‘These men’s spirit never seemed to be dampened’
‘As the black soldiers marched, winter and
summer, rain or shine, night or day, they were always whistling or singing, to the wonderment of French and English alike. These men’s spirit
never seemed to be dampened. They always marched to music of their own making. There was a baseball game when an entire company of black soldiers watched
their team play a white team. At the climax of the game, when a black player
knocked a home run, his entire company ran around the bases with him – more than
two hundred laughing, shouting, singing soldiers, helping to bring in the score
that won the game!’
1918, American journalist in France – New Outlook Vol 120 Sept-Dec 1918 – Photos: WW1 American soldiers in France. La Contemporaine.
day before Memorial Day of this year, (1918), Marshal Petain wrote General
“I have invited French troops stationed near American cemeteries
to go and salute their brothers-in-arms fallen for the safety of their Land and
the Liberty of the world. Later, when you have left Europe, rest assured that
the same rites will be rendered them and with the same fervor. The remembrance
of these valorous men will endure in our hearts.”
It did and still does. See here, Memorial Day 2018 celebrated in Chaumont, France.
Source: A Machine Gunner’s Notes – Photo: WW1, Memorial Day French soldiers, ladies & children paying tribute to the fallen American soldiers. Ministere de la Culture, France.
Memorial Day 1918 in France, Masevaux, Chaumont, Romagne
“Everything was dead“
‘On May 27 1918, the
attack began at 12:55 am with “a terrific crash that rocked the entire sector… Hundreds of bulking missiles, wobbling through the
air with a sickening rush, exploded in their midst, and terrified shouts of
‘Gas!’ warned us that we were in for the greatest of horrors, a night gas
attack. The barrage ceased at 2.00 am. Later that day, we saw that the deadly
fumes not only affected the soldiers but also the flora and fauna.
Everything was dead. Messenger pigeons lay in their baskets; rats,
swollen and distended, were stretched out in the trenches and dugouts … The whole area looked as if it had been visited by a killing frost.’
gas attack coincided with a large German offensive
that occurred near Chemin des Dames to the northwest. The final report from this attack stated that
236 Americans were gassed, 36 were killed.
Somewhere in Northeast France,
soldiers, members of the Rainbow Division – Somewhere
Over There: The Letters, Diary, and Artwork of a World War I Corporal – An
American Soldier in World War 1 – Photo: 1918, France, No Man’s Land
“A long, straight-armed, overhand swing”
French instructors, privates, corporals and
sergeants, the champion grenadiers of the French Army,
our men put in hours every day, standing with their toes to a line, learning to
throw hand grenades with a long, straight-armed,
overhand swing, beginning near the ground behind, like an outfielder throwing to the plate, and ending with a carry through
like a golf stroke. Some of the best French grenadiers
can throw a hand grenade close to 50 yards—which is
French grenadier-instructor talking about his American students: “We can feel that they respect
and like us. It’s actually a pleasure to teach them, because they learn fast
and are such good students.”
Our Paper, Volume 34 – Les poilus ont la parole: dans les tranchées : lettres du
front, 1917-1918 – Photo: WW1, Meuse, France, American soldiers learning to throw hand-grenades from the
French experts. La Contemporaine.
of the impending ordeal”
stay at Lattainville at the end of May was an idyllic interlude
on the brink of the frenetic drama of the days that followed. Our American
division was now readied by the Supreme Command for the great German drive,
and it was just a question as to where and when we would be called on to parry
it. My journal evokes the unreality of these days of waiting in the
glorious landscape of the Oise when spring was at its full height. Routines
went on. The men lived in the present with their customary garrulousness and
byplay, seemingly oblivious of the impending ordeal into which they
would be plunged.’
End of May 1918, Oise, France – American ambulance driver who then became a corporal in the Army’s 17th Field
Artillery of the 2nd Division – Armageddon
Revisited: A World War I Journal – Photo: WW1, France, American soldiers’
“idyllic unterlude”. La Contemporaine
‘As I saw them cooking their coffee in a canteen cup over a
solidified alcohol tin, I thought
that I had suddenly come upon a colony of cliff dwellers!’
Note: large cans
carried food, while milk cans were frequently used to carry coffee
to the front lines. To warm the coffee, solidified alcohol was used if
WW1 American surgeon’s diary in France – Wade
in, Sanitary! & Somewhere Over There – Photo: WW1,
American soldiers warming up their coffee in Meru, France.
‘November 26 1917 — We were given a gas mask test with tear gas, first breathing in till the
tears ran and then putting on the masks to show how well they worked. Went out
to get wood among the batteries across the road, chopping up the trees that had
been cut down by yesterday’s bombardment. The afternoon was remarkably clear;
but it hailed violently at supper time… The English have made a wonderful
advance at Cambrai.’
American ambulance driver’s diary in
Marne, France – Diary of Jerome Preston – WW1, France, American soldiers gas mask
drill in the woods.
‘I wish I could be with you at Christmas
but will be with you in spirit and maybe the next
one will bring us all together. We are going to have a gathering on Thanksgiving Day. We are going to
have music, songs and several acts; will write you all
about it later.
Will close now and get this in the mail.
Give my love to all. With love to you and Dad.
November 1917 – Letters from the Oregon boys in
France – Photo: WW1, American soldier writing a quick letter home – Signal Corps USA.
‘The dark gray German
their sinister black crosses, looked like Death hovering above. They were for
Folks at Home: The Glorious Story of the United States Marines in France as Told
by Their Letters From the Battlefield – Powerful photo published
November 18 1917 in Le Miroir, French newspaper. Gallica, France.
clear morning the ordinary life began again…
‘We rose in the darkness, and left after a
hasty breakfast. The morning was mild and misty but It grew light rapidly and
by the time we arrived at Prat, the gaunt plain was easily visible. All was
quiet and peaceful – how deceptive. The inferno about to break
It happened. Innumerable flashes darted out from the gloom and shells
screamed overhead; the rattling clatter of machine guns echoed among the hills;
signal rockets and star-shells lit the scene eerily. Now the German batteries
were replying and there were rows of cruel flashes along the crest of Mont Haut and in the air. There were streaks
of crimson in the southeast sky over the dead plain and birds sang. It seemed
unreal. I wondered who was working the thunder machine in the wings.
After an hour and half
the firing ceased. In the clear morning the ordinary life began again. Burricos laden with bidons tinkled their musical way along the piste; files of
territorials appeared with picks on their shoulders and I was carrying two terrible head cases…’
November 1917, in Champagne region, France – American ambulance driver’s diary – Diary of Jerome Preston . Photo: WW1, Champagne region, donkeys carrying water and
food supplies to the trenches.