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The War Diary Of Clarence Richmond

Episode 11

Night Watch Duty; Planes Soar Overhead
August 8 16, 1918

On the second day, I was assigned to the galley watch, with a little Jew named Marines. The kitchen was back about five hundred yards, and in a dug in place in the side of a bank, well protected. It was not our own kitchen, but a permanent one put up by the French for those who used this sector. A fellow named Crabtree was detailed to cook the rations, which were brought up during the night between eleven and one o'clock in the ration cart. We only had two meals a day. No guard was needed during the day, so we only stood watch from ten at night till six the next morning. We stood two on and two off.

The very first night Marines and I went on watch, we were initiated with a barrage. About one o'clock while I was trying to get a wink of sleep, shells began to fall without warning. Thick and fast they came over, most of them clearing the crest of the hill and falling a hundred yards or so to the rear of us. However, several of them fell pretty close, one shrapnel shell bursting on top of our tin roof, sending a shower of shrapnel down into the kitchen. This and several high explosive shells made us dive into our gas masks,. That is, Crabtree and I did. Marines had thoughtlessly left his mask back at the dugout, and he nearly went wild running around not knowing what to do. Finally he took a blanket and wet it, and put this over his face, breathing through the blanket. Every few minutes he would ask us to take off our masks and see if there was still gas present. We figured that he could find out for himself. This kind of gas was not dangerous, only causing the throat and eyes to burn and smart. The tears just streamed out of our eyes at first. The rats were even excited. One was killed during the bombardment, and we had to contend with its odor for several days afterwards. The barrage soon ended, for our guns had begun to send over about as many shells as the Germans did. Machine gun fire kept up till dawn, however. As soon as six o'clock came we hastened back to company P.C. to find out what damage had been done. No one in our company had been injured, however one of the machine gunners had been wounded. It seemed that the Germans had started to raid our sector and had had an explosion of some kind among themselves, which caused them to be detected before they reached our trench. They had then called for the barrage. This information had been secured from a couple of prisoners taken by the 18th Co.

After this usual quietness continued. Every morning just before dawn, our company would send out a patrol to see if any of the wire entanglement had been cut during the night. The patrol always got back before it became light enough to be seen.

About the fourth day in the lines, while some of the other fellows raiding "cooties," I got a premonition that I had better conduct a raid myself. Stripping above the waist, my efforts resulted in finding a full grown "Major General Cootie," if anything counted in the size. This was pretty good for the first one developed. The "General" was executed without trial. I could only find the one cootie, but from that day on they were always present in numbers. Old bunks, such as we had in our dugouts, were incubators for cooties.

The plums right near us were soon all gone, so one day I ventured out in an open spot to a tree that had some nice ripe ones. I climbed the tree, but didn't tarry long, as I could easily be seen by the Germans. There was so much barb wire strung over the place, that it was difficult to get around outside of the regular paths and trenches.

Wrote several letters home. Writing without getting any answers was becoming difficult. It had now been two months since arriving in France, and not a single letter mm anyone. Some of the others received a bunch of papers from home, and we all had to look them over to see what was going on back in the states. We could often get copies of the London Daily Mail, New York Herald, and Chicago Tribune, all published in Paris. From these we kept up with the progress of the war.

My night watches continued at the galley. The rats were so bad, that when you were on watch, you could not tell whether a raiding party was coming or not on account of the noise they made, and when you tried to sleep, they ran around over the shack, and sometimes over you, till sleep was impossible. I seldom got much sleep out of my two hours off.

Every night bombing planes came over, both French and Germans. The French on the way to bomb Metz not far away, and the Germans to bomb Nancy just in our rear.

The moon was full, and the nights very bright, but could never see the planes as they passed over. Sometimes ten to fifteen beams of light from searchlights could be seen searching the sky for the planes. Tiny flashes of flame could be seen as the anti-aircraft shells burst over Nancy. We would listen for the ration cart to come up about midnight, as we could always hear it coming. We would then challenge whoever appeared first, even though we knew that it was some of our fellows. Sometimes I didn't challenge, if I could recognize who it was. Just at dawn the company runner always came along on his way back to battalion headquarters. If I had the last watch I seldom stopped him, as I could see him several yards away.

Our daily routine in the Pont-a-Mouson sector continued about the same until the 16th, when the 82nd Division took over our sector in relief. They relieved us about midnight, the company relieving us seemed to be nearly all "Whops," and were all in when they arrived, or appeared to be, at least. Their packs were just about twice as large as ours usually were, which accounted for their being all in. They had not yet learned how to "get by" without a lot of things we're supposed to carry along. We usually had quite a lot of things "lost in action," then if it became absolutely necessary for us to have them, the missing articles would be issued to us, and eventually be lost again.

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The War Diary of Clarence Richmond
Posted April 28, 1997 By Robin Richmond