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Infantry


HISTORY OF THE SEVENTY SEVENTH DIVISION
Phase 2
Training in France
Infantry


For weeks rumors ran rampant. The Division was to sail on the 10th; on the 16th; it was not to sail at all. The 10th came and went, as did the 16th, and the men were fast becoming disgusted, referring to themselves as a depot division, when in the early morning of March 27, Camp Upton awoke to the blare of spirited music and saw the first contingent march out of camp for foreign service. How proud they were, how well they marched, how serious their faces. Those left behind experienced a peculiar chill, and many a manly tear was brushed aside.

The following two weeks saw busy Camp [Upton transformed into a deserted village-the 77th had left. Although the departure of the Division had been kept secret, New York seemed to know intuitively that her Division was on its way. The office buildings were alive with waving handkerchiefs and thousands of whistles sounded their blatant greetings. The boat proceeded slowly, almost reluctantly, it seemed; the faces in the windows blurred and the Statue of Liberty was left behind. What could be a more fortuitous omen than the Division's own emblem smiling a "bon chance" as the Division sailed out to sea during the latter days of March and the first of April. Those days marked the beginning of a series of adventures, interesting, humorous, tragic, for which the doughboy says, "he'd not take a million, nor give a nickel to repeat."

In two days the rolling of the boat bad ceased to be a novelty, and those more vivid imaginations who were complaining of the roughness of the sea awoke to find themselves in calm Halifax harbor. During the day, the remainder of the convoy arrived, and shortly before sunset, nine ships in line steamed out of the harbor led by a United States cruiser. A never-to-be-forgotten sight-the quaint city of Halifax partly razed by the explosion of a few months previous and tile vessels at anchor forming a lane through which the convoy passed. Abreast of a British battleship a band struck up " Over There " and " The Star Spangled Banner. " Further along a United States Marine band burst into "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town To night" with characteristic Yankee vim. The faces of the men were flushed and a new light gleamed in their eyes, for they had found pride-pride of country and of self.

The voyage from Halifax to England was uneventful. The food and quarters were not all that was to be desired, but the Division had been paid just before embarking, and an American soldier with money is daunted by nothing. There existed a proper awe of the German submarine, but as is generally the case, anticipation exceeded realization and submarines were rare. They accomplished nothing save to serve as a diversion to an otherwise monotonous trip. Fourteen days on water is a long time, and the shores of Ireland were a welcome relief. The sons of Erin were much in evidence the morning Ireland was sighted, and loud in praise of their former home. Two hours later the cliffs of Wales loomed up, the guardian destroyers dropped off, and anchor was lowered in Liverpool harbor. True to form, an English mist obscured most of the landscape, but the neat, symmetrical rows of dwellings and the vivid green lawns were visible.

Morning found the Division on foreign soil. What a relief to stamp upon good old terra firn)a again! The precious barrack-bags being unloaded, companies were formed and marched off to waiting trains.

" Gawd blimme but these bloomin' Yanks can march," an admiring cockney sang out, unconsciously furnishing a blunt tribute to their training. The sight of the English compartment trains evoked many humorous remarks, but the humor ceased when the men found the compartments heatless and lightless. Whither were they bound? The Colonel's orderly was positive that it was Scotland, for hadn't he heard? The General's cook was equally emphatic that it would be Winchester, and the word of one who ministers to the gastronomic wants of a General should be given some weight. Dame Rumor was as usual at work. Rumors were given birth behind the locomotive and flew through the various cars. The possibilities were weighed pro and con, and the consensus seemed to be that the Division would remain in England for several weeks' training. As events unfolded, the only acquaintance with England was obtained by fleeting glances from a fast-moving train on a rapidly darkening day.

During the wee sma' hours the train pulled into darkened Dover, and the pound of marching feet on the hard pavement had a sepulchral ring. From the appearance of the low rambling houses silhouetted against the sky and the narrow crooked streets, one almost expected to see Oliver Twist saunter out of a doorway and bid the Division welcome. Out of the town the route led to a barracks where the men were quartered for the night. The sun shone brightly the next day, and the panorama of the picturesque city and harbor lying beneath the chalk cliffs gladdened the heart. The rumors of yesterday were thrown into the discard, and singing joyously the men boarded the speedy little craft which was to carry them across the Channel. The famous Channel was every bit as rough as reputed, but the roughness was forgotten in the eagerness to catch a first glimpse of France. Soon the sandy shores of Calais came into view-the red-tiled roofs, the sparkling sand, and the verdant water forming a delightful picture. "Sunny France" was the thought in every mind.

The Division was in France at last, gazing in awe at the multi colored uniforms, which pre-dominated. Every Allied nationality was represented, French, Scotch, Belgian, English, Moroccan, Canadian, Algerian, Australian, Italian, Serbian, New Zealand; even the Chinese coolies who work behind the lines wore a heterogeneous sort of uniform. The men of the Division were just as much objects of interest, for very few American soldiers had been in the north of France. Marching from the dock through the city, it became apparent that this was part of the theater of war, though far from the firing line. The square was obstructed by the ruins of several buildings which had been bombed by Boche aviators a few nights before. First impressions are lasting, and although the Division subsequently has been bombed times innumerable, and has been in town after town where Boche airmen "have divided their old iron among the populace," the sight of those destroyed buildings will remain paramount. Here at last was war-destruction of property and life. Here, three thousand miles from home, men, many of whom had never wandered more than five kilometers from Broadway and 42d Street, in the next half year were to make history which even posterity cannot efface.

The joyous news was passed that the Division was to go to a Rest Camp on the outskirts of Calais. After fourteen days at sea and a brief experience with English Hooverism, the prospect of a sojourn at a Rest Camp loomed large. So to the Rest Camp the Division hiked, but not to rest. No sooner were the packs unslung than companies were formed and marched back to Calais, where the treasured Springfield rifles were turned in, British Enfields being issued in exchange.

"Why Enfields? " was the question on every side.
" The Boche has broken through, and the 77th is to fill the gap," was Rumor's answer.

The rifles exchanged, the blue barrack-bags, containing two complete outfits per man, were next turned in, much to the disgust of the various supply sergeants who had spent weeks of pains-taking effort in issuing their contents. Back to the Rest Camp for ten minutes' rest, followed by a hike of eight long kilos to draw gas masks and helmets; eight longer kilos back to camp; an overcrowded mess; then to bed on a hard board floor, but not to sleep, for it was a beautiful moonlight night, and the Boche aviators took advantage of it to bomb the town. Moral: If you desire to rest avoid all Rest Camps!!
From Calais the Division entrained for the vicinity of Eperlecques Pas-de-Calais), where it assembled about May 6, 1918, for a month's intensive training under the direction of the British 39th Division. Major General George B. Duncan at this time assumed command of the 77th Division, relieving Brigadier-General Evan Johnson, who resumed his former command of the 154th Infantry Brigade. Equipped with British material, further training of the Division was soon in operation. Light Douglass motorcycles sped from Eperlecques to the various Regimental Headquarters. Officers who had never ridden before learned after considerable difficulty to post on English saddles, while those to whom equestrian feats were second nature came into their own. Newly painted limbers, glittering with the Division insignia, made their daily trip to the ration dumps, and the staff cars made their rounds of inspection. Although busily preparing for war, war seemed very remote. Indeed, were it not for the distant booming of the heavies, night and day, as reminders that hostilities were in progress, one might easily have imagined himself in the environs of peace. These guns were in the vicinity of Ypres and Kemmel Hill; the Dames alone were aweing at the time, and the noise of the cannonading conjured up visions which were later either dispelled or realized. Another and very material reminder of war were the nightly visits of the German aviators. They must have known that America's First National Army Division was in France, and realizing what a potential menace it was, attempted to cripple it by dropping a bomb on Division Headquarters, with a result that the first eight casualties from enemy fire were inflicted.

The Division being under the tutelage of the British, certain American methods with which all were familiar were abandoned for British methods. " In two ranks, fall in," "'Shun," "Smartly," " On the Double, " were strange phrases to which was soon added a new one, " Fed Up. It was difficult to become accustomed to the new order and many an argument arose between the bloomin' Yanks" and the veteran British N. C. O.'s over the relative merit of the two armies. In the main, differences were generously smothered, and the men absorbed British bayonet drill and British combat methods. It was a bit more difficult to absorb the British ration. Tea and jam for breakfast; jam, tea and meat for dinner; and jam, tea and cheese for supper drew a thriving business to the local estaminets. With the aid of pocket dictionaries and ingenious gestures the madame was made to understand that the famished soldier desired beaucoup oeufs, pommes-de-teffe, and vin-rouge. At once the laws of economics were reversed, prices no longer depended on demand and supply, but rose steadily with the knowledge that the soldat Americain received the fabulous sum of $1.10 per diem. C'est la guerre.

The practical side of warfare was taught on the drill field and on maneuvers, but those little sidelights which bring the "buck" private into his own were gleaned at mess and after hours from the British officers and men who bad participated in the "big shows" for the past four years. Nothing delighted the British N.C. 0. more than to recount his part in the "bloody" war. Never were such harrowing, tales told and never was there a more skeptical audience. Soon the officers and the non-commissioned officers of the Division received an opportunity to see for themselves those things about which they had heard and read. Orders were received to send small groups of officers and non-commissioned officers on trips to the front-" Cook's Tours. " They went, saw and returned, and were greeted with a volley of questions sufficient to tax the resources of a Field Marshal; These nascent veterans seemed to have been most impressed by the vast amount of shelling. Used as they were to American sports and games, they were full of admiration for their British cousins who regarded war as a huge sport and went to it like big game hunters. With gas, too, of whose deadly effect they had been warned for months previous, they were duly impressed, and took a new and almost maternal interest in their gas masks. One thing more, no matter how hot the battle, or how adverse the conditions, the war must, not be permitted to interfere with daily tea at four. To miss tea would be little short of sacrilege, and one who did not demand his tea must surely be just over from " Blighty. " After listening to the various accounts of those of their number who had been there, the men decided that the "bloody war" was not so bad after all -right-o.


Absorbing British Bayonet Drill

Toward the middle of May a rumor gained credence that the Division was to go into the line,. Great was the discussion thereon. "Good-bye, Girls, I'm Through" and "I Want To Go Home" regained popularity. Contrary to experience, an order substantiated the rumor-the Division was going into the trenches. Farewell letters were written, packs made up, limbers loaded with rations and ammunition; motorcycle messengers arrived in the dead of the night; staff cars flew from town to town; the time of departure was fixed, and the 153d Brigade was on its way. The 154th followed a few days later. The long, weary hike to the trenches was counteracted by spirited singing, and the " an revoirs " of the peasants along the route of march.

Late afternoon saw the Brigade in the trenches, and Division Headquarters established in an old castle. But instead of a devastated "No Alan's Land" crops flourished and complacent peasants went their unmolested way in front of the trenches-King George's trenches twenty kilos from the firing line, and on a maneuver instead of opposed to the Boche.


A Regimental Headquarters Established at Wallen

The men may or may not have been disappointed at the turn of events. At any rate they carried out their part as though they were really under the eyes of Boche observers, and tinder a rain of shot and shell. For three days the Division attacked an imaginary enemy; was driven back and counterattacked; patrols were sent out which encountered nothing -more hostile than a frightened calf; reliefs were posted and "stand-to" observed; kitchens were lost but there were eggs in abundance; altogether it was a bon war while it lasted. The sole casualty was an unthinking lieutenant who spread out his bedding roll near a picket, line, and after a hard day went wearily to sleep. Dreaming of a gas attack he a awoke to find himself hurtling through the air and landed ten feet away with his bedding all piled on top of' him. One of the horses had broken away from the picket fine and its halter chain caught in the lieu-tenant's bedding roll, upsetting him. The mimic war proceeded, despite the casualty. British and American staff officers advised and criticized, bugle sounded, and the Battle of Watten was at an end.

Given several days to recuperate, the 154th Brigade under Brigadier-General Johnson entrained for the area back of Arras to act as reserve for the British 2d and 42d Divisions. Although the stay there was unexciting, not so the trip en route. Simultaneously with the arrival of the train at Doullens, the Boche airmen came over in force. The trains were halted and the train crew executed a hasty retreat to dugouts, leaving the Brigade helpless in the cars. It did not take long to realize that this was the real thing. The drone of the hostile planes overhead could be plainly heard as they circled about apparently trying to locate the trains. Searchlights played across the sky, the planes being brilliantly illuminated as they crossed the paths of light. Machine guns fired from all sides with that unmistakable "tack-tack-tack"; "archies," or anti-air-craft guns, barked and bombs exploded with terrific reports, altogether too near and too frequently. This was the first experience in a concentrated air-raid and was long to be remembered. It lasted for over an hour and ceased as suddenly as it began. All became quiet and the trip was resumed.


The Mimic War Proceeded

The sojourn back of Arras included further training made interesting by the fact that the Division was in reserve. " Jerry " furnished diversion in the way of that absorbing pastime which the official communiques refer to as "searching the back areas." The German long range guns shelled more or less at random, and the Boche aviators came over nightly. A night's sleep was impossible, and a new French word, " abri, " was added to the vocabulary. This meant " dugout. "

At last, after weeks of hoping and endless rumors, the 153d Brigade had completed its training in the north of France and en-trained the same date as the 154th. The 152d Artillery Brigade, which had been training at Camp Souge in southern France, a little later sped northward to rejoin the Division. The men made the most of the now famous Hommes-40-Che-vaux 8, as comfort was of little import compared to a real American sector. No more marmalade and tea. No more "In two ranks, fall in" Cheery-O! They were on their way to good old Yankee beef, bread and cigarettes, American Y. M. C. A.'s, American methods, and-American Comrades. At every station they were greeted by Frenchwomen with flowers, hot drinks and cheerful well-wishes. The middle of July found the entire Division had assembled together for the first time since it bad arrived in France, and had taken over a sector in Lorraine from the Rainbow Division.


A Typical Billet

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