first journey upon French soil. It was bitterly cold and all the windows in the cars were broken. Reading ingenuity, however, devised a covering with burlap and tacks. The journey was interesting enough and the boys amused themselves by calling in Pennsylvania Dutch to the German prisoners whom they passed, working upon the roadbed. When noon came, however, and they had eaten nothing since four o'clock of the preceding afternoon, the troops became impatient and somewhat faint. At last, at 12:30, afternoon, they stopped on a siding and rations of corn, tomatoes, jam and "hard-tack" were served to them.

In their two days' journey they had crossed the breadth of France and reached the historic province of Lorraine, the field of so many wars of other times and whose soil was once more to be drenched, and with American blood. In their migration they passed the little city of Chaumont, ancient capital of this martial province. Had they noted, they might have seen, not far from the track, the gray walls of an old French cavalry barracks. In the courtyard waved an American flag and all the windows glowed ruddily in the twilight of that brief December day. It was a veritable hive of industry, for this was the general headquarters of the American armies, the celebrated and mysterious G.H.Q. of official records. Hard by at a stucco villa, the sentry paced before the residence of the Commander-in-Chief.

At six o'clock in the morning of December 15th the weary boys arrived at La Franche, detrained, and hiked to Liffol-le-Petit, where they were billeted in stables and slept on piles of straw on the floors. This was the first experience of the Reading boys in the French rural villages which they were afterwards to know so well. It is both amusing and interesting, in reading the letters written at this time, to note the comments of the lads. All of them, of course, make comparisons between living conditions in France and at home. All of them are struck by the circumstance that in France, house, stable, pig-sty and chicken-house are under the same roof and in communication with one another. The invariable and unsavory manure heap before each door is also noted. It was the holiday season and amidst the mud and monotony all thoughts were of the folks at home and of the Christmas season there. The field Y.M.C.A. did its part to make their stay tolerable and arranged a Christmas entertainment to which the Reading boys contributed.

On the morning of the great holiday, Sergeant Smith was aroused by the clanging of church bells and stepped out of his cantonment to find the ground covered with snow. "Gee, but I felt home-sick," is his plaintive note. It was a tragic period for the heart-sick boys.

On the next day the Company arose at five o'clock and were aware that some immediate change was in prospect. Emergency rations were served and they started on what was to be a three-day hike through a steady downfall of snow. The hob-nail shoes bore hardly on the boys and by noon many of them were incapacitated. After a fourteen-mile journey through the slush they arrived at Millaris.

Captain Kestner, who had been tireless in his labors for the comfort of the men, declares that this two-day hike over the heavy Lorraine roads was the most trying experience which the Company had in France, excepting only the actual warfare in the trenches. The real reason for the peremptory journey, as the Captain understands it, was intelligence that the Boche had prepared a swift and gigantic stroke from their base at Metz. It was deemed advisable to move all the untrained troops further back from the lines. At 6:30 the next morning, the travel-spent boys could scarcely be routed from the attics and stables where they had spent the night. Their shoes were as stiff and hard as rocks; their feet were in a pitiable condition and nearly all of them were suffering from the exposure. They left the village at eight o'clock and were soon in the midst of a blinding snow storm. Man after man dropped by the wayside, but they struggled on for fourteen miles and reached the village of Thivet in the middle of the afternoon. The boys went to their billets and were able to procure pails of hot water in which to wash their feet. The next day the Company completed the short lap of six miles to Chanoy, "A dreary and desolate burg," as one of the lads describes it, where the soldiers were billeted in the inevitable stables and spent four dreary days. Hard labor was the order of the hour. "It surely is amusing," writes Sergeant Smith, "to see officers doing an enlisted man's work."

On the third day of the new year, Captain Kestner, Lieutenant Ross, Sergeants Moore, Ludwig and Boyd were sent to the school for machine gun training at Gondrecourt. Lieutenant Garman was left in charge of the Company. At this time, also, they received their first pay in foreign money. The boys marveled at the size of the one hundred franc notes and compared them humorously to wall paper. A debauch of chocolate, eggs, apples and all sweet meats procurable in the village followed. There, too, the boys were first given their steel helmets.

The Company was now put under French instructors and given daily training in the routine of machine gun warfare. The weapon, which the boys were to use throughout the war, was the French Hotchkiss gun, capable of firing three hundred and fifty shots to the minute. The officers pronounced the gun an excellent one and cite the fact that in all the spirited fighting which the Company underwent, the guns never once jammed. The boys were in full war regalia and were given daily drills in the practice trenches which had been dug to accustom them to the actual warfare which they were soon to encounter. The difficulty in understanding their instructors was at first a drawback, but the natural aptitude of the American lads, coupled with the zeal and good humor of the French sous-officers soon overcame this obstacle. Apparently our veterans of the Mexican War had little to learn from the army who had been four years in the trenches of Europe. "Nothing gained" is the plaintive observation of one of the Corporals. "We had all the dope they gave us long ago."

On January 20th, Sergeant Jarrette and Privates Reifsnyder, Kraemer, Burkey and Dougherty were sent to the school at Branchmont for a week's advance instructions in machine gun tactics.

On January 27th, at eight in the morning, the Company assembled in heavy marching order for a long hike to a new location. Their march took them through the old Roman town of Langres. The boys were delighted with the high walls and the moats. Some of them were given an opportunity to visit the citadel perched on its rocky eyrie. From here they could observe the snow cloud on the southeast, which marked the summit of Mont Blanc. To the northwest, a blue haze on the horizon, lay the Alsatian Hills in Germany. It was their first glimpse of the land against which they had come to fight and from which so many of them were never to return.

Tired and spent from their long march under the heavy packs, the men arrived at Bourg and were again billeted in barns.

The time until February 8th was taken up in severe exercise and drill in the machine gun emplacements.

"No more holidays in the Army," writes Sergeant Smith, "Sundays are to be devoted to drills in sanitation."

On February 9th the Company engaged in a particularly irksome three-day maneuver. There was a lack of mules, so that the boys had to pull the carts themselves and were thoroughly worn out by the end of the day. On their return from the maneuver they were cheered and delighted by the reappearance of Captain Kestner and his detachment, who returned from the school at Gondrecourt. The Captain gave the boys their first instructions in the use of the English gas masks, which were dealt out to them at this time.

On February 12th, while the Company were at practice on the ranges, Private Reynolds was accidently struck by the ricochet of a chance bullet. He was removed to the Base Hospital at Langres and there, next day, he died; the first of the Reading boys to make the supreme sacrifice in his country's cause.

At this camp the boys were perfected in the use of hand grenades, a hazardous employment which seemed, however, to appeal to their adventurous spirits.

"Some sport," wrote one of the boys to his mother at home, "would like to feed the Boche about a ton or more."

Chapter II - The Baccarat Sector

It was now apparent to the dullest mind that the hour of the great trial could not be far distant. All the grim panoply of modern warfare, gas masks, steel helmets and hand grenades had been issued and the men were trained as well as troops could be trained, outside of the shock of actual warfare.

It may be well, at this time, in order to understand the movements of the Company towards the front, to undertake a short resume of the general operations in which the Company formed a small but necessary link.

When it became apparent to the Allied High Command that the American troops were to appear in France in much greater numbers and at a far earlier period than our friends had supposed, or, the foe had expected, the selection of their place in the line became a problem of vital importance. Certain important elements in the English and French General Staff were against an independent American army, holding that it would be better to incorporate the American troops as reserves with the French and English armies as they existed. General Pershing steadily opposed this proposed policy. With an acute farsightedness, which events have since justified, he contended that the American army must and would fight as a unit. Happily, for the future of Democracy he won his point. It was then determined that the existing operations and arrangements would be least disturbed if the Americans took their place in the right of the Allied line. The American front formed a liason with the French, at a point a few kilometers west of Toul, and at this time extended to the east of Luneville, where it joined the Eighth French Army under General Gerard.

This arrangement of the First American Sector enabled our troops to develop their great bases of Bordeaux, Brest and St. Nazaire, and to perfect their lines of communication directly through Touraine and Burgundy without interfering with the lines of communication of either the French or English. The great depots, store houses and training camps which were to feed the mighty army which we eventually put on the front, were scattered along these lines of communication.

The brunt of the first fighting fell upon four sorely tried divisions, the First, Second, Twenty-sixth and the Forty-second. The Reading Company, as has been stated, belonged to the Forty-second Division, commanded by Major General Charles T. Menoher. It had not been expected that the Americans would engage so early in such large numbers. However, when the Germans broke through between Soissons and Noyon, in their frantic drive in March, 1918, they crumpled Gough and the Fifth English Army like an old glove and threatened Paris itself. It was well for the Allied Cause that the Americans were there, brave, devoted and well-trained, to act as reserves for the harrassed French and English. Each of the four divisions alluded to had a normal strength of about twenty-six thousand men, but usually mustered far below that number. Each had a nucleus of regular troops with which were incorporated certain elements of militia, such as the Company whose fortunes we now follow.

It was on February 20th, at 2:15, of a bitterly cold morning, that the Company started for the lines. They hiked to Langres, where they entrained in box cars at 5:30 in the morning. The men were nearly frozen. With the improvidence of youth, they started a fire on the floor of one of the cars. It was soon put out, because, as one of the boys naively explains, "We couldn't stand the smoke." In all their distress and anxiety of mind, they found time for the inevitable crap game. This, however, had a tragical ending when Sergeant Ludwig's twenty franc note flew out of the door and vanished down the track. That day they rolled slowly to the north, to the sound of heavy cannonading, and at five o'clock in the morning of February 21st they arrived at the little town of Moyen and began their hike up to the lines. All day they passed through a ravaged countryside, from which the civil population had long since fled. The villages were in ruins and occupied only by troops who were waiting to go up into the trenches. The roads were in frightful shape from the constant passing and repassing of artillery and transport. The Company finally arrived at the half-demolished town of Giriviller, where they found some French troops, also the One Hundred and Forty-ninth, One Hundred and Fiftieth and One Hundred and Fifty-first Machine Gun Battalions, all in a state of hopeless confusion.

The Company rested over Washington's Birthday and February 24th, and left on the morning of February 25th for what was to be an eighteen-mile hike to the village of Benamenil. This latter place was only five kilometers from the trenches. Aeroplanes, friendly and hostile, hovered constantly overhead. The roar of the artillery was continuous and deafening. At night the glow of the north horizon reminded the boys of the blast furnaces in their native county. Ambulances were constantly passing with their pitiful loads. Fearless youth, however, grows callous to the most disturbing conditions. In the midst of all this clamor and misery, the most important entry which Sergeant Smith can conceive of for the diary, is that he has a real white bed spread and that Sergeant Gring is enjoying a cot. These comforts, however, were to be short-lived. The boys were forbidden to congregate in groups, as these might be marked by the watchful Boche, who hovered constantly overhead. They stood about through the whole of the nerve-racking day and watched the high explosives bursting about them. The Captain went up to the front line upon an inspection trip. In the afternoon they saw their first aeroplane battle.

On February 27th, Captain Kestner, who had so well and devotedly led the Company from its departure from Reading, was relieved of command and Lieutenant Joseph W. Brooks was appointed as Company Commander. Lieutenant Brooks was a New Yorker and a graduate of Williams College. He had been a notable football player and was well qualified to lead men, as the event will show. He was twenty-seven years of age and came from the One Hundred and Fiftieth Machine Gun Battalion. The officer directly over him, at that time, was Major William Hall.

That afternoon the officers, platoon sergeants and leaders went up to the second line trenches and at six o'clock the first platoon started after them, the others following in ten-minute intervals. It was an intensely dark and dreary night, with a steady downpour of rain. The Company remained in the support trenches for three hours and then returned to their billets.

On March 1st, Lieutenants Garman, Trapnell, MacKall and Reidnor were relieved of command and transferred to other units. They were succeeded by Lieutenants Hamlin, Shelledy and Rowse.

On March 2d came the Company's real baptism of fire. They left Benamenil at nine o'clock and had scarcely reached the third line trenches when the wary Boche opened up a lively barrage fire, followed by a gas attack. The Berks boys remained in the trenches for ten eventful days, from March 3d to March 12th inclusive. They grew accustomed to life in the trenches and experienced the usual vicissitudes of barrage, both light and heavy, gas attacks and alarm of actual conflict. They were supported by the One Hundred and Forty-ninth Artillery and also by a French Battery. On the second day, however, the Boche got the range of the American guns and scored two direct hits upon the One Hundred and Forty-ninth Artillery with ghastly results. The Germans were employing twelve-inch shells, which exploded with terrific noise, leaving a hole six feet across. Lieutenant Arseneau and Sergeant Smith made an exciting trip back to the base for supplies, walking hand in hand with death the entire distance.

On March 6th Private Sharp was wounded by a bursting shell and Bugler Folk was hit on the left hand. Private Sharp had a message for the Company Commander. He devotedly refused any dressing for the wound until he had delivered his message. The casualties were soon forgotten in the joyful advent of eleven bags of Reading mail.

On March 8th, at 10:30 in the morning, Private Kotouche was struck and instantly killed by a fragment of a bursting shell. The bombardment was continuous and appalling. The Germans were masters of the air and directed the fire of their own artillery without any apparent disturbance. The One Hundred and Forty-ninth Artillery, maddened by the losses of their comrades, were firing at the rate of twelve shots per minute and the French were not far behind them. In the midst of this inferno came the news from the right sector of the Reading line that Sergeant Ludwig and Corporal Gehring had been killed. No member of the Company but had a hair-breadth escape during this appalling period. Each wondered whose turn would come next. The old Berks County pluck asserted itself and the boys fired until their machine gun barrels were red-hot. At last, when it seemed that flesh and blood could stand the strain no longer, the Company was relieved and ordered back to Benamenil, where they assembled in the field Y.M.C.A., drank hot chocolate and greeted each other as men returned from the grave.

The next day they retraced their steps to Moyen, where the Company was inspected and reformed. They remained here en repos until March 20th, when they again returned to Giriviller. It was at this place, on March 26th, that the Company was formally transferred from Company A, One Hundred and Forty-ninth Machine Gun Battalion, to Company D, One Hundred and Fiftieth Machine Gun Battalion. The Company was then moved to the ruined village of Domptail and the next day passed through the populous town of Baccarat. Here, in contrast to the utter ruin in the villages in which they had lately been quartered, there was some measure of civilian life. The shops were open and men and women crowded about the boys and made them welcome.

The Company spent a muddy Easter at the French Cantonment at Voire and left for Reherry early next morning, where the second platoon, under command of Lieutenant Shelledy, went into the second line trenches. The rest of the Company remained in support for ten days, where they were instructed in what the French called Defense contre Avion, or anti-aircraft defense. They installed two anti-aircraft guns and watched with interest the emplacement of a huge nine-inch naval monster, the first of the gigantic American guns, which were later to blaze a way to Sedan and victory.

On April 11th, Lieutenant Brooks and the platoon leaders went upon a reconnaissance to the front line trenches, preparatory to relieving the One Hundred and Sixty-sixth Machine Gun Company. That evening the entire Company hiked up to Ancerviller, directly on the front, where they were to remain for ten days. All the letters which the writer has been able to peruse complain of the filthy conditions in which the trenches were left by their predecessors and of the utter waste which seemed to have obtained in their kitchen. The French Artillery, which was in support, threw over a continuous and lively barrage. The boys were lulled to sleep by the whistling of the shells, while the Germans maintained a sulky silence. The men were quartered as comfortably as possible in the damp, dark cellars and debris of what had once been a smiling village. Meals were served twice a day. Latrines were dug after the army regulation. The usual watch observed was two hours on and four hours in repose. The officers placed their machine guns to best advantage and then all settled down to the monotony of trench life and watched the aerial battles which went on overhead. They cheered towards evening when a German plane came floating down apparently, fatally struck, but in the end, the aviator righted himself and made off in the direction of the Rhine.

The tedium was broken on April 14th by the appearance of a German scout who was discovered and fired upon at a distance of only a few hundred feet and who returned the fire, shooting through the stock of Corporal Jarrette's machine gun. On the same day, Acting Sergeant Hostetter was wounded and sent to the Base Hospital at Baccarat. Detachments of the men went out into "No-Man's Land" for nightly reconnaissances in the hope of potting the Boche sharpshooters. They saw several, but were unable to reach them. The first section of the second platoon was located a little to the right of the main body in a grove. It was a critical position enough, being bombed all day and gassed at night, but the humor of the boys was not to be denied and they dubbed the place "Carsonia Park."

On April 20th, in a light Wall of snow, the Company started to move out of the trenches and marched to Merviller. The weather had been steadily bad and the plastic Lorraine mud became more and more harrassing. The morale of the boys was at low ebb after their irksome stay in the trenches. It required all the efforts and resources of the officers to keep up the standard of discipline. The Company was now quartered in another of the ruined villages which they had come to know so well. The cellars had been converted into damp, dark dugouts, only tolerable in the reflection of how much worse the quarters had recently been. At this critical juncture the boys were cheered by the arrival of the One Hundred and Forty-ninth Field Artillery Band. The men wept for joy at the sound of American tunes.

On the 24th the Company was moved still further back to Neufmaisons, where they were billeted. The surroundings here were pleasanter than they had been for some time and the Company was cheered by the presence of a Y.M.C.A. station with a real American girl to pour the chocolate.

On the 27th Lieutenants Brooks and Hamlin took the first platoon of fifty-one men who had been ordered to Baccarat, to undergo a course of instructions in trench raiding.

On May 2d the artillery fire was of an unprecedented intensity and the Company knew that some unusual offensive was in preparation. Later in the day came the orders to have the men ready to move up to the lines that same evening. Accordingly at nine in the evening, in a steady drizzle, the Company moved over the muddy roads to the Ancerviller sector of the front, which they reached at midnight. The sky was aglow with the continual explosions of the heavy pieces. The first platoon had gone on ahead into the inferno, and the rest of the men unloaded the machine guns and made ready for whatever the fates should send them. Callous as the boys had grown, they all remarked on the violence of the barrage. The earth seemed to quiver after the discharge of the heavy railroad pieces. "They were shooting a blue streak," records the imperturbable Smith, "and they sure did raise hell." At about 5:30 in the morning the missing platoon appeared with clothing torn and smeared with blood. They were covered with mud from head to foot and only to be compared with a bunch of football players coming from a muddy field. The Reading heroes had been as far as the Boche third line trenches, had set up their machine guns there and held their position with cool daring, until the raiding party was ready to withdraw. It is worthy of note that this was the first time that a machine gun had been taken over the top by an American raiding party. Several of the raiders had been severely wounded, but there had been no mortalities. Sergeant Jarrette, who had been at the fore-front in the raid, received the congratulations of the Company Commander. As soon as the wounds had been bound up and the paraphernalia collected, the Company left the field, just as the sun was arising over the Lorraine hills, and arrived again at their barracks at 9:45, where all hands promptly went to sleep.

On May 8th came a very welcome and merited promotion to Lieutenant Brooks, who was made a Captain. He was given an ovation by the Company. The Company stayed at Neufmaisons for three weeks, until May 14th. It was a dreary period on the whole, punctuated only by drills on the rifle-range and games of baseball between the showers. All the letters written at this period bear testimony to the vileness of the weather. The excitement of the actual fighting in the trenches had subsided and the boys became again discouraged and homesick. The days were passed in the succession of cloudy skies overhead and under foot the continuous clinging of the Lorraine mud. Small wonder that the note of homesickness is the predominant one in the records of this period.

The Company moved on to Montigny, where they remained from the 14th to the 21st of May. Here, while not engaged in actual fighting, they were subject to frequent gas attacks and became proficient in the use of their masks, of the English model, which had been furnished to them. They were under continual bombardment and had grim evidence of the accuracy of the enemy's aim, when a complete hit was registered on one of their machine guns, smashing it to fragments. All their comrades who had been wounded in the trench raids were well cared for in the Base Hospital at Baccarat.

On May 14th Corporal Ludwig was promoted to a Sergeancy and Privates Delong, Fry and Behm to Corporals. The spring was now far advanced on the Lorraine hills. The beautiful verdure of the early French summer was beginning to make itself apparent. The same birds came back from the south land, which the boys were accustomed to seeing at home; the same flowers that bloomed in Berks County were beginning to be seen in this devastated land. The boys knew that their hours of respite were drawing to a close and that they must soon again take their place on the battle line.

On May 21st they turned in their extra blankets and heavy overcoats and made ready for the return trip to the trenches. It was late in the evening when they moved out from Montigny and made for their old station in the Ancerviller sector. A German aeroplane had been brought down that same afternoon and its outlines were dimly seen in "No-Man's Land," directly in front of the Reading sector.

Their first days in the trenches were uneventful, except for the periodical appearance of enemy aeroplanes. These must have located their position with more or less accuracy, for on May 26th the enemy began shelling the American position with gas shells. The day passed in the succession of gas attacks and amidst tremendous artillery fire. The whole country side, as far back as Montigny, was literally drenched with gas. The full horror of this form of attack soon became apparent. Those of the boys whose bodies were in any way moist with perspiration had their skins eaten into by the insidious gas. They lay writhing in agony and the more serious cases had to be carried to the Base Hospital. The enemy were using their heaviest pieces and dropped two one hundred and five millimeter shells within two hundred feet of the post command. It was a close call. The Alabama Militia, who held the sector to the right of the Reading boys, were less fortunate or less skillful in the use of their gas masks. They suffered sixty casualties. This frightful experience continued until five o'clock in the morning, when the firing gradually died down. Shortly afterwards the boys were puzzled to see what was apparently an American aeroplane being brought down by their own guns. It turned out to be a machine which had been captured by the Boche and sent back by them for a reconnaissance.

The long course of vigorous training which the Company had undergone now began to bear fruit. Their positions were well taken and skillfully conceived. Their guns were planted in a way which earned the commendation of the Regimental Commander.

On May 27th the Captain laconically records, "Now have sixteen guns on the line, having utilized our four reserve guns. Ready for any emergency." The emergency nearly came that same evening when the Alabama troops and the French repulsed a particularly vicious attack, coupled with a heavy barrage and gas. With the coming of the dawn, the Berks lads could count forty German dead, hanging on the barbed wire to the right of their position. All that day the Company was kept on the alert as the firing was incessant. The expected attack, however, did not materialize. Sergeant Smith, who had been sent back to Baccarat with dispatches, was caught in a gas bombardment and had an exciting time getting the gas mask upon his refractory horse.

May 30th was Memorial Day and all their thoughts went back to the happy anniversary of a year before, when they had marched out to the Charles Evans Cemetery. The contrast to their present position was marked indeed. The boys were worn and harrassed by loss of sleep, continual bombardment and the strain of watchfulness. "Will it ever end?" writes one of the lads to his sweetheart at home. "It is like a raging furnace." Many of the letters written at this period express the hope that if death comes it will be a clean hit, and that they will not suffer the tortures of their gassed companions.

On May 31st came a more than welcome relief. The Company hiked back to Reherry in a state bordering on collapse. Their respite, however, was short. The Allied line was so thinly held that seasoned troops were continually needed.

At nine o'clock on the evening of June 4th, the platoon moved out at fifteen minute intervals to the Montigny sector, where they again took up front line positions. The enemy seemed to have an intuition that the trench garrison was being changed and welcomed them with a particularly heavy barrage. Forty of the boys who were in a dug-out had a miraculous escape when a nine-inch shell struck close by. Only two of them were wounded. Our artillery retaliated the next morning by bringing down a German observation balloon with inflammable shells.

The history of the Company's career in the Lorraine trenches is almost monotonous in its unvarying experiences. The long days passed in a succession of gas attacks, alarm and heavy barrage. The harrassed Reading boys, who a year before had been on the farm or in the workshop, were now cool intrepid veterans. They realized that they held the forefront of the battle line of civilization. But for them and their comrades, the Germans would probably have attempted a mighty stroke against Dijon and again have threatened Paris from the rear.

June 10th saw the Company in its old station on the Ancerviller front. The indomitable Captain Brooks was sorely smitten with fever, but led his platoon the entire distance.

On the 14th of June the monotony was broken by the appearance of a particularly venturesome German, who recklessly flew low over the gun positions, bombarding them with his machine gun. Although pursued by a continuous fire, he made his escape. One of the boys writes, "I believe he was low enough to hit with a rock. He sure was a nervy cuss."

The fine weather abruptly ceased and the heavy rains again set in, turning the trenches into rivers of mud and adding inexpressibly to the misery of conditions. A particularly insidious gas attack on June 18th caused the Reading Company several casualties and killed nine of their mules. The devoted village of Reherry, which the boys had so lately left, received a terrible bombardment, killing seventy-three of the Forty-second Division who were quartered there.

On June 19th the enemy registered three direct hits on the stable where the Company had forty-seven head of horses and mules, causing a ghastly havoc.

On June 20th the Company were relieved by a French detachment and marveled how few men our war-worn allies were compelled to send to man the sector which they were just abandoning. The mortality among the horses and mules handicapped the transportation severely. Each man was compelled to bear a double burden. Even then it was with difficulty that they were able to drag their guns, ammunition, field kitchen and paraphernalia. The boys hiked the entire night in a heavy rain, repassing through Baccarat and arriving at Domptail early in the morning. They had covered a distance of twenty-five kilometers, a notable achievement, considering the heavy burdens which they bore.

The Company was now temporarily under the command of Lieutenant Rowse, Captain Brooks, according to the army regulations, remaining on the front twelve hours after the relief. The rain was incessant, and the boys utterly worn after their sleepless nights in the trenches. Nevertheless, they were compelled to meet another forced march of twenty-eight kilometers to Morriville. Seven of the boys collapsed and were left behind in a barn on the way. It was two o'clock in the morning when the tired soldiers marched through the narrow street of Morriville. Breakfast was served and the men dispersed to neighboring hay-lofts. They were awakened by the church bells pealing on a beautiful Sunday morning, marched to their rail-head at Chatel and entrained the same evening. Their few remaining mules were so upset by the experiences at the front that it was with the greatest difficulty that they could be forced into the cars. The soldiers sat about and waited for the train to start. Some of them visited a German prison camp in the village and talked Pennsylvania Dutch with the prisoners.

The train consisted of fifty wagons. It made its slow way across the breadth of the ancient province of Burgundy; through Nancy, Toul and Bar-le-Duc. They passed within a few kilometers of the headquarters of one of the greatest soldiers whom the city of Reading has ever furnished to a grateful country--Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett, a Berks County lad; the Commander of the First American Army, who was at this time lodged at Neufchateau on the Meuse. The Company arrived at noon on the 24th of June, at the detrainment yard at Coolus. Here they were cheered by coffee served by the American Red Cross women and detrained their equipment. After a three-hours' hike they reached the beautiful town of Togny, which delighted them with its cleanliness and picturesqueness. The next few days were devoted to a general clean-up. The Company were again almost on a peace schedule and were delighted at the indulgence accorded them after the horrors of the trenches.

Chapter III - The Champagne Front

In order to understand the maneuvers of the Reading militia company in their new field of action, it will be necessary to make a brief survey of the status of the war.

At the little city of Charleville, near the Belgian border, in a gray walled building, which had once been a convent, was housed at this time the celebrated German General Staff. Their intelligence was direct and accurate; they knew almost to a man and a gun the extent of the mighty American preparation. Whatever cheering bulletins they might send forth for home encouragement, they themselves had no illusions. They saw, early in the spring of 1918, that their U-boat warfare was ineffectual to stem the American invasion. They could calculate with scientific accuracy the hour when they must eventually succumb, unless this invasion could be checked. That was the reason for the vehement and gigantic attack in the western Marne sector in the latter days of May. It was the heroic Second American Division which saved the day and made the names of Chateau-Thierry, Bois de Belleau, Bouresches and Vaux, immortal ones in American history. Had it not been for the Fifth and Sixth Regiments of Infantry the enemy would have obtained their object, which was the great Paris-Metz highway. The courageous devotion of the Second American Division, coupled with the genius of General Degoutte, the Commander of the Sixth French Army, saved the day. But the foe, though checked, were not defeated. The number of trained American troops was pitably small and it was well known that the foe was assembling all his strength for an effort of unparalleled scope and ferocity.

It was well for the Allied Cause, that Providence had given it a leadership equal in resource and brilliancy to that of the Teutons. From the Chateau at Chantilly, which was the headquarters of the French High Command, Marshal Foch was watching the enemy with an alertness and unerring military judgment which was to stamp him as one of the greatest generals of all time. With an intuition, Napoleonic in its genius, he divined that the blow would fall to the east of Rheims, in the rolling hills of Champagne.

To guard against this menace, two American divisions were hastily withdrawn from the Baccarat sector and brought by train to Suippes. They were the Twenty-sixth Division of New England militia, led by Major General Clarence Edwards, and the hard-fighting Forty-second or Rainbow Division, of which the Reading company formed a part. In the plans and counterplans of the two great General Staffs, the company of Reading boys were as so many pawns moved to and fro upon a chess-board by an invisible hand. The hopes and aspirations and futures of wives and mothers in the mountains of Pennsylvania were dependent on the maneuvers directed by the two invisible High Commands at Charleville and Chantilly.

The peaceful hours in the cantonments at Togny were destined to be all too brief. The Company were rehearsed again in the old lesson of open warfare, which they had almost forgotten in the contracted trenches of Lorraine. These maneuvers gave rise to a flood of rumors. It became noised about in some mysterious way that the Company was to take a part in the "Big Show," in the war of divisions rather than of companies. The boys were wild to start.

On the night of June 28th, the Company, in battle array, filed out of their cantonment and soon passed through the city of Chalons sur Marne, the largest city which they had so far encountered in France. They passed swiftly through the dark narrow streets, crossed the famous river Marne and marched steadily to the northward. This march was the longest that they had made in France. By morning they had covered thirty-five kilometers and were glad to lie down in a pine wood, filled with enormous parks of heavy ammunition, cleverly camouflaged. They were at Camp Tambeau, very near to the French town of Buoy and on the famous River Vesle, which was to run red with American blood.

The Company remained here two days, when they received an order to make ready their guns, ammunition, caissons and escort wagons, to march out on the evening of July 1st. Two days' travel rations were served the men, but at the last minute a messenger arrived on motorcycle, postponing the march. The Company remained at this camp until midnight of July 3d, when they marched to Ferme de Suippes, quite close to the third line trenches. Captain Brooks rode over to the headquarters of the Third Brigade of the One Hundred and Sixty-sixth Infantry and received his orders to go up into the trenches the same night. Accordingly, at nine o'clock, the Company moved out by platoons in five minute intervals. Sergeant Jarrette commanded the Third Platoon in the absence of Lieutenants Rowse and Hamlin. The men were given orders to subsist the next day on their reserve rations of dog biscuits. By 12:30 they were settled in their position in the reserve line. The Allies, at this point, were well supplied with artillery and celebrated the Fourth of July by an almost continual barrage of seventy-five, one hundred and five and one hundred and fifty millimeter shells. The Reading soldiers had never experienced a bombardment of similar intensity. Their experience on the Lorraine front seemed tame in comparison. Each man vaguely felt that the "Big Show" had commenced at last.

The tumult continued unabated. By now the Americans had brought up some of the famous naval guns, evidence of Pennsylvania genius, and these were thundering some miles in the rear. The One Hundred and Forty-ninth and One Hundred and Fifty-first Artillery joined in the chorus. The firing at night was so continuous that the individual flashes were blended in one blinding and vivid glare. Just behind the station of the Reading boys were two powerful automobile searchlights, whose restless beams searched the air and the country side during the entire night. The boys remarked with pride that the Boche no longer had his arrogant mastery of the air. In the Baccarat sector he seemed to come and go at will. Here in the Champagne the American planes were assembled by hundreds and no hostile challenge was disregarded.

By July 6th the field kitchen had gotten up with warm coffee and bacon. It was a welcome punctuation of the biscuit diet upon which they had been existing the previous days. Lieutenant Arsenu returned from Brigade Headquarters with the belated Reading mail, nearly seven hundred welcome letters. That night the Company moved up to the second line trenches, where they were quartered in large fortified dug-outs. They learned to cleverly camouflage their stores by the use of wire netting covered with grass and foliage.

On July 11th, amidst a bombardment on the most tremendous scale of modern warfare, at three o'clock in the morning, the first and second platoons moved up to the extreme advance positions and mounted their twelve machine guns. The sons of Reading held the position of honor; the extreme test had come. It was apparent to the dullest doughboy that a major drive was in preparation. The Rainbow Division at this time held the sector between Auberive sur Suippe on the west and Perth les Hurlus on the east. The acute mind of Marshal Foch had divined almost to the kilometer where the blow was to fall. The picked American troops were selected to defend the direct road to Chalons, which with Epernay, as we now know, were the goal which the Germans expected to attain on the first day of their gigantic drive. The Forty-second Division was under the command of Major-General Charles T. Menoher and the entire First American Army was commanded by the intrepid Hunter Liggett. To the immediate right of the Reading boys was stationed a detachment of Chasseurs Alphins, the famous "Blue Devils." These made nightly raids into the German trenches and returned with grim evidence of their success.

On July 12th the Company received its last orders from the Divisional Headquarters, which were: "In the event of an attack, hold your lines at whatsoever cost and retreat under no circumstances." The Company's machine guns had been placed with the most scientific care and the officers enthusiastically declared that the field of fire was never better. The first line trenches had been abandoned, according to the plan of the French Commander-in-Chief, as it was known that the Germans had their exact range. All of the Reading machine guns excepting two were mounted in what had been the second line trenches. These two were left one hundred yards out, in order to enfilade a flank attack.

July 14th, the great French national holiday, passed in an ominous lull. Fifty-five miles away, on the boulevards of Paris, detachments of all the Allied troops united in a magnificent parade. Last of all came the steel-hatted American Marines, the heroes of Bouresches and Bois de Belleau. As they marched along, the acclaim of the crowded spectators arose almost to a frenzy in their ovation to the men who had saved France. Late that night, as the residents of the eastern suburbs, in Pantin and Joinville, were retiring, they could descry a red glow in the eastern horizon and hear the faint rattle that betokened artillery of the heaviest calibre firing ninety kilometers away. The great drive was on.

"The great drive is on." This is the entry which Sergeant Smith, in all the stress of excitement, found time to write at one minute after midnight on July 15th. Five hours later the boys were still clinging to their positions, although the entire appearance of the terrain had been changed by the terrific bombardment which they had undergone. The Germans were bombarding with over one thousand pieces of artillery and their huge shells were falling twenty-five miles in the rear, in Meaux and Coulommiers. The lurid atmosphere reeked with gas and the boys' eyes burned like fire, through having worn the masks continuously for five hours. The official record of the Forty-second Division, now on file at the War College in Washington, contains the dry statement:

"Enemy attack along the whole line at seven in the morning." The full meaning of this notation can best be expressed by the record of one of the Reading heroes, made next day:
"Seven in the morning, liason from Third Platoon rush into the P.C., reported the Boche through the line on the right. Captain Brooks orders the reserve guns mounted and calls for volunteers to go out through the bombardment to the ammunition dump for more ammunition. Private Hanson and I reach the ammunition dump, break the tops of the boxes with an old pick, and come back with as many clips as we could carry. Oh! what an experience! Reached my gun and I just tested same by passing half a clip through, when Sergeant Rettger's liason reports that the First Platoon had all been lost. Our blood boiled. I changed my gun position slightly to give a good field of fire, covered a communicating trench and said: 'Let the God damn Boche come.' The bombardment got heavier if anything. Two Boche planes appeared directly overhead and peppered us with machine guns. Sergeant Rettgers and what was left of his section came running in and reported their guns lost."
"Eight A.M.--Boche planes with machine guns came like flocks of birds. It looked bad for us. Runner from the French to know if we can hold our lines. Corporal Smith killed. Privates Epler and Karausta killed. Private Hickman suffered horribly from gas. Died."
"Ten-thirty A.M.--Liason from Second Platoon report: Lost a gun. Private Houston killed by high explosive. Could see lines of Boche attacking in their big helmets."
"Twelve-thirty P.M.--Boys nearly dead from continuous fighting and lack of food. Started back for the field kitchen to see what I could get. Passed many dead men on the way. One of them shot in half. Acting Sergeant of Company I horribly mangled."
"Seven P.M.--Attack seems completely repulsed. French warn us to be ready for a counter attack."

Such is the modest record of a heroic day. He must be callous, indeed, who can read this laconic record without a quickening of the pulse and a thrill of pride, at the noble way in which these boys acquitted themselves in their hour of trial.

The Germans had captured both of the outlying Reading guns. Private Willis P. Snyder, a Cotton street lad, showed rare heroism in fighting his gun to the last and endeavored to save a number of his wounded comrades. For his bravery he was awarded both the Croix de Guerre and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Private Snyder, back to work-a-day life in Reading and not at all disposed to regard himself as a hero, gives the following version of the incident:

"We were pretty far out in front of the rest of the bunch. Our two guns were well placed, so as to command the two communication trenches. We hadn't been told the first line trenches had been abandoned but thought the French were still there. By morning we were all nearly crazy with the awful bombardment. It was broad daylight when they came and there seemed to be thousands of them coming through the bushes. At first we thought they were 'Frogs,' for most of them wore French uniforms. Suddenly Corporal Smith, who commanded our gun, said: 'My God! they're Boche.' He jumped on the gun and fired perhaps two belts when he was hit in the brain and dropped. I took the gun and fired like mad. I couldn't very well miss them, they were so close. I remember Karausta come running up to me, telling me that Epler and Burkey had been killed and the other gun taken, then all of a sudden the Boche were on top of me. I lit out at them and they at me. A couple of them were tearing at my pack. They tell me I tried to pull Karausta's body along but I don't remember anything more until I was back in the reserve trenches."

Such courage and modesty was not to go unnoticed. The great Petain, under his own signature, testified to the achievement of a gallant Reading boy:

Citation de Willie P. Snyder

Tous ses Camarades ayant été tués ou blessés a continué a manoeuvrer les mitrailleuses et dans le corps a corps qui suivit a forcé l'ennemi a se retirer. Bien que blessé a essayé de ramener ses camerades blessés. Son courage et son abnegation ont fait l'admiration de tous ceux qui lont approché.

Au Grand Quartier General,
Marechal de France.
Le 16 Avril, 1919.

[Transcriber's note: The above citation appeared as a footnote on p. 65. But, in this web page, it is more appropriately included inline.]

July 16th was a harassing day under continual bombardment. The struggle seemed to have shifted a little to the left, where the French were receiving the full fury of the enemy's attack. The Company were at last able to evacuate their severely wounded, including Privates Dougherty, Larson, Burkey, Snyder, Artz and Williams. The surrounding ground was compared by one of the boys to a sieve, so pit-marked was it by the bombardment.

They might well be proud of their achievement. The Forty-second American Division and Twenty-first French Corps had repulsed a major attack by five German divisions, viz:--the Guard Cavalry Division (dismounted), the Second Bavarian Landwehr, the Eighty-eighth Division and the Seventh Saxon Division. They penetrated the American and French trenches at various points, but were only able to hold a part of their gains. Their loss had been tremendous. Our losses had also been serious. Lieutenant Hamlin and his heroic platoon were nearly all prostrated from the effects of gas. They had held the center position, commanding the road into Suippes.

While the Allied front under the command of Gouraud, that is to say, the territory between Rheims and Massiges, had been held, the enemy had been more successful on General Berthelot's front, between Chateau-Thierry and Cailly. Here he succeeded in getting six divisions across the Marne. The storm burst with tremendous fury upon the Thirteenth and Thirty-eighth Regiments of the Third American Division. It was a critical moment. The Germans were able, in the next two days, to pour a tremendous fire upon the position of the Forty-second Division. It is estimated that the enemy employed eighty-four batteries in continuous bombardment. This bombardment kept the Reading Company in the trenches during the entire day of July 17th. A small detachment, headed by Captain Brooks, went out at night into "No-Man's Land" to look for the lost gun posts. With consummate audacity, they made their way over a front literally carpeted with dead Germans. They found the gun intact. Corporal Smith, who commanded it, was lying beside it, his face to the foe. He had been bayoneted in the throat. His two assistant gunners lay behind him. The Captain reverently removed the personal effects from the dead men's bodies and the detachment started back to the lines, bringing the lost guns with them.

On the 18th of July, the intense bombardment began to lessen. The general order for a counter attack was at once given. Far to the left, Mangin and Degoutte began their advance on the plateau of Etrepilly. The Reading boys, however, were in no shape to take part in this maneuver. Flesh and blood could stand no more. They had acquitted themselves well and earned a citation from the American Commander-in-Chief.

On the morning of July 19th they were relieved. There was some delay in this movement and it was not until 3:45 and quite light, when the Company left their trenches. The watchful German observation balloons detected the maneuver at once and laid down a heavy barrage. The men ran for safety as fast as their heavy loads would permit. Many of the relieving infantry were killed before they could gain the trenches. Fatigued as they were, the Company were compelled to make a twenty-five kilometer march to Cuperly. The roads were choked with troops and artillery passing up to the front. The rumor of victory was in the air. The soldiers going up cheered the ragged, blood-stained Reading heroes as they staggered past. They arrived at a wood near Cuperly about nine in the evening of the 20th. A huge German plane crashed down almost in their midst, but the boys were too tired to take much interest in the occurrence. They bathed in a little creek; pitched their dog tents and enjoyed an eight-hour sleep. On the next day there was a pretty ceremony when General Gouraud and his entire staff came to formally congratulate the heroic division.

On the night of July 22d the Company hiked to the entrainment point at Saint Hilaire and boarded box cars for an unknown destination. It was known that the Germans had the exact range of this place, and only the night before had bombed an American troop train. Some of the soldiers were still scattered in the surrounding woods, to which they had fled after the raid. As the train made its slow way in a westerly direction, the clamor of the front died down and they passed out of the zone of war.

For two days the boys traveled through a beautiful smiling country side, as yet untouched by the horrors of war. The unwonted sight of a trolley car brought tears to their eyes and evoked a round of cheers. Their tortuous course took them almost into the suburbs of Paris. They could see, against the southern horizon, a marble dome which the Captain told them was the Church of the Sacre Coeur, on the heights of Mont Marte. They passed through the great rail-head of Noisy le Sec, detrained at Esbly, almost midway between Chateau-Thierry and Paris, and hiked to the semi-ruined town of Nantovillet. The noise of the front grew in volume before them and they surmised that they would soon be at close grips with the enemy again.

At nine in the morning they marched out for what was to be an all day thirty-kilometer hike to Mareuil, on the River Marne. The boys enjoyed a belated swim which, however, had a tragic ending in the drowning of Private Nelson Bowers. He was buried with military honors next day.

During the afternoon a convoy of French camions and motor trucks, operated by Annamites, arrived at the camp. The emergency rations were issued, while the men loaded their guns and equipment, knowing that they were once more going up into the furnace. They passed through the tortured town of Chateau-Thierry, crossed the bridge over the Marne, which American valor had held against ten-fold odds, and rode steadily to the north. Callous as they had grown to the awful evidence of war, they were struck by the utter horror of the country through which they passed.

"Dead Boche scattered everywhere and badly decomposed," writes one of the boys. "We are all of the same color from dust and the roads in an awful jam, owing to the thousands of men and supplies going to the front in trucks."

Late that night they reached a wood near St. Germain which the Captain describes as literally saturated with gas. There was no water with which to prepare a meal and the men had not eaten since half-past six that morning. This wood had been the scene of a Homeric combat but two days before, in which one American company of two hundred and fifty had been wiped out to the last man.

On July 26th the Company advanced toilsomely through a heavy rain to Foret Maison du Bois. The gallant Twenty-sixth or Yankee Division had swept over this terrain, taking a huge toll in guns and prisoners; the decomposed corpses of men and horses were scattered everywhere, and the stench was almost insupportable. The boys lay in the soggy wheat fields all night. Morning found them directly next to the emplacement of one of the gigantic guns with which the Germans had amazed the world. The gun itself was gone but the base with the attending railroad, machine shop and equipment was still there. One of the lads compared it to a locomotive turntable at the Reading Car Shops. The men were amazed to see the enormous pyramids of ammunition which the enemy had left behind in his flight. They had been taught to believe that the German ammunition was at low ebb but saw no evidence of this in the enormous booty at hand.

On the next day they advanced to Beauvardes. The Reading Company was now in reserve for the first time, as they proudly note, since the 2d of March. The bombardment was appalling.

At three o'clock on the morning of the 27th the Company was groping its way along the road to Ferme de Ferret. It was evidently suicidal to follow the road any further, as the enemy appeared to have the exact range. Captain Brooks ordered the Company to scatter into the neighboring woods with their carts. It was too late. The great marmites were falling with pitiless accuracy. The animals were maddened; the Company was in inextricable confusion. The enemy took a fearful toll. Cook Oberdorf was killed and his field kitchen blown to pieces. Corporal Bowers was horribly mangled and died. Privates Pliss and Hissinger were instantly killed by high explosives. The skull of Private Briel was fractured. Sergeants Bingaman and Smith, with devoted heroism, went out into the open field and rescued Private Troutman, who had been badly wounded. After some hours the Company formed in the woods, in assemblance of order, and took account of their casualties. These had been severe: Privates Weidner, Kompa, Stauffer, Shuker, Eckenroth, Austin, Troutman and Briel had been severely wounded. Sergeant Ludwig, Privates Reifsnyder, Shappell and Tobias were also wounded. No ambulance could be secured until 7:30 the next morning and the poor stricken boys must bear their sufferings as best they might. Briel gave no sign of life and it was thought he was dead. Both Captain Brooks and Lieutenant Arsenau had their horses shot. The German aeroplanes circled overhead, reporting every movement. The woods afforded a precarious shelter, the Boche peppering them continuously with bombs. They held their position the whole of that trying day without food or water. At 8:30 in the evening came bread, corn cakes, water and cigarettes. All of the next day the tortured Company clung to its position in the woods.

"We gave ourselves up for dead," records Sergeant Smith. "This was the open warfare to which we had looked forward. We found it hell in its hottest state. It was tough. The smell of the dead was horrible and the groans of our wounded nearly made us crazy."

On the morning of July 29th the bombardment slackened somewhat. The Company took up its laborious advance to the village of La Folie, taken by the Americans only the day before. The ambulances with their pitiful loads choked all the roads. The village was still under bombardment and Company D took shelter in a large farm yard. They were desperately hungry and eagerly shared a gallon of maple syrup and some cans of salmon.

At 4:30 in the afternoon the order was given to advance. This maneuver provoked such a heavy storm of shells that the Company were again forced under cover. The infantry who had advanced were caught in a bad trap and suffered severely. The officers were lodged in a villa, which only a few hours before had been the headquarters of the German Command. The enemy were making a desperate stand in the village of Serenges, just ahead. From their cellars the boys could observe the effect of the Allied fire and see the devoted village gradually disintegrating. They watched the church steeple for some time, until finally the whole tower fell down into the edifice. In all their distress they found time to admire the intrepidity of the American ambulance drivers racing in and out of the village. Private Wentzel was detailed as a runner to Brigade Headquarters with dispatches, but had scarcely shown himself when he was shot through both legs. At 7:30 in the evening, Lieutenant Arsenau managed to get up some food which was trebly welcome to the famishing boys. One gas attack succeeded another.

At three o'clock in the afternoon a Lieutenant-Colonel from the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth Regiment rushed in with the intelligence that Serenges had fallen and ordered the Company to advance their gun positions. The appalling strain through which the men had passed was beginning to have its effects. Some of them had gone insane. It was deemed impossible to advance, as the heavy shells were falling continuously. One of them demolished three houses directly across the street from the point where the Reading boys were stationed. Oddly enough, the Company in reserve was in a far more dangerous position than it would have been if directly at the front. Corporal Yeich was hit by a high explosive, inflicting thirteen wounds. He died thirty-five minutes later, babbling of Eleventh street and of the folks there. Serenges had fallen at last to the Irish-Americans of the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth Regiment, the old Sixty-ninth of New York, but the resistance of the enemy had been desperate, as many a weeping American mother could testify; word came back that the Boche had retreated eight kilometers.

The Forty-second Division had been roughly handled and were relieved by the Fourth Division on the evening of August 2d. This was a most critical maneuver. It required the filtration of one division through another, under the direct fire of the enemy and over congested roads. It was, however, accomplished in a way which reflected credit upon the tactical training of the American Army.

Company D, in single file, staggered back to the woods at Ferme de Ferret, where they had undergone the fatal bombardment on the night of July 28th.

"Was one pool of mud," says one of the boys. "We sure were a tough bunch. Many of us fell by the road."

They slept all day. In the evening the half-starved boys received their first warm meal which they had tasted for many a day. They were utterly unable to move any farther and lay in the rain and mud for a week, recuperating as best they could. Their losses had been so severe that it became necessary to reform the entire Company.

Sergeants Jarrette and Smith were recommended as Second Lieutenants because of conspicuous bravery shown on the field of battle. Corporal Queer and Corporal Pattison were promoted to Sergeants. Privates Ashford, Giles, Hanson, Leinbach, Daniels and Boyer were promoted to Corporals. Whatever rewards a grateful country could heap upon these gallant soldiers had been well earned. Their achievement is perhaps best summed up in the Divisional Citation of Major-General Charles T. Menoher:

"Fresh from the battlefront before Chalons, you were thrown against the picked troops of Germany. For eight consecutive days you attacked skillfully prepared positions. You captured great stores of arms and ammunitions. You forced the crossings of the Ourcq. You took Hill No. 212, Sergy, Meurcy, Ferme and Serenges by assault. You drove the enemy, including an Imperial Guard Division, before you for a depth of fifteen kilometers. When your infantry was relieved it was in full pursuit of the retreating Germans and your artillery continued to progress and support another American division in the advance of the Vesle."

It must be noted that with the end of the Marne-Vesle campaign ended the period of French Command. The gallant First American Corps, whose fortunes we have been following under General Hunter Liggett, had functioned as a part of the Sixth French Army. This was the first time that we had a Corps organization in tactical command of troops, either in practice or in action, since the Civil War. With the exception of this Corps all Higher Staffs were French. The organization of the First American Army was now to come.

The Company appears to have stayed at the camp at Ferret a longer period than was contemplated by their superiors, because of their absolute inability to move. Their stay was uneventful, being only punctuated on August 10th by a visit from the American actress, Elsie Janis, who delighted the boys with her singing.

On August 13th they finally left their camp in the woods and marched to Villers, on the River Marne. Here the Forty-second Division received a very welcome reward for its labors, in the shape of a general order from General Menoher, permitting ten per cent of the strength of each Company to go to Paris for a two-day holiday. Company D at this time numbered one hundred and forty-six men. Thirteen were selected for the trip. They were given the pick of the clothing of their less fortunate companions and supplied with as much spare change as the Company could muster. The boys spent two wild days in Paris, into which they seemed to have crowded an inconceivable amount of sightseeing and taxicab riding. Incidentally, they were caught in an air raid and had to take shelter in a subway station.

On August 18th the Company left Villers-Sur-Marne and marched to Chateau-Thierry, where they entrained and rolled eastwardly along the great Paris-Metz main line. All day they sat at the open doors of their box cars, interested in the trail of broken bridges and ruined towns, which testified to the fierceness of the late struggle.

On August 19th they debarked and marched to Vrecourt, where the Company, to their utter delight, slept in beds for the first time in many months and for the second time since their arrival in France. They remained in these pleasant quarters for eight days, mostly devoted to reformation and hard work.

On August 24th Lieutenant Shelledy and Sergeant Park were sent to the Advance School of Machine Gun Instruction at Gondrecourt while a corporal and six privates were sent to Signal School. On August 25th, Lieutenant Shivers was succeeded by Lieutenant George H. Pendelton. "No mail since the 29th of July," records one of the boys. It is a testimonial to the pleasantness of their stay that they found time to grumble over the smaller hardships which had later been forgotten in the stress of conflict. These were Arcadian days. Life was pleasant and quarters comfortable in the little village on the Marne. Duty was in no ways relaxed, but there was plenty of time to sit under the shade of the cafe awnings and practice French with the village girls. The war seemed far away.

This idyllic existence came to a rude end on August 29th, when the Company was ordered to Viocourt, sixteen kilometers away, where they remained until September 4th, and then trailed the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth Infantry the entire day, through the dust to Tranquiville, which they reached at 4:30 in the morning, "damn tired" from the slowness of the march.

On the 6th of September they left Baisey le Cote and next day arrived at Choloy. The entire division, horse, foot and artillery, was moving like a gigantic snake in the direction of Verdun. By day the enormous reptile slept and concealed itself as best it might. With the coming of darkness it bestirred itself and wound its sinuous way over the muddy roads to the eastward. The Americans were coming in to Brest by the hundreds of thousands; all the countryside between Chaumont and Toul was crowded with them. Great events were in preparation.

Chapter IV - The St. Mihiel Drive

The days which the Company had spent in training and rusticating after the Marne Campaign were days of comparative inactivity for the entire American Force. The American Army, as an individual unit, was organized at this period. Only then did our Staff begin to direct the active operations of our troops. This, excepting in the training areas, had really been done by the French. The First Army Staff and the Corps Staffs began, for the first time, to function. It would, indeed, have been absurd for the great American nation, with two or three million men in the field, to fight any longer under foreign High Command. The American Commanders, now left to their own devices, were to demonstrate a resourcefulness and ability worthy of the highest military tradition. General Pershing had long planned to attack the St. Mihiel salient. The men and resources were in his command and it was only a question of choosing the hour to strike.

When the Kronprinz and his German Army drove upon Verdun in August, 1914, they took and held a huge salient in the French line, extending as far as Fort Troyon on the Meuse and embracing the village of St. Mihiel. Only the genius of General Serrail and the heroic defense of the Grande Courronne had saved Verdun and the city of Nancy.

From this ridge of St. Mihiel the Germans could not be dislodged. For four years they maintained an annoying dent in the French line which had withstood the most sanguine attacks at Les Eparges, Apremont and the Bois de Pretre. The best blood of France had been poured out like water to flatten out this salient. It was estimated that one hundred thousand lives had been sacrificed in the vain attempt. One reason for the success of the German defense was that they held all the high ground and had direct observation for their artillery; their watchers on the famous Mont Sec could notice the slightest movement in the Allied trenches.

In the beginning of September, 1918, the salient was held by nine German divisions, perhaps ninety thousand men. Six out of the nine divisions were second-class troops, made up of Landwehr or Austrian troops. The ridge bristled with artillery, machine guns and wire. The Germans deemed it impregnable and the French High Command was almost inclined to coincide in this belief. The success of the American movement depended on a great measure upon its secrecy. This was the reason for the night marches, about which the Reading boys grumbled. As an additional cover, a feint was instituted of a general attack in the Vosges. Skeleton divisions were formed at Besancon and Belfort. American boys on leave in Paris whispered to each other that our troops would soon be fighting on the Rhine. Incoming officers were told of it, in strictest confidence, of course, before they had left their transports. Everyone knew that we were to attack from Belfort and everyone was feverishly concerned that the enemy should not know it. Meanwhile the German spies were active.

How far this gigantic hoax succeeded we shall probably never know. It evidently had some measure of success. While serving with the French in August, 1918, the writer was told by a prisoner, a Saxon artillery officer, that the Americans were to attack in force in Alsace and that the fatherland was ready to receive them. Nevertheless, the astute Haupt Quartier was not entirely deluded. They began at the last moment to remove their heavy artillery from St. Mihiel. This, however, was done in a vacillating manner and undoubtedly weakened the morale of their troops.

The Reading Company, now preparing to take its part in the gigantic attack, marched, slowly up through Choloy and Lagny to the Foret de la Reine, just back of the front. They were now on the training ground of the first American Armies, the sector on which had occurred the early raids in the fall of 1917. Their progress in the dark had been very toilsome. They moved in echelons through a countryside literally choked with troops and artillery.

On September 11th Captain Brooks, Lieutenant Pendelton, Sergeants Jarrette and Faust went up to the front to get a reconnaissance of the positions which the Company was to occupy. The men advanced with exasperating slowness over the congested roads through Mandres, around the famous "Dead Man's Curve" to Beaumont. The classic and heart-breaking rain, which had accompanied all the Allied offenses, was falling in torrents.

Their division was supported on the right by the Eighty-ninth Division and on the left by the glorious First Division, which three divisions formed the Fourth Corps. The Berks lads arrived just in time. At one o'clock in the morning began a tremendous preliminary barrage, of what was to be the greatest battle ever fought by an American Army. The French Marshal Petain, no mean authority, has said that with the exception of General Allenby's capture of the Turkish Army in Palestine, no large operation in the war worked out so exactly to plan as did the American attack on St. Mihiel. At five o'clock in the morning six American divisions attacked simultaneously on a ten-mile front. One of our soldiers, in a letter to his mother in Reading, describes it as the most beautiful sight of the war.

"Just at dawn," writes he, "the party started. Oh! it was grand. Thousands of our boys charged the Boche lines. I never could have believed there would be so much barbed wire, but they couldn't stop us. Our aeroplanes were so thick that they darkened the skies and our tanks moved like clock work. The Germans were firing like mad from their high mountain (Mont Sec), but nothing could stop us. Boche prisoners started coming back in droves. We counted eight hundred in one bunch. A little French chap kissed me in his excitement and told me the war was over."

While one platoon, under Sergeant Smith, remained in support, the other two, under Sergeant Jarrette and Lieutenant Shelledy, went forward. Captain Brooks was serving as Brigade Liason Officer. This is Sergeant Jarrette's narrative of a glorious day:

"I was in charge of the Third Platoon and told to report to a platoon of the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth Infantry, to hold the open space between the Forty-second Division and the First Division. Reported to headquarters of the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth Infantry, but no one could tell me where to go. Put my men in improvised trenches for protection against shell and rain and went out with Private Reifsnyder to find our positions. Gave up the search as the zero hour was almost at hand.
"At 5:15 in the morning came the order to go 'over the top.' I knew I was in the wrong position, but gave the order to go forward. We found ourselves with part of the One Hundred and Sixty-sixth Infantry and right in front of a number of tanks; a position of great danger. I sent runners forward and at last found our places. 'Big shells and machine gun bullets were flying all around. We had only two casualties until about eleven o'clock, when we were ordered to take a machine gun nest on an opposite hill. Cook Silvey, who had begged to come along and see some real action, was shot through the right lung and died. Several other men were also hit in arms and legs. Corporal Fry's squad was put out of action completely. At last we silenced the machine gun nest and after that moved steadily forward to the objective which we had been told to hold."

The victory had indeed been a signal one. On the morning of the second day the St. Mihiel salient existed no longer. The prisoners numbered fourteen thousand, four hundred and thirty-nine. Four hundred and forty-three guns and huge supplies of ammunition had been captured.

The Forty-second Division was in the van of the attack, being opposite to the Tenth German Division, recently brought down from Flanders. This enemy division contained the famous Twenty-sixth Grenadier Regiment, composed entirely of Stoss Truppen, the best material in the German Army. The losses of our division on the first day were seven hundred and two, which was not large, considering the magnitude of the operation.

On the 13th of September the Company moved slowly over the battlefield of the day before. They marveled at the strength of the enemy positions and at the huge booty which was everywhere apparent. The foe was sullenly retiring beyond Thiaucourt; the entire army was delirious with joy.

The Company remained three days in a woods, which had been the German artillery station. They had plenty of time to explore the dugouts, which only a few hours before had been in German hands. The boys were amazed at the comfort in which the enemy had been installed. They found electric lights, beds, bath houses and a complete saw mill and machine shop. They examined all the German equipment with a critical eye and pronounced it to be of the very best. The wood was choked with artillery, which the enemy had abandoned in their hasty flight. The soldiers were employed in the next few days in salvaging such of the German equipment as was of value. Their stay at this camp was uneventful on the whole, although they were bombarded by intermittent long range artillery and by aeroplanes.

On September 23d the boys were disconsolate to learn that they were to lose Captain Brooks, who was being sent to a Staff School. He had led the Company since February 27th with consummate devotion and heroism. No criticism of an officer is so just or so searching as that passed upon him by his own men. The men of Company D are unanimous in pronouncing him the best officer with whom they came in contact. On September 25th he bade farewell to the assembled soldiers. There was speech-making, not unmixed with tears. On the same day Lieutenant Shelledy and Sergeant Parks returned from their school. Lieutenant Shelledy then took command.

On September 27th the Company again advanced to a position in the new line. The enemy had recovered somewhat from their late repulse and was shelling the new American position viciously. While the boys were in line for mess, September 30th, a huge shell dropped within fifty feet of the kitchen. There was fortunately no casualties.

On October 1st the Company was relieved, loaded again on French trucks and hauled eighty-five kilometers to Issoncourt. It required eighteen hundred trucks to move the huge Division with its paraphernalia. The recently captured territory was not yet organized, so that rations were very uncertain; the boys did not get a mouthful to eat the entire day. The Company waited two days for the mules and horses to catch up with them and then executed a toilsome hike of thirty kilometers to Thiaucourt. The next day they marched about the same distance steadily to the west. On neither day was there time to stop for mess. Only seasoned veterans could have undergone such marches in heavy equipment. Another major operation was in progress, destined to be the last one of the war. While the arm-chair strategists at home were consulting their maps and prophesying an imminent attack on Metz, the American Army was headed in the opposite direction and moved swiftly up to the Forest of Argonne.

Chapter V - The Argonne-Meuse Campaign

The American forces engaged in the Argonne-Meuse battle, the decisive battle of the war, as the event proved, were about ten times as large as those of General Lee at Gettysburg. They attacked a terrain of the greatest difficulty and they were opposed by seasoned and formidable opponents, fighting under the eye of General von der Marwitz, probably the best of the German Field Generals. The Americans had many veteran troops in line, such as the Forty-second Division, whose fortunes we are following, but over half of their troops and of the Divisional Staffs were absolutely green in modern warfare. Argonne Forest had been considered impregnable for four years. Men who fought in our Civil War had compared it to the Wilderness in Virginia, only the Wilderness was fairly level, while the Argonne Forest was full of steep hills and ravines. The roads were bad and transportation would necessarily be difficult. The Hindenburg Line, the backbone of the German defensive system, ran directly through the forest. The enemy were entrenched in such strength that it is doubtful if any troops in the world, except the fresh, ardent Americans, could have dislodged them.

The Americans engaged in all, fifteen divisions. The attack was begun by General Liggett and his First Corps on September 26th. The Forty-second Division, which had been brought around from St. Mihiel, was at first in reserve, but we shall find them later in close grips with the enemy.

On the days of October 8th, 9th and 10th the Reading boys advanced through the forest. They were on the extreme left of the line, behind the Seventy-seventh Division. The violence of the struggle was evidenced by the number of dead bodies, German and American, and by the debris of the great battle. Montfaucon on the right was still holding out, although invested by the Maryland drafted men of the Seventy-ninth Division. The Berks Company went directly through the wood, which was the scene of the exploits of Major Whittlesey and his famous lost battalion.

On October 10th they had advanced as far as Apremont (not to be confounded with the town of the same name which figures in the St. Mihiel drive). Their march was necessarily toilsome.

"Marched the whole night through the forest," writes one of the boys. "We went very slowly as the roads were jammed from fighting in this woods. They were carpeted with Boche and American bodies. Our big guns are all up and make us very proud. Saw fourteen big calibre guns, but to but. When our big naval guns fire as we pass it makes us blind and deaf for about five minutes. The firing never stops."

On the night of the 11th, in a terrific bombardment, the Company dug in on famous hill No. 240, above Apremont. Although not aware of it, they were now directly in front of the Kriemhilde defense system, two and one-half miles in depth. It was to withstand our attacks for nearly twenty days and to cost us tens of thousands of the flower of our youth. However, if this line could be taken, there were no prepared defenses behind it. The four-track railroad from Mezieres, over which flowed the life blood of supplies, munitions and men for the German Army, would be threatened.

There are no more intensely interesting pages in the diary of Sergeant Smith, to which we have referred so often, than those which relate of his experience in the next few eventful days.

"October 12th--Out over the lines we see many of our dead. Fifty-four of our pieces of artillery in position back of us. Thirty-six seventy-five milimeters, twelve howitzers and four naval long range guns. Barrage continuous and tremendous. Can hardly stand the noise, owing to our closeness to same. The very earth is trembling."
"Four to five in the afternoon--Boche planes attacking our kitchen squad with their machine guns. Wild scrimmage for cover. Must dig in tonight. Fritz sending too many big ones across to lay in the open."
"October 14th--Moved out at 4:45 in the morning. Attacked at eight in the morning. Private Leonard killed almost instantly. I just turned long enough to see him fall. We advanced in full view of one of Fritz's observation balloons. He sure gave us a warm reception. Private Cahill shot through the leg."
"Nine in the morning--We dug in and Fritz pulverized the ground over which we had advanced this morning. We paid dearly for our gains. Fritz bumped off four of our boys with one shell, which burst in the midst of a signal detachment that was advancing with us. Many of our men are going back wounded. Dug in the side of another hill late in the afternoon. We were about all in. The bombardment never stops. Wagoner Shores wounded at midnight. Sergeant Pattison wounded shortly afterwards. It began to rain and our holes got soaking wet. Most of us were sick with dysentery. Corporals Behm and Hanson wounded. Sergeant Conners wounded. Private Walsh killed. Private Arnold severely wounded."
"October 16th--Still raining. Sure it is hell to be lying in shell holes half filled with mud and water and practically no food. First Platoon, under Sergeant Rettgers, has been cut off from food for the past two days."
"October 17th--Liason again with the First Platoon. Sure glad to get food. Boche artillery combing the hill continuously. Gee! what gloom. Brought down a Boche plane this morning. Private Stubbeline shot in the stomach. Many of the boys going down with influenza."

The day of October 16th will go down as the most glorious in history of the Forty-second Division. It was then, after the forty-eight hours of punishment, which Sergeant Smith so graphically described, that the One Hundred and Sixty-sixth Regiment stormed the Cote de Chatillon, defended by the Prussian Guard, scrambled through the wire and bayoneted the Germans still kneeling at their guns. The horrors which the Berks lads endured during these October days can only faintly be imagined. They were continually attacked with gas and the bombardment never ceased. The Americans had been temporarily checked along the whole line and the Boche began to hope that the final attack might be postponed long enough to bring some results from their feelers for an Armistice. The Americans, however, were not to be denied. They were feverishly active, bringing up their artillery, building their narrow gauge railroads and improving their lines of communication. The Reading company found plenty of action for their guns in driving off the Boche raiders who came daily to attack the American observation balloons. They brought down one enemy plane on the 23d, two on the 25th and one on the 27th. The boys led the life of cave diggers in dug-outs, more or less bomb proof. Their progress up to this time had been slow, but all was now in readiness for the great drive of November 1st, which was to advance the Allied line by kilometers instead of by yards and to end the war.

The last days of October were days of preparation, amid an intense excitement. The Berks lads made perilous trips to the rear and brought up large stores of reserve ammunition. They were to support the greats attack by indirect firing. That night no one slept. At 3:30 began a bombardment which has gone down into history as the most terrible of the war. Far away to the right the Americans were pouring thousands and thousands of gas shells of yperite into the Bois de Bourgogne. They were using for the first time, a new lethal gas, which will penetrate any mask. The Reading troops watched with awe the flashes of miles upon miles of artillery, giving the impression, as one of them remarked, "Of a whole range of munition factories on fire."

The new American attack achieved a swift and decisive victory. The doughboys went forward like dogs loosened from a leash. In three days they were to advance eighteen kilometers and capture more than five thousand prisoners and a little more than one hundred guns. The Mezieres railroad came for the first time under the direct fire of our long range guns and Hindenburg telegraphed to the Emperor that the game was lost.

Company D was not in the van of this last tremendous advance. They assisted in the preliminary barrage, firing at indirect fire for two and one-half hours. They then prepared to break camp and move forward in the direction of Sedan. On the morning of November 3d they advanced to St. Juvin, where they spent a miserable night in the rain, soaked to the skin, in a plowed field. The American line was going forward by leaps and bounds and the Company moved rapidly with it. On November 4th they reached Authe and on November 5th Brieullers, where their echelons again came in contact with the retreating enemy. On November 6th they came directly into action with the Boche, who were sullenly retreating from the village of Chemery. The enemy had hoisted a white flag over the village to show that they had abandoned it. The boys fired at direct range and in utter disregard of a barrage which the Germans were throwing back to protect their retreat. The advance on these days was so rapid that the wagon trains and field kitchen could not keep up with the troops, so that the boys often went hungry. The Forty-second Division was hot on the scent of the enemy, having relieved the Seventy-eighth Division, in pursuit.

By now the immediate rear of the retreating Boche had become one mass of confusion. The transport could not move; the infantry was thrown back on the supply units and extrication became almost impossible. The enemy was frantically intent on putting the River Meuse between himself and the impetuous Americans. The scent of victory was in the air and it was with great difficulty that the officers could control the ardor of their troops. The Forty-second Division, flushed with victory, came suddenly in sight of the river from the heights, west of Remilly. Below them, across the river, was the historic city of Sedan, the scene of Emperor Napoleon the Third's humiliating surrender to Bismarck in 1870. Now ensued a desperate race between the First and Forty-second Divisions, as to which should be the first to enter the town. As a matter of fact, the Americans never did enter Sedan until after the Armistice; but the Forty-second Division established itself a kilometer away, across the river. The Berks Company did not get as far as Sedan. Indeed, they never saw the Meuse at this point until after the cessation of hostilities. On November 7th and 8th they were at Maisonelle in reserve and on the 10th they moved out sixteen kilometers to Fontenois, where an accidental explosion of some of their ammunition wounded Sergeant Queer and Private Bremen. Lieutenant Rowse had joined the Company some days before.

All through the night of November 10th strange rumors were flying about. Self-important dispatch bearers were continually passing, who hinted at great news. The officers were non-committal, but everyone guessed that some great event was shortly to take place. On the momentous day of November 11th the Company moved out at fifteen minutes past eight in the morning and marched fifteen kilometers to Blemery. At eleven o'clock, to their intense amazement, the awful roar of artillery, which had become as much a part of their life as the very breath in their nostrils, abruptly terminated. It appears, however, that no one really believed that the war was over and it was not until late that night that the great news was officially confirmed.

"It was a wonderful sight," writes one of the Berks lads. "The men were celebrating as on the Fourth of July. The fires sprung up all along the line like so many stars in the sky. We sent up all the Boche rockets and flares which we had captured. Everybody was wild with joy and we saw ourselves back in Reading in four weeks at the latest."

So, in the historic language of President Wilson, the war came to an end. Three thousand miles away the Victory bells were ringing in the City of Reading. A delirious populace thronged the streets, scarcely daring to believe that the end had come. Amidst the frantic joy, it is to be feared that few gave a thought to the ragged, unkempt battalion, hiking drearily over muddy roads by the Meuse. And yet these lads, through their toils and through their sacrifices, had made possible the celebration in which they could not share. Their days of warfare were over. What they endured and what they achieved has been set down in these pages exactly and moderately, with no attempt at exaggeration or heroics. Let their fellow-citizens, who may read these lines, judge whether they did their duty and whether they deserve well of their land and of the town which sent them forth.

Chapter VI - The Army of Occupation

The days which immediately followed the Armistice were devoted to a general checking up of a roughly handled division. The men received a belated pay and crap and card games were the order of the day. The strain of actual warfare had passed and the bonds of discipline were naturally a little relaxed.

On November 15th, Lieutenant Pendelton was promoted to the grade of First Lieutenant. Private Moodhart was made Mess Sergeant and Privates Spears and Wiatt were made Corporals. Lieutenant Rochester was assigned to the division with thirty-seven replacements to take the place of the men whom the Company had lost in the drive through the forest. Every possible field of hostilities, including Siberia, was suggested as the ultimate goal of the division. On November 16th, however, came the definite order that the division was to move on into Germany. The Reading boys crossed the river at Stenay on November 17th. In every direction they could see the enormous fortifications which the enemy had erected. The roads were crowded with happy French soldiers, liberated by the Germans and returning to their homes.

On November 18th, Lieutenant William Jong, from Wisconsin, took command of the Company. The weather turned quite cold with a light fall of snow, so that the leather jerkins, heavy socks and winter caps, which were issued to the men, were gratefully received.

On November 21st they crossed the Belgian border at Limes, to the inspiring music of the band of the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth Infantry. They were marching through a beautiful, smiling country, comparatively untouched and a marked contrast to the ravaged countryside to which the boys had lately been accustomed. All the villages were in gala attire with bunting and flags. Avenues of trimmed cedar trees were erected along the streets through which they passed.

On November 23d, after a hike of thirty kilometers, the Company crossed the frontier of Luxembourg at Oberpallen. The inhabitants were German in speech and appearance, but gave the boys a warm welcome. The beer was of a quality and delighted the boys who had grown somewhat tired of the red wines of France. The broken German Army were retreating along all the roads and about a day's march ahead of the Company. They remained in the little Luxembourg village until December 1st, when they moved on fifteen kilometers to Fishbach, and the next day, twenty-four kilometers to Beaufort.

On December 3d the Company again took up its line of march. Just outside of the village of Bollendorf they came upon the black and white striped frontier posts with the arrogant Prussian eagle glaring defiance from the top. The moment of which they had so often dreamed and spoken had come at last; they were crossing the German border. That night the Company rested at Peffingen.

As soon as they crossed the border, the marching columns were put again upon a war footing, with advance guards and vedettes. The populace were outwardly friendly, but no chances were taken. The men were ordered to carry their automatic pistols at all times. The machine guns were kept ready for action and the ammunition boxes were never locked. The weather was bad with heavy fogs and the roads were in terrible condition. The Company moved steadily northward in long marches through the mountainous country, known to the Germans as Die Volkanische Eifel (The Volcanic Eifel), upon which they had counted as one of their principal lines of defense. The men were billeted each night in the houses and stables of the primitive villages in which they halted. The boys could find no complaint as to their reception. The inhabitants did everything in their power to make them comfortable. The tired Company reached the village of Niederadenau on the 9th of December and remained there until the 14th.

On the 11th they were formed in a neighboring field to witness the awarding of the Medals of War to such of the battalion as had earned them. Private Willis P. Snyder, who had distinguished himself on the Champagne front, was to have been among the recipients, but was in the hospital at the time; the award was made at a later period.

The Company had now reached the Headquarters of the River Ahr, beloved of tourists, and were to follow its beautiful valley down to the Rhine. The men were delighted with the vine-clad hills and interested in the beautiful villas and hotels which they saw. Passing very close to the source of the famous Apollinaris Spring, they marched to Ahrweiler and reached Bodendorf late in the afternoon. Beneath them was the broad yellow flood of the Rhine, flowing between low, vine-clad banks. The goal of which they had spoken and sung had been attained.

The months which the Company spent on the Rhine were on the whole pleasant ones. Discipline was comparatively light, except in the critical days when it was thought that the Germans might reject the peace terms offered them. At that time the Company was again put on a war schedule and prepared to take its part in the threatened invasion. Happily, the crisis passed and the boys were not disturbed in their pleasant quarters at Bodendorf. The mornings were usually devoted to drill and target practice. In the afternoon there were a variety of athletic events. Most of the men were billeted with private families in the villages and the arrangement proved eminently satisfactory. The officers were fairly liberal with passes to the neighboring villages and to Coblentz and Cologne. Some of the boys took excursions on the Rhine steamers as far up the river as Mainz in the French zone of occupation.

On January 5th, to the intense delight of the organization, Captain Brooks returned to his command. Lieutenant Shelledy reported back on January 8th. The Hotchkiss guns which the boys had been using up to this time were replaced by the new Browning gun and the lads instructed in its use.

Sunday, the 16th of March, was a memorable day. The entire Forty-second Division was assembled at Kripp for inspection by the Commander-in-Chief, General Pershing, who dismounted and reviewed each individual unit, the regimental bands furnishing music the while. "Black Jack" Pershing, as the doughboys loved to know him, inspected each unit of the entire division on foot. After this ceremony, the huge division, in column squads, passed in review before the General and his Staff.

For many weeks, rumors of departure had been flying, but it was not until April 9th that the Company actually turned its back on the noble river they had come to know so well and entrained in American Pullman cars, forty-five men to a car, for their first lap of the journey towards home. They traveled via Metz, Verdun and Chartres, arriving at Brest at seven in the evening. "Gee! what a shout," writes one of the boys, "when we saw the American liners lying out in the roadstead." The Company were given quarters in the famous camp at Pontanezen, where they remained until April 15th. They then marched to the docks and embarked next day on the S.S. "Victoria," a comfortable boat, but very much overcrowded.

There is little more to narrate of the career of Company D. Later an uneventful voyage they arrived at Boston on April 28th and began a triumphal progress to Camp Devens, in Massachusetts, which they reached that afternoon. Here they were met by a reception committee sent on from Reading. A trying week ensued, during which the boys controlled their impatience as best they might. At last, on May 4th, they left Camp Devens and entrained for Camp Dix, New Jersey, which they reached at 10:30 in the evening. On the afternoon of May 8th they left Camp Dix, arriving at Reading about 4:30. As they detrained from the same station which they had left twenty-one months before, they were greeted by the clanging of bells and the shrieks of whistles. The entire city was waiting to receive them. A frenzied tide of appreciating fellow-citizens bore them through the streets to the Armory, where, with appropriate ceremonies they were finally dismissed.

In all, three hundred and eighteen men had passed through the Company rolls. Of the one hundred and twenty-two Berks lads who had marched up the hill to the Outer Station on that hot August afternoon in 1917, there remained only forty-nine. Some had been exchanged to other detachments. Thirty-four had come back home, wounded or gassed. And the sons of thirteen Reading mothers would never return again, but were lying beneath the soil of that fair land which they had fought to save.

Submitted by: Nancy.

Last Modified Sunday, 11-Jan-2009 12:10:31 EST

Home Page       Military Index      Frontmatter      Part II

404 - Error: 404


Category not found

The Page you are looking for doesn't exist or an other error occurred. Go back, or head over to Home Page to choose a new direction.

You may not be able to visit this page because of:

  1. an out-of-date bookmark/favourite
  2. a search engine that has an out-of-date listing for this site
  3. a mistyped address
  4. you have no access to this page
  5. The requested resource was not found.
  6. An error has occurred while processing your request.