Swarthmore College Peace Collection, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19050 USA
“Diary” kept by Allen S. Olmsted while
enlisted in 14th Engineers, 1918-1919
[transcribed by Anne M. Yoder, May 2005; some punctuation added; many words, especially place names, are mostly illegible and are indicated as such with a line and a bracket with a question mark in it (some words have been guessed at in which case a bracket with a question mark after it appears); diary is available in DG 095: Papers of Allen S. Olmsted II]
March 21, 1918, Thursday
After just 1 week in the hospital I went back to work feeling very well. Work mostly as brakeman – also on Section [?] & Camp details. Monday, March 18, went with detachment of 14 others to Bazentin[?]. There are here some 40 Co. C men & 20 Co. B men – all privates except 2 Sgts. and one 1st Lt. At present 3 locomotives. The Baldwin operates in the heavy rail between here & Bapaume, the 2 Hudsons on the light rail east of here. Business in now salvage and road material.
My job is Clerk to the Lt. Keep reports and send in daily & weekly reports to Pozieres. Not much work. While Corp. Rickford[?] is sick I also am a sort of yardmaster, telling the crews where to go and what to take. This is a transmission of orders from Lt. Hoyle & from Pozieres but requires quite a little independent work too, and keeps me pretty busy and is a good chance to learn.
On the night of March 20-21 a very heavy bombardment started which is still continuing, and may be the great German push we have been hearing about for months.
March 22, 1918, morning
The bombardment continued all day. Apparently all English guns, 1 large one on each side of us is near enough to hear the whizz as well as the loud report.
About 8 oclock last night word came that the Germans had broken thru and orders were issued to pack up ready to leave. Later it was arranged for the 2 Hudsons and 4 cars to take all equipment to Aveluy – the men to march with what they could carry to Albert. The orders came from Pozieres, where, according to Geo. Burns, an English officer had talked to them. Capt. Peltcher is acting major at Pozieres. Communication with Barsleux[?] has been cut.
People from Pozieres early in the evening said that lorries full of German wounded had come down the road. Also that at Lightly[?], Sgt. Maj. had been killed by shell in Bapaume. Later the reports run toward German success. About midnight Lt. Hoyle came in to say that the 5th line trenches had been taken. This came from the operator at Butte and was apparently only gossip.
German warplanes came over twice in the early evening and we were ordered into the dug-out. Everybody was slow to go and the second time not more than half did go. No one seemed excited over the order to go, but some made more thorough preparations than others. To me it seemed unthinkable that after all their preparations the Germans should break thru in a day. It looks to me as though someone at Pozieres had got panicky.
In the morning the English had had no orders to evacuate and did not seem to expect them. Trains were sent out for salvaging, as usual, and a train of mining timber was sent to Bapaume. Pozieres central says one engine is being used to pull hospital trains; it is said (by others) that the Albert Bapaume road has been shelled and torn up.
March 23, Saturday morning
All yesterday the firing continued. In the morning an Indian Labor Co. marched past toward the rear. Our salvage trains went out as usual. A train of mining timber was sent to Bapaume.
In the evening I went out as a brakeman. At Woods Jct. we passed a hospital train - 4 WD cars with sides and roof. It was filled full with slightly wounded men, many of them standing. Later the other hospital train came by – 4 cars with canvas sides, apparently[?] fixed for stretchers and with the sides down. We had expected to go to Bapaume but at Battle Loop were sent back to Woods Jct. with a train of ammunition and Engineer stores. At Woods about 10:30 or 11 pm, orders came that all trains and engineers were to come back toward Woods & Pozieres (away from the front). Not even the empty hospital train was sent up. The L.R. Operating Co. at Bapaume had moved to the Butts and, apparently, might go further back.
This morning the guns are going as hard as ever, or harder. There are rumors that we are to go to Ypres – that the Germans are within a mile of Bapaume etc. but all is calm here. Salvage trains sent out as usual.
Yesterday’s Official Communique states that the Germans attacked on a front of about 50 miles – from Arras to St. Quentin, & that they had reached none of their objectives. Apparently this front includes Sim’s équipps[?] at Foreste near H___[?] and St. Quentin.
March 24, 1918. Palm Sunday, noon
Yesterday went by calmly, the guns keeping it up all day. In the evening a British Heavy Artillery Battery came in and were quartered with us. We had 6 sergeants with us. They had a battery of 6 8 in. guns which they could not get out because of no transportation. An hour after the Germans were in their town they evacuated.
During the night some 20 or 30 Scotch Infantry (Seaforth Highlanders) came in and were put in the dugout[?]. In the morning about 9 am they went out again dirty and lame. The fellows quote their officers as saying that they had been cut off from the rest and had lost their way and had now gone back.
All this morning troops have been coming by in great numbers. 2 battalions of the Kings Royal Rifles had hardly a hundred men each (800 normal strength). They had been relieved. They report the Germans in Bus and as coming over in great numbers.
An ambulance company, with an American officer attached, came by about 11. The English officer says the Germans are in Rocquigny[?] – about 10 miles from here – but others say Ypres.
A wagon with some 6 men (no NCOs) belonging to a Battery stopped. They don’t know where their battery is. They have a man with a broken leg, and one with a bad foot – both caused by a horse kick or being crushed against a lorrie.
Our men seem remarkably indifferent to it all. Some, including Lt. Hoyle, tend to believe all the worst stories and to blame the English. Some are little [a little?] disposed to give the men cigarettes, food, or comfort.
March 25, Monday afternoon
Sgt. Harry Garder[?] says he heard Lt. Hoyle telephone Pozieres yesterday noon that we were being shelled, which was not the case. The best reports were that the Bosch was still 10 miles away. About 2 pm on orders from an English Staff Officer, we were ordered to pack up, and left about 4 [1?] pm for Pozieres, taking 2 engines and 5 cars and all our equipment.
The Albert Bapaume road was crowded with traffic – guns, lorries, wagons, & troops all going away from the front. It was said that many had gone the other way earlier in the day.
After supper I volunteered to go to NIA for ammunition but all the trains were cancelled. Instead several of the locos were wrecked (not badly however) and the Bapaume L.R. ____[?] ( Eng.) which had been at Pozieres moved out.
We shipped our blue barrack bags and 2 blankets each to Aveluy by rail, and ourselves marched there. I had to leave some clothes and my suit case and all my books behind me. We marched with 3 blankets, ____[?], knapsack full of extra clothing & “iron rations” (hard tack, bully[?] beef, & tea), canteen, gas mask, steel helmet, a rifle, a very heavy load.
We left Pozieres about 9:30 and reached Aveluy about 11, and after some delay turned in to the huts occupied by our Aveluy detachment.
On the way over several guns further from the front than we were fired and we saw a number of explosions – apparently bombs at Bapaume & Treves[?] Woods.
Sleeping on the floor and cold. I did not get much sleep and we were bombarded by aeroplanes. Some bombs struck the main street of Aveluy 2 or 3 hundred yards away; we saw the big holes in the morning. Apparently the target was the railroad.
Earlier in the evening we saw an air fight, but no planes were brought down.
Before six this morning we were got out and started about 6:30 without breakfast. About 8 we had our iron rations for breakfast and moved on. The load made it very hard going and we were all ready to drop at every halt which came at least once a mile. The road from Aveluy to Bouzincourt[?] and Acheux was crowded but less so than the Albert-Bapaume road. We passed several Battalions of infantry going to the front in good step and not weighted down and straggling like our men. But there was no singing, or cheering, or exchanging of greetings, and the English looked serious.
About 1, after a number had dropped out and after we had loaded our packs and blanket rolls in the lorry, just out of Acheux, we arrived at this camping ground (Lealville). It is near an aerodrome and just adjoining the broad gauge Railway, so we shall probably be bombed, especially if it is as clear a moonlight as it has been every night since the 21st. There is a cold wind, the first cold day since the 21st. We have pitched tents. The train, which is the headquarters of the broad gauge Railway, III Army, formerly at Grevillers[?], near Bapaume is on a siding near here. Very tired from the march of 10 or 12 miles.
March 26, Tuesday noon
After supper last night we pulled up our tents and loaded all our stuff in the broad gauge. Slept in box cars – 12 to a car and cold because of cracks in the floor. Went only 10 or 12 miles, to ___[?], where we disembarked in the morning.
Reports are still contradictory as to the success of the battle. An English officer says they have taken____ le G____[?] but not Bapaume. An R E says Treves Wood & Pozieres are taken. Monday’s Daily Mail says “A new line[?]on the Somme” and the official communique for Sunday night says they have crossed the Somme south of Peronne[?], which must mean that Sim’s[?] town of Foreste is captured.
Some German prisoners in cars waiting in the yard say that there were 5 Germans to 1 English. They seem cheerful enough and eager to swap ____[?] etc. for cigarettes.
March 27, 1918. Wednesday morning
Went by rail from Candas[?] to a field just outside of Doullens pitched tents & immediately pulled them up again and went back on the train. About midnight we came to Thievres and disembarked. Thievres is back toward the line again 9 kilos from Doullens toward Albert and not very far from the end of the March from Aveluy.
Bombs were dropped near our train and they say (apparently true) a Canadian on the other end of the train in an open car, was hit by shrapnel from one. It is also said (but perhaps not true) that the place where we pitched tents was bombed after we left, as was also this camp before we arrived.
Ever since Lealville we have been with a train which is the headquarters of the III Army broad gauge.
During the night and morning a great many Australians passed us going up to the lines, swinging along and singing.
Rumors about the progress of affairs vary. Some say the English have taken Ostend. This rumor is very persistent. Others say the Germans are in Albert. 2 English infantrymen came into camp to get something to eat. Said there were only 20 left so far as they knew of their Battalion. They held the line east of Bapaume and left it Monday night still east of Bapaume. They said the Germans came[?] over thick arm in arm so that it was impossible to miss them with a machine gun.
In Doullens we saw some thousands of German prisoners, under guard but not in a cage.
On this road are many French old men, women & children going west with their belongings, in carts.
There are patrols in the hills, and it is said there are many spies about and also that there are armed German parties including an armored car, roaming around the country.
Had tents to sleep in last night, crowded[?] but still pretty cold. Food plenty & good.
March 28, Thursday night
Nothing done yesterday afternoon and no news from the war. Today’s reports are still conflicting. Have seen no newspaper since Sunday’s Daily Mail.
My tent was vacated to make room for officers. Moved into YMCA tent, where I have about 3 linear feet. Pulled some dry marsh grass and made a thin bed. Got 2 extra blankets, which made 7 thicknesses of blanket under me and 3 over and slept in all my clothes, including 4 sweaters and a coat but still cold.
Shortly after 7 oclock marched to the top of the hill and dug trenches, 3 ft. deep, 3ft. wide at bottom, 5 ft. at top, 18 in. from top to edge of parapet, and parapet 18 inches high. A cold wind, as there has been since Sunday, and early in afternoon a rain set in. We dug from 8:15 to 6:30 with an hour out at noon and took 15 minute rests, but in the afternoon work went very slow, and the fellows stood or sat still in the rain. As the men got tired there was the usual tendency to knock the English. We were told that there would be only 3 days of this which kept spirits up in the morning. Capt. Pelletier’s undiscriminatory abusiveness help to discourage. Still there was a lack of the this-is-war-and-we-will-take-what-is-coming-to-us spirit in many of the fellows– at least in their talk.
The trench was in a ploughed field; just over the western brow of the field a person rolled this field all afternoon. Either his work or ours will be unnecessary. Another parallel trench was built about 100 yds. up the hill by Canadians and Portugese [sic].
March 10, Saturday night
Yesterday we dug trenches the same hours – leave camp at 7 am, march about 2 miles & dig 8 am to 6:30 pm with 1 hr. out after dinner, and 2 fifteen minute rests. Good weather yesterday but rain started today before dinner. We quit at 4:30.
Thursday & Saturday night the ground where I slept was wet and a puddle by my head I had to cover with my trench helmet. The straw, however, kept me dry, but I had to go to work in wet clothes. Food very good.
Friday’s Daily Mail shows that the Germans continue to advance and now hold Pozieres, and Albert is about on the line. Can’t tell how far they are from here, but we can’t hear the guns where we are working. Foreste & H___[?] where Sims was are now well behind the German lines.
Tired tonight and more trenches tomorrow.
Thursday night’s official communique shows the nearest part of the front to be 10 miles from where we were digging (on the hill just out of Athie).
Easter Sunday, March 31
On the hill again, but task work today – 3 yds. of trench (about 108 sq. ft.) per man. Finished about 4, and very tired.
The Scotch Sergeant explained that when the trenches are to be held permanently the back half is dug 3 ft. deeper, and a chunk taken out of the back, so as to make the present floor a firing shelf. Viz [sketch of trench appears here in diary].
On clear nights we have no lights. Night before last a light was burning in one tent and everybody in it including those asleep, had to get up and march 8 miles, some of the way at double quick. Word had been passed around (but it was not authenticated) “all right on the lights.”
Wednesday, April 3
On Monday built first trenches, just like the other except that they were on the front side of the hill in front of the barb wire where you could see a long way in front.
Tuesday and today on water detail. Go to Pas (about 2 or 3 miles) in truck and bring water back from the pump and lug it to kitchen. Easy job.
Papers hard to get. Sunday’s Daily Mail says heavy fighting is to the south near Mondidier where the French are holding. Yesterday morning we could hear a barrage, and last night we could hear big guns and shells bursting (possible bombs). Not so much traffic as heretofore but troops go by in both directions. No excitement. The villages are much fuller than usual.
New Zealanders, Chinese, Portugese [sic], Canadians & Americans are all working on the trenches now. At 3 yards per man per day they get thru soon after dinner.
Thursday, April 4
Water detail again. Just as glad as it has rain[ed] all day.
Restricted to camp for 2 weeks for being late to work on second day. I had only 2 suits of clothes of which one was wet. Slept in dry one and kept it on until after breakfast. As breakfast was not served until about 6:30, instead of 6:15 and I was near end of line, I was not ready at 7.
Tuesday paper says the Germans are 10 miles from Amiens and the heaviest fighting is there. North of the Somme the line goes thru Boisleux and Albert.
Last night and night before, either big guns fired or shells hit, a few miles away,- I think from the sound, the latter.
Saturday, April 6
Yesterday at water detail again. Good fun with French family opposite the pump in Pas. Get a glass of milk every day.
Last Sunday Collier & Pifer went to Officers’ School. Pifer didn’t want to go. I am anxious to transfer to anything at all and have written Dick Newhall[?] to see if he can get me transferred to his regiment (Regular Infantry).
When my application for a commission came back from RHQ last December, I wrote to Mr. G.S. Patterson, Genl. _ol[?] 1 RR, asking him to ask Genl. Attenbury[?] to consider it on its merits. Genl. Attenbury[?] wrote to the regiment, the letter coming thru while Maj. Guffry was Acting Colonel. He answered the letter but my application was not called for and the matter came to me indirectly.
Mr. Cunningham wrote in January that he had suggested my name to Colonel Wilgus for a commission in a railroad regiment he is organizing, and that it had been cabled over, but I have heard nothing of it since.
Major Guffry has been promoted to Lt. Col., Capt. Levett, Co. E, to Major 1st Bn., Lt. Hawley to Capt. & Adjutant 1st Bn., Sgt. Everett to 2 nd Lt. & Regtl. Adjutant, Sgt. Banter[?] to 2 nd Lt. Col, Sgt. Strade[?] to 1st Lt., and numerous other promotions. N____[?] is now 1st Sgt.,____[?] Shane[?] Sgt. 1st Cl.
There is a lull in the fighting.
This morning we pulled up camp and are now waiting to move.
April 6, 1918, Sat. night
1st anniversary of declaration of war.
Right after dinner marched thru Pas to Mandicourt (about 3 or 4 miles), then by train to Fosseux, thence to a camp just out of Hauteville – about 10 miles from the line which, due east, is Boisleux.
April 8, 1918, Monday night
No duty yesterday. Today started building a narrow gauge railway right next to camp. 8 hrs. work 7:30-11:30; 1-5.
Sleeping in a tent with 9 others. Sleep in straw on the ground. Fairly warm & comfortable. Rain today, making the Co. street a sea of mud.
The guns at night are loud. Last night 3 shots from a big gun, apparently very near.
Had a talk with Major Lovett last night & told him about my court-martial and about Major Guffry thinking I betrayed confidential information. He said he “had a sense of humor” and that I should work to win my way back.
Bombardment (either shells or guns) near ____[?] tonight. Continued busy[?]. R____[?].
April 11, 1918, Thursday
Yesterday we finished the line originally alloted [sic] to us, and today built more line. Today we had task work, about 110 ____[?] ft. per man which by hard work our squad finished & had a late dinner. Shortly after dinner, however, those under company punishment (i.e., restriction) including myself had to go back to finish some work others didn’t have time to do. I was tired and did very little work.
Pretty heavy bombardment the last 2 days. Papers tell of German attack north of Arras and Lloyd George’s speech in the Commons admits the seriousness of the situation. A heavier battle yet is to be expected.
Another dispatch says the Germans were in Albert Tuesday, March 26. We left Pozieres Sunday night, and Aveluy Thursday morning.
April 13, 1918, Saturday night
Yesterday worked a train near Lattre[?] St. Quentin and today, near Tillery[?] – a five mile walk from here.
Yesterday a shell struck 2 or 3 miles from here and killed several men of the 11 thEngrs. (_y[?]) who were digging trenches.
A good deal of firing and some bombing – new moon last night. At present a continuous cannonade going on.
Fritz has started a new offensive around Armentieres – from La Bassel[?] to Belgium and has advanced several miles. Messines has been evacuated.
Letter from Sims, who left Foreste the 1st or 2 nd day of the drive and is now at Laval Mayonne[?].
April 15, 1918, Monday night
Yesterday grading and today tamping the low spots where ties have sunk into the mud. High north wind yesterday & cold today.
At present we are on the chord[?] of an arc, the German line having pushed ahead both north & south of us about 40 kilos due north [last 4 words crossed out in original diary]. Fritz holds Melville 40 kilos due north, east of Arras 15 or 20 kilos due north, and C____[?] 40 kilos due south.
April 16, 1918, Tuesday night
Tamping ties in morning. Washed clothes in afternoon.
Rumor about camp that the French & Americans have driven the Germans back to Bapaume.
April 19, Friday night
Still tamping ties. Some work fairly steady but most stall and I do because no one knows what to do and there is no system. Several men will tamp the same tie in succession. Weather has been cold and today it snowed.
Off restriction yesterday & went to Avesnes-le-Compte. Tonight up town to Hauteville where is a chateau with fine formal gardens enclosed in wall. Some B1 (Base) Eng. soldiers, who have just come into town, say they are supposed to put up a rear guard fight in the trenches between here and the village. We have orders to report to Lienville, 5 miles beyond Avesnes, in case of a retreat while we are out at work. The paper speaks of an impending push on this front.
The Germans have taken Bailleux[?] and the English have retired on the Ypres front.
April 23, Tuesday morning
Tamping ties still. Saturday we had some system and accomplished a good deal. Monday this was ____[?] and I did hardly an hours work all day. In the afternoon the gang was increased by 50 men but no more work was done.
Sunday didn’t work. Inspections all morning. All afternoon in Chateaux garden writing letters. In evening up town with Sam Langford.
Sunday night 100 recruits (50 for each company) came in. They left America March 14. They came from camps, mostly draft cantonments where they were attached to 13th or 16th Engrs. They come from Middle West. Our recruits were attached to the 11th. These men have been batted around the U.S. from camp to camp without drill and without work since Jan. and some have not been paid for 6 mos. Equipment is good – infantry frocks, winter caps, reefers, Springfield rifles. The transports are crowded. One ex-German boat had 5000.
Vaterland said to carry 10,000 at a trip.
April 24, Wed. night
Monday night went to Regimental Headquarters at Fosseux[?] to see Cheney. Several Co. A men are anxious to transfer & can’t.
Still working on ballasting. No change in military situation. Heavy barrage last night & tonight, & some shells fairly near.
April 26, Friday night
Ballasting. Lt. Hoyle threatened me twice with the Guard House & Court Martial yesterday for not working hard but I was working as much as the average or almost. Today I did almost nothing and no one said anything. It is always so – as long as you appear to be working when an officer is around, it makes no difference what you do at other times, nor how well or poorly your work is done.
Very much disgusted. Applied for a transfer to ____[?] or Infantry.
April 29, Monday night
Ballasting. Sunday off & went to Avesnes. Heavy bombardment last night.
May 1, Wed. afternoon
Yesterday morning camp detail. Last night & today on guard. M____[?], one of the prisoners, says Maj. Lovett appointed himself Summary Court Officer & then approved[?] his own sentence[?] & that he was refused acess [sic] to a Court Martial Manual.
May 3, Friday afternoon
For being the most soldierly officer in the guard (6 men, and I think Capt. Pelletier chose me out of partiality) I was given yesterday off. Went by work train to the end of the job, then walked a mile or two to Sa_y where the 16 thEngrs. (____[?]) are encamped. They were recruited as a construction regiment (at Detroit) and have been constructing a big camp & RD yard near Dijon, south of Paris. Now they are constructing & also operating up to Arras ____[?] Chateux[?].
By lorry to St. Pol. The Canadian camps are coming out of the line. St. Pol, though 24 miles from the front has been shelled. House next the church is in ruins. 4 hrs. in St. Pol, bought a French school grammar & history, & had a good dinner. Watched them unload stretcher cases from the ambulance at the station, laying them in rows on the platform. All the men were dressed in uniform and many had worn, drawn faces but none seemed to be in pain.
By lorrie to Frevent, a pretty town. Ran into Brownie Ramsdell and Abe Gould. Went into a tea-room, run by 4 young girls, age 17 to 25, I should say. Tried to teach them to dance (they had a phonograph). Also had a bottle of wine.
After a couple of miles walk caught a lorrie to Avesnes-le-Compt[?], where [I had] supper & walked home. Some 40 or 45 miles in all. Saw no American infantry.
Today in the section again. About 11:30, while we were near the railhead[?] about a mile from camp, 2 bombs hit about 200 or 300 yards beyond camp. You could hear the whistle of them, somewhat different in timbre from a shell & going straight down. The holes shaped so [drawing here in original diary] instead of [drawing here in original diary]. Also showed they were bombs, although the flame overhead was not noticed[?] by a fleet of 8 others near it. Shrapnel from it went through 2 tents in the camp. Sam Langford went running down the track for a dug-out very much frightened, but I wasn’t scared, & have not been at all. Can’t understand this.
May 10, Friday afternoon
All quiet on the front. Same old work – odd jobs on the railroad, reballasting soft spots, ditching, & last two days, loading & piling material in Fosseux yard. Last 3 nights up town to Yvonne’s house for milk or eggs.
May 16, Thursday night
All quiet on the front.
Sunday went to RHQ at Saultry[?]. Saturday an English officer and 5 or 6 sergeants came to drill us.
Sat. parts of rifle
Mon. mechanism of rifle
Tues. care " "
Wed. aiming " "
Thurs. bayonet drill (in scabbard)
Each day 1 hrs. drill and half a days work on railroad.
Fine weather since yesterday. Hot today.
May 18, Saturday night
Fri. drill - bayonet on bags. Sgt. tells us to holler & swear when we charge & thrust.
Sat.(last day) bayonet drill – short point parries & jab.
Air raid last night, but no bombs dropped near. For talking & being out of their tents after Taps, Capt. Post O[?] of D[?] ordered Corp. McDonald & 2 Privates to stand at attention 2 hrs. during the raid – the most dangerous position in case of attack. One of the privates was just returning from the latrine.
My application for transfer came back from Hqtr. – disapproved by the Major. I sent it in April 25, & it came back May 16 & didn’t go out of camp. A letter from WJC today enclosed a copy of a letter Mr. Hustin[?] wrote to Col. Wilgus asking for my transfer to another regiment of ay.[?] engrs.
Orders today to move tomorrow, – we don’t know whither but the dope is Calais. The next German drive is expected on this front any day now.
May 20, Monday night
Left Hauteville Sunday morning ca.[?] 7:30 via narrow gauge for Saultry[?]. Left Saultry[?] ____[?] broad gauge about noon, very slow via Daulens[?], St. Pal, Etaples, & Boulogne to Calais, where we arrived during the night. All were in good spirits & there was much shouting & cheering from the people, especially at Etaples, where there is a big hospital. “They’re the blokes we want to see,” yelled one, and, in general, all seemed glad to see the Americans, who seemed a novelty.
All the morning until after noon in Calais yard & then through the town & past the dock (where we stopped quite a while and wondered if we were going to England), along the sand dunes a couple of miles east where we disembarked & pitched camp.
The town is very near, and there is said to be a trolley line running out here. 2 nd Btn. left us at Calais yard. All 3 Cos. of 1st Bn. & RHQ here now. Very tired as I couldn’t sleep much on the train – a 2 nd class compartment for10 people occupied by 9 of us and equipment.
Joe Guffry who enlisted as Master[?] Engineer & went to the first instruction camp at the solicitation of his father, Major Guffry, and was commissioned 2 ndLt. in the Infantry, has been assigned to Co. B.
Many American soldiers in Calais – 28th Div. ( Pa., N.J.) ____[?] today.
May 21, Tuesday afternoon
No work today. Confined to camp for 5 days for framing[?] a right face when we were lined up to go for a bath – a very informal formation. Quite unjust, unless Capt. thought I was making fun of him, which I wasn’t, but was just on the qui vive for the bath.
May 23, Thursday afternoon
No work yet, only drill. Air raid night before last.
May 27, Monday afternoon
Construction work on broad gauge railroad, held up by a bridge. Only 1/2 day for me so far. Drill five periods of ¾ hrs. every day when not in detail.
Friday night with Sam Langford to Calais. Bought a guide book and went into “Eden” and “Trianon,” two whorehouses of great reputation. MS supposed to be “out of barracks” but the MPs didn’t stop us or anybody. Like any other cafe except not open to the street. Among the men circulated the girls dressed in short kid-like dresses, extending half way from hips to knees, and children’s short socks and a chemise. Hair done up like a child. They were reputed to be prettier than most whores but didn’t seem so, though cleaner. They had keys and you pay the house at the desk, 3 or 4 francs for the room and what you pleased to the girl. They came downstairs again pretty fast. Sam was pretty much excited by them but I wasn’t. This is the first time I ever went inside a house of prostitution.
Sunday in town, & walked all around, doing errands etc.
June 1, Saturday night
All this week on the R.R. – mostly cutting away sand dune to make a yard. This work could be done with one tenth of the men in less time with horses and scrapes. The idea is to make a line and yard connecting the voie des dunes (which runs from Calais along the shore) with the Calais-Dunquerque line, thus permitting boats to be unloaded and freight sent out without going through Calais.
Thursday (Decoration Day) we had off. Have been down town 2 or 3 times.
A request has come through, Wed. May 29, from the DRGT[?] saying that my services were wanted in the Transportation Dept., and asking if a transfer was satisfactory here, to which Capt. Pelletier said yes. Don’t know whether this originated with Major Brigham or Col. Perkins, or as a result of WJC’s letter to Col. Wilgus.
June 8, Sunday noon
All the week on the R.R. Mostly digging a track thru a sand dune. It is intended to be a sand loading track, and a great part of the work is necessary only because the road was surveyed through instead of along the side and the dune falls in as fast as you dig it away.
At first very little work was done, but the last two days work has been done in 2 shifts, each working & resting 10 minutes. The result is the accomplishment of more work, I think; anyway I have done more. Working steadily the 3 1/2 hrs. is a good heavy days work.
Downtown Friday night with Sam Langford. Tried to get into the “Trianon” whorehouse, just because there was a guard on it, but couldn’t. Last Sunday was stopped by an MP and again on Monday night. 2nd time took my name but didn’t turn me in. We are only allowed one pass a week to Calais but most of the fellows go much oftener. Last night found that Gade[?] was detached from 78th Div. in America & sent to Washington.
Payday yesterday & a good deal of drunkenness. I drew no pay and none for April, on account of allotment not having been discontinued.
Yesterday noon most of the company (except the sergeants and more than half the corporals) gathered in the company street to protest against the food (which is enough, but hardly so in my opinion). Nothing happened. The announcement of pay and no work in the afternoon, ended it all.
June 19, Wed.
Still working on the sand[?] sidetrack. Work in shifts of 10 or 15 minutes each.
Last week was sick two days with a sort of grippe.
Sunday down[?] to the beach to Les Hommes[?] – about 10 kilos. Nice fishing town – no troops.
Last night to a WAAC dance at Queen Alexandria Camp, given by members of Co. B. Most of the girls cannot dance American dances very well.
June 23, Sunday
Work about the same. Went down the track to the end, where it meets the mainline. There is about 2 miles of road, and 8 miles of track in all, counting two 4 track yards and 2 long sand sidings. Capt. Henley[?] said it would take all July to finish it; there is much grading still to be done.
The weather continues cold. I wear a sweater most of the time. There has been an epidemic of “trench fever” - sort of grippy feeling that sometimes comes pretty suddenly & lasts 2 or 3 days. Perhaps this is what I had last week.
June 28, Friday
Same sort of work. I am on “water job” today, i.e. dishing out water from the tank for kitchens & for men to wash. Work from 1 to 6 pm.
We are having Battalion Drills now. Discouraging because Capt. Pelletier makes so many mistakes and then curses us out outrageously for it. Hardly a Private could be so stupid at it. He will pay no attention to things for a while and then suddenly go on the warpath and hand out penalties indiscriminately (except for his favorites). Yesterday, for example, he restricted several men to camp for 10 or 15 days for not standing at attention in the line lined up for overalls. No one has been required heretofore to stand at attention in such formations and practically no one was standing at attention then.
Last Tuesday night, 1 year from the day I went to camp, I went to Calais with Sam Langford, with the intention of getting drunk, but not to the extent of my memory being a blank. Talked foolish, staggered a little, and vomited. This is the first time I was ever drunk. I have drunk more liquor before, but this was probably stronger. 1 bottle of vin rouge, and 1 of 1907 Champagne between us.
July 2, 1918. Paris
Sunday went to the sausage[?] balloons near our camp. There are 5 here & 5 elsewhere. 17 metres long fastened to a thin wire cable. They are put up at dark and pulled down at dawn, as a protection against aeroplanes. The planes must be expected to hit[?] the balloon or the wire, but there seems slight chance of this. If a plane did it would fall, bombs and all, in any camp. This is said to be the scheme of defense adopted at Paris.
Later walked in to Calais. Talked to an old man who had 2 sons, prisoners in Germany. He had several pictures from them – one showing the son on his bunk, which looked very neat & comfortable, working with[?] drawing instruments – some of his works on the wall. The other son and a chum were playing mandolins. A third picture showed a group of prisoners and two smiling guards. He said they had plenty to eat.
Monday worked hard in the morning. At noon they told me I was transferred to the 58th Engrs. R.O.T. Packed up and left Calais at 6 pm. Arrived in Paris 9:30 this morning. Went to 53 Rue de Rivali, thence to A.R.C. and found Sims has been promoted Delegate for Department of Finisterre[?] and is not to go home this month.
Saw Major Ed Hunt ‘10, Major K____[?] Mixer of Buffalo (with whom I am to take dinner tonight) and Helen Crosby and Bessie Vine, en route to Switzerland.
Friday night, July 5. Langres
Tuesday night took dinner with Mr. Mixer at his apartment, a very pretty one in the Rue Sevres with a pretty garden. He lives there with Capt. ____ [like this in original diary], Miss Smith, both of the Red Cross, & Mlle.____ [like this in original diary], a charming woman from Lorraine, who speaks no English.
Wed. transferred to YMCA Hotel & went around Paris in a YMCA machine [i.e., vehicle]. Slept in afternoon and took Helen Crosby & Bessie Vine to dinner on Boulevard St. Michel & afterwards to the Theatre Français. Our seats were in the front row so that we could understand a little of it. With the help of the program, which explained the plot, and admirable acting we “got” most of the play –Notre Jeunesse – which contained very little action.
Yesterday the 4th was a holiday in Paris. All the buildings & stores were decorated with American flags. From the statue of Lille in Place de la Concorde watched the parade of a regiment of infantry, 1 of marines, and 1 of French. Luncheon with Helen & Bessie in an Italian restaurant. Late in the afternoon to the Ambassador’s reception, where I met Sharp & his daughter, & various others. Later a Mr. Led____[?] of the Ministry of Education picked me up, & set me up for a drink, & talked very enthusiastically of America and of Pres. Wilson.
This morning out of the Gare[?] de l’Est, via Chaumont to Langres. Langres is an old city, of Roman or Gallic origin, on the top of a high hill surrounded by thick (10 ft.) 17th century walls, with fort[?] ____[?] [portcullios[?]], etc. There are a great many eiseines[?] etc. for Langres is one of the forts in the main line of resistance as planned by the French before the war. It is a curious old town, with narrow winding streets, many open squares, and a great cathedral. Just outside the gates is the Army Candidates School, where I saw Mister[?] Evan, Eddie Pifer, a candidate, and Sam Vaughan, both from the 14th.
Am to go to Is-sur-Tille tonight.
Sunday morning, July 7
Arrived here Friday night after 10 and slept in the Rest Camp. Reported in morning to 58th Engineers & was assigned to Co. C., Capt. Hall. This is a large camp with many long wooden barracks. Double-decker beds on each side of aisle. Straw beds but no springs. Good hot water showers. Fine YMCA. Big Red Cross Canteen. Meals served for 2 hrs., i.e. can get dinner any time from 11:30 to 1:30, etc. Good food – syrup this morning for breakfast.
58th is a single Battalion of 3 Cos. not yet filled up. Co. A is Engrs. & Firemen; Co. B Conductors & Trainmen; Co. C Clerks. First two apparently all work in the big yards here.
Bn. is commanded by Maj. Rochester. Don’t know any officer or man in it, nor how I came to be transferred.
I reported after dinner to Capt. Clark, Div. Supt., Advance Section ( Dijon to Chaumont?). He put me on making a personelle [sic] report. He sent me to the Adjutant at Camp (a mile away) who would send me back etc. and neither would talk to the other on the phone. There have been several conferences on it, and apparently some friction. Capt. Clark’s instructions from time to time were, it seemed to me, inconsistent as to whether he wanted the attached as well as the assigned men etc. He seemed very dissatisfied with what I had done, but I had more or less to take what the Adjutant, Capt. Brody, gave me.
A number of fellows want to transfer to the 14th, including some Co. F fellows who want to go back to the 14th.
There are a few English here, a few French, some Russians, and thousands of Americans, including many Negroes.
July 10, Wed. night
Have been working since Sunday morning getting up some tables showing how each man in the battalion is employed. It has kept me very busy, including nights.
Yesterday was my thirtieth birthday, but no one knew it here, and no mail has caught up with me yet.
July 16, Tues. morning
Still on the personnel job, but not so rushed now. The Battalion was only about half-filled when I came, and the coming of the other half, assignments to Cos., transfers between Cos., assignments & reassignments to work keeps me busy to keep up to date.
Saturday night went to a conference between Capt. Clarke, Div. Supt. (to whom I report), Lt. Worthington, the Adjutant, & Lt. Doran, General Yard Master, about assigning new men to jobs. Capt. Clarke has very definite ideas and especially wants to discourage anything that looks like a right to an 8 hr. day. He thinks 10 hrs. is a standard soldier’s day and all soldiers are alike. It would be interesting to see whether, in case his premise would be found wrong (it is said Genl. Pershing has put out an order making 8 hrs. the standard), he would change his conclusion and try to arrange so that everyone should work 8 hrs. The German prisoners work 10 hrs. minus one hour for dinner.
Sunday July 14th was supposed to be a holiday but the RR people made small pretence of keeping it. However, I quit at 4 pm.
July 21, Sunday noon
Personelle [sic] Clerk will be my regular job now. Have a desk at the general office. The statistics are confused on account of the many men coming, going and transferring, and assignments and reassignments to work.
Thursday night Col. Farmer[?], commanding the camp, announced that the Americans & French had advanced and captured 18,000 prisoners. After the German offensive which began last Sunday or Monday, having for objects the capture of Epernay[?] and the squeezing out of Rheims, and which, though starved[?] down, was still progressing, this news is very good and was received with great enthusiasm.
July 24, Wed. morning
Still pretty busy fixing up files & getting things in order. Worked last night & tonight. The work is in pretty good shape, considering the confusion it was in and the many comings and goings.
A few days after I came Lt. Gallagher, Ass’t Adj., asked me if the Adj. had said anything about making me Sgt. Maj. I said no, & nothing more has been said.
Yesterday the First Sgt. of this Co. was AWOL. Capt. Hall asked me what military experience I had had, & later in the morning was talking over vacancies & promotions with the Adj., Lt. Worthington. He left saying something about seeing if the court martial was with the transfer.
A joke of the file clerk about being in for a commission & Capt. Clarke’s saying the first day that they wanted a Personell [sic] Officer all tend to show the possibility of my promotion. It remains to be seen how much of a block my court martial is.
The drive continues, successfully apparently; but not so fast as we heard. Day before yesterday, the story was that 60,000 men, including the Crown Prince & General Lindendorf, had been captured. The paper changed it to 6,000 and no notables. Chateux Thierry has been retaken.
Aug. 9, Friday night
The advance has proceeded to a straight line from Soissons (which has been retaken) to Reims & there seems to have stopped. Today’s paper says that the French & English have advanced on a front of 20 miles east of Amiens.
We have a number of men here from the offensive, men who have been gassed mostly. The man in the next bunk was detailed in the post office here & went off to the front with his company, contrary to what was intended & was ordered back again. Accounts vary. Some say the Germans have lost more than we, others that the casualties were about the same, but of course many prisoners were taken. A story of finding women [a woman?] chained to machine guns is current, but not verified. The fellow in the next bunk says he himself saw Germans ordered out of a dugout and bayonetted as they came out. Says the American soldiers concerned were foreign born. Another story is of a German machine gunner who fired into the ground in front of him because he was compelled to shoot but did not want to shoot Americans.
This fellow says they marched or road [sic] in trucks all day & at night in the rain, & entered the trenches only half an hour before they went over the top. One night they slept in the rain, & had but very little to eat for 2 or 3 days. Finally they ate what they could find on German dead, which was good deal, chocolate, sugared coffee, etc.
Some are willing to go back, others have a weary look & go because that is their course, but apparently would rather stay out of it. Still others try to get into the Engrs. The above are from the casuals from the hospitals who wait for the train by our office very afternoon.
Work is the same. Have been busy getting out the monthly report, but have laid off working evenings except 1 or 2 nights. Two more battalions (60th& 63rd) being reposted, it is proposed to start a personelle [sic] bureau of 4 or 5 men of which I am to be the head.
Col. Wilgus was in the office the other day but I did not get to talk to him.
Have not gotten out of camp much. Spend most nights, when not working at the Y.M.C.A., reading or writing or at the entertainment. Have been to Is-sur-Tille only twice since I’ve been here and not at all to any other village. Last night walked up the road a way (only allowed a short distance without a pass) & met a French family – the father, a professor in Dijon college, teaches French at YMCA, the mother, who speaks French very slowly, so as to be understood, & 2 daughters, about 14 or 15, one of whom speaks English excellently.
Friday, Aug. 23
The military situation improves with advances all the way from Arras to Mondidier [Montdidier]. We have a lot of prisoners working in the yard now, captured by the Americans in the Man’s[?] picket push. Many are mere boys, – look about 17 but say they are 20. In their American uniforms dyed green, they look smaller & less fit than in their own.
Our office has been moved from opposite the station to a new building in the yard. This building has an office & bedroom for the Major, an outer office for his clerks, another room to be used later for statistics, the next office is mine, the next Lt. Worthingtons, Engr. M/W and the last the drafting room.
We have a regular personnel bureau now reporting to Major Rochester, Genl. Supt. with authority over 58th, 60th, & 63rd Engrs., all reporting to the Major. The f____[?] is one man from each battalion under my charge. Things have been greatly confused, partly because Capt. Clarke, who is both Div. Supt. and C.O. of the 58th, mixes the two.
I have arranged a regular procedure for assigning men to work. The difficulty is to get people to adhere to it, instead of detailing whom they please where they please. The hot weather has added to the difficulties & I have been working most evenings.
Aug. 2nd I was appointed Sgt. 1/____[?]
In the last 2 or 3 weeks I have been 5 or 6 times to visit the Hirsch family. The elder daughter is 17, and a graduate of Dijon Lycée, very much interested in philosophy. We have very interesting talks although under difficulties because she does not speak English. She knows her book & can tell the teaching of each philosopher. French books, French life & the points of language confuse the rest of the conversation.
Tuesday, Oct. 1
The Personnelle [sic] Bureau worked[?] grew by leaps & bounds. In the middle of September, I had 5 or 6 others here and all very busy, making reports, keeping records & assigning men. Worked every Sunday & many evenings.
Monday, Sept. 16th, I went on leave to Aix-les-Bains (Savoie). Arrived there Tuesday and had dinner with Mrs. Jenks. Wednesday Seymour came & we went to Challes-le-Eaux, a quiet little watering place. In our hotel were 5 American soldiers and about 10 French of whom one officer & 1 corporal. We went on one trip to St. Pierre deAlfagny[?], where is a very old castle, from which Mont Blanc, though 40 miles away, is clearly brightly visible. Otherwise we did little, rising late and going to the YMCA every night. The YMCA were 4 charming girls and 1 man. Danced every night, and tea was served every afternoon. We couldn’t get there every day, however. A Mlle. Gre____[?] of Paris, very charming, was at the dances; also other French.
Spent a day at Aix on my way back, and left there Sept. 25. Sims going back at Challes.
Upon getting back I find things very different. Major Shaugnessy is working out a new organization whereby all men here will be in one regiment, having a Personelle [sic] Officer who will manage all personelle [sic] matters. In the mean time [sic] the Battalions are handling most of it, and I have little authority & little to do. Today Sgt. Royle, Chief Clerk, & Lt. Maguire went to Dijon, where Major Rochester has already gone as Gen’l Supt. of “E” Lines. I spoke to Sgt. Royle about having me go, and he said he’d like to have me & would do what he could. He is an excellent fellow to work for, being just, and patient, and not given to balling [sic] out or passing the buck. Where I will go in this organization here I don’t know; but it appears that the Personelle [sic] Bureau will shrink to a Personelle [sic] Clerk to make reports.
Mildred appears more anxious than ever to come over. From her letters I think she is inwardly in a sort of turmoil. I long for a chance to be with her to help thresh out her problems.
Sunday, Oct. 27, 1918
There has been an exchange of diplomatic notes between Germany & Pres. Wilson. The last one, published a day or two ago, calls on the German people to get rid of their present monarchical, autocratic government or else surrender. Newspaper reports are to the effect that Austria-Hungary is on the verge of revolution.
The business of the Personnelle [sic] Bureau continues to shrink. Have not been very busy lately.
Last Tuesday, Oct. 22, went to Dijon on day leave. Had dinner with a Serbian law student, called on Mlle. Hirsch in the afternoon, had supper at a restaurant where I picked up a Lea somebody or other and went to promenade with her after supper.
Back on a troop train in the evening.
Monday, Nov. 4, 1918
Events move faster than can be recorded. Turkey has surrendered, Austria has practically surrendered. Her armies in Italy are in rapid flight. A republic has been proclaimed in Bohemia, and recognized by Germany. Croatia & Hungary have also set up separate governments.
In Germany the abdication of the Kaiser is rumored and widely discussed. The Allies armistice terms have not yet been published but it seems that the war cannot last another month.
Last Friday went on bicycle ride to Flavigny[?], an ancient walled city on a hill – a ride of 60 kilos. By train to Dijon, night there, & back in the morning, a fine ride.
Tuesday, Nov. 12, 1918
Left Is-sur-Tille Friday afternoon & arrived Sat. morning at Commercy ( Meuse[?]) where are the new Headquarters of the Zone of the Advance. We have a detachment of about 50 here now, but some may go back. The office is a comparatively modern house, #71 Rue des Capucino. They are building barracks in the yard. In the meantime, Meley[?], Miller, Wells & I are sleeping in the saddle room of the barn.
What with the abdication of the Kaiser, the revolutions in Germany, the defeats of the army etc., everyone expected the armistice to be signed within the 72 hours which expired yesterday, Nov. 11, at 11 am. About 5 minutes before 11, walking up to the hospital I could hear the roar of the cannon very distinctly. About 10 minutes later, coming back I heard nothing. In the afternoon the town blossomed out in flags & in the evening had the electric signs going, much in contrast with the darkness of the preceding nights. People looked gay, but there was not much celebration and very little drunkenness.
Tues., Nov. 17
Working on statistics now. Am off Personelle [sic].
Yesterday my application for a commission went forward, endorsed saying they would put me in charge of statistics if commissioned. The blank did not call for military record, and I called no such attention to my court martial, but expect to tell Board about it.
Red Cross will not send for Mildred because she cannot speak French. Cabled her.
Paid for April to Oct. ins. 788 francs, apparently on following theory.
April-May@ $33.00 - $132.00
Aug.1-20 @ $1.10 - $22.00
Aug.21-30 @ $2.00 - $20.00
Sept.-Oct.@ $6.00 - $120.00
Ins.April-Je 3 mos. @ $6.90 - $20.70
" " Jy-Oct. @ $7.00 - $28.00
Jan.& Feb. @ $51.00 allotment - $102.00
Exchange at 5.50 fr. per dollar
5.5 francs 788.15
Sat., Nov. 23, 1918 On statistics now. Lt. Greenfield Statistical Officer. Not much to do. Am trying to get sent to Germany.
Orders have come through that no more men are to be commissioned, so I am S.O.L.
New censorship orders permit naming places etc. but still preserve the censorship.
Wed., Dec. 11, 1918
Not very busy. Have lots of time to read & write in day time. Am making a few friends around the town.
Dec.1 went to Verdun, in which every house is battered. Couldn’t get into underground city. Ran across 14th Engrs. Hqts.at Rattentaut[?] on way back & stopped for supper.
Dec.7 went to Bor-le-Duc, an old city on a hill side. Not a very good town I thought. Went into two whorehouses which were wide open. An MP standing in front asked you if you had a pass to be in Bor-le-Duc. Came in one and told everybody who hadn’t been upstairs to hurry up because there were fellows waiting. Both crowded with Americans, no French.
Dec. 31, 1918, Tuesday
Rainy, like almost every other day. Very little to do – also like other days. Although Lt. Greenfield is on leave, there is not enough to keep me busy three hours a day.
Two casual detachments of 150 men each have been picked out of the 13th Grand Division to go home, but have not yet gone. 7 men were chosen from each company and 1 from each headquarters for each company. L’Heureux and I are senior in point of service, in this detachment, but Lloyd and Wells were chosen, both being married & Wells has 2 children. Most of the choices were based on dependents.
Telegram from Sims yesterday says he goes to Paris Jan. 1. He is to take the first boat he can get to America.
Sunday Dec. 22 went to a town near her [sic] looking for 2nd Bn. of 23rd Engrs. in which are some of Mildred’s friends of Laurel. They weren’t there. Went to Taul[?]. Spent afternoon and evening in YWCA “Hostess House”; took a train back that didn’t stop at Commercy, hopped a train of empties back and finally got in at 5[?] am.
Christmas morning walked over to Vaid[?] to get Sam Langford to go to 35th Div. show, but he didn’t come. The show had a very good Hynotist [sic] in it, and other good stuff. We had a fine chicken dinner, with pumpkin pie and cake and the Mess Hall all decorated with greens, - very pretty.
Time hangs pretty heavy on my hands, and don’t get much exercise. The principal friends I’ve made here are the two cleaning women (one has a little girl), the two seamstresses across the street, and the husband of one of them (for four years a prisoner in Germany) and the little boy of the other, and the woman who runs the bookstore, - nice looking, well educated, animated and natural.
Have read “Trilby” and Peter Ibbetson” by du Maurier.
Friday, January 10, 1919
Sims left Quimper[?] Dec. 31. I went to Paris Jan. 3, arriving Jan. 4 to say good bye to him, but he left Paris on the third, and probably is now on the water.
Lost my knapsack (stolen or accidentally taken from the train) containing some letters (especially Mildred’s most recent ones and those of early June 1917), check & account book, first volume of diary, etc.
Saturday night to home of Gilberte Grellan, whom we had met at Challes, and there found Sims had left. Sunday took luncheon there and then to a dance at Mme. Blanchets. Monday to walk with Gilberte and dinner there, and Tuesday with her & Françoise to Tipperary Tea House. Bought a few books and wandered around a good deal, and came back Tuesday night.
Feb. 4, 1919
Not very busy. A little statistical work. Sometimes act as interpreter when L’Heureux is away.
Started last week teaching a reading & writing class, under YMCA direction. Olesburg[?] teaches the writing. See a good deal of various French, especially the Labourel family across the street. Yesterday, after 7 weeks of silence, received a cable that Mildred sailed Feb. 1st.
March 6, 1919
Came to Paris Feb. 15th to see Mildred, but she was quarantined in England, so I missed her. Returned to Ammercy 5 nights every week at Ammercy School. March 28 received my orders to go to Paris to study law, and am now there, going to lectures at Sorbonne and Alliance Française, as well as at School of Law. Came to Paris March 1st, Saturday, and found Mildred about 7 o’clock at YMCA, just 19 months and a week after I left her at Plymouth.
End of diary in this book.
The previous book was lost when my haversack was stolen from the train, Jan. 3,1919.
[last pages of diary contain hand-written names and addresses]
This file was last updated on August 21, 2015