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8. We Leave Lorraine


A STORY
of
THE 305th MACHINE GUN BATTALION
77th DIVISION
A.E.F.
By

HENRY W. SMITH
Chapter 8
We Leave Lorraine


CHAPTER VIII
WE LEAVE LORRAINE

GETTING a real bath was quite a problem and as the weeks camenand went, our prospects of a good scrubbing seemed to become more and more remote. It was not very long after our arrival at Gellacourt, however, that we were lined up with all our equipment and marched to Mervillier for an official bath and delousing. While we had heard of the delousing plants before, this was our first introduction to one. All our equipment with the exception of anything made of leather was placed in a net bag of large mesh and these bags were placed in a large cylinder or boiler which was then tightly closed and steam forced in under pressure. While this was taking place the men were scrubbing down the decks, as the sailors would say. After the bath the bags were taken from the delouser and it required just a shake or two to free the clothes of the dry steam and they were ready to be worn again. Shaking out the steam was very simple but trying to shake out the wrinkles was a different story. The wrinkles refused to be shaken loose and we discovered later that even a hot iron will not remove wrinkles put into a uniform by a delousing plant. From that time on it was hard to believe that this was the snappy battalion that had paraded down Fifth Avenue.

Gellacourt was still too close to the lines for us to have too much activity in the open during the daylight hours and no doubt the old-timers will recall our program. It is remarkable how the buglers ever escaped with their lives when they sounded first call at 4:45 A.M.

Most of the outfit was doing its best and most tuneful snoring at that hour. Setting-up exercises, washing up, policing the area, breakfast and drilling carried us through to nine o'clock when activities in the open ceased. From then until 3:30 P.M. our time was occupied with household duties, such as sewing on buttons-and ducking fatigue details. All good soldiers know that when you have not been grabbed for a detail, the wise course to follow is to fade. Fade right out of the picture and stay faded. Gold-bricking is something else. At 3:30 drilling was resumed and carried on until 5:30. Retreat sounded at 6:00 and mess call blew at 6:30. After that there wasn't much to do other than to drift over to Gellacourt, and it was not much of a place. Taps blew at nine or ten o'clock and as a general thing most of the men were in bed before that, as it was a long day. Of course we had our quota of stay-outs like all good outfits.

One evening, in Gellacourt, some Army entertainers put on their show for us from the tail-board of a truck and, on another occasion, we had our own division players with us, who were later to become known as the Argonne Players. Who can forget Harry Carroll and his female impersonations? MacManus and his famous ditties: "Clarence Fitzgerald", "Sweet Evening Breeze", "Primrose from Old Broadway" and "She Took Away My Identification Tags Because She Thought They Were Francs". Then there was that other boy with his violin, none other than Old Joe Raymond from our own Battalion. How he did play when he visited his old outfit with the show! Pincus is another name that comes to mind. How well we remember them although we are unable to recall their names.
There was a certain amount of curiosity to be satisfied whenever the old outfit had a breathing spell and, while one village was just about the same as another, there was always a desire to see what was around the bend of the road. There was a lure about Division Head-quarters town and, at the first opportunity, we had to have a look at Baccarat. It was probably little larger than the neighboring villages but it certainly held more than enough high ranking officers who had to be saluted right smartly. Any store that handled souvenirs did a land office business but the really busy place was a photographer's studio. The photographer at Baccarat had re-established himself amid the ruins of his home and what a fine opportunity it was for us to be able to send our pictures back home to the folks so they could see what grand and glorious soldiers we were. Where is there a soldier who didn't have his picture taken in Baccarat? Yep, we were there, smiling, scowling or just plain ferocious; singly, in pairs and in groups. We paid in advance and the photographer promised to send the pictures by mail when they were completed. This Frenchman was true to his word and, in due course the pictures arrived. Yes, sir! there we were, wrinkles and all. Maybe it would have been better if the photographer had not sent the pictures. Well, the girls at home thought they were great so we accomplished something.

While we were quartered at Gellacourt, orders were received calling for the return to the States of the senior commissioned and non-commissioned officer of each company. They were to be returned to help train men in divisions in the process of organization and, while at the moment, we envied the lucky ones, there really wasn't a man who wanted to leave the old Battalion. This was true of the men ordered home. They were somewhat jubilant at first but as the time for departure drew near they were reluctant to go. It was like losing a member of the family but, as the saying goes in the Army, "Orders are orders".

When elements of the 37th Division commenced pulling into the area, we knew that our days in Lorraine would soon be at an end. As usual we were having plenty of rain which turned the country-side into a sea of mud. The 37th men in our immediate neighborhood could not pitch tents because of the mud and they were accom-modated in the barracks we were in. Of course it meant sleeping on the floors for them and crowded things a bit but they were certainly grateful to be able to get away from the incessant downpour. Those fellows had troubles of their own. A great many of the horses they had received were stallions and it was a man-sized job handling those animals. Many of them had never known any more harness than a halter and it was a brutal job that particular 37th Division outfit was up against. Oh, well! it was not a pink tea for anybody. We all had our troubles. Take our own case. Weren't our mules bad enough? Look at the corporals and sergeants we had to contend with.

The early part of August we left our comfortable barracks at Gellacourt and, after a long, difficult hike through a terrific storm, we arrived at Gerbaiville. It was about 3:30 A.M. when we arrived and pitched our pup tents on the grounds of the Chateau, resuming our tussle with the weather. The next day was clear, however, and as the sun came out in all its warmth and glory the storm of the previous night soon became a thing of the past. We resumed our hike and our next stopping place was in a small orchard where we again pitched tents.

The following day was spent cleaning equipment of every description, machine guns, carts, harness, haversacks, pack-carriers, yes, and Lieut. Dunne (Tough Eddie to the old gang) had us down in the brook cleaning the kitchen and scraping the black crust off the bottoms of the dixies. Two minutes after they were placed over the fire they were black again but that was alright. It was at this time that Bill Wheatley, of C Company, was at the side of the road en-gaged in polishing up a cart when an elderly French lady came up to where he was at work. Incidentally, all these French ladies seemed to be elderly and I guess the young ones were in Paris. Well, the one of whom we are now speaking asked Wheatley a question. Now it was not the question that was important but the response, which was simply "Oui, Madame". Then ensued the greatest one-word conversation on record so far as is known. Wheatley could not understand French but when there was a pause or what he deemed the proper time he said "Oui" in more ways than it had ever been spoken before or has, since. He seemed to fit the word into the right place as it gave the French woman a fresh start each time. She probably went to her grave wondering what a peculiar sense of humor the American soldiers had when they almost died, laughing at an ordinary conversation.

The next day, with all equipment as clean as a hound's tooth (but the men in need of a bath) the long march was again taken up. The rest of the hike was uneventful. It was the usual pounding along the hard, white roads which never got any softer; in one end of a village; the occasional shout, by some French boy of "Vive L'Amerique"; out the other end of the village; up hill, down dale, hour after hour; finally arriving at a village with the American- sounding name of Blainville. We marched down to the railroad station and there, on the tracks, waiting for us - yep! you're right - our old friend the Forty and Eight. We did not lose much time in loading and, with a couple of shrieks from the engine for old time's sake, we were off again. But not to Italy.
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