Category: war is hell


                                                                 And I said a little prayer

Bill said: “as
soon as you pass the bridge go like the devil. It’s
hell on that road they’re shelling hell out of it.”
— Comforting words these and
my spirits rose accordingly. I hurriedly cranked my car saying a little
prayer that I would have the guts to go thru with it. As we left the poste we
could see them breaking on both sides of the bridge, sending up big clouds of
dust & smoke. I saw them but somehow
they didn’t seem to register on my brain. I saw them &
that was all. The road surely was being shelled. Shell holes,
branches & wires littered the road. Despite this, from the time I
said my prayer,
I had

the most peculiar feeling almost
of abstraction, the shells didn’t worry me in the least because something
inside me kept saying “you’re safe” “they won’t hit you” “don’t be afraid”. As
we dashed along the road, it seemed that I was
merely driving along a country road at home. A most peculiar feeling and I can’t
express just exactly what it was…

Friday, June 14 1918, near the front in Northern France, American ambulance driver’s diary – The Compensations of War. Photo: 1918, France, American ambulance dashing along the road.


                                          ‘Giant arms of electric light, searching the foe’

“Saturday, June 8 1918 – Last week
Paris has lived through seven frightening daysBig Bertha dropping shells on
the city daily and Gothas dropping bombs almost nightly. The other night as I
stood at my window, pieces of exploded French
shrapnel fell on the street below with the sharp, crackling noise of hail striking the pavement. Overhead the blackness of the night was pierced here and there by giant arms of electric light, French lights searching the foe. And
everywhere the firmament became incessantly illuminated by the sudden twinkling
of little stars—as the shells burst in the dark
night. And when the shell bursts its hundreds of bullets
and pieces scatter over a widespread area with sufficient
force to kill anyone they hit. From the ledge of my
window I gathered up a handful of shrapnel pieces varying in size from a .44 caliber cartridge to a pigeon
egg; and then I hurried into bed, in a corner of the room as far
from the window as possible. The fire of the French
barrage made sleep difficult so I read until 1am when the
Berloque announced that the air battle was over.”

American diplomat in Paris – The War Diary
of a Diplomat
– Illustration: 1918, Paris Under Fire


                                               “Stunned by the suddenness
of the attack”

was well along in the evening, almost dark in fact. Suddenly, out of the north, just skimming the tree tops two German planes roared on us. At almost point-blank
range, their machine guns fairly riddled the men who lined both sides of the
road.  Stunned by the suddenness
of the attack, the men could do little but fall to the
ground. Still in a fog, they picked themselves up, only to find that the Boche
had zoomed around and were coming back at us. I was under my car by this time
and as many of the soldiers scrambled
under the camions. The planes swept down at again with their guns going full force, banked sharply after passing, and disappeared into the northern twilight. It was a
perfect job of air-strafing. Nearly half of the battalion were either killed or

Early June 1918, American ambulance driver in Courmont, Belleau – Chateau-Thierry sector, France –Letters from Verdun. Illustration: WW1 Artist Gilbert Rogers.

                 “There was something incredib…

“There was something
incredible about coming out into a bright sunlit world”

May 28 1918 — “Last night was the worst night of my life. The Boches shelled our village, the post and woods
all night-long and for some reason,
it got so much on my nerves
that even the smallest sound would make me shrivel up with fear of the explosion to come. The firing came
from the East near Auberive so the shells passed over our heads with such a
loud whistle that they seemed about to land on top of us.  There are several gruesome &
horribly fascinating stories out there of freak shells that destroyed impregnable abris. As the abri we sleep in
is far from impregnable, I had food for thought… After a night like this there was something
incredible about coming out into a bright sunlit world whose peace was unmarred
by any martial sounds.”

American ambulance driver in dutry at an advanced post somewhere in the Marne, France – Diary of Jerome Preston – Photo: American ambulance driver going out for a walk. The sign says: “Groups and Vehicle Traffic Are Absolutely Prohibited In This Town” @ University Kentucky Libraries


                                                               “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
American Soldier in World War 1
– Photo: 1918, France, No Man’s Land


                                                                    I was sick in bed.

“May 26 1918 – Sick, Cold
and Fever. Go to sleep at 930 pm. Blown out of bed by German shell at 1.00am.
Shell lights 10 feet from where I sleep. Blows up house, big building. Stone at
least two feet square where my head was. Adams opposite me wounded in three
places. Guys on duty at that time would have been killed. Beds completely

American ambulance driver’s diary in Oeuilly, Marne, France

Special Collections
Department, Stewart Library, Weber State University – Photo: WW1 soldier sitting on a bed in the middle of the debris of his destroyed room.

“May 15 1918 – Avions over this evening …

“May 15 1918 – Avions over this evening and drop several bombs.
Our ambulances carry blessés to hospital—one little boy and a girl die on the

American ambulance driver near
Amiens, Northern France, Record of S. S. U. 585
– Illustration: WW1 soldier looking at the sky – Lewis Boadle

‘May 9 1918 – At Picquigny, near Amiens …

‘May 9 1918 – At Picquigny,
near Amiens
– I guess we’re going to have a pretty warm time… Tho Amiens was formerly a
city of 140,000 people the Boches have shelled and bombed it so much that
hardly 200 are left. The refugees stream thru Picquigny in a seemingly endless
line being carried mostly by British trucks. We
are given a garden to pitch our pup tents in and Deack and I bunk together not mentioning the doggies, Pinard and
Grenade, who are supposed to sleep in a box but prefer our blankets!’

American ambulance driver’s diary in Picardie, France – The Compensation of War – Photo: 1918, American soldier & his pup sitting front of his pup tent. The National WW1 Museum and Memorial

‘On the whole, the time spent in Alsace, was a…

‘On the whole, the
time spent in Alsace, was a period of training for the whole Sanitary Train. We
learned something about maps and trails, and especially that trails on maps and
trails on mountain sides are two very different things. We learned also to
respect our gas masks and helmets. They became our constant companions. Indeed,
the sight of school children six and eight years old going through gas mask drill
in the streets was enough to make anyone think about his gas mask…’

Spring 1918, American
ambulance driver’s notes in AlsaceHistory of Ambulance Company Number 139 – Photo,
WW1, Alsace, children & teacher who just finished their gas mask drill.
Here, a 22s great video showing French school children’s gas mask drill in 1918.


                                          “Dazed by the magnitude
of the noise and death”

“Tuesday, May 7 1918 – Just north of Paris we first see the signs of a big offensive. The
roads are all guarded to keep the traffic moving, convoys must be split up into
small sections. There is a constant stream of traffic both ways. Going
towards the front are staff cars, dispatch riders & camions loaded with
fresh troops who have a superficial gayety which attempts to conceal the
fear of the horrible experiences of a big battle. Coming back are also staff
cars empty camions and trucks trailing broken artillery pieces to be
repaired later. The men coming down are dead tired and dirty, with the most peculiar
expressions in the world. Their eyes seem to burn under the nearly closed
eyelids and they are made more prominent by the thick white dirt which covers
the rest of the face. Their burning eyes
show the utter fatigue of these men and the awful hours they have seen. They
seem to have been struck dumb by some great shock, dazed by the magnitude
of the noise and death. Now and then some dust colored poilu shakes off his
lethargy to yell savagely and a little wildly “on les aura!” [we
will beat them] to the Americans. When men like these can yell “on les aura!
the Germans can’t win.”

American ambulance driver in northern France – The Compensation of War – Photos: WW1 French soldiers who just returned from the battlefield. La Contemporaine, France.