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Section Twenty-Eight (SSU 28)

SECTION TWENTY-EIGHT left Paris June 17, 1917, arriving at Mourmelon-le-Grand, in Champagne, in the sector of the Monts, June 19. It served with its division in line there until relieved in the fall. The postes along the Voie Romaine and out towards Mont Sans Nom and Mont Haut, were Ham, Bois Sacré, M Quatre, and Village Gascon. In mid-September the Section moved to Damery, where it was enlisted in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service as Section Six-Forty.

'The Ambulance Sections', History of the American Field Service in France, "Friends of France" 1914-1917, Told by Its Members, Volume II (Boston and New York: Houghton and Mifflin Company, 1920)


 He died in the winter dark, alone,
In a stinking ambulance,
With God knows what upon his lips ---
But on his heart was France!




June 18, 1917

Final preparations were made day before yesterday, and yesterday we were up early in order to take a final look at our cars before they were lined up for inspection by Mr. Andrew and some of General Pershing's staff. There are sixteen Dartmouth men in the Section, who are all absolutely inexperienced as far as work at the front is concerned; but our Chef, W. H. Wallace. Jr., has been at the front with Section Four and understands the game from A to Z.

All day long we rode through clouds of dust, past isolated farms, between green fields of neatly laid-out vineyards and waving wheat, and in and out of quaint little villages whose inhabitants stared and waved cheerily as the convoy swept by. Here and there, in the midst of a meadow crimson-spotted by poppies, we noticed small wooden crosses, which marked the graves of those brave men who died in the fierce battle of the Marne. At dusk, we drew up in a small village where we were to spend the night and were drummed to sleep by the distant mutter of the guns.



June 20

Last evening we pulled up before one of the long series of brick barracks at Mourmelon-le-Grand which is to be our cantonment. It lies about seven miles behind a row of six hills that dominate the surrounding country, which, we learn, has been the scene of sanguinary fighting since the day when the forces of Attila were defeated on the plains of Châlons. In itself the village has no particular attractions other than an excellent buvette and a chocolate shop. In times of peace this was one of the largest training-camps for the French Army, and in the main the town is composed of row upon row of long brick barracks laid out with streets between, with adjoining it a large plain cut by a system of trenches and dugouts. Fortunately for us, there remains plenty of room for a baseball diamond where Strubing and Hasbrook pursue elusive "flies" to the infinite delight of an admiring horde of poilus.



June 22

From the foot of the hills to Mourmelon a level plateau extends bare and unsmiling except for clumps of dwarf pine, the only form of plant life that can get sufficient nourishment from the chalky soil. A shell breaking on this ground leaves a round, vicious-looking white scar; and the ensemble of many shells produces a bizarre Swiss-cheese effect.

Out past demolished Baconnes is a poste de secours, M4, situated just at a crossroad, which has received, now and again, and twice between times, noisy remembrances in the form of "155's," which besides making the poste unhealthy, keep us tied close to the door of our dugout. Here we have four cars. Once having run through the woods, a veritable nest of guns, we come upon a little clearing among the pines, on which opens a trench which is our poste, Bois Sacré. Out ahead is an open field, cut by what remains of a national highway and pockmarked by shell-holes of every known calibre. Still farther ahead, in what remains of the Hun fortifications, are three regimental postes fed by a car stationed at Village Gascon. Village Gascon, by the way, is not a village at all, but a jumbled collection of small ramshackle wooden barracks, interspersed with dugouts and battery emplacements. All this is hidden in a small grove of scrub pines with little paths running here and there, and now and then an abandoned trench. The only thing in common this place has with a village is a little rude chapel near one end of the grove, built entirely of rough boards and pine branches, and marked by a large wooden cross before the gate. The cross is distinctive in that it is the one used by the Greek Church and not the simple cross of a single bar with which we are familiar. This sector was recently occupied by some Russian troops detailed for service on the French front; hence the insignia of the Greek Church. In fact, there are many Russians buried in the little cemetery in front of the chapel and their graves are easily distinguished from those of their French allies by the queer crosses which mark them.



Toward the latter part of this afternoon, the Germans dropped a heavy barrage upon the line of hills mentioned above, and the scarred slopes of Cornillet shone bare and forbidding in the sinking sun. Before dusk they were hidden under a dense cloud of smoke and dust that rolled down the sides, wave upon wave, choked up the valley, and spread over the woods in a veil. To the right, Monts Blanc and Sans Nom were smoking like volcanoes, and everywhere, for miles behind the lines, jets of earth and smoke spurted up, spread and added to the general haze, while the roads and battery positions were shelled. By mine o'clock the infantry attacked, and then the blessés came pouring into the postes. It was pitch dark in the woods. The roads were new and strange. The shelling was intense. Peltier, surrounded by batteries and swamped under a rain of shells, was the centre of activity. One car, driven by Allison, with Milne as orderly, ended up in a shell-hole and four men went to their rescue. After getting the car out, they started back, and just as they got abreast of their cars, two shells dropped but a few metres away, when Paul Osborn was wounded in the back and right leg and his car perforated again and again by the éclats. The motor still ran, so with Noyes driving, Wells pouring water into the damaged radiator and Hurlbut running ahead to warn them against holes, they took him into Village Gascon where his wounds were dressed before he was taken back to Farman. Milne, too, was slightly scratched in the shoulder by a shrapnel ball. Toward morning things quieted down and we learned that the Boche attack had failed completely.

June 27

Paul Osborn died last night despite every attempt to save his life. The wound in his back sapped his strength so that he was unable to withstand the strain of having his leg amputated. The funeral service was held in the chapel of the hospital, and then the body was borne by six French soldiers to the little cemetery on the slope of the hill. The flags of France and America were draped upon the casket and the Croix de Guerre pinned upon the folds by General Baratier, of Fachoda fame, who delivered a touching address at the grave-side.



July 4

All day mysterious preparations have been going on in the mess hall and there is an undue amount of whispering among our French personnel. At six o'clock we were informed that dinner was ready and when we walked into the room we had the explanation of this mystery and whispering. The walls and rafters were swathed in greens of every description, while at one end a large American flag was draped, and from the smoky beams the banners of the Allied nations waved. Of the dinner itself, one cannot say enough in praise. During the interim between the last course and the wines, we were given a concert by the 63d Regiment Band, which played first the "Star-Spangled Banner" and then the " Marseillaise."



July 15

German planes came over day before yesterday in the afternoon and dropped circulars informing us that the following night we, with several other neighboring villages, were to be the recipients of some Kultur in the form of bombs. In fact, last evening they attacked Mont Sans Nom, but were repulsed, though they shelled the batteries and roads heavily. Rain set in, however, and called a halt to the aerial part of their programme; but it also made it hard evacuating the blessés. The roads were jammed with munition trains going up and ravitaillement trains coming back. In the woods behind Gascon the situation was especially difficult. On one trip Ashton, acting as Strubing's orderly, had to sit out on the fender and shout directions to the driver. Several shells fell close to them, and one wounded Ashton severely in the shoulder and foot, an éclat breaking the collar bone and just missing the spine as it came out of his back. He was evacuated to Farman and a part of the foot amputated.

July 28

Out at Gascon the rats are terrible. Yesterday at midnight they held a field day on the corrugated iron roof of our dugout. The strange part of the whole performance is that these rats do not run, but gallop. At 2 A.M. each and every morning they hold a steeplechase, and between their squealing and our cursing this is a poor place for a rest cure.

Late this evening Isbell and Adams took a call to a battery near here that was being shelled rather heavily. One obus exploded very near and Isbell was given a deep flesh wound in the foot.

August 25

Chief Wallace has been cited to the order of the Division for the Croix de Guerre, and this morning we all lined up and, looking as military as possible, spent a nervous quarter of an hour while General Baratier complimented Wallace upon "the splendid work that he and his men had done in the past few months." We are soon to lose him, as he has accepted a commission in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps.

September 9

Archie Gile came out to the Section to-day to replace Mr. Wallace, He came over on the boat with the rest of the Dartmouth men, but went into the Motor Transport Service, then to Meaux, whence he was sent to us.

September 17

Captain Tucker and Lieutenant Webster came out in the afternoon and gave us a talk on why we should become soldiers. We were assured that it is but a matter of a few months before we shall be promoted. Eleven of us followed their advice. But the memory will stick fast of the good old care-free days in S.S.U. Twenty-Eight and the American Field Service.

*Of East Orange, New Jersey; Dartmouth, '18; served in the Vosges Detachment as well as in Section Twenty-Eight; later a private in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service. The above are extracts from a diary.



Mourmelon-le-Grand, June 20

Adjoining our cantonment here is a large network of trenches to be used in case of a retreat. I was out walking around them this afternoon watching the aeroplanes. The air was just alive with them, and it was interesting to watch the German anti-aircraft shells burst around them. One German plane came over and was fired upon by the French anti-aircraft guns. Soldiers working on barbed-wire entanglements around the trenches ran for the dugouts, and since I was in the centre of the field I decided it was time to run also. Several of the barracks here have been demolished by shells. In the rear of us, just twenty yards away, is one building all blown to pieces, and part of the roof of our own barracks has been torn off.



June 21

This afternoon I was assigned duty as orderly at M Quatre, a poste just across the valley from Mont Cornillet. On this high hill are the first-line trenches, the French holding this side and the Germans the other. The hill ---once wooded---is now bare, and, viewed through glasses, looks very much like a sieve, due to the shellholes which are so numerous that they overlap each other. Around M Quatre are four batteries, the soixante-quinzes being nearest to us. Shells fall around us practically all the time, and in consequence we remain in our dugout nearly always. It is almost impossible to picture the fighting going on here. Over the few square miles of ground in front of us fountains of earth and stones are thrown up by shells continuously. About five-thirty our supper was brought out to us and it was a fine meal. At this time the firing let up a little and only stray shots were heard. But along toward seven o'clock the bombardment opened up violently again, and the calls for cars came in rapidly, making it necessary to send for more. The sights out on Mont Cornillet were spectacular. Illuminating bombs, colored fire, flaming cannon, all added to the effect, until at about ten o'clock, the shells were dropping so fast that it was impossible to stay above ground.



June 22

At about two o'clock this morning a guard called for "Encore deux voitures pour le poste Peltier." I went as orderly for Wells, and as neither of us was acquainted with the road, Noyes, our acting Chef in the absence of Wallace, went with us. Paul Osborn and Orr followed us in another car. I never had even dreamed before just what war really is. I can't begin to describe our ride down through to the poste. Even Noyes lost the road, and before we knew it we were out near the trenches, where shells were falling heavily. As we could not use lights, and as it was as dark as pitch, it was almost impossible to see anything except when an illuminating bomb lighted up the barren place. Consequently, I being orderly went ahead to "feel out " the shell-holes. After pushing our cars out of the mud several times, we got back on the right track. Soon we came to a car piled with blessés and stuck in the mud. We stopped to help them out of a shell-hole. The shrapnel and bombs were failing thick around us and we were continually receiving torrents of mud and clay which were thrown up. After getting this car off, we started for our own cars.

Just as we were running back a cent-cinquante-cinq struck about two metres from one car and at the same time another six or eight metres on the other side. We were all stunned. Suddenly I heard a moan, and then Paul Osborn cry from under the car, "Hospital, quick!" I did not realize anything at first, but soon came to my senses. He had heard the whistling shell approach and had dodged under the car, as he had one minute before said he intended doing. In this case it was the worst thing he could have done. We picked him up, and although it was pitch dark we were able to see by the light of the bursting shells that he was bleeding in the back profusely. As quickly and doucement as possible we put him in the car on a stretcher and started at once for the Village Gascon emergency hospital. Noyes drove the car, Orr remained inside with Paul, Wells sat on the fender feeding the radiator water, it being in a very leaky condition, and I ran on ahead watching the road.

Arriving at the hospital, Paul was placed on a brancard and his wounds were dressed. He was terribly hurt, having two large holes the size of one's fist in the back of his right leg, and another was bored through his back and into his lung. We were all very much alarmed, and when the priest asked us whether he was a Catholic or Protestant, we became more so. Finally, when the priest took me aside and said, "perdu" I could hardly hold myself together, for it did not seem possible that the fellow who, a little while ago, was taking a cat-nap in the dugout in the same blanket with me, was now almost dead.

Wells and I were given some hot coffee, and the firing having stopped somewhat, we went out to look over the car, which we found to be in worse condition than we had thought, although, strangely, the engine was all O.K. In all, the car was shattered with eighty-five holes, quarter-inch steel was cut through, and the side was like a porous plaster. Some cuts were as clean as if made by a saw, while others were jagged. A part of one shell pierced the heavy tool box, went through the pumps and came out the other side of the box, cutting the steel tubing and the steel rods cleanly in half. I never want another such experience as this night.

Champagne Sector, June 24

The shelf-fire was heavy last night, when the Germans, a long time getting our range, poured the shells in rather hot and heavy. We went without orderlies for the first time, and it was anything but pleasant. I reached Village Gascon at about 1.45 A.M. and found every one sound asleep amidst the roar outside, and it was very lonesome to sit there with a thousand and one rats squealing. I remained until daybreak and then stepped outside to take a look around. It was very cold, dead men were lying about awaiting burial, earth was thrown up, and at intervals the "75s" poured out their deadly metal. Now and then the "155 " battery roared in masterly volubility, and off in the direction of Le Bois Sacré an infantry attack by the French was in progress, the rapid firing of the machine guns making things rather unpleasant.



June 27

Osborn's funeral was held this morning at nine-thirty. Section 28 was there in full dress, and also men from Sections 12, 14, 19, and 27. Mr. Andrew arrived from the Field Service Headquarters, bringing Paul's brother, who is in a transport section at Jouaignes. A Protestant chaplain officiated at the ceremony, which took place in front of a curiously painted wooden chapel erected by the Russian troops, who were here last year. Paul's body was sealed in a lead-lined, plain, unvarnished, white-oak casket. Hasbrook and Shoup drove one of the ambulances for a hearse. Interment was in a small cemetery a few hundred yards from the chapel and up on the hill. The floral display was very simple. The French personnel of our Section sent a large pillow of red rambler roses, and our Section gave a spray of lilies. These were all the flowers that could be obtained. Headed by a bearer of the American flag, the procession moved slowly up to the cemetery, where are buried a great many other men who have died for France, and whose graves are marked only by plain gray crosses. The whole ceremony was in French, and was very beautiful, impressive, exceedingly sad, and will be very difficult to forget. General Baratier attended and spoke at the grave as follows:

In the name of the 134th Division, I salute Soldier Osborn, who came at the outbreak of the war to aid us to triumph for right, liberty, and justice. In his person I salute the Army of the United States which is fighting with us. The same ideal inspires us and leads us onward, for we are both fighting to save the liberty of the world.

Soldier Osborn, my thoughts go out to your parents, who, on the other side of the ocean, will learn of the grief that has stricken them. I know that words have no power to lessen a mother's sorrow, but I know, too, that the ideal which she inspired in the heart of her son will be able, if not to dry her tears, at least to transform them, for it is through these tears, the tears of all mothers, of all women, that victory will come --- that victory which shall assure the peace of the world, which will be theirs more than any others' since they will have paid for it with their hearts.

Soldier Osborn, sleep on in the midst of your French comrades fallen, like you, in glory. Sleep on, wrapped in the folds of the American flag, in the shadow of the banner of France.



M Quatre, July 6

All was very serene until about 12.15 P.M., when the Boches attacked on Mont Blanc and Mont Cornillet. This was exceptionally fierce and was kept up until nearly four o'clock. The two hills were simply one solid bank of smoke, flame, and geysers of débris. Toward midnight I had a call to Village Gascon and one couché and one assis were brought out to me. The couché, who was wounded in the leg and through the back, spoke English quite well, and, although in great pain, managed to talk with me, saying, among other things, "I love the Americans --- !"

July 13

During the air raid in Châlons last night a paper was dropped by an aviator informing "tout le monde" that the towns of Châlons, Mourmelon-le-Grand, Mourmelon-le-Petit, Bar-le-Duc, and other places would be bombarded to-morrow night, July 14. The Germans seem to do this once in a while to try and show superiority.

September 3

Took a walk toward Hexen Weg and looked over the old trenches and ground which was being fought over last April. The whole field was covered with little graves marked by small wooden crosses. Skeletons of soldiers were strewn about and in some cases the uniforms had not started to decay. Now and then we would kick over a shoe with a foot in it. Helmets and weapons were around everywhere.

September 7

There was a big review of the 100th Regiment this afternoon. The regiment has just been filled out with a large number of Africans. They appear awkward at times, but on review make a good showing. Their huge " cheese-knives" are the terror of the Germans.

October 13

Every one is packing up preparatory to leaving to-morrow at 3 A.M., for Champigny. It is necessary to leave at this early hour because the road is exposed and unsafe for the convoy to pass by daylight.

Champigny, October 16

This sector is a quiet one at present. A few obus come in, but not very close. We carry the blessés to Châlons-sur-Vesle. It is always very dark by the time we reach Reims and so very difficult getting around. In addition, the streets are full of barbed wire and the main ones barricaded. These barricades are strongly built and are provided with loopholes through which it is possible to shoot.

*Of Hartford, Connecticut; Dartmouth, '18; served with Section Twenty-eight of the Field Service from its formation and subsequently in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service. The above are extracts from a diary.



Wednesday, June 28,1917

Paul Osborn was wounded on last Thursday night, but fought death until his heart failed him yesterday morning. If anything happens to me, I pray God that I may be as noble, as courageous, and as thoughtful of others as Paul was. One of the first things he did in the hospital was to ask for cigarettes --- he does not smoke himself --- to give to the blessés and attendants around him. About the last thing he said was, "I am going to fight this and win out." Then he went to sleep, became unconscious, and died when his heart failed him a half-hour or so later. He never came to consciousness in his last moments; so he passed away just as though he was going to sleep. He did not know that his leg was amputated. His brother, who is in the Camion Service, arrived here about two hours after his death. He lost the battle of life, but he did "win out," for he must have won a place of honor in eternal life.

From all this you can realize that we are in a particularly dangerous sector, and you would realize it more vividly if you could go to our postes and hear the shells flying. Three more of our autos were badly smashed up yesterday, but we have them all ready for service again. The boys were in the dugouts at the time, so no one was injured; but had they been at the side of their ambulances, it is certain that more would be in the hospital to-day. The boys are all playing as safe as possible when not making a run. Of course, when a call comes for an ambulance, they never flinch; but when we are waiting for a call, we keep within reach of the dugouts. But whatever happens, we are all ready to do our duty and to do our best....

Remember that we are in this war to the finish, and if our hour comes, we are glad to go if in the meantime we have done a noble work. We must all join the fight for humanity and civilization whatever the outcome, and after being here and seeing graveyards with a couple of thousand dead in each one, it seems that one life is a small sacrifice. It is a thousand dying that makes a difference.

*Of Lexington, Massachusetts; Dartmouth, '18; wounded July 15, 1918, at the beginning of the Second Battle of the Marne, while driving a load of blessés through a town which was under fire. His skull was fractured by a fragment from a shell and he died August 14, 1918, in the hospital of La Veuve. The above is from an unpublished letter to his father.



S.S.U. Twenty-Eight was taken over by the Government September 17, 1917, at Mourmelon-le-Grand, while it was working with the 134th Division of Infantry, and was called thereafter Section Six-Forty. A week after being militarized we were relieved by S.S.U. Seventeen and went with the 134th to Damery-sur-Marne for a repos of three weeks. From Damery we went to Champigny, where we worked the postes on the northwest side of Reims and a few call postes in other parts of the city. Evacuation work was from Châlons-sur-Vesle to Bouleuse, Jonchery, Sapicourt, and Trigny. The latter part of January we moved into the city proper and had all our postes in the city.

About February 1 we went "out" en repos to Damery for three weeks, then came back to our old quarters in the city, and at this time we took over all the postes in the city, which we worked alone until August 17. After a couple of weeks we moved outside the city limits, where we lived in a candle factory. After the German attacks on March 1 we moved to Sacy, eight kilometres from Reims. Up to this time Reims had been quiet, and with this exception was until the Germans began their destruction in early April. This lasted about ten days, and then things were quiet until the retreat in May from the Aisne. At this time we were very busy and gave considerable help to S.S.A. Twenty on our left, whose division, the 45th Colonials, did excellent work in covering the retreat.

After a couple of days we moved into the woods on the road between Épernay and Reims, near Mont Chenot.

Our Division was in line when the attack of July 15 came, and again we were very busy. August 17 the Section was sent to Nogent-en-Bassigny to join the 91st American Division. In September we went to a position in reserve near Void, where we stayed until the Saint-Mihiel drive was over. From here we went to Parois, where we were when the attack of September 26 commenced. As the attack advanced we had postes in Véry, Cheppy, Epinonville, Eclisfontaine. After ten days in action we came down to Revigny where the Division entrained for Belgium, ten cars going by flatcar and ten over the road.

We camped two days in the English dugouts at Ypres, and then had about ten days' rest before the 91st went into action,

October 29. At this time Lieutenant Gile was relieved by Lieutenant Eno. November 4 the 91st received G.M.C.'s and we were sent to Nancy, where we were when the Armistice was signed, Lieutenant Eno now being relieved by Lieutenant Raydon. November 12 we were assigned to the 76th French Division, and started for Germany via Metz, Thionville, Sierck, Merzig, Hamburg, Alzey, Biebrich, and ended at Kriftel where we were until relieved March 15.

We received a Section Citation from the 134th D.I. for work in Reims during May and June and a letter of commendation from the Division Surgeon of the 91st.

*Of Lexington, Massachusetts; Cornell, '17; joined the Field Service in May, 1917; served in Section Twenty-Eight and in the U.S.A. Ambulance Service during the war. Brother of Stanley Hill, who was killed.