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The War Diary Of Clarence Richmond

Episode 3

Face to Face with the Germans
Early June, 1918

There was something about the fellows who had just returned from sixteen days fighting that distinguished them from us rookies. They had an air of having done something. From a personal viewpoint, they were anything but attractive looking soldiers. Some were pretty ragged, having had no new clothes issued them. We plied them with a thousand and one questions, trying to find out how the war was carried on. A gunnery sergeant, a Pole by the name Mike Nodareszyk, gave us a short talk, informing us briefly that we were going back to the front that night. He said that the Germans could fight, but that we could "fight a dón sight better".

We were issued emergency rations, consisting of French hard tack, a piece of bacon, coffee, sugar, salt, and pepper. I found that I was not going to have any use for a lot of things I had in my pack. There were three knit sweaters which I decided I would not need during the summer. There was a pair of basketball trunks which struck me as being rather inappropriate at this time. I found out from those who had been to the front just what to take and what not to take. Just before dark we were ordered to "fall in".

I was in the fourth platoon of some company, I could not remember what. Took good notice of the fellows next to me, and kept my place. Hiking for about fifty minutes, we would have about ten minutes rest. I had had no night hiking before, so became pretty tired along about midnight. It was cloudy and dark as pitch and commenced a light rain. Leaving the main highway, we entered a woods, and were told to roll up and make ourselves as comfortable as possible. The woods was all small growth and very thick. I had to feel my way back a ways from the road, and located a medium size tree, under which I proceeded to unroll my blanket and undertook to be "comfortable". I knew nothing of how best to roll up under circumstances like this. Instead of doubling up with someone else, which is much better, I tried to roll up alone. I did not sleep a wink. Could hear the report of heavy artillery all night long. Morning finally came, and the rain had ceased. Early the next morning Lt. Milner of our platoon was accidentally shot in the knee by his orderly, who was cleaning his automatic. We were not allowed to go out in the open, on account of the danger of being seen by airplanes. Had chow about then in the morning and again about four in the afternoon. During the day I found out how two could bunk together better than just one alone. By combining our shelter halves, we put up a "pup" tent, by beading a small bush and letting it hold up the center of the tent. We heard quite a bit of firing during the day. These were guns placed well back from the front.

Shortly after sundown, we again took up our move towards the front. Passed a French bakery where there were great piles of French bread. This bread was a round loaf, with a crust a good half inch thick and as tough as sole leather. The French did not make white bread, but instead used rye and wheat together. Passing along the Paris-Metz highway, some of the other fellows showed us where they had first seen the Germans not many days previous. Leaving the highway, we started across fields. Telephone wires were strung all along a newly made road. We began to pass great shell holes, some eight and ten feet across and five and six feet deep. The war was fast becoming a reality We passed several batteries of French 75ís, some firing away and others not firing. I saw my first anti-aircraft shells explode in the air. Could see the smoke from the explosion, but could not hear the report, as it was quite a ways off. Some enemy planes appeared and we were ordered to conceal ourselves as much as possible along the road. I did not think an airplane could see us that far away, but of course I found out later a lot of things I didnít know then.

We had been traveling in columns of platoons, about fifty yards apart, but now we proceeded in single file, the same distance between platoons. The fellows who had been to the front previously continued to point out scenes of their engagements with the Germans, as we passed along. We double timed through a small village, the name of which I did not learn. We did this on account of the fact that the place was shelled pretty often. We next entered a wheat field, which contained a very fine wheat. Well-beaten paths led across the field into a large woods. Along the path we took, shells had hit at regular intervals seemly, many of them landing squarely in the path. I kept wondering if any would fall around close while we were going along but there were none.

We entered the woods and found a place to roll up for the night. It was pitch dark in there, but somehow managed to find a small hole into which a little fellow by the name of Cassidy and I undertook to bunk. It wasn't big enough for one, much less two. He slept like a log all night, and snored so loud the Germans could almost have heard him. I may have dozed a time or two, but I donít think so. My mind would not get quiet long enough to go to sleep. Morning finally came, and we made our hole a little larger. We also put more dirt on top, thereby giving is more protection.. During the morning we were given some canned fruit by the Red Cross. Did not get any other food. The day was quiet, only a few shells falling anywhere near us.

At night we again moved, this time going into the front lines, though I did not know till daylight that we were in the lines facing the Germans. A line of trenches had been dug along the edge of a woods, looking out over a large wheat field. It was still early in the night when we went in, and I was told to roll up and sleep some, which of course I did not do. An hour or so before dawn, every one was ordered to "stand by". This was a regular practice every morning, for at that time it would be supposed that we would be less vigilant. Many attacks were made just before dawn. I was told to keep a sharp watch out across the wheat field. In front of us about eight hundred yards away was another wood, the edge of which made a V with ours. This strip of woods was held by the Germans, though not a soul could be seen. To our left was a small village, and also one directly in front some distance away. During the day a few shells were dropped near us. Our own artillery were sending over quite a number of shells. At night I was moved to another position, where I was to try my had as a sniper. Was selected because I was an expert rifleman. This trench was about fifteen feet long, four feet deep, and had a small dugout at each end. The earth was mostly pure sand, and was easy to dig. We enlarged our end of the dugout considerably. Rations were brought up to us only once a day, between eleven and one oíclock. The rations consisted of French bread, boiled beef, "spuds" in the jacket, and coffee, and would he cold by the time we got it. Each company would send back its own ration detail, as well as water detail. We would always select a time when there was as little shelling as possible, and there was seldom much shelling around midnight.

On the second night, a patrol from our company ran into some Germans, and it seemed to me that every machine gun in France opened up. With machine guns, rifles and hand grenades all going at the same time, I thought sure they were coming over. It may have, or may not have been the cold that made my knees a little unsteady. The uproar ceased in about half an hour. No one in our patrol was injured.

As a sniper I did not have to stand watches during the night. Another fellow by the name of Luloff took turns with me during the day. We had a telescope sight on our rifle, and kept a pair of field glasses to our eyes nearly all the time when on watch. We usually stood four on and four off, though sometimes we made it three on and three off. On one occasion a German came strolling along the road leading into Torcy, the town on our left, as though he were on an afternoon stroll. I was off watch at the time. Luloff soon convinced him that this road at least was not a health promenading place. On another occasion I discovered some Germans bringing up some rations or ammunition. They were too far away to be seen without the glasses. I wasted a few shots at them, but they probably never knew that I had fired at them. We showed their location to an artillery officer soon after this, and pretty soon some shells fell right among a detail of the Germans. They were not long in scattering.

One afternoon about one o'clock four or five days after we went into the lines. Brig. Gen. Harbord, commander of our Brigade, and Capt. Murray, our company commander, came down into our trench, and the General, after looking at the woods across in front of us, quietly remarked that we would capture that point and drive the Germans out. Our platoon Sgt., who was standing near, hearing the remark, turned his head aside and said, "We?". I wondered if our company was included in that "We". The General stated that the barrage would start at four o'clock that afternoon. Exactly at that hour, the guns opened up. We could hear the shells as they came over. How anyone could live through that bombardment, I could not understand. It seemed that the whole earth was being blown up. All the artillery in that section seemed to be lined up on this particular spot. Several Germans were seen running from the extreme end of the woods. Machine guns were trained on them but none were apparently hit. Luloff and I took several shots at them also, but they kept going. The distance was too great for good shots. The task of taking this place fell to the 18th Co. of our battalion. Quite a bunch of prisoners were taken, it was reported. Several mornings I heard a heavy barrage to our left.

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The War Diary of Clarence Richmond
Posted April 16, 1997 By Robin Richmond