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The War Diary Of Clarence Richmond

Episode 17

Troops March into Argonne Forest
October 13-30, 1918

We received some more new replacements while at Camp Carrieres. Our platoon received about six of the new fellows. They were very anxious to know all about the happenings at the front, and we were just as anxious to hear the latest news from the States. They had not been over but just a short while, and appeared to be mighty nice fellows, at least from a standpoint of intelligence. We did have well educated fellows in the Marine Corps, with a few exceptions of course.

Our routine consisted of a general cleaning up, both ourselves and our equipment. We took some shower baths and felt much better as the result. We had to have our daily drill, both close and extended order. Our C.O., Capt. Dunbeck, left us here and took charge of the Battalion. Capt. Massey, a Virginian, assumed charge of our company. He was well liked. Leaves were granted to Chalons, but I did not ask for any. We were able to purchase some "sweets" from the "Y".

On October 17th, I wrote letters to everybody with whom I was in correspondence, and sent my Christmas Box permit to cousin Inez.. Only those sending these permits home could be sent Christmas boxes. (It was January 27th when the letter containing this permit reached Inez. Washed all my clothes I could, and boiled the German sweater I had picked up at St. Mihiel, to kill all the cooties in it. When it was boiled, the pesky things popped out all over it, though before, they could not be seen. The sweater did not have time to dry, as we moved again on Sunday afternoon, for we must not remain in one place over Sunday. Smith, a fellow from our platoon, who had just been assigned to duty as a company clerk, told me that he had heard that I had been recommended for a D.S.C. Since he didn't seem to be sure of what he was talking about I paid no more attention to what he said, and thought no more about it.

We left camp about two o'clock Sunday afternoon. A light rain set up soon after we got started, which made the roads slick. Along towards night my legs became almost paralyzed, on account of having my puttees wrapped too tight. I did not want to take time to drop out and rewrap them. As we did some cross country hiking, I got some distance behind. Keeping up was made more difficult, for me, on account of being badly chafed. When we reached Camp Montpelier about nine o'clock that night I was about all in. A bunk felt good that night. This was October the 19th.

The next morning we were issued some more emergency ration, with the admonition by Capt. Massey that; "You had a better lay off those emergency rations".

With me, any time I was real hungry and could not get anything to eat constituted an emergency. I usually found a way to replenish my supply, if I had eaten it, before an inspection, for it was a high offense to eat ones emergency rations except on rare occasions. We got our breakfast of "slum" and coffee and prepared to continue our journey. My German sweater which I had cootieised, had not yet dried, so decided to leave it in the barracks, in order to lighten my pack as much as possible. Hated to give it up, as I wanted it as a souvenir.

We passed through some dreary and war scarred country, as we crossed over the front lines of a few days back, No Mans Land, and the German lines. Was impressed by the great number of crosses along the road everywhere, indicating graves. Some were old, while many bore signs of having been made recently. A live tree was unknown in this kind of a place, only snags and stubs remained. There were dugouts, enormous shell holes, mine craters, deep trenches everywhere. Where, in the past, had been several small villages, only ruins remained, not a single wall standing. But nothing else was to be expected of nearly four years of fighting in one place. Neither side had been able to make any material gains and hold them.

We rested about an hour and a half at noon and had a hot meal. Continuing our journey, we passed near Somme-Py again, but were routed over a less traveled road towards the front. This was to avoid the heavy traffic on the better roads. Our road was pretty muddy, and hiking became difficult at times. Keeping up a steady pace of fifty minutes hiking and ten minutes rest, we went on into the wee hours of the night, with no signs of stopping. Near midnight, several began to drop out with exhaustion. It was rather cold, and after getting warm hiking. the rest made me so stiff, could hardly move my muscles, when we resumed the march. I often had to take my hands, and help move my limbs, until the circulation became normal again. After each rest, it became harder to get started again. There were two reasons why I was determined not to fall out. I had long ago resolved to stick as long as anybody else did, and the hope that at the next stop we would surely fall out for the night helped me make one more effort. Sometimes it was hard to get going again, but each time I somehow managed to keep my place. We passed some of the other battalions, who had fallen out for the night, and this made us mad. But we continued on.

About 1:30 in the morning, while we were resting alongside the road, and with shells falling not far away, word came that we were not to be used, that French troops had at the last minute been ordered to take our place. Most of the fellows let out a yell upon receipt of this announcement. This was "good news" to us, and while we had not been told that we were to go "over the top" in the morning, we had surmised as much, for otherwise we would not have been making a forced march. We rolled up on the side of a hill near by, right out in the open. The next morning the ground was white with frost, and we were a little cold, or at least I was.

During the morning, October 21st, we moved back and bivouacked in a thick pine woods at Bemont Farm, which place was used by Regiment Headquarters. This was a large mansion, which had been used by the Germans, as some kind of a headquarters. Underground was a large telephone exchange. I explored around down there some to see what it looked like. An airplane hanger was being hastily put up just across the road from us, and planes were landing and taking the air. We were very much surprised to get paid on the 23rd.

On Oct. 24th, we left Bemont Farm and hiked back to Camp Montpelier in less than half the time it had taken us on the 20th. We came back a more direct route making the distance much shorter was better hiding besides. Along the way we saw quite a quantity of German ammunition that had been left behind.

On the morning of the 25th, we left Camp Montpelier, and after hiking a few kilometers, were confronted with a line of waiting camions. Right out of the frying pan into the fire. We were badly in need of rest, and the camions meant only one thing, and that was we were headed to another front. Might as well have gone on to the one we had just come from. Had no idea of where we were headed this time, though surmised that we might find ourselves in the Argonne soon. From the overseas copies of "The London Daily Mail", the "Chicago Tribune", and the "New York Herald", which we could get now and then, we kept up with the progress of the war fairly well. These papers usually contained maps of the front, showing the changes from day to day. We knew that American troops were fighting in the Argonne at this time.

We rode all day until about mid-afternoon, passing through many villages, some small and some pretty good sized. None of the places were familiar to me. In the afternoon, we left the camions at a small deserted village near the front called Les Isletts. It was truly "less" all inhabitants. We rested for about two hours in some barracks near this place, and then entered the dense Argonne Forest.

Tried to sell me little gun to a Chaplain, who said he was going back to the States. He was afraid he could not get any ammunition for it, so did not buy. About four o'clock we took a road towards the front and one that took us through the dense Argonne Forest. We came to the original front lines just at dark. This was a strip of a few hundred yards wide, a desert-like appearance. The timber was practically all dead and shot down, stubs of trees standing here and there. Deep trenches, dugouts, shell holes, mine craters, with No Man's Land between, gave one an impression long to be remembered. The road leading across this had of course only been reconstructed and repaired since the battle of the Argonne had started. The rains had made the roads pretty muddy, or rather the heavy traffic over them had. There was nothing to do but wade right through the mud. We had to stop and wait for several minutes, so often during the night. There was never much chance to fall out to the side of the road. Most of the time we "rested" standing up. This kind of hiking kept up until very near daylight, when we finally fell out in a thin woods near Exermont. We only got a wink of sleep before most everybody was up looking for something to eat. There was no sign of our kitchens, though several other outfits were eating. Many of us scouted around to see if there was any possibility of getting a bite from some other galley. I managed to get a few beans.

The whole country around was full of troops, even out in the open. There seemed not to be much pretense of concealment. The time had arrived evidently for less concealment, and more aggressive fighting. We remained here until the afternoon of October 30th, preparing for our entrance into the lines again. This particular sector was being held by the 42nd Division at this time. One of their artillery kitchens was right next to us. They seemed to be glad that we had been given the task of relieving them. Not much progress was being made right then. Evidently the calm before the storm.

Maj. Gen. Summerall and Maj. Gen. Lejeune paid us a flying visit while we were at this place. They were only pepping us up for what was to come. Paid us a few compliments, and left before we had the opportunity to tell him what we thought about it.

When our galley came up, we got plenty to eat, though we had to walk about a half a mile for it. Details usually had to go to the galley for the rations, and they would be given out where we slept. Some had dug holes for safety, while others did not. I did not, only pitched "pup" tent. There did not seem to be any shelling near us, so took the chance.

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