ST. LOUIS GLOBE-DEMOCRAT APRIL 8, 1919

-THE SECOND ARTICLE IN THE SERIES


Lieut. Darst, the Missourian, in His Story of 89th Division

Tells in Second Installment How New Men Feel in Trenches

 

‘We’ve Got Them, They Can’t Fight Like We Can,’ First Greeting

‘Give ‘Em Hell,’ Doughboys Yell to Incoming Troops from Middle West, Then One Adds,

‘When You Go Out You’ll Say They Gave You Hell!’

By JAMES E. DARST,
Former Lieutenant of 341st Ma-
chine Gun Battalion, 89th
Division.

Copyright, 1919, by James E. Darst.

 

 

This is the second installment of the intimate story of the Eighty-ninth Division, composed largely of Missouri and Kansas troops, written by James E. Darst, former second lieutenant of the Three Hundred and Forty-first Machine Gun Battalion of the Eighty-ninth, former night editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, a writer and soldier, a Missourian, born and bred, who offered his all to the colors immediately when his country called.

Then they took our men from us. A War Department order came in directing that Gen. Wood send 70 per cent of the men of the Eighty-ninth to other divisions, chiefly the Thirty-fifth and the Third. You can be sure there was mourning in plenty.

Gen. Wood addressed all the men of the division and told them how sorry he was to lose them. We were all sorry. The day for the men to leave came along, and we, who stayed in the Eighty-ninth, marched with them to the Union Pacific station and stood at attention as they boarded the trains. The bands played. We were far more gloomy than they could have been, for we felt that they were "going over" and we were being left behind.

The late winter and early spring wore on, and we worked with skeleton organizations. My company had the full quota of noncoms and some twenty privates, about sixty men in all. We plugged along. There wasn’t much incentive, for they had taken our best men, and we feared we were doomed to stay in this country. Rumors were particularly disheartening at this time.

We went into April. Then the new draft sent us the pick of the young men of the country. Even more carefully selected than the first contingent, they were a wonderful body of men. The machine-gun companies of the division were given the pick of these men. They were great- sound physically, highly intelligent, ambitious.

Within a week of this the great day came. The major summoned the officers of my battalion, the Three Hundred and Forty-first Machine-Gun Battalion, into his office at noon of a Saturday in late April.

No one suspected the great news. A pal of mine had just bet another officer $10 that we would not see France before September. All of us wanted to "climb on."

Sub-Headings:

 

A Sentence of Meaning

Gentlemen, the day we have worked for and prayed for has come," the major said. "We will leave for France within the next week." Simply put, but with a world of meaning. We looked at each other, dazed for the moment, and then every one grinned. At last! Of course numerous detail orders accompanied the big one, orders as to packing and schedules and training. We "fell to" with all the "pep" we had. We drilled the men of the new draft. We rushed them, feverish with enthusiasm. They responded. It was in the air. Then "they" broke our hearts. Within a week of the first order came another, canceling the first. We were not to go. Back to drudgery. We plugged along. Within another week came a second order to go to France, apparently final this time, for exact schedules of departure were given. We spent the next week packing. The recruits got little consideration. One officer would take them out and drill them and the others would supervise the packing, for it is a man’s size job, this getting a division ready to go overseas.

My battalion was among the last to go. We saw other units march to the station, board the trains and pull out for the East and the Great Adventure. Finally it came our turn. We hiked to the station in full packs, got on the train in remarkable quick time and pulled out. No fuss and feathers. Only friends in the division were there to see us go. We shook hands, swung aboard and were off.

It was a wonderful trip east; weather just right in that early June and accommodations all that could be desired. As we went through Kansas City, Chicago, Ohio, Detroit, Niagara Falls, Rochester and Syracuse crowds met us at the station and pressed gifts of chocolate and cigarettes on us and told us to bring back the Kaiser. A million times they said the last. The youngsters swarmed about us, and if we had time we would parade through the town with the kids running alongside or carried on the shoulders of some husky "buck."

"Kids" the Emblem.

The kids were just right. They were the emblem, the thing we were fighting for. They were cousins of the little Belgians and French whose arms the dirty Germans cut off. They didn’t know what it was all about, but they were mightily worked up-and so were we, I guess. New York: A real adventure right there for the Middle West "doughboys" to see the Statue of Liberty and the Battery and Brooklyn Bridge. We docked in Brooklyn and took a train to Camp Mills. We stayed there five days, subjected to numerous inspections. One bright Monday afternoon, June 4, we boarded the ship Tennyson, an English vessel that had just been impressed from the Argentine beef trade. I didn’t say "good ship." She was sound enough, but the men were frightfully crowded. It took us seventeen days to cross, too. You may remember that German submarines were operating just outside New York harbor at this time. From the moment we stepped on board we were in the war, with strict safety rules, submarine guards, no lights.

We landed at Tillbury Docks, Gravesend, London, the morning of June 21. As we stepped from the boat we were handed a card bearing greetings from King George. Our look at London was short, for we immediately went aboard a train and whisked away to Winchester.

We spent five days there at a "rest camp." The men always italicize this term when they say it. There wasn’t much rest. Still, there was relaxation and a change from the monotony of ship life. After five days we went to Southhampton by train and took a small channel steamer for Le Havre, the famous French port in Normandy.

That was a weird ride. Past the English fortifications we dashed, one small ship, packed to the gunwales with men, accompanied by two destroyers, The moon came up, absolutely full. I stood on the bow all night and watched the clouds scud over the moon and the destroyers dash back and forth in front of us. Toward dawn I fell asleep. When I awoke we were snuggled alongside a dock, in France at last.

We disembarked a little later and then started trudging with full packs to a British rest camp at the outskirts of Le Havre. It was a peculiar place, inhabited by troops of a dozen nations, French, English, Scotch, Canadians, Australians, Portuguese, Italians, Sengalese, Moroccans, Indo-Chinese. The boys fell in with them like veterans. We made ourselves at home in the barracks and tried to get used to the "chow."

 

"Looked Like War."

There was talk of air raids, and they had signals worked out, to be given on a siren. Looked like real war. All of us tried our hand at French. It sounded so different than it was spelled. We fraternized with the English, many of whom had just come, on leave from the Italian front, where they had taken the starch out of the Austrians.

The English were cocky over their victory and exhibited souvenirs, grabbed from the Austrians. They ridiculed the idea of the Austrians attempting to attack them.

"It was too dawmed silly," one little English lieutenant exclaimed.

"Do you know, the beggaws actually attempted to attack US!"

We stayed around Havre seven days and got chummy with the English. They are a wonderful race. You dont like them at first and probably at frequent intervals thereafter. They have a knack of rubbing you the wrong way, probably because of their intense complacency and confidence that they, and only they, can be right on any subject under the sun. Then you get to know a man better and you realize his inherent modesty, his poise, his probable courage, his hatred of pose and bluster and bluff. You feel his intense pride of race – the pride that sent the best of Englands blood to die on the battlefield with never a thought of the heroic or the dramatic; the pride that made civilians deny they were badly off in June, when even the most casual observer could not help knowing they were starving, giving every available inch of tonnage to the hauling of our troops and letting food and fuel and other necessities go.

Then we got our first introduction to the famous "Hommes, 40, Cheveaux (en Long) 8" box cars. One of the thousands of Negro stories in France concerned these cars. I havent seen it printed in the United States, so I will risk telling it: Two Negro infantrymen were regarding one of these box cars. They read the sign displayed on it. Then one of them roused himself from his contemplations and spoke up: "I figures it this way, Sam. If we is Chevoxes we am sittin pretty; but if we is Hommese we is sure outa luck!"

 

 

 

 

 

12 – Hour Trip Takes 38.

We were "Hommese," so the men rode forty in a car, with hay to keep them warm. Fortunately it was not cold then, in June. We were bound for St. Blin, a small town in the department of Haute Marne, in Lorraine. The division would be billeted thereabouts. Looking at the map, reducing the kilometers to miles and remembering the speed of American trains, we reckoned on a twelve-hour trip. It took us thirty-eight.

We were pretty well fagged when we disentrained at St. Blin, about 10 oclock the night of July 2. We stood about in the dusk of the station platform, everyone "counted off," hitched the heavy packs high and "pulled" a weary squads left. Down the road we swung at route step. On we hiked, along a smooth, well-paved French road. Trees lined it. Some one started a song. The kilometers seemed interminable. At midnight we came to the village in which my battalion was to be billeted, Chalvraines.

We were guided to the quarters the company was to occupy, a stone barn, dirty, out of repair, with a leaking roof. The men were told to fall down where they could that night. The officers staggered to billets and climbed between sheets for the first time in ten days, That seemed a long period – then.

We started what they called "intensive training." It was all of that. Drill began at 7:30, preceded by a general "policing up" of the barn and adjacent grounds and a mile hike to the drill ground, carrying machine guns, tripods, ammunition and spare parts. The day was devoted to drill, firing on the range, grenade throwing, hikes, maneuvers.

We advanced on each other through woods and across field, and umpires decided whether the advancers or the hidden machine guns won. We went into "dummy" trenches and effected reliefs and called for barrages and picked off Germans – in our imaginations.

We thought we were rotten, "They" told us we were. "They" despaired of us ever being good enough to inhabit real trenches and stop real Germans. That made us work harder. So it was good propaganda.

After four weeks of this an order gave us two hours to get ready – ready for the real thing. We rushed to pack. Trucks were to meet us the next morning. We stayed up all night getting things ready. We climbed into the trucks.

Toul Guess Is Right.

The war was coming closer.

We ran into members of the Second and Third divisions in Toul, and they told us of Chateau Thierry and the Vesle. We knew nothing of them before, for newspapers did not exist for us. These "doughboys" were veterans and we listened eagerly as they told of frightful casualties and wonderful bravery. Their conclusion was always the same:

Weve got them squareheads licked. They cant fight like we can. "All along the road, as we went up, troops yelled at us: "Give em hell." The veterans commented on this: "They tell you to give em hell, when you are going in, but when you come out they say, Well, they gave you hell, didnt they?’"

It was a great life – and we didnt weaken. Ahead of us was adventure, the real thing. Why, if you looked close you could see a Boche plane some day. Listen hard at nights and you could hear German artillery. We were in it, at last.

Toul Dirty, but Welcome.

Toul was the first French community seen by the infantry of the Eighty-ninth that could be dignified by the name of "city." In reality it is a gangling, dirty town, graced by a cathedral of unusual beauty.

All of us took favorably to it, however. Our four weeks in France had been spent in the small villages between Chaumont and Neuf-chateau, in the Haute Marne department. It is, perhaps, the dirtiest section of France. One was expected to accept cows and roosters on terms of perfect equality. They overdid the spirit of fellowship. Furthermore, it rained a great part of the time. The work was arduous and the only amusement was the writing of letters. I dont think it is far-fetched to class this occupation as an amusement, for some of the men let their fancy gambol at will in their missives home, describing the roar of big guns and the hum of airplanes just as graphically as if they really heard and saw these things.

So we took what amusements Toul offered and the work permitted. There were several good restaurants and a good Y. M. C. A. hut. My battalion was billeted in an old French barracks. The officers slept in bare rooms in what had been a French hospital. There was no room for drill and most of our time was taken up, anyway, with inspection of equipment.

We knew we would go in shortly, although we were supposed to assume that we were merely sightseeing there. We studied our maps and learned that the trenches were about twenty kilometers, or twelve miles, north of us. We knew we were about fifty kilometers from Nancy, the unfortunate town that the German planes bombed every clear night that summer. We knew that the trenches near us were in what was called a quiet sector, that the French had stopped Germans there in 1914, and had held them ever since.

The night of August 2 our battalion commander, Maj. Shiverick, formerly divisional adjutant, and later severely gassed while at the head of an infantry battalion, called all of the officers into a small room on the first floor of the hospital building in which we were billeted.

Civil War History Repeated.

He made sure that no one could eavesdrop, for Toul was full of German spies, and then he called us around a large table on which were spread two maps. I couldnt help thinking of all the civil war plays I had seen, in which there is invariably a "map" scene, much clicking of heels, exit orderly, and a slow curtain, with the diminishing sound of horses hoofs as the old general gazes pensively out into the night.

Not that there was anything "stagey" about this scene. But it was dramatic. The major told us that we were to go into the trenches within the next five days, and that we were to relieve the Eighty-second Division.

Maj. Shiverick was the perfect type of soldier. He believed in you, until you proved yourself unworthy of his belief. He later showed himself a perfect soldier when he deliberately removed his gas mask in a gas-choked dugout, so that he would be able to use the field telescope to call for more ambulances for his men. In so doing he was badly gassed.

He showed all of us the maps of the sector we were to take over. The One Hundred and Seventy-seventh Infantry Brigade, with the Three Hundred and Forty-second Machine Gun Battalion, was to hold the right of the line. On their right would be a French division. The left of the line was to be held by the One Hundred and Seventy-eighth Infantry Brigade, with the Three Hundred and Forty-second Machine Gun Battalion. The line ran from Regnieville to Limey, about 10 kilometers.

The infantry regiments were to hold the trenches, in order from right to left, the Three Hundred and Fifty-third, or "Sunflower," Regiment, the "All-Kansas" outfit, on the right, and on their left the Three Hundred and Fifty-fourth, the "All Missouri" Regiment, the Three Hundred and Fifty-fifth and Three Hundred and Fifty-sixth, in order. There were three battalions of four-line companies each, in each regiment and a battalion would hold the front line in its regimental sector, with another battalion behind it, in support, and the third battalion behind the two, in reserve.

Since there were six machine-gun companies to every brigade, or two regiments of infantry, there could be allotted one machine-gun company to each battalion of infantry. A machine-gun company consists of three combat platoons of four machine guns each. Four other guns are held in reserve, at company headquarters, to be rushed to a threatened part of the line, or employed in a barrage. On going into the lines a machine-gun company would be split and each of the three platoons assigned to a company of infantry.

U.S. Trenches Are Marked.

 

Maj. Shiverick indicated on the map what our positions would be and what positions the Boche held. Our trenches were shown in red and the German trenches in blue. He told us that the relief would be effected in two nights. Half of the sector would be taken over from the Eighty-second Division on the night of August 6-7 and half on the night of 7-8. We were to go in of the latter date. Then he read an intelligence report, prepared by the Eighty-second Division. We were told what division of Bavarian Landsturm would oppose us. They were rated first-class troops, the report said. We need not expect an immediate attack in this sector, although the German division opposite us was rated an aggressive outfit and undoubtedly would attempt raids. Air activity was increasing. Artillery activity was limited to systematic "strafing" of lines of communication.

The trenches were described as in first-class condition, the soil rocky and of a clay composition. There were plenty of woods. The trenches were said to be clean because they had only been occupied since March of that year when the French of their own volition fell back a kilometer to them from a line they had held since 1914.

Maj. Shiverick told us of a raid the Eighty-second had put over the night before to get prisoners. They had taken one man, but lost men when a chance German shell burst in a packed trench after the raid was over. He said the noise of their box barrage, twenty kilometers away, could be heard plainly in Toul at 3 in the morning. We knew it had not wakened us, at any rate.

We were told how positively secretive this order of relief was. The German command would give a good deal to know just when we were to take over. Then Maj. Shiverick told us that three officers and six noncommissioned officers from each company in the battalion would go on a visit of inspection to the trenches held by the Eighty-second next day.

The picking was a diplomatic job, for, of course, every one wanted to go.

Early the next morning we started. That was August 3. The three officers and six noncommissioned officers of each company were loaded into two Ford trucks. One man could sit with the driver, the others in the back of the truck. We spread our maps in available spaces not occupied. Supply or troop traffic was allowed.

Seeing the War at Last.

Down the road from our barracks into Toul we sped, and then out of Toul on the main road to the front. We went through Menil-la-Tour and Manonville and stopped in Minorville. There we got directions from an adjutant in a brigade headquarters of the Eighty-second.

We were now seeing the war. What we had read of artillery and trenches, of lines of communication and troops in reserve was now being unfolded before our eyes. From Menil-la-Tour, about twelve kilometers behind the trenches, forward was the danger zone and no supply or troop traffic was allowed between dawn and dusk. Troop movements along the roads had to be finished outside of these hours.

The roads we sped over were camouflaged with chicken wire nailed to poles, the netting being laid between the German lines and the road. Only an occasional staff car ventured on these roads. The village of Minorville was brigade headquarters and was occupied by troops in reserve. It must have been the dirtiest, most unkempt village in France. Shell had taken off about half the roofs, but it was not the ruin that impressed but the neglect, the dirt, the debris. Soldiers lounged along the streets – Yanks. They were of the Eighty-second and had been "up front." I admit we had a frank awe for them. They had been put in to hold the lines against Fritz and they had held.

As we left Minorville we came to a sign along the road that gave us another war thrill.

"Gas masks will be worn at the alert position from here on forward," read the sign. We squirmed around in our crowded positions and adjusted the masks snugly up on our chests, about 4 inches below the chin.

The sky was cloudless. The French countryside was fair, with only an occasional pockmark that told of the burst of a shell. It was a picnic, not war. Here we bowled along, day perfect, lunches tied up in our packs, spirits joyous, interested hugely in every passing clump of trees or ditch or house.

Two of us had shifted our gaze to the skies in front of us and presently we picked out some airplanes, swinging along in the same direction we were going. They were fairly high, about 1500 meters I should judge (although judgment is poor at this sort of work) and in a few moments we had settled to our satisfaction that they were four in number.

Not Planes, but Shrapnel.

We had just finished deciding there were four when two more sprang into view alongside them. Then two more. It was astonishing. Where had these late arrivals suddenly appeared from?

Then we got it. Those were not planes that were appearing, but shrapnel bursts. Our antiaircraft batteries were shooting at these four German planes that were making a reconnaissance this clear day. We yelled at the others not to miss it, and all of us craned our necks. The men driving the cars couldn’t stand the strain, and rather than run us into a ditch stopped the Fords and looked too.

The spectacle didn’t last long. The planes separated, two to the right, two to the left. They changed course suddenly and rose or dived. It was beautiful to watch the battle of wits. The "archie" gunners were trying to guess what move the Boche would make next, and the Boche were trying to make moves the gunners couldn’t guess.

They got away. I guess they always did. An aviator has to be in horrible luck to be hit by an "archie." He has everything in his favor. I have seen planes shot at dozens of times by antiaircraft batteries, but never saw one hit by a shell. Our planes used to come over in the late evening and fly up and down the German front lines, letting Fritz throw everything had at them and making seemingly marvelous escapes.

It was too bad when the four Boche got away safely; not so much because they were Boche as because it was a game and we had our sympathies with the opposition. The spirit of war was seeping in, I suppose. The artilleryman, sending over concentrated death, the machine gunner mowing down an attacking wave, the infantryman making quick use of his bayonet are not actuated by hatred, but playing the game, pitting their skill against an unknown opponent, proving they are the best men.

We had picked up a guide, a first lieutenant, at Minorville, and at his direction we got out of the cars and parked them under some trees. The rest of the journey was to be on foot. As we left the road and started through an open field toward a woods about a mile away, we took the formation designed as best against artillery fire; strung out not more than two men together, 50 yards between pairs.

The Germans were dropping high explosive about 600 yards to our right in the field, but, strangely enough, we didn’t notice it or seem to realize what it was.

As we came into the woods we gathered again. "Doughboys" of the Eighty-second were sitting about, polishing bayonets, cleaning guns or just gazing pensively at nothing. They were in support of the company in the front lines. We were directed to take a narrow path through the woods.

Real, Genuine Soldiers.

We had been standing around looking at these REAL, genuine soldiers, with that species of goggle-eyed wonder with which one surveys a marvelous machine. By George, these fellows were it!

"Cooties bad?" someone of our party asked. That seemed a knowing question.

"No cooties," growled a "buck," polishing his rifle.

"How do you get your chow?"

"Carried up, of course."

Evidently a plain man, unimpeachable, hard. A soldier, not an orator.

Then we made a ghastly discovery. No, not a body, nor a cootie, nor an inspector. But that we were heading the wrong way. It was really our guide’s fault. It seemed we were to relieve the company holding the line several kilometers to the right of where we had gone. Here it was 10 in the morning. We had to be back that evening in Toul.

About face, and a quick return to the parked Fords. The drivers were won from the lure of vin blanc and told where to go. We hurried along another camouflaged road, bearing tight. Back through Manonville we went, and again to the right and down a steep hill.

We were glad of the change. This part of the sector seemed more like the real thing. The woods were thick and we sped past plenty of artillery, manned by French artillerymen. They would give a friendly wave, we would answer it and be out of sight.

The dugouts were fascinating, pretentious affairs, built in the solid rock, with rustic benches and fences and walks lined with loops of wood. Evidently they belonged to the French artillery officers, who believed in living as comfortably as fate permitted.

(Sidebar article)

‘Kids’ Were Just Right, the Emblem, or U. S. Cousins

The trip of the Eighty-ninth Division through the United States to the port of embarkation and the "kids" on the way is described by Darst as follows:

The youngsters swarmed about us, and if we had time we would parade through the town with the kids running alongside or carried on the shoulders of some husky "buck."

The kids were just right. They were the emblem, the thing we were fighting for. They were cousins of the little Belgians and French whose arms the dirty Germans cut off. They didn’t know what it was all about, but they were mightily worked up- and so were we, I guess.

(Sidebar article)

Darst Tells of Intensive Work on French Soil

Darst says, regarding his first intensive training in France:

We advanced on each other through woods and across field, and umpires decided whether the advancers or the hidden machine guns won. We went into "dummy" trenches and effected reliefs and called for barrages and picked off Germans- in our imaginations.

We thought they were rotten. "They" told us we were. "They" despaired of us ever being good enough to inhabit real trenches and stop real Germans. That made us work harder. So it was good propaganda.

(The third installment of Darst’s story will be printed in tomorrow’s Globe-Democrat.)

More Stories by James E. Darst