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A Volunteer Poilu





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A Volunteer Poilu by Henry Sheahan

The Riverside Press Cambridge

1916

TO PROFESSOR CHARLES TOWNSEND COPELAND OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY

DEAR COPEY,

At Verdun I thought of you, and the friendly hearth of Hollis It seemed very far away from the deserted, snow-swept streets of the tragic city. Then suddenly I remembered how you had encouraged me and many others to go over and help in any way that we could; I remembered your keen understanding of the Epic, and the deep sympathy with human beings which you taught those whose privilege it was to be your pupils. And so you did not seem so far away after all, but closer to the heart of the war than any other friend I had. I dedicate this book to you with grateful affection after many years of friendship.

HENRY TOPSFIELD, September, 1916

Preface I HAVE ventured to call this book A Volunteer Poilu principally because we were known to the soldiers of the Bois-le-Prêtre as "les Poilus Américains." Then, too, it was my ambition to do for my comrades, the French private soldiers, what other books have done for the soldiers of other armies. The title chosen, however, was more than complimentary; it was but just. In recognition of the work of the Section during the summer, it was, in October, 1915, formally adopted into the French army; a French officer became its administrative head, and the drivers were given the same papers, pay, and discipline as their French comrades.

I wish to thank many of my old friends of Section II, who have aided me in the writing of this book.

HENRY SHEAHAN

Contents

I. THE ROCHAMBEAU S'EN VA-T-EN GUERRE A war-time voyage --- The Rochambeau ---Loading ammunition and food supplies --- Personalities on board --- The dyestuffs agent --- The machine lathes man --- The Swede from Minnesota who was on his way to the Foreign Legion --- His subsequent history --- The talk aboard --- The French officer --- His philosophy of war --- Ernest Psichari --- Arrival at Bordeaux --- The Arabs at the docks --- The convalescent soldiers ---Across La Beauce ---The French countryside in war-time.

II. AN UNKNOWN PARIS IN THE NIGHT AND RAIN Paris, rain, and darkness --- The Gardens of the Tuileries --- The dormitory --- The hospital at night --- Beginning of the Champagne offensive --- The Gare de la Chapelle at two in the morning --- The wounded --- The Zouave stretcher-bearers --The Arabs in the abandoned school ---Suburban Paris at dawn --- The home of the deaconesses.

III. THE GREAT SWATHE OF THE LINES Nancy --- The porter's story --- Getting to the front --- What the phrase "the front" really means ---The sense of the front ---The shell zone --- The zone of quiet --- My quarters in the shelled house ---The fire shells --- Bombarded at night --- Death of the soldier fireman.

IV. LA FORÊT DE BOIS-LE-PRÊTRE Le Bois-le-Prêtre --- Description-History ---Les Glycines, "Wisteria Villa" -The Road to the trenches --- At the trenches --- The painter's idea of "le sinistre dans l'art" --- The sign post --- The zone of violence --- The Quart-en-Réserve --- The village caught in the torment of the lines --- The dead on the barbed wire --- "The Road to Metz."

V. THE TRENCHES IN THE "WOOD OF DEATH." The Trenches --- Organization --- Nature of the war --- Food, shelters, clothing, ammunition, etc. ---A typical day in the trenches --- Trench shells or "crapouilots" --- In the abri --- The tunnel --- The doctrinaire lieutenant of engineers.

VI. THE GERMANS ATTACK The piano at Montauville --- An interrupted concert --- At the Quart --- The battle for the ridge of the Wood --- Fall of the German aeroplane --- Psychology of the men in the trenches --- Religion in the trenches.

VII. THE TOWN IN THE TRENCHES Poor old " Pont " --- Description of the town --- A civilian's story --- The house of the Captain of the Papal Zouaves --- Church of St. Laurent --- The Cemetery and its guardian.

VIII. MESSIEURS LES POILUS DE LA GRANDE GUERRE En repos-- -A village of troops --- Manners and morals --- The concert --- The journal of the Bois-le-Prêtre --- Various poilus.

IX. PREPARING THE DEFENSE OF VERDUN En permission --- State of France --- The France of 1905 and the France of 1915 --The class of 1917 --- Bar-le-Duc: --- The air raid --- Called to Verdun.

X. THE GREAT DAYS OF VERDUN Verdun in 1912 --- Verdun on the night of the first great attack --- The hospital --- The shelled cross road ---The air shell --The pastry cook's story --- The cultivateur of the Valois and the crater at Douaumont ---The pompiers of Verdun---"Do you want to see an odd sight?"---Verdun in storm and desolation.

Map of area

Illustrations

PONT-À-MOUSSON, THE MOSELLE, AND THE BOIS-LE-PRÊTRE BEFORE THE WAR, BURLAP SCREENS TO HIDE THE ROAD FROM THE GERMANS, CARRYING DOWN THE DEAD, AFTER THE ATTACK, THE QUART-EN-RÉSERVE, READY FOR GAS --- A BRAZIER AND A BOTTLE OF GASOLENE, "A PACKAGE FOR FRITZ", THE ROAD TO METZ, THE DÉBRIS OF A FALLEN GERMAN AEROPLANE, THE TRENCH JOURNAL OF THE BOIS-LE-PRÊTRE (FRONT), THE TRENCH JOURNAL OF THE BOIS-LE-PRÊTRE (REVERSE)

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