The Machine-Gun Destroyers
FOR some time it has been noticed that the Germans, to make up for the enormous losses which they have sustained, have been replacing their soldiers by matériel. Men are not lacking, — not yet, — but their principal force of resistance is now represented by a great quantity of artillery and an abundance of machine-guns. The German artillery production was long ago counterbalanced by our own. It was the machine-guns that caused us the most trouble in our attempts to advance, and we were thus forced to try to find a new instrument for their destruction. After some experimenting, it was decided to equip all our regiments with a new portable cannon, 37 millimetres in calibre, and designed purposely to demolish machine-guns during an attack.
It is not permissible for me to describe the ‘37,’ but I can say that there exists nothing in the world more accurate. Anything which can be seen can be hit, and it is perfectly possible to strike, with the second shell, a rolledup handkerchief fifteen hundred metres away. The speed of fire is extreme. A well-trained crew can shoot thirty or thirty-five shells a minute. Since the cannon can be very conveniently and quickly taken to pieces, its transportation is comparatively easy. Its weight allows it to be carried by its crew over the roughest ground.
When in my regiment volunteers were called for to form a group of ‘ 37 ’ gunners, I was instinctively attracted toward this pretty little jewel of a miniature cannon, and immediately offered my services. I have a profound distaste for talking about myself. However, I shall have to overcome it, because in recounting my experience with the 37-millimetre gun it will be absolutely necessary to speak personally.
From the time of my arrival at the school of instruction, I set to work with ardor. I felt in my element. I quickly fell in love with my new specialty. I was taught to be marksman of the piece, a most delicate rôle, and was discovered to be an excellent shot. When the course of instruction was over, my gun-crew carried off first prize in a competitive examination for the army corps, against 123 rivals. At the same time, though it was not obligatory, I followed the course of instruction for gun-captains, and I learned as well as any non-commissioned officer how to calculate distances, angles of projection, and so forth.
I was then far from realizing that this supplementary work would be responsible at a later day, during the battle of the Somme, for my nomination as a sergeant, and my promotion to the captaincy of the gun, ‘for heroic conduct under fire,’ after having been a corporal only twenty-four hours (a unique experience in our regiment); for a citation in the ordre du jour before the whole army, the personal felicitations of the general, and — a nice wound which now permits me to recover quietly in Paris from my long fatigues and privations.
But let us not anticipate. I should like, however, to say just one more word before beginning my story: you must not think, in reading what follows, that I am a prodigy of valor and recklessness. It is simply that I have become used to danger during my long experience in battles. Whatever happens, I am always calm and master of myself. And then, — I may as well confess it, — since the war I have become a fatalist. I believe that when the hour of death is destined to come, nothing can postpone it. And, on the other hand, until that hour is ready to strike, one is invulnerable. This idea is so firmly implanted in my soul that I recoil before nothing, knowing well that nothing will happen to me except that which must happen.
In the first-line trenches, on September 10, our complete crew consisted of a sergeant, a corporal, a man to load the gun, four shell-carriers, and myself, the marksman. On the 12th, as we left, to take part in the attack on the Forest of Anderlu, our corporal was wounded by a piece of shrapnel, which grazed his neck and then broke his collar-bone. We went forward on the first wave of assault, carrying on our shoulders the cannon, which had been taken to pieces, and six sacks containing all together 108 shells, weighing about 230 kilogrammes.
For the first, three or four hundred metres all went well; but when we arrived at the southern edge of the wood, one carrier fell, wounded by a piece of shrapnel in the hip. Then, five minutes later, another fell, with a wound in the head; then the gun-loader, with a piece of shrapnel in his chest. Pretty bad luck for our first sally! Our burden became heavy with so few to carry it, so we decided to abandon three sacks of shells. A third carrier was wounded by a machine-gun bullet just as we were about to put the gun in position. There remained only the sergeant, one carrier, and myself. Since our ‘75s’ had by this time destroyed the enemy machine-guns, we arrived at our first objective without having fired a single shot.
On the 13th, at noon, alerte! We put ourselves in firing position and wait. While on his way to ask the commandant’s orders, the captain of the gun is hit in the thigh by a piece of shrapnel. I am alone with my one carrier. What am I to do? I decide to stay in the same place, and as we are expecting a counter-attack at any moment, we wait for it to break loose. I shall have to aim, load the gun, and fire, while my single carrier hands me the shells.
The Boche attack does not take place. While we are waiting at our post an enormous marmite falls a short distance away, covering us with dirt. I pick myself up, noticing that my last remaining companion is also brushing himself off.
‘You are not wounded, Lemaire?’ I ask.
Since he does not answer I repeat, —
‘You are not wounded?’
Again no reply. Understanding at last, I take his face between my two hands, and looking into his eyes, I cry for the third time, —
‘What is the matter with you, Lemaire? ’
The poor man, seeing me speak, but hearing nothing, bows his head. I see two great tears roll from his eyes, then he speaks quietly: —
‘My friend, I do not hear you. I am deaf. But I do not want to leave you alone; I will stay with you. I will do what I can.’
My heart is touched. I cannot, however, keep this devoted fellow with me. He would not hear the oncoming bullets, the projectiles, the shell-splinters. To keep him with me would be to expose him to certain death, sooner or later. And so, taking my note-book, I write, —
‘Lemaire, I am captain of the gun. Although we are both only common soldiers, you must obey me. I order you to go away. Go and see a doctor. If he tells you to come back, do so.’
He goes away, and does not come back. I am left alone. What am I to do? My perplexity is great. Under no circumstances do I want to abandon my gun. I love it as one loves a dear friend. I decide to go and see Commandant B―and ask his advice.
‘Hello, what’s the matter?’ he asks, after shaking my hand.
’Mon commandant, I am the last of the gun-crew; all the rest have been wounded. What ought I to do?’
‘Why, that’s easy enough — go and join another crew; and hurry up, because we are going to attack at halfpast four.’
‘Mon commandant,’ I answer, ‘I don’t like to do that. I don’t want to leave my cannon. I feel sure that I am capable of working it alone. I can set it up, take aim, load, and fire. Only give me some men to help carry it, and you will see that I shall do good work.’
‘All right, mon petit. How many men do you need?’
‘Seven, mon commandant.'
‘ Go to Company 2, ask the lieutenant in command, in my name, to give you the men you need; then go and put yourself at the disposal of Commandant M―, who is stationed with his battalion at the northern border of the Forest of Anderlu. Hurry up!’
‘Thank you, mon commandant.’
We shake hands, and I go to Company 2. I ask for volunteers. Twenty offer themselves. I select seven and take them back to my cannon. I take it to pieces, show each one of my new helpers what he is to carry, and then we start.
I take the lead of my little column, and after numerous stops, — for the cannon is hard to carry for those who are not used to it, especially when the shells are falling thick, — we arrive at a sunken road which runs along the northern edge of the forest, forming our first line of trenches. At once I look for a good place to set up the cannon, and I choose, at the northwestern corner of the wood, a high mound of earth, under which there is a halfdemolished German bomb-proof. From this position I command the ridge behind which runs the ' Hospital Trench.’
I can see perfectly every point of this trench, and even way beyond it. Of course if I can see, I am seen; but no matter.
At half-past four the attack breaks loose. Our first waves of assault are soon stopped at the crest, by the enemy machine-guns. I have made all my men get into the Boche bomb-proof, because the shells are falling rather thickly, and their splinters are flying round everywhere. As for myself, I climb up on the bank, and, with the aid of field-glasses, I do my utmost to find out where the machine-gun shots are coming from.
All of a sudden, while looking in the direction from which I hear the furious tic-tacs, I believe I can see some very thin puffs of white smoke. My eyes are tired from continual straining. I make desperate efforts to differentiate the various objects. Yes, there is no doubt about it; there is at least one enemy machine-gun over there. But where shall I aim?
Fortunately I make out, through my telescope-sight, a picket twenty millimetres to the left. What luck! I am going to have a chance to shoot!
‘Come out, quick!’ I call to my men.
Then I lie down on the gun, carefully place my range-finder 20 millimetres to the right, and slowly take aim. I rise, put the field-glasses to my eyes, and look at my objective. With my foot I press the trigger, and the shot is fired. My first shell falls short. I lengthen the range and see my second fall exactly on the spot from which the little white puffs of smoke have risen. I shoot as fast as I possibly can, — 30 shells, — and when the last shot has been fired, I discover, with joy, that the rapid tic-tacs have stopped.
A few minutes later the ‘Hospital Trench’ became ours, and I did not have another chance to shoot that day.
When I went to receive further instructions, Commandant M―said, ‘I present you my most sincere compliments. You have done very well indeed; you have aimed marvelously, and have destroyed a bomb-proof in which there were two machine-guns which held up the advance of the battalion. I congratulate you. You will be the subject of a citation in the ordre du jour. ’
I thanked him with deep feeling, assuring him that I had only done my duty, and that I should be happy to do more on the first occasion.
The next day we were to attack the Priez farm, and I was under the orders of my friend Commandant B——. He had confidence in me, and since he was a friend of my family, was very fond of me. He sent for me, and said, —
‘You know, I’ve learned what you did yesterday. It was splendid. Today I hope that you will do even better. I give you perfect liberty to make whatever arrangements you like. We shall attack at one o’clock.’
I was very happy — filled with a great desire to do good work. I made up my mind to try to do all. I possibly could to prove my gratitude to this man who had been so good to me, and who had always treated me as if I were his own child. I did do all that was humanly possible that day. But alas, I did not do enough, since I did not succeed in shooting the Boche who killed my friend a few hours later!
I spend the whole morning in studying carefully, with my field-glasses, the Priez farm, its surroundings, and the ravine of Combles. In front of the farm I see five or six Germans running across a little open space, disappearing immediately in a hole. At once I put my gun in action, and the dirt and the Boches fly into the air. Then, down in the ravine, I see some little loop-holes which I sprinkle copiously with shells, and a demolished brickyard in which some Boches are moving about.
I am in the act of leveling my cannon when I see Commandant B― beside me, with two other officers.
‘You don’t intend to knock over the brickyard with your little gun, do you?’ he asks.
‘No, vion commandant,' I answer; ‘ but I intend to make my shells pass through the little loop-holes which you see. They will explode inside the brickyard, wounding or killing the Boches who are there, and destroying the machine-guns which may be in there, too.’
‘It is n’t possible that you can succeed in making your shells go through those little holes!’
‘Wait two minutes, and you can judge, mon commandant.'
I put my cannon in position carefully, take aim, and shoot. The first shot is too long, and slightly to the right. The second, again, is too long. The third explodes inside the brickyard, and several seconds later we see smoke coming out of the little holes. Without losing any time I shoot at full speed. All my shells hit their target.
The commandant and the two officers were lost in astonishment. Like everyone else in the regiment they had been skeptical of the real value of our new little cannon, although the work which I had done the day before had shown that it could be useful. But the sight of such accuracy of fire literally stupefied them.
Towards half-past eleven, counterorder. The attack is postponed four hours. I take advantage of the time thus accorded to prepare a batteryposition from which I can sweep the entire front over which the battalion is to advance — the Priez farm, and the orchard, situated to the left. Toward half-past four I begin systematically to bombard all the loop-holes which seem to me suspicious.
At exactly five o’clock our waves of assault start for the attack. I hoist my cannon to the position which I have prepared, on the highest spot I could find. It is none too easy to do this, as we are in full view from all sides. All of a sudden, the fire of the enemy machine-guns is let loose. In front of us, in the orchard, one, then two, then three, begin to shoot at full speed, as well as several others down in the ravine. I begin to fire on those situated directly in front. Immediately countless bullets whizz around us. I make my men go down, and continue to shoot alone, with one man to pass me the shells. I destroy one machinegun, then two. The third stops firing, I don’t know why.
Now the bullets are coming from everywhere at once, striking the gunshield with a dull thud, though fortunately not penetrating it. My hour has not yet come. I let them clatter and whistle. And now I level my cannon in the direction of the ravine. I am the target of two or three machine-guns which are visibly and obstinately trying to put me out of action. A terrible duel is taking place. The man who is passing me the shells has his hand pierced by a bullet. I summon another and keep on firing. I silence two more enemy machine-guns.
Finally, seeing that our first waves of attack have reached the outskirts of the farm, I bring the cannon down, take it to pieces, and we set out in the direction of the orchard, by way of the Hospital Trench. On the way I set up the cannon three times, and three more machine-guns are silenced.
At nightfall I go to see Commandant M―(who has taken the place of the dead Commandant B—) to ask him if I may be relieved with my crew. I can no longer stand up. I am literally worn out. My men and I have done an enormous amount of work during the day. We have reached the end. But the commandant will not hear of our being relieved. He proposes that I spend the night in his own bomb-proof shelter, and he makes my men sleep with his dispatch-bearers.
Early in the morning of the next day he sent for me.
‘Look here! Read that!’ he said, handing me a sheet of paper.
And I read the following: —
‘ Louis-Octave Philippe. Active, brave, and daring. The only survivor of the crew of a 37-millimetre gun, he took command, organizing on the spot a crew of inexperienced men. Put his gun into action under an intense bombardment, and succeeded in destroying several machine-gun positions.’
‘I propose,’ he added, ‘that your citation shall be carried in the order of the day of the whole army corps.’
I thanked him with emotion. I was happy. I had just received the highest reward that can possibly be accorded a French soldier.
I spent that whole day in examining with great care the ravine of Combles and the ridge of Hill 140, behind which lies Frégicourt. I discovered during the course of these observations at least twenty loop-holes for machineguns. I told the commandant about them, and our ‘75s’ sprinkled them with shells, as was fit and proper. I did no shooting that day.
The morning of September 16 was again spent in making observations, and in the afternoon, when our attack broke out, at five o’clock, my cannon was set up astride a trench ready to sweep the ravine of Combles. I had a great deal to do that day, for the Boche machine-guns were numerous. It is extremely difficult to discover the exact spot from which the shots are fired. The flashes are rendered absolutely invisible by the fire-screens with which all the German machine-guns are provided. Only with the greatest difficulty can one succeed in distinguishing, even with a good pair of field-glasses, a very thin and tiny puff of white smoke which escapes from behind the screen at each shot, only to evaporate immediately.
I was fortunate enough to destroy two more machine-guns, though it was unusually hard to fire from this position as the ground in front, was broken up into little valleys. Then, as our waves of assault progressed, I silenced a third, situated at the crest of Hill 140. I had a particularly hard time destroying this last one. I could not find any position from which to fire conveniently. Each time that I tried to put the gun into action, I encountered some new obstacle to obstruct my range. As a last resort, I decided to get right in front of the machine-gun, about a hundred metres away from it. We mounted it in the bottom of the trench itself. Then we raised it carefully above our heads, and set it right across the trench. Six seconds later the first shell fell exactly on my objective. Two minutes later the machine-gun and its crew no longer existed. For the first time my gun-shield was pierced by a bullet, fired point-blank, I don’t know from where.
The next day an intense German bombardment made us fear a counterattack, so I set up my cannon in a position from which I should be able to protect our left flank, in case the Boches should try to surprise us from that side. Toward four o’clock in the afternoon, when I was in the commandant’s shelter, the German bombardment still raging, the colonel entered, fresh from inspecting the positions of the battalion.
‘I have just seen your “37” gun,’ he said to the commandant after a few moments. ‘It is intact. It is a miracle that it has not been broken to pieces by a shell.’
‘The captain of the gun is right here, mon colonel,' replied the commandant. ‘I have drawn your attention to his conduct. I am going to introduce him to you.’
The colonel already knew me. He held out his hand and said, —
‘ I have the pleasure of informing you that you have been promoted to the grade of non-commissioned officer. I could not appoint you directly, without having you pass through the grade of corporal. So I nominated you corporal yesterday, and sergeant this morning. It is the first time that such a rapid promotion has taken place in the regiment. I am well pleased with you. Keep up your good work.’
He again shook my hand and then began to talk to the commandant.
I was proud and happy. To be sure, I knew that I deserved to be rewarded. I had thrown myself into the work without reserve, recoiling before nothing, but I had not hoped to be rewarded like this.
The 18th of September, since the Boche bombardment was raging even more violently than the day before, I left my cannon set up in the same position, made all my little company stay in the bomb-proof, and awaited the orders of the commandant. At three o’clock in the afternoon the German cannonade suddenly stops. Immediately a terrible rifle-fire breaks loose. I leap out, call my men, and run to my cannon. In front of me the German ranks are advancing to the attack on our lines. With all the speed of which I am capable I fire the shells— and still more shells. The situation is critical. It seems as if we are going to be submerged by these masses of the enemy. I shoot without intermission. No need now of field-glasses to locate the objective. The telescope-sight is no longer necessary to take aim. I fire by guess, and all my shells fall full in the enemy ranks. Soon hundreds of bullets are whizzing around me. Not one touches me. I seem invulnerable. The muzzle of my cannon appears to pour forth one long flame. I shoot, I shoot at top speed. One shell has no sooner reached its mark than another starts. It is appalling.
And now our ‘75s’ and ‘155s’ join the fray. The Boche masses topple over. Whole ranks are mown down. Those who are left seem to waver and hesitate an instant, then, at last, they disappear, leaving before us heaps of dead and wounded.
We are to be relieved at midnight. I begin to make my preparations, for I foresee that it is not going to be easy to transport our cannon in the pitchdark. The rain, indeed, has transformed the trenches into quagmires, into which we sink up to our knees. On that account I ask the commandant if we cannot wait until daybreak, before starting out, and he readily grants the permission. Toward five o’clock in the morning comes the order to depart. The march is extremely difficult. We sink in the mud, and it is necessary to use our hands to climb out. We slip. Men and cannon often fall and roll together in the shell-holes. After a few moments we are nothing but moving masses of mud. It takes us eight hours to cover the five and a half kilometres which separate our first-line trenches from Maurepas. There we find again the gun-carriage, and — the rolling kitchens.
Since the tenth of September, or for nine days, I leave eaten nothing worth mention. The sum total of the nourishment which I have taken during this period has certainly not exceeded two kilogrammes. When I felt my strength leaving me I drank strong coffee, very, very sweet, to which I added a good measure of eau de vie. Do not think that the commissary department did not do its work well. No, it was not that. Every single night, no matter where we were, the soup-carriers would bring us something hot, in big receptacles, and bread, wine, coffee, and rum were abundantly distributed to everybody.
But I was not hungry. It was only on account of the pleadings of my men, and to make them happy, that I would once in a while consent to swallow a few mouthfuls of nourishment with them. My stomach seemed to be sealed, and it was a great effort for me to give them this satisfaction. In the neighborhood of the kitchens, however, the smell of the good soup doubtless awoke the good appetite which was asleep within me, and this time we all ate together, copiously.
After being well rested and refreshed we mounted the cannon on its wheels, hooked it to a gun-carriage, and quietly took the road to Maricourt where the regiment was to reassemble. We hoped that wre were going to be relieved definitely, and every day we awaited the arrival of the automobiles which should transport us to the rear. But the days rolled by, and nothing appeared. The morning of the 24th we were told that the general would pass us in review in the afternoon. This announcement seemed to me to bode no good, and the events which followed showed that I was not mistaken.
From the moment of his arrival the general begins to congratulate us upon the brilliant manner in which the regiment has conducted itself. He tells us, moreover, that we shall probably have, in the near future, an opportunity to gather new laurels. There is no longer any room for doubt — we are going back into that furnace. Nevertheless, we would rather know the worst than remain, as we have been, in uncertainty.
During the course of the review the colonel called me to the attention of the general, on account of my conduct under fire. The general complimented me heartily, and told me that my citation in the order of the day would be brought to the attention of all the regiments of the army corps. He shook my hand cordially, telling me to continue to do my duty.
On the 25th, in the afternoon, came the order to depart. That evening we again arrived at Maurepas. On the 26th Combles was taken by the One Hundred and Tenth. During the night of the 27th we relieved that regiment. Our first-line trenches were situated several hundred metres in front of the railroad station of Combles. The enemy trenches were between Morval and Frégicourt— 1200 metres away. I installed myself with my men a little to the left of the railroad track, in a large, comfortable bomb-proof of reinforced concrete which had formerly been occupied by some Boche officers. The cannon we set up on top of the bomb-proof itself, taking care to cover it with some green painted canvas.
During the night of the 28th we advanced our line 300 metres, without opposition. The following night we again advanced 300 or 400 metres under the same conditions, and on the morning of the first, day of October we found ourselves nose to nose with the Bodies, a hundred metres from their trenches.
During the night of the 30th of September I received the following note: —
ORDER. 10.15 P.M,
1. The ‘37’ cannon (Sergeant M―) is at the disposition of Company 9.
2. It will join this company before dawn, at the same time as the machine-gun squad 6.
3. It will be set up in such a position as to cover with its fire points 672 and 732 of the Prilep trench.
I immediately make my preparations for starting. I foresee that the march will be long and hard, because we shall again be obliged to carry the various parts of the cannon on our shoulders. The night is very dark, the shell-holes are numerous, and the Boches are sweeping the ground with their great mar mites.
After carefully studying on the map the road which we have to cover, we leave at one o’clock in the morning. As I have predicted, there are a thousand difficulties to overcome. It is pitch-dark, but fortunately, from time to time, the flashes of signal-rockets, with their fugitive light, show us the road; and although, after each flash, the night seems blacker than ever, they help us to keep the general direction of our march. At last, after having escaped the shells, after having fallen more than a hundred times in the shell-holes, we arrive intact at our new position. At once I put myself at the disposal of Company 9, and the captain in command informs me that we are going to attack at two o’clock in the afternoon.
In accordance with the orders which I have received, I spend the whole morning in searching for a good position from which it will be possible for me to fire on points 672 and 732 of the Prilep trench, and I set up the cannon on the eastern edge of the forest of Haie. From this position it will be possible for me, not only to fire on these two points, but also to sweep the whole ravine of Sailly-Saillisel.
At two o’clock the attack begins with hand-grenade struggles in the communication trenches and shellholes. Not a single machine-gun stops our progress. Nevertheless, I set to work to fire furiously on the two points which I have been told to attack. There is no sign of life over there. I also fire upon everything which looks suspicious down in the ravine.
Twenty minutes after their departure our grenadiers reach and occupy their objective, the Prilep trench, having encountered almost no resistance. By nightfall all is practically calm. The enemy attempts no counterattack.
The next morning, while I was, as usual, making observations on the enemy lines, I noticed a large number of Boches moving around in a newly constructed trench which barred a ravine to our left. From the position which I occupied I dominated and had absolute command of this trench, as I was able to enfilade it. I went to find the commandant of Company 9 and told him what I had just seen. He advised me to fire, so I leveled my gun to a position from which I could sweep the trench, and waited. Each time that I saw an enemy advance I would let him walk in peace toward the spot which I had chosen, and, just as soon as I could see him clearly in the line of range on my telescope-sight, I would send him a shell. Then, when the Boches stopped passing by the point on which I was firing, I chose another spot and began again. They, too, tried hard to hit me, but they did not get me that day. This ‘man-hunt’ lasted all day long, and I rarely missed my game.
At ten o’clock in the evening I learned that the next day, October 3, we were going to attack and occupy the trenches of Portes-de-fer, an extremely important defensive organization of the enemy.
I woke all my men, and, armed with shovels and pickaxes, we went to prepare a battery-position in a spot on the summit of a ridge which I noticed during the day. From there we would have a marvelous command of all the Boche lines which were to be attacked.
By three o’clock in the morning all was ready. There was nothing left to do except to hide the cannon with bags of dirt. It. was the first time that I had tried to conceal it, and it did not bring me success.
At dawn we were preparing our battery. As fast as the men filled the bags with dirt, I piled them up in such a way as to form a sort of wall in front of the cannon, with a loop-hole in the middle through which to shoot. I was taking no precaution, but was going about my work as usual, standing up straight, without worrying whether the Bodies could see me or not. My whole body was exposed.
All of a sudden, Clack! — Poumm !
I felt as if some one had given me a hard blow on the upper left arm. Then, immediately, something warm was slipping down my sleeve, and, at last, I saw the blood trickling along my hand. Quickly I stretched out my arm, I drew it in again, I moved my fingers. Everything worked all right, nothing was broken. Then I turned to my comrades and said, —
‘I am wounded. They’ve got me this time, but I think I’ve cost them dear, just the same.’
On hearing that, and on seeing my blood run, they all rushed toward me. They love me well, and have in me a blind, unlimited confidence. I have never sent them anywhere without going with them, leading the way. I saw on their anxious faces all the regret which they felt at losing me. They dressed my wound, and I bade them au revoir, embracing each one of them before leaving. I could not help crying when I thought that I was going to be separated from these brave comrades with whom I had passed through so many dangers. I felt terribly broken up. I saw the tears flow down their wrinkled cheeks, so thin and dirty. Poor friends!
One of them went with me as far as Combles, to the surgical relief station. There I embraced him and said goodbye, and, sad at heart, with my eyes full of tears, yet with a feeling of profound joy that I had done my duty, I passed slowly through the village of Combles in the direction of Maurepas, where the evacuation automobiles were waiting.
That night I slept in a good hospital bed. Forty-eight hours later I was in Paris, and several days after that, it was with intense emotion that I read the following notice, which appeared in all the newspapers of France: —
‘The Eighth Regiment of Infantry. Under the energetic command of its chief, Lieutenant Colonel R―, during a series of bloody struggles carried on without interruption from the 12th to the 20th of September, 1916, it took possession by main force of a strongly organized wood, and of two lines of trenches. Then, carrying out a change of direction on a field swept with shells from all sides and bristling with enemy defenses, it organized a new line two hundred metres in advance of its original trenches. Brought back into the first-line trenches, it again carried, between the 1st and 5th of October, a whole enemy defensive organization, giving proof to the very end, in spite of losses, in spite of the harrowing fatigues of two periods of combat, of an irresistible courage, and an indomitable tenacity. Has made more than 400 prisoners and taken 20 machine-guns.’
It was a new citation of my regiment in the ordre du jour of the whole French army.