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War Bugs


by Charles MacArthur

Chapter I.

In my own defense I would like to explain that a long while ago I wrote a book called A Bug’s-Eye View of the War. I didn’t write it on purpose. We were on the Rhine. The captain was nabbing me for extra detail every time I turned around. I got pretty sick of it, and when the fellow saviours of my country elected me as historian of their heroic deeds I jumped at the chance. After all, life is short, and one gets fed up grooming eight mules a day.

I forgot that the book might fall into the hands of our wives and sweeties and went the whole hog, at first. Nothing was soft-pedalled; nothing left out. At last the proof sheets were ready. In a spirit of good clean fun I sent them to the colonel for his approval. He let out a yell that could be heard as far as the Lithuanian cemetery and began jumping up and down on my stomach. It was too bolshevik, he thought; too disrespectful, too disorderly, too everything.

I have a weakness for the colonel -- he was a swell soldier -- so I lopped a good ten pages out of the manuscript.

The captain came next. He seemed to feel that I had pounded a little on the subject of wine and women. I toned that down. And after corresponding interviews with the major, the Y.M.C.A., the Red Cross, and several ministers of the Gospel, the record got to be something like The Rover Boys in the White Mountains.

It was privately published and achieved a circulation of nearly four hundred copies, all subscribed for. The men were sore as goats. They felt the revised version made them look like little ladies and gentlemen, whereas in the history of the entire world there was never such a husky horde of heroes. Although most of them were college men it wasn’t their fault, and they met the disadvantage by growing whiskers, spitting through their teeth, and remaining in the ranks until the end of the war.

They played dirty in and out of action and ate up the war. With half a chance the Rainbow Division could have busted through Berlin in 1917 and eaten Armistice Day dinner in China -- or let’s say Japan. That’s why the Allies put up all those barbed wire entanglements -- to keep us back. Ask the Germans. Ask anybody. Ask us.

Those Germans had pet names for the Rainbow beside which Devil Dog sounds like Sissy. The most conservative was Cholera. Incidentally, the Marines made up the name Devil Dogs themselves.

If a simple record of what we did will demonstrate Who Won the War, here it is as originally written, with no nosey officers around to censor it. Personally, I’m against its publication; but, since the publishers threaten to print it anyhow they might as well have the original and unadulterated version. Here goes:

Bingen, Germany, December, 1918.

We reached France just like ordinary soldiers, packed in the coal bunkers of the President Lincoln so tight that you couldn’t talk without biting off somebody’s ear, and a man had to be a contortionist to make a pass at craps. We slept in four layers, like a birthday cake. Every time the ship rolled, the entire battery did a trapeze act.

We had been recruited during the summer from Chicago and the University of Illinois, christened the 149th Field Artillery, and added to the Rainbow Division. The entire division sailed in one convoy in October, 1917. Somewhere in midocean the President Grant, bearing the Alabama regiment of infantry, turned home again. The wigwag rumours were to the effect that the boys had chucked a couple of officers overboard. The disappointing explanation later on was Engine Trouble.

The trip occupied thirteen days -- rather uneventful days, although Captain Bruce Benedict did his best to make them exciting. Every day and night he predicted a submarine attack for the following ten minutes; and as we were in the direct centre of the ship, below the water line, he assumed we were it for tag. With real concern he directed our course. The Strong were to rescue the Weak. We were to wear our woollen mittens as a means of coping with the cold, wet ocean. We were to draw our pistols as we went over the side and shoot the submarine crew. We were to be brave.

Following this excellent advice Captain Johnson of Supply Company addressed his men, who lived in the same coal bunker. Captain Johnson announced that everything Captain Benedict had said applied to Supply Company except: that he wanted no sissies in his outfit, and if there were any weak guys who couldn’t save themselves, good-bye and good luck.

Furthermore, if he caught any of his men coming out on deck with mittens he would drown them himself. As for shooting at the submarine crew, Supply Company could use its judgment. Fists, in Captain Johnson’s opinion, were better. Captain Johnson’s brave words usually came to an end at this point, due to the frequent dislodgement of his false teeth, which were often found a good thirty-five feet from his position on the companionway. They were seldom returned as without them Captain Johnson was powerless to issue orders or deliver reprimands. By freezing on to them Supply Company often got a day’s vacation.

All of us were very fond of Captain Johnson. He was so damned fierce and soldierly. Every morning he descended the companionway and bawled: “Supply Company! ALL OUT!” And every morning the boys would throw shoes and mess kits and tell him to soak his head. A pause invariably followed -- it was too dark to identify any of the hooligans -- and then, more softly:

“I’ll give you give minutes more.”

Another barrage of equipment. Another pause. The inevitable end was:

“Aw, fellows, won’t you please get up for poor old Captain Johnson?”

From the beginning of the war Colonel Henry J. Reilly did his best to scrape him off. Not because of his character -- he was a fanatic hero, always seeking chances to die gloriously, charging into exploding ammunition dumps, rushing to exposed points, doing his damnedest to become a hero or an angel -- he didn’t care which. He was physically unfit, however. Occasionally he was transferred, but a cable to Jim Ham Lewis, then Senator from Illinois, invariably conquered all.

“Dear Jim,” you would hear him dictating to the company clerk. “I have just come back from the front, and my boots are bloody with the blood of my own men.”

Such messages usually came from the training sector, with saloon fights representing the only known carnage. But they always worked. As quickly as Captain Johnson was relieved, he was back on the job, beaming with joy.

We reached St. Nazaire October 31st with only two men under arrest. They had been caught fishing through the ventilating funnels in the cook’s galley with a rope and a bent nail. With this primitive instrument a large sausage vat had been completely emptied before the cooks called out the guard.

Five days after the ship had docked we were still under quarantine on board, lowering dollar bills in campaign hats in exchange for apples and bars of chocolate, watching the accompanying destroyers slide into the locks of the Loire, and wigwagging to the sailors on shore for definite information as to whether champagne was really ninety-five cents a quart. Interest was continually excited by the countless women in black, the long gray-green caterpillars of German prisoners on their way to work, and the red-legged French territorials who escorted them.

After the first day in port dock details gave ambitious members of the battery a chance to say they had touched foot to French soil first -- as if there was a chance that the boat would turn back to the States without allowing them to land.

At last debarkation orders came down. The regiment marched off the boat. We cheered the sailors. The sailors cheered us. Commander Sterling of the Lincoln made a speech. Little Sylvester, the band leader, blew out his chest and started up “Sambre et Meuse.” The band had been practising it every day since we mobilized, in anticipation of this great moment.

Apparently the French, although it was their own music, didn’t think it was any great shakes. They watched us curiously and without applause while we slogged up a four-kilometre hill to a so-called rest camp -- hep, hep, hep -- with that damned Frog music running 165 steps to the minute.

That rest camp was hot stuff. It had been raining for weeks, and we sagged knee deep in soupy mud. In the barracks the mud was a foot deep. Unaccustomed to hiking after a bon voyage on the ocean wave, our first thoughts were of beds and beans.

We got the beans, but Battery D found the straw pile first, and that led to a tired cat-and-dog fight. We won, and retired in a variety of straw chowder at 6 p.m. For the first and last time in the history of the organization passes to town were turned down. This despite early soap-bubble stories of cognac, wild women, and pretty scenery.

Early the next morning some bright baby with stars on his shoulders and mush in his head -- a wife beater in his heart -- ordered us to march on a reservoir five miles from camp with picks, shovels, water wings, and boots. There the axiom that “you’ll never get rich, you so-and-so” was richly rubbed in.

Heroes? In a pig’s eye! We dug like dagoes at that grand canon among reservoirs for three days, with a lot of regular army officers yapping at us to dig faster. The reservoir had been started by the first contingent of Marines -- gold-bricks who later swelled around in Paris, pinching honest privates; and our completion of the task led to the supposition that again the National Guard was being called upon to finish something the Marines began.

Spare time at this garden spot was filled with hard-tack, corned willie, drills, details, and lectures on the Perils of Pleasure by Eminent Y.M.C.A. Workers. It was until November 11th that we got a break and were ordered to the training camp.

This was Coetquidan in Brittany -- the most ghastly blight in all geography. Getting there was pleasant enough. The magic lantern railroad trains with their “Hommes 40, Chevaux 8,” were new then, and strange. Every toot and squeal of the engine was imitated vocally down the line of cars. As long as daylight held out we poked our heads through each other’s shins, and each farmer and crossing guard got a yell and a “Veev la France!”

Such girls as we rattled past (provided they were from six to sixty) were treated to endearments that varied with individual enthusiasts. Rush Dyer, our most effective Romeo, was hoarse in an hour and had to revert to sign language. Windmills, canals, and chateaux were loudly pointed out as windmills, canals, and chat-oos by the better informed.

The next day we hit Coetquidan, a pile of tarpaper sheds floating in a mud puddle. We were given a set of shacks lately inhabited by German prisoners and put to work clearing them out. They were lousy, wet, and cold. For three days we struggled, digging up the dirt floors and spraying them with disinfectant, whitewashing and spraying the walls, paper windows, and paper ceilings, and fumigating the results.

Since vermin habitually dropped from the ceiling, we had our heads shaved; which inspired some of the boys to leave scalp locks and fancy designs. Until they were seized and forcibly barbered a couple of guys wrought emotional havoc among the native women by palming themselves off as Red Indians. Every woman in Brittany seemed consumed with a movie-fostered passion for Heap Big Chiefs at the moment, and the scalp locks maintained an unbeatable edge for a week.

A few days later we had our first mail. Concerning this event all the hooplas of stage and screen and story are true. We went wild. Our feelings weren’t at all affected by the assurance of our friends and relatives -- all of them right on the Inside -- to the effect that the Rainbow Division would spend the winter right on Long Island, that the war was virtually over, and that we would never see France, etc. These bright hunches had been addressed to Camp Mills and forwarded.

In November, 1917, Rennes -- forty kilometres from camp -- was a swell place to visit, with or without leave. The people were hospitable; the town was picturesque; the hotels were good. Moreover, the women were not any too good.

By doing a fast 220 from the railroad station to the town the privates usually beat the officers to the most desirable places, which contributed a great deal to the pleasure of the trip. Baths were there, too -- bains, if you would rather -- with great tubs, lined with muslin and brimming with hot water. If curiosity moved you to press the bell that dangled in front of your nose a girl popped in and began rubbing your back, a phenomenon that caused an abominable stage fright among the men. They complained that it was indecent and just like the Frogs.

For no reason, a passion for omelettes developed among visitors to Rennes. Literally, one man thought nothing of a twelve-egg omelette, and where two or three were gathered together fifty- and sixty-egg omelettes were often demanded, to the amazement of the French. On top of this a small dinner party could easily handle a dozen fried squab and live to make overtures toward the waitress. This was done as a matter of course and had nothing to do with the intentions, good or bad, of the dinner party. It was part of the evening -- like cognac and cigars.

No record of the war is complete without at least one variant of the following episode:

Throughout one of these little celebrations Bud Boyles entertained four or five of the boys with various speculations on an extremely charming waitress. It was decided that she was the modern counterpart of Camille, and, under pretense of complaining about the service, he got pretty hot and bothersome in his talk.

Army life simplifies amusement, and the boys were suffocating until he tried to light a cigarette with a trick French briquet. Pausing in his appraisal of the young lady, he observed that the French ought to lose the war for that one invention, the briquet. Whereat the waitress said, in exquisite English:

“Perhaps it is because you have no essence.”

Five soldiers, who really were gentlemen under their tan, died on the spot. Mademoiselle explained that she was born in Canada and educated at St. Agnes’.

That was always happening -- as, for instance, when one of the boys, counting on his horrible English, gravely asked an elderly Frenchwoman where he could find some wild women. With perfect composure and charm, the old lady told him: “Two blocks down and to the right. Ask for Marie.”

At this distance of months and battles we regard Rennes as the scene of our salad days. Getting there was such a picnic. The only means of transportation was a narrow-gauge railroad, eighteen inches between rails, and sporting a conductor who wore more gold lace than Foch. The hoodlums soon discovered how to kick over the air brake on the back platform at a point in the journey where the train did a regular roller-coaster dip. With no air the toy engine would rush down the grade until it reached the upward incline, then roll back and forth on both slopes like a rocking chair until the engineer jumped out and put a rock on the track.

For fifteen minutes thereafter he was sure to wave his arms and scream at the gold-plated conductor, who waved his arms and screamed back. Expert translators informed us that both engineer and conductor regarded the entrance of America into the war as the worst lot of boloney they had ever heard of, that Lafayette was a chump, Wilson a maniac, Pershing a pest, and so on, until the air brake was repaired. This performance went on every night at the same steep valley -- although the joke was always reserved for the ride home: none of us wanted to be late for Rennes.

There wasn’t much fun at the camp. At the bottom of the hill on which we sweated and drilled and dug was a ring of the usual put-up-in-a-hurry shacks for the sale of red-eye at prescribed hours. These were operated by thrifty coin shepherds of a doubtful class, who wreathed their establishments patriotically with French and American flags and proceeded to gyp the pants off of us. There were the Franco-American Bar, the Lafayette Bar, the Star Spangled Banner Saloon, and others still more vociferously pro-Ally. Before we had been in camp a week a real enterprising gentleman moved in and opened up the Stars and Stripes Saloon -- a hard-boiled egg free with every drink.

The opening was a pretentious affair, and when it was discovered that this Foxy Grandpa among saloonkeepers had installed a wooden rail in front of the bar and mirrors in back of it, he couldn’t handle the business.

Of course, there were some nondrinkers in the outfit. They were big idealists, mostly: men who could tell you what the war was about from a standpoint of anthropology, philosophy, and evolution. And a volunteer Y.M.C.A. worker who chided the boys gently for singing “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” and making light of Things Eternal. Somehow, he managed to spread morality and remain popular -- a rare stunt for a corporal. Also Kenneth MacFarland, who increased the battery’s rating On High by intensive study of the Bible and the classics. Kenneth could recite all of Paradise Lost -- and would if we weren’t careful. And the officers confided that the most rowdy were given the most Christian letters home.

The great event of those early days was the arrival of the guns -- four sweet little 75’s, painted green and buff and black. Wicked little babies, the counterparts of our clumsy 18-pounders. Before the war was over we’d learned to fire them at a rate of thirty-two shells a minute. Now there was great excitement and bitter competition for places on the gun crews. A tentative firing battery was selected, and we spent endless days “firing” with wooden shells. Tiresome, and endurable only because of nightly drinking and the possibilities suggested by the Field Artillery Drill Regulations.

This invaluable little book virtually prescribes when and how and in what order a cannoneer must die. Number One man, according to the book, falls first. He is succeeded by Number Two, then Three, then Four, who is ordered finally to draw his pistol, blow up the gun by a device with which we were acquainted, and then “to sell his life as dearly as possible.” It is all very grim and real and, under its spell, tentative Number One men took on a look of too good for this world that got them many a sock on the nose before they had fired a shot.

The seriousness of dummy drill was fantastic and slightly fanatic. It was lightened only by small social events within the battery. Captain Benedict was ordered to the staff officers’ school, and First Lieutenant Howard R. Stone took charge.

Thanksgiving came and went, and everybody got a pound of real turkey -- present from the War Department. We prowled the reputed Forest of Merlin near by for holly and mistletoe. Harry Papolis, operator of a one-arm lunch in Illinois, who had been brought to France under the impression that Greeks were good cooks, managed to make the turkey edible; and enough beer and light wine were on hand to complete the celebration.

Over in D Battery street, the band played the damned “Sambre et Meuse,” and the wastrels got fried. A pageant of the drinking element was formed, and wound through the barracks with an idea of harassing the temperance group. It was led by Joe Yacullo, representing himself as an Italian organ grinder, with Rush Dyer scampering about in the role of monkey. When the God-fearing few objected they were thrown out of their quarters bodily. MacFarland, up to his old tricks of reciting poetry, got some triple sec in his eye, which dampened his intellectual ardour for at least three days.

Drills, drills, drills, drills, and finally December 5th, when we did our first firing. Early in the afternoon we set out for the range. Two circumstances are noteworthy. One was that the cannoneers rode out on top of the carriages. Had a cannoneer climbed on a gun carriage in the last days of the war, when our horses were dying faster than we could cut them out of the harness, he would have been shot, then court-martialled at the first stop. Second was the pep of these same nags. Just before the Armistice the last horse died and went to heaven, and we hauled our guns around by hand -- miles sometimes.

We fired from a hillside three kilometres from camp. Lines were strung, trail circles dug, and the cannoneers looked as important as possible. So did the general and Pappy Le Prohon, the genial cannibal who was our first lieutenant, firing executive, father, and friend. The order came down. Pappy repeated it as if the world would be destroyed by the subsequent salvo. The guns went off. So did the gunners, who thought the little iron saddles on the trail were things to sit on. It is no fun getting thrown off a 75, but Pappy didn’t take that into consideration. He yelled terrible things in his funny French Canuck accent (most of them threats to kill).

“My Gawd!” he bawled, as the cannoneers displayed a little more reserve in their art. “Git back on them guns! Ride ‘em! Tame ‘em! You so-and-so-and so!”

And, smiling, the boys fell dead -- or wished they had. There wasn’t enough liniment in France to heal the backsides of those unhappy pioneers; nor did they feel any better when a committee of French soldiers, who had been watching the firing, asked them -- in their quaint broken English -- why in hell they sat on the guns. It seemed that the French never did.

Slow times until Christmas. More drills. Double stable duty with mean horses. The only compensation we had for their bites and sneaking kicks was that horse meat mysteriously began to appear as an item of the daily menu. Apparently the Service of Supply had failed, and when in France one does what the horse eaters do.

The camp was visited by two Australians who were playing hookey from their outfit. Bitterly they sought to enlighten us as to the real causes and conduct of the war; and in a fit of patriotism someone called out the guard and ran them ragged.

The camp was quarantined for two weeks, for no reason. The general who issued the order discovered that it was intended for another camp down in Marseilles, and lifted the quarantine.

Quartermaster Sergeant Jones discovered that his shack wouldn’t accommodate all the battery supplies, and the men were ordered to move them to a new quartermaster’s office, four blocks away. Having accomplished this in one Sunday, it was decided to move the anvils, kegs of nails, saddles, and so on, back again -- because of a fancied lack of ventilation. The third Sunday was used up moving the tons of property to still another office adjoining that of the regimental quartermaster sergeant (supposedly because he was an old friend with whom Jones loved to talk while pairing up Size 44 shirts with Number 18 drawers).

Christmas. Dissipation started after morning stables and lasted until some time the following morning. In each barracks there were piles of wrapping paper, excelsior, and red ribbon at least ten feet high. Gifts from home consisted of everything for which we had no possible use -- joke books, hymn books, necktie racks, stomach warmers, electric toasters, cuff links, and Paris garters.

One gent received a Sam Browne belt from a highly optimistic admirer. He traded it to Lieutenant Stone for a safety razor and a pass to Rennes. George Daugherty’s box from home contained several cans of corned beef -- our deadly daily diet for more than a month. He had to be strapped down.

Dinner was a terrific affair. Ross Brown, a baker in civil life, worked all night long making doughnuts and pie, and Scotty Langlands brought out the jam he had been hiding for six weeks -- thereby acquitting himself of certain dark suspicions. (It was the custom of mess sergeants and Greek cooks to make great headway with the local ladies by presents of army dainties. It was a rare virtue that could resist a quarter of beef during the war.)

The German prisoners, who played the garbage cans daily to titbits not included in French table d’hote, went crazy. They stood about us, knee-deep in mud, as we tore into the turkey, and there wasn’t a man in the battery who didn’t split a wishbone with a Kraut.

Well, one man, George Daugherty, embittered by his present of monkey meat, and having the issues of war deep in his heart, presented a mess kit filled with spare parts of turkey to two prisoners, and, just as they reached for it, hurtled it into the garbage can with a rousing, “Deutschlander Schwein!”

George’s bitterness was shared by the French commandant, who paused in his rounds, screamed that we were pro-German, and scattered the hungry Heinies with violent kicks in the pants. Otherwise, it was a Day of Love. Even the little Greek was affected by the Christmas spirit and offered a second helping without once reaching for the cleaver.

A war college was formed in the evening to work out certain reforms in the administration of the A.E.F. Measures involving the sale of alcoholics were discussed (owing to the regimental restrictions some of us were then drinking horse liniment cut with water) and many improvements in our relations with the officers were voted upon. All was harmonious until it was discovered that three of the boys wanted to play General Pershing at the same time. All refused to resign. Calm was restored by commissioning everybody present with the full rank of general. The paramount question of the evening was: What Shall We Do with the Buck Private? And the answer, somewhat confined to the verbiage of war, became our slogan thereafter.

Three days after Christmas 100 men from the battery were ordered to St. Nazaire to rustle 470 wild horses for the regiment. Captain Irving Odell was in charge. The trip was made by rail, the detail arriving in St. Nazaire late at night. Here we were met by Pappy Le Prohon, who had been assigned to remount work; and lest we had forgotten his admirable discipline he began yelling his heart out on all subjects. In sixty breathless seconds Pappy employed 100 beautiful although unnecessary expressions, impossible to repeat or remember, and laid everybody cold on the matter of missing buttons, dirty shoes, and sloppy salutes. Then his affection for us got the upper hand and he was Old Pie again.

We visited the remount station and got four horses apiece. The next job was to saddle without getting kicked out of the corral. A few accomplished it by dint of slugging the horses on the nose. There were never such horses. They kicked, but, reared, tied themselves into lovers’ knots, and unwound miraculously into four heel kicks if you so much as looked at them. Some of the men had never seen a horse before; but then some of the horses had never seen an artilleryman before -- so it was an even break.

Under the eye of Pappy, though, anything was possible, and before long we had them saddled and roped and were charging through the business section of St. Nazaire. Here the horses went completely pro-German, running up and down the sidewalks, kicking in the plate glass windows, knocking over vegetable stands, and winding the string horses around every telephone pole in town. The natives -- those who didn’t run to their cellars -- joined with the gendarmes in re-forming the parade, and the march resumed.

Once out of the city limits -- God knows how we got there -- the horses became attracted by the green fields and began jumping fences and ditches with an agility that was wonderful to behold. When one horse got into a field of expensive vegetables he whistled for his pals, and the round-up began all over again.

One guy found himself sitting on a saddle in the middle of the road with no horse under the saddle. Another was unwrapped from every telegraph pole on the road. It was a regular game of tag.

Herb Mooney was sometimes on his horse and sometimes on various bushes and barbed wire fences. Every time he pulled himself together he complained bitterly of the war and J.P. Morgan, who supposedly had ordered our participation in it. The eighth time he sailed over the head of his nag he said he didn’t know that transfer to the flying corps could be made without the consent of the soldier.

Brick Bristol had the worst time. Every time he began chasing his steed, the horse turned around and chased him.

The trip took three days and nights and did a lot to explode the old theory that if a man doesn’t like a horse there is something the matter with him. We had a diverting set-to with Captain Odell in a town called La Gacilly when he announced that we might patronize the town’s one restaurant provided that we made no noise and allowed him to eat first. The razzberry was deafening, and he had an omelette hung on his ear.

Further fun was the organization of mediaeval troubadour parties by Rush Dyer. Slightly boiled, we visited people’s houses, rapped on the windows, and sang good old American ditties like “The Raggedy Cadet” and “Never Trust a Soldier.” Charmed, the natives asked us in and poured extensively. We explained that the ballads were mammy songs and finished with “The Cannoneers Have Hair in Their Ears” to the tempo and expression of “My Old Kentucky Home.” Our hosts were much moved.

We got back to camp New Year’s Eve and celebrated in the traditional way. Nobody got to bed. In the morning Lieutenant Stone began the year right by presenting Pocket Testaments. On the flyleaf of each was a confession of faith, newly signed with our names by the good ladies of the Champaign Home Missionary Society, donors of the Testaments. They had been shipped under the label of Ordnance.

On January 5th, eleven days late, Santa Claus gave us five new officers. They were First Lieutenants Walter Erlich, Ralph Kelly, and Hugh Webster, and Second Lieutenants Walter Radford and Andrew Webster. The last named suffered from acute sensibilities and a perpetual desire to assert his rank. It was rumoured that he had caused himself to be tattooed with gold bars before leaving America, for fear of sleepwalking or something. The day he joined the battery he was required, in discharge of his duties as censor, to run over a letter written by Andy Gartner to a girl friend in the United States. To insure its original contents, Andy added this postscript:

“If anything is cut out of this letter, let me know and I will soften the censor’s skull with my bare hands till you can hang it up with clothespins. I’ll sock him on the nose,” etc.

Lieutenant Webster crashed into the battery street demanding to know who was going to punch his nose. Unwilling to lose out on something good, a dozen volunteers ran for Gartner. In the interim the boys proposed 75’s at ten paces with disinterested crews. But Lieutenant Webster was holding out for an apology. Gartner refused. It ended in a tie.

Since our first range fire, early in December, the battery had been firing on an average of three times a week, drills and details filling up holes in the programme. When we fired it was at three in the morning, so that we might simulate sneaking up on the enemy when he wasn’t looking. Nine times out of ten it rained. But we were getting good and were itching for war. More doldrums. An E Battery man died, and Sylvester got a chance to play Chopin’s Funeral March, which he had been dismally practising for weeks. Of course “Sambre et Meuse” was spilled again on the way back, although there wasn’t a Frenchman in miles.

Marking time. On January 11th Lieutenants Newton Kimball and George Wegner were assigned to the battery. We had more officers than men by this time. Lieutenant Clarence Skinner, God’s Gift to the A.E.F., was wished on us the same day. A bath book was established whereby the Spartan souls who doused themselves in one of the water buckets at headquarters could immortalize themselves by signing their names. We whiled away the boredom with interbarracks pillow fights after taps, loading the pillows with mess kits, rocks, and horseshoes.

Not a night passed without several warriors getting knocked cold. One barracks invaded another, which called for sly plans and nifty strategy. Such pillows as were captured were kept as trophies until the next night.

These battles, which became quite vicious as barracks spirit developed, were ended by rumours that at last we were going to the front. New activities confirmed it. We were worked twenty-six hours a day, with inspections under full pack in our spare time. There were gas-mask drills, and we were led through gas-filled dugouts to get used to the sensation. We simulated loading gun carriages on flat cars by staking out rectangular patches of grass and pretending they represented the Paris-Orleans limited. Barracks bags were packed with extra clothes, boots, and cartons of cigarettes for use in the trenches. Naturally we never saw them again.

On February 10th we began moving battery equipment to the town of Guer to be loaded on flat cars. The work went on until four o’clock the next morning. The same day we had a stiff hike with full equipment. The men were so bushed on their return that they flopped on their cots without removing their haversacks. It began to look like war.

All kinds of quarantines were established. All kinds of rumours went the rounds. Finally February 18th rolled around, as it has a habit of doing, and we got under way. There was an impromptu farewell party at the officers’ mess -- conveniently deserted for the occasion. Everybody yelled and made all the noise possible. Speeches were made and applauded wildly.

The top blew his whistle in the battery street. We formed and started down the long hill, singing “That’s Where My Money Goes.” At last we were getting somewhere.

© 2003-04 The Estate of Charles G. MacArthur. All Rights Reserved.

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