Previous Episode Table of Contents Next Episode

The War Diary Of Clarence Richmond

Episode 20

The Last Battle of the War - Crossing the Meuse in the Fog
November 7-10, 1918

The next day we moved about a mile to the right to another woods. An enemy plane dropped three bombs near where our company was located. Just before dark we prepared to move again, but did not, spending the night at the same place. Our loses from sickness during this time were rather heavy. Our numerical strength now became very low. It was said that our strength was less than that required for further use in the lines, but regardless of this, we remained. A battery of 75’s came up right behind us and commenced firing away.

On November 8th, we moved back through the mud to a reserve position. Hiking was difficult through the deep mud. On the way back, a fellow who had been wounded back in June at Belleau Woods rejoined us. A piece of shrapnel had passed through one of his legs, leaving an ugly scar. He said his leg was still weak.

We moved back far enough to build fires, the first we had been able to have since Oct. 27th. Believe me, a fire surely felt good. We tried to clean up a bit while we had the opportunity. To be able to get a hot meal was the most welcome thing. I managed to get hold of a paper, but could not find much in it to substantiate the rumors of Austria's quitting the fight. Of course we could tell from the war maps that we were licking the Germans, but I did not see an immediate end of the war.

Late in the afternoon of Nov. 9th, after a hot meal, at which we were served tea instead of coffee, I filled my regular canteen and also the German canteen which I had been carrying since Sept. 13th - we headed towards the front again. We crossed fields and woods, through mud and water, and after a laborous march, reached a stopping place far into the night. Several fell out before we reached our destination, on account of being physically unable to stand a hard march. I had three others helping me with a stretcher when we started, but when we fell out at the end of the march, I was carrying the stretcher alone. The other three had fallen by the wayside. One, a little Jew named Abbie Goldstein, in the opinion of several including myself, proved yellow, and disappeared. Another fell in a hole and sprained his ankle. The third fell exhausted, the stretcher falling on top of him. He continued a ways further, but soon had to follow the others. The order to fall out for the night sounded like music when it finally did come that night, around midnight. I got to use the stretcher for a bed the rest of the night. The next day we rested, and had a meal at noon of "slum" and coffee. I was afraid to eat much of the stuff, for fear of the consequences, but did eat a little. Just before dark several of us visited a barn near, and got some straw for bedding for the night. I fixed up a nice straw bed and got quietly settled, and had just dosed off to sleep, secure in the belief that we were going to get a good nights rest, when I was again made to realize that the war was still going on, by hearing Capt. Massie’s quiet Virginia drawl: "43rd Company, fall in". For the millionth time I agreed with Gen. Sherman about war. To have to leave such a comfortable place, when such places were scarce and far between just then.

We fell in, and after a short consultation of officers, we moved out in single file. Passing the barn where we had secured our now useless straw, we followed a road through a woods. We had not proceeded far before word was passed back for everyone to be as quiet as possible, that we were going to make a night attack. Did this look like peace? It didn't to me, nor the rest from what they said. This was the night of November 10th. We remained for some time in a small ravine just a short distance from the river Meuse. Our presence must have been discovered by the Germans by the way they shelled us. There were a number of shells fell right around us. We learned that the 2nd Engineers were trying to throw a bridge across the river for us. They lost heavily that night in getting two foot bridges across for us, though one was blown up by a direct hit soon after it was thrown across. The shelling throughout the night was the heaviest that I had been through so far during the war. Having only one place left to cross on, it was slow work getting across to the other side of the river. We had to cross at intervals of from fifteen to twenty feet apart, on account of the walk way going under the water. Just before we reached the river we crossed a double track railroad which had been the goal of the Meuse-Argonne drive. From what could see in the darkness, our heavy artillery, as well as the other bad found their mark.

During the time we were waiting to cross the river, Pvt. Wilson of our platoon, and Sgt. Cook of the third platoon, both of whom had come over in June, 1917, and had not so far ever been wounded, were both wounded. I dressed Wilson's wound, which was a bullet wound in his leg. Both of them almost cried because they had to leave the company, after having been with the organization continuously since arriving in France early in June, 1917. There were only a few in the whole battalion who could show such a record

We at last reached the bank of the river, then understood why it was taking so long to get across. The bridge was a very frail affair, consisting of floating timbers, on which three planks had been nailed, in all about two feet wide. In the center, the bridge sank under the water, so that all of us got our feet wet in crossing. Machine gun fire, shells from trench mortars, and artillery fire continued heavily.

We had one element in our favor all during the night, and it was indeed a benefactor. A heavy fog hung over the valley, so thick that the enemy's flares could not reveal our presence. Had there been no fog, it is doubtful if enough of us would have gotten across- to have told the tale, for those flares would have shown us almost as if it were day. Had our exact position been known, the hundreds of machine guns and trench mortars along on the bluff over looking the river would have wiped us off the face of the earth, and they did a good job of it as it were, the next day revealed.

As soon as our battalion got across, we took up the river bank. We had a rather weak artillery barrage, but a good machine gun barrage supporting us. There was a slightly used wagon road along the river bank. Our progress up the river was slow, as the head of the column had to stop every few minutes and clean up a machine gun nest. When the enemy's fire got too hot, we would take refuge down below the river bank. We could hear the Germans talking only a few yards away, but we did not fire at them. Once we though they were going to attack us, and everybody got ready for the rush, but it did not develop. The only weapon I had was the small automatic I had, and it had only two shells. I had it ready for use.

After each stop, I would be so cold and stiff, I would have to take my hands and help get my limbs working again. One platoon of the 51st company was almost completely wiped out by a shell while we were along the river. On through the night we worked our way up the river, and away from our only means of re-crossing the river. Do no know how many machine gun nests were cleaned up, but there were plenty of them. In as much as they did not know that we were on their side of the river, it was not so difficult for those at the head of the column to get close enough to drop a grenade or two among them. On one occasion, I hear a German call out: "Wo bist du, Adolph?" Just then two grenades answered him. Do not know if he found Adolph or not, anyway we moved on. We could hear the Germans running around in the woods only a few yards away. Our progress was just as quiet as possible, in order not to let them know we were near them.

Next EpisodeOn to next episode
Previous EpisodeBack to previous episode
Table of ContentsBack to War Diary Table of Contents
The War Diary of Clarence Richmond
Posted April 16, 1997 by Robin Richmond