AMBULANCE 12-1, SECTOR 233
While the memory of it is still fresh I must tell you how I played Easter Rabbit on the front.
First, however, that you may have the picture framed, I must take you back to a certain gray and windy week day many weeks ago, when Colonel Guerin sent the queer little omnibus of the division after me. I piled bright comfort bags on top of it, and drove exultantly off to the camp behind the lines where our young heroes come to train for those inimitable “Coups de Main” which are the peculiar glory of the army. There was to be a special “concours” that day in all the most daring manoeuvres with all the deadliest engines. I was invited to see it all – a trust of the very first magnitude, for there were many things, as you can imagine, not to be repeated – after which I was to distribute the prizes. At the entrance of the miniature ‘champ de bataille’ –a tract several kilometers square containing every variety of surface, hill and wood, ravine and open field, and even a marshy dell where artillery might get most successfully stuck- a triumphal arch had been erected for me to walk under. As we entered, the colonel, followed by his captains, all those gallant young “diables bleus” (as the Boche call them), drew up in salute and then dispersed in squads to their various posts. From one to another we went, and each taught its terrible, vivid lesson, explained by their most surprising captain – a priest who had doffed the robes of sanctity to win five palms and four stars in his “croix de guerre.” As we stopped before each piece, at the invitation of the colonel, I fired several shots, sometimes coming plumb on my objective – a feat sufficiently out of keeping with my costume to delight those spirited veterans. Then, after the different pieces of the “first line” had been fired, came the different methods of assault, capturing of the enemy’s batteries, etc, and you saw men go over the top, and blue forms creeping among the tree-trunks, crouch and fire, leap forward and crouch again to fling those deadly grenades, as deadly for the assailant, unless he is careful, as for the enemy. Then all was smoke and flame and blind struggle and uncertainty for an instant, and when the curtain lifted the battery was ours. All the time colored smoke and flag signals were being made, and the thunder of guns raged about a much-contested fort in front of us. At the end of the program we followed the combatants back to the starting point, and were about to inspect the ammunition magazine before the prize-giving, when the colonel abruptly asked if I didn’t want to give the men a “bel exemple” by throwing a grenade myself. My first sensation was blank astonishment, my second, admiration for his faith in American nerve and forearm (feminine), my third, enthusiasm to be able to furnish a “bel exemple,” so I said, “Certainly.” Whereupon the colonel and his suite discreetly stepped back – why I only realized afterwards – and the be-palmed and be-starred captain advanced with me a few rods and produced a grenade, which, he explained, was perfectly harmless until a little key in one end was bent back and withdrawn, whereupon it might immediately explode unless I kept my thumb firmly pressed on a kind of flat steel spring on the side; otherwise I could hold it four seconds!
After these reassuring instructions he handed me the weapon. I drew the key, holding down the spring most conscientiously, I can assure you, and, despite the slander on feminine collarbones, threw the thing to a safe distance, that is to say, at least thirty yards. It obediently exploded with a great noise, tearing up some ground. Great applause from the rear. The captain, pleased with his pupil, then produced the most powerful grenade made – the other was only half strength – and the same performance was repeated with a bigger noise and more scatteration.
Whereupon, we all, in the best of spirits, went to enjoy the fruits of our labours. The colonel, with admirable tact, withdrew and left us to ourselves, so there was no constraint. Squad after squad filed in gravely with their guns and helmets, and filed out again, swinging their bright bags and smiling, and one could only think of the flowering of Aaron’s rod, and be thankful. When everybody had been thus decorated I was taken off to tea by the colonel and his officers, and then put into the little omnibus to drive home in the sunset. You may know my thoughts were busy as we threaded the woods and crossed the crest whence the wounded city of the “twin towers” glimmered rose and gold as I had seen it on that dreadful day last July.
If you have misgivings about those bags that were originally destined for the wounded, calm them. It is a grave error, too often made, to imagine that a man must be nearly cut to pieces before he needs or deserves to be comforted; and the particular comforts contained in a comfort bag are peculiarly fitted to rejoice the heart of the foot soldier, and lift it too, thereby having a military value as well. The socks and handkerchiefs, the chocolate and tobacco, the writing paper and knife, the comb and mirror, and other surprises, are things he always wants and almost never has. If he is going to the attack perhaps he will send the pretty sock home to his mother or fiancée as a souvenir. Don’t think me hard and suddenly changed to our beloved blesses. Of course he comes first and foremost, like the Bible among books, which we leave out of every day discussions on comparative literature. But he was a combatant once, just as glorious and somewhat more useful before he was wounded; and that is a fact that many good people seem to forget. All these three years I have been dimly feeling that, and I think that must be the reason why I just had to get to the front despite all the powers of evil hidden under the hide of smug bureaucrats who tried to bar the way- now I know. A few days after the “Concours” a “planton” came bearing a note from the colonel in which he announced that I had been named “Grenadier d”Elite” of the regiment and endorsing my diploma “bravement gagne.” The diploma itself is a museum piece, and I would have sent it to you but for the risk of the mail; then, too, it may be useful some day as a testament, eloquent beyond all others, to my military trustworthiness, for I am very probably the only woman in France who possesses one. You may imagine that now there was a stronger tie than ever between me and my brothers and that was why I broke the traces and braved the avions – that does sound ridiculous after all I have been through- but you can’t imagine how afraid I was to be killed in Paris instead of at my post, and went there to obtain supplies for my Easter celebration. This morning early I embarked in the creaky old omnibus and away through the fickle, fragrant spring sunshine to ———- where the colonel stood waiting at the door of his quarters with his suite to conduct me to the mess room. Lunch was a most charming function and the bivouac atmosphere lent special piquancy to the grace of the host and the courteous bonhomie of the company. After Pershing had been well toasted and Wilson and our army and your own most humble servant, we adjourned up the hill amidst fruit trees beginning to flower and were met at the top by a salute and cheer for Mademoiselle Miss. The interior of the braque was gay as a carnival and a monument to French ingenuity. The woods, too, had been pillaged of their best treasures, budding boughs cunningly hid the rafters, and the long table over which I passed the coveted gifts was covered with moss and wee flowerets and dells and fairy woodlands, a veritable miracle in landscape gardening. Again the colonel had the good taste to withdraw, and for nearly three hours we had the merriest time you can imagine just as thought the fate of the world were not being decided a hundred miles away. It was the kind of an afternoon one wants never to come to an end, and the sign and symbol of it was the supernal rainbow that suddenly blazed above our lines at sunset to bless and illumine my journey home. I suppose you are wondering a bit what I am made of to be able to talk and think on laughing themes when the Somme lies bleeding and Paris is torn with horrors, and so many of my children, perhaps Galois, for he has gone with his battalion, have found nameless graves since I last wrote. But that is what we learn at the war, to live day by day, rather moment by moment, for otherwise one couldn’t live at all.
No copyright page found
Volume: Vol. 101, Ser. 5, Vol. 34, Pt. 2
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Phillips & Hunt
Call number: 31833017365286
Digitizing sponsor: Internet Archive
Book contributor: Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center
Notes: No copyright page found. Page 838 missing from book.T his digital copy is from a photocopy of an original book
Full catalog record: MARCXML