At daylight, we had traveled a little over two miles up the river. The fog still protected us during the early hours of the morning. Along with some others, I began to dig in, behind a terrace that ran along the hillside. This gave us good protection from machine gun fire, which bothered us considerably. The 43rd, however, moved on and helped take a farm house and several other buildings a hundred yards or so ahead of us.
Soon after daylight, a runner swam the cold river and carried a message back to headquarters. We gave him a little cheer after he had made a safe crossing. He was soon lost in the fog.
The ground where I was digging my hole was pretty rocky, which made it hard digging. I had some tea left from the canteen full I had gotten on the afternoon of the 9th. This I warmed over a can of alcohol. After drinking the hot tea, pulled off my shoes and rubbed my feet, putting on a dry pair of socks. Felt much better. I kept well concealed during the morning, and dozed some. Do not know just what all took place. Trench mortars dropped all around us, and machine gun bullets clipped the top of the little ridge right above our heads.
Just up the river from us about a mile and a half or two miles was the town of Mouton. I could see the church steeples.
As noon approached, we became conscious of an unusual quietness all around us. Firing of all kinds had almost entirely ceased. The Germans were not firing even a machine gun, though our artillery continued to send over a shell now and then. The Germans occupied the crest of the ridge along the river, and if they had had sufficient numbers, could easily have cleaned us up. After eleven o'clock, all firing ceased entirely, not a sound any where. Soon everyone was talking about it. No word had reached us yet.
A wounded fellow from our company was discovered, down near the river bank, where he had laid since before daylight. Getting a stretcher, McDermott and I went to him and dressed his wound. He was shot through the hip, and just about unconscious, as a result of his exposure to the cold. We wrapped him in a blanket, and laid him on the stretcher..
While we were getting ready to take our wounded man to the rear, a runner appeared' with the official news that an Armistice had been signed. Most everybody let out a few healthy yells, but I did not. For one reason, didn't feel much like yelling. I had some difficulty getting three more fellows to help me carry the stretcher. The one I did get had to stop every few minutes and rest. I kept urging the necessity of getting the fellow under medical care as soon as possible, for he was badly in need of attention. As we had to go back along the river bank to where we had crossed during the preceding night, I had a good opportunity to see just what we had done, and the hazardness of our undertaking.
It could be seen that the hillside or bluff along the river was lined with machine guns and trench mortars. From their elevated position, they commanded a full sweep of the river, and it was very evident that had there not been a heavy fog during the night, which had made the flares of no avail, we would have suffered greater casualties, if not complete annihilation. Near the small bridge, the bank of the river was strewn with our dead. I counted about twenty-five within a distance of a hundred yards. Several shells had hit directly where we had laid along the bank of the river. Nearly all of one platoon of one of the other companies had been either killed or wounded. All the dead still lay where they had fallen.
Getting our patient across the bridge was our next problem. We had to shift the stretcher to two persons, and the bridge was too narrow for two abreast, also the weight of five persons would make it sink under the water too far. The planks went under a little as we crossed, with just two carrying the stretcher.
On the opposite side of the river, the dead were more numerous. Here wad had suffered our greatest casualties. As many as four and five dead could be seen around many single shell holes, and in two or three instances, I saw as many as eight lying around a single shell hole. The sight of all this made me sad, and at the same time breathe a fervent prayer of thanksgiving at being permitted to live through it.
One of my helpers said he was exhausted, so had to get another volunteer to help us. An ambulance soon came along, and we dispatched our patient, and saw him on the way back to the hospital. A dead Major was lying near us, but no one seemed to know who he was.
While we were standing around, some French refugees from a nearby village came along, carrying their scant belongings.
Before we started back to our company, we were given somehow chow at a galley belonging to the 23rd Infantry. We were invited to eat all we wanted, and I for one did not have to be asked the second time. We thanked them for the meal, and started on our way back. We did not hurry any on our way , as there was no necessity for us doing so.
I asked myself the question why had all this loss of life been permitted, when those high in command knew that an armistice was pending. From one standpoint it seemed a needless waste of life, then on the other hand, Germany was not yet decisively beaten, and every blow was needed to make her realize that a victory was not for her. Looking at it from that view point, one had to grant the wisdom of the attack.
The double tracked railroad, which had been our goal, and which was the backbone of the German defense, now lay behind us, that is, what was left of it. Many of our large shells had landed squarely on the road bed, tearing up rails and leaving great holes in the roadbed.
It seemed just a little hard for me to fully realize that the war was actually over. When I had come over in June, I did not then think the war would be over before the end of the year, but neither did I have any idea that I would be right in the thickest of it continuously, without any rest, until the end. I had been dreading the coming winter, for we were now out in the open all together. We no longer had deep dugouts to sleep in. All of these and many other thoughts passed through my mind as we made our way back to our respective units. Passing along at the foot of the bluff, I could not help but think that if we had held that commanding position, the Kaiser's whole army, and all his cohorts to boot, could not have made that crossing and up the river as far as we did.
When we reached our positions, we found the other fellows carrying straw from the farm buildings just in front of us, and making beds with it. Later we moved to the buildings and billeted for the night under shelter, the first time since the night of Oct. 24th. Some German Officers were looking around, I suppose to see what we looked like. Several of our fellows had already been over swapping souvenirs and getting something to drink. I was content to stay on our side and strut my souvenirs, namely, a pair of German field glasses, and the automatic fastened around my waist by means of a "Got mit uns" belt. There was plenty of straw in the barn, as well as two dead horses, however the presence of the horses did not deter us from sleeping with a sense of security that we had not had for many a night.
After dark, all the hills around resembled a mammoth Fourth of July celebration. There were camp fires everywhere along the front, and the sky was lit up all night with lights of all colors. It was evident that some did not sleep any during the night, or else they worked in relays. There were also a number of explosions during the night in the rear of the German line, doubtless being the setting off of mines, and blowing up ammunition dumps. Outside of this there was a quiet that had not been known for over four years.
The next morning, helped carry up some chow as our kitchens were yet unable to get across the river. In the afternoon of the 12th, we moved up to the crest of the ridge, which the Germans had held the day previous. That night, which was a cold frosty night, three of us slept in one pup tent. The Germans again spent most of the night in getting rid of their supply of signal lights.
I drew a chow detail on the morning of November 13th, back to the kitchens. In the afternoon, we journeyed back to the farm house, and listened to a glowing speech by Maj. Gen. Summerall, Corps Commander, giving us everything but something to eat. From his talk, we got an idea that there was something more be done yet, though he did not tell us just what it was. Spent the night at the farm house. A footbridge had now been thrown across the river near the farm house, and we crossed it and got chow from the kitchens, which had come up on the other side of the river.
On the afternoon of the 14th, we moved down the river several kilometers to a small village named Pouilly, which in its appearance indicated that it had been in this world a few centuries. The town had been shelled somewhat. From the top of one house, a small white flag was waving. It was good to be billeted under cover once more.
We could now write letters home for the first time since October 19th, a period of nearly a month. For this length of time, we had not been away from the front, except moving from one position to another.
The few days we spent in Pouilly gave us an opportunity to "count noses" and see who had survived to the end. Our company was known as the "Lucky 43rd", and at this time, our numerical strength was nearly twice that of the other three companies in the Second battalion, which were less than one hundred men each. Ordinarily there were approximately 250 men in a company. It was evident that we had our share of casualties.
We spent some time in cleaning up ourselves, clothes, and equipment. A few new pieces of clothing were issued. A demonstration of army efficiency was shown just at this time. In as much as the war was now over, we were ordered to turn in our old inefficient French automatic rifles, and were issued the new light Browning automatic, which was much superior to the French gun, and much lighter to carry. Others had been using the Browning, for we had picked up one in the Champaign front that had been "ditched" by the 36th division, and had been carrying it ever since. We knew what they would do, and could not understand why we were not issued the Browning, instead being forced to use the French automatic (which usually jammed after the second shot). During the time we remained at Pouilly, rumors were rife as to our destination. Of course, all of us wanted to go home, to be home by Christmas. Some of the overseas papers carried an announcement that the first divisions over would be the first to be sent home. This was good new to us, for the Second was among the first over.