CROIX DE GUERRE
Many events of the Great War we still want to forget. But there are certain of the more humorous happenings which will bring not unwelcome memories to every veteran. So, read Mr. Upson s yarn.
WILLIAM HAZLETT UPSON
HENRY was a guy that could get into more trouble with officers and N.C.O.’s than any other buck private in the whole Thirteenth Field Artillery. And one day early in October, 1918, when we were in the middle of the Battle of Arras, he pulled off a stunt that I thought was going to get him a general court martial, or I don’t know what. But the same day it happened that he had pulled off another stunt that made them change their minds; and they let him off, and pinned a medal on him, and he was a hero and everything.
The events leading up to all the excitement began one evening just after supper when the battery was behind Monchy. We had the four guns strung out along the road east of Arras with their noses pointed north. The men of the battery were in bivouacs and old German dugouts in the woods just south of the guns. Me and Henry, being privates in the telephone detail, had our little hole in the ground right behind the trail of the number two gun. We had been there several days, and had dug our. selves a real elegant hole. We had one of them curved pieces of corrugated iron on top for a roof, and in front we had some planks that we used for a front piazza.
The sun had just set, and the weather was cool and clear and pleasant—with no rain, for a wonder. It had been a hard day. We had been firing steadily; and the Germans had been firing back fairly hard, although no shells had fallen so very close to us. In the afternoon, some of the other men on the detail had run out about two miles of wire up to the top of the ridge before Monchy-lePriux in front of us. The idea was to have an observation post up there.
So, with all the firing and all the extra work, and one thing and another, everybody was tired, and we was glad after supper when things took a kind of a lull. Me and Henry was sitting on our little front porch, smoking cigarettes and watching the big red clouds in the sunset. And we was contemplating the landscape, and the shell holes in the fields, and the busted up trees in the woods, and the little German cemetery across the road with several shell holes in it and here and there, lying around, a few old white bones that had been blown up.
AND, as it happened, me and Henry got to talking - about medals—the Victoria Cross and the Fritz Iron Cross and so on, and Henry said:
“I remember once reading about Napoleon, the big Frog General; and it seems that one of his soldiers had his arm shot off, and Napoleon had him called up and was getting ready to pin a big medal on him for bravery. And it seems that Napoleon said, ‘If you had lost both arms, I would have given you a medal twice as big—a regular five star medal.’ And so what does this poor fish do but he pulls out his sword and cuts off his other arm so that Napoleon would give him the great big medal.
What do you think of that?”
So I said, “It just goes to show what I have said all along—that these Frogs are crazy. Although at that,”
I said, “it’s probably a lie.”
“Anyway,” said Henry,
“I read it in a book.”
“Well,” I said, “I remember once reading a story of a little drummer boy in the South African War. And there was a charge and the guy carrying the flag was killed, and the other side grabbed the flag and was taking it away. So the little drummer boy, he run out and killed a few dozen of them, and he was wounded pretty bad himself, but he brought back the flag. And in some way it seems that if they had lost the flag they would have lost the whole battle or something, so this guy, as I remember, got a medal, and when he came home all the people cheered, and I forget whether he married the girl or not. But it was all fine and dandy.”
And about this time, a great big heavy German shell went rushing and screeching along away up high over our heads and hit far away behind us.
“Aha!” said Henry. “The Fritzes are shelling Arras again. But as I was going to say,” he went on, “in this war we don’t seem to hear so much about medals. There don’t seem to be no medals passed around in the artillery. At least I never heard of any.”
“Well,” I said, “to get a medal, you got to do something heroic; and you never heard of anybody doing anything heroic in the artillery. Of course,” I said, “there is lots of work and lots of grief in the artillery. It’s dangerous and nasty and all that, but there isn’t anything what I would call heroism.”
And about this time another big shell went over our heads; and we listened till we heard it hit far away behind us.
“That’s right,” said Henry, “but that ain’t the only reason. We ain’t in the right place to get medals. The birds that issue these medals never come round the artillery. Now, if you happen to be some place where there is a guy with a basket of medals, going around to give them away, it’s not so hard to get one. I heard about a guy in the A.S.C. at Biarritz, that was in the Quartermaster Department and had charge of some trucks. And the Queen of Roumania was down there, and she was removing from one house to another, and he sent around six army trucks to move her stuff. And the next thing he knew, he got a Roumanian medal as big as a dinner plate.”
Another shell went by overhead. But we knew it was going to hit far away, so we hardly noticed it.
“And I knew an English feller,” Henry went on, “that was a captain in Paris, and the Greek Ambassador or
something was there, and he couldn’t get no sugar—sugar being so scarce on account of the war. So this captain that was in the supply department sent the Greek a whole load of sugar—enough to start a whole Greek restaurant. And for that they gave him one each of about all the different medals the Greeks make.” Henry stopped to light another cigarette, and I looked up, and through the gathering darkness I seen the captain approaching, and with him a new lieutenant that had just arrived in the battery. The lieutenant was a tall, simple looking goof with a little yellow moustache. He kept looking around here and there, and peering into the dark, sort of nervous like. Me and Henry stood up and sort of come to attention, as much as anybody ever does come to attention at the front.
“Mr. Ascott,” said the captain, “you will take these two men up to the telephone station we established on the ridge this afternoon. You will run out the rest of the wire to the top of the crest and establish an observation post where you can see the town of Monchy-le-Priux across the valley. You’ll have all night to dig in; and you had better dig in well, and be sure to keep out of sight, because the German outposts are less than a mile off across the valley, and if they see anything, they’ll just blow you off the terrain.”
“Yes, sir,” said Lieutenant Ascott, still kind of nervous, and peering around like he was scared of the dark.
“In the morning,” said the captain, “as soon as it is light enough to see, call up the battery and we’ll adjust on the town of Monchy. They report that there is an enemy ammunition dump in there— a big one—and we have to get it.”
The captain opened up a big map and pointed out how the land lay. I still have that map. I kept it as a souvenir. It is old and torn now, and in one corner is a brown stain which was a red stain when it was first made. But that evening the map was brand new, and I still remember how the captain spread it out and put his finger on the place where the German ammunition dump was.
“Right there,” he said, “by the road.” And he folded up the map and then he said, “Take enough iron rations and water for to-night and to-morrow. You may have to stay in your hole all day, because you will be under direct observation, and if you try to move around in daylight, they may get you.”
“Yes, sir,” said the lieutenant, and the captain went off.
JUST then one of them long range shells came sailing along on its way back to Arras. The loot cocked his ears, and listened, and opened his eyes very wide, and then took one flying leap into the ditch beside the road. A perfect nose dive. Sort of like a rabbit going into its hole.
All the cannoneers looked at him very much startled. They didn’t know what to do. Nobody knew what his idea was.
“What’s that?” said Henry. “A new kind of ealesthenics?”
And finally somebody said, “He was dodging that shell.” And everybody laughed, because the shell had hit about two miles away. And here came the loot scrambling up out of the ditch again, and even in the half darkness we could see that he looked a bit sheepish. Then he seen we was laughing, and that made him sore. He glared around and said.
“Stop that noise, you men! And stand to attention when you are in the presence of an officer.” Then he turned to me and Henry. “Come on, snap out of it!” he said. “You heard what the captain said. Don’t stand there looking dumb.” So we started along up the road but we didn’t have no rations or anything, so Henry spoke up very polite:
“Sir, hadn’t we better get some rations?”
“What?” said the loot. “Haven’t you got your rations and water?” He was
so rattled he didn’t seem to know just what he was doing.
“No, sir,” said Henry, “but we’ll go and get them.”
We went back and got some bully and filled a couple of water-bottles and Henry got his field glasses. The telephone and the fire control instruments and a pick and shovel had already been carried up to the ridge. By the time we got going, it was dark and the stars were out.
We followed the road that led toward the ridge ahead where the infantry had established their first line of outposts. At the foot of the ridge was a little town. And as we walked along we could see, every once in a while, the burst of a German shell falling in this town. But it was still pretty far away, so we walked along quite free and easy.
It was pleasant cool October weather. Most of the autumn weather in northern France is wet and rainy, but sometimes there will be a short spell of perfect weather like it was that night. The road gleamed white in the starlight, and there was a silvery mist beginning to gather in the fields in the bottom of the valley.
The loot marched along a little bit ahead, with me and Henry at a respectful distance behind as all good privates should do. Every once in a while a shell would go by, far over head, and every time the loot would give a little jump—but he didn’t duck into the ditch.
“Trying to hold onto himself,” Henry whispered to me.
We walked past the spring that the Fritzes used to shell so often, and where there had been a hospital tent for a couple of days until it got shelled out. Up ahead, rockets and flares were going up from the infantry front lines; and occasionally a shell would burst with a dull red flash in the town ahead.
T don’t like that,” said Henry. “We have to go right through there.”
Less noise back there,” said the loot. “Do you want the Germans to hear you?”
Now, the Germans was about two miles away across the valley, but as the loot didn’t seem to enjoy our talk we shut up.
/~\N WE walked, and we got nearer to the town, and there didn’t seem to be any more shells landing there. Finally, we got right in the town—in among t he wrecks of houses, with their busted-up ruined walls standing up white and still in the night. Just as we came to the corner where the road to the ridge branches off, we heard the far-away song of a German shell, coming slow and easy out of the north, and headed in our direction. Henry flopped on one side of the road and I ducked into the ditch on the other. I pressed my face in the damp ground—waited—held my breath. On it came nearer—louder. Then, down it came with a
rush and ^ a scream that filled the whole sky like a million wild animals pouncing down on you. Crack, bang! and half the town seemed to blow up. Fragments buzzing. Stones and dirt falling all about. And at last —silence again.
I looked up and there was that crazy lieutenant just running backwards and forwards in the road. And then after everything was over, he took one of his flying leaps and dove into the ditch beside me.
Why didn’t you tell me it was going to be so close?” he yelled.
Oh, excuse me,” I said. “Next time I will let you know.”
We picked ourselves up, and we picked up our rations and water-bottles and we found that nobody was hurt. We started up the road toward the top of the hill.
My wrist watch said seven o’clock. Clear and cool. The woods and fields smelled good, and it was as pleasant a night as you could want. A whiff of mustard gas once in a while—but mustard gas has a clean good smell to it if you don’t get too much. And one pleasant thing about October weather in a war is that you don’t get the smells from the dead horses and other things the way we did along the Roye Road in the heat of August.
The lieutenant walked along in front, and after we
had gone a half mile or so, another shell came sailing over and dropped in the town behind us.
“Look out!” hollered the loot. “Down!” And the poor sap went diving into the ditch.
“My God,” said Henry. “When they were hitting right beside him, he just ran round and round in circles.
And now, when they hit half a mile away, he pretty near ruptures himself getting into a ditch.”
The lieutenant was getting up again.
“Why didn’t you men duck?” His voice was mad, high-pitched, and nervous. “Didn’t you hear me say, ‘Down!’?”
“Yes,” I said, “but I thought maybe the shell was so far away that—”
“Never mind what you thought. It’s not your business to think. It’s your business to do as you’re told.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“After this, when I say ‘down,’ you duck, see?”
On we went—the lieutenant in front, and me and Henry at the usual respectful distance behind.
Almost at the top of the ridge we found the end of the wire and the telephone and the pick and shovel. Also the scissors instrument, which consists of two things like telescopes mounted on a tripod. We carried this junk up to the top of the crest and then down the other side a little ways to a place where we could get good observation. Then we reeled out the extra wire and connected up the telephone.
AT THE very top of the crest was an infantry A*sergeant and a couple of men with a Lewis gun in a little hole on the ground, holding a section of the front line. There was no front line trenches at this stage of the war. The front line kept advancing so fast that there was never time enough to dig trenches. So the infantry would have a hole in the ground every couple of hundred feet or so, and a machine gun crew in there. That was the front line, and we established our observation post about a hundred feet in front of it.
From there we could look down the slope ahead to the valley which was about half a mile away, and all covered with white mist. It was real cold and frosty by this time, and the stars were bright and sparkling. Somewhere an airplane was purring along overhead. On the far side of the valley were the Germans, and somewhere over there was the town of Monchy-le-Priux, and the ammunition dump we were to pin-point on in the morning.
Every once in a while, the foot-sloggers behind us would send up signal lights. And across the river the Fritzes were sending up other signal lights. I never knew what all these signals meant, but I suppose there was some reason for them. Every once in a while a machine gun somewhere would bark out a few shots and then stop. And now and again, big shells would
go sailing along away up in the air, hitting somewhere in the back areas. But near us it was very peaceful.
Me and Henry started to dig, turn and turn about, and Mr. Ascott sat on a big rock and watched us. The ground was hard and stony, and the digging went slow.
“Snap out of it!” said the lieutenant. “A little more pep!” So we made a show of putting on a little more speed.
After an hour, we called up the battery to see that the line was all right. It was; so we kept on digging. The stars were slowly moving around. The big dipper was swinging down under the north star, and that bunch of stars they call O’Ryan was coming up in the east.
It kept getting colder. Me and Henry kept ourselves warm by working, but the officer began to slap his hands together and complain of the cold. Of course he might have kept himself warm and comfortable by helping us dig, but that would have lowered his dignity as an officer, so he felt he couldn’t do it. That’s one of the hardships of being a lieutenant.
Along about two o’clock in the morning, three German shells came over and burst one after another down in the mist in the valley below us. And in a few minutes came three more that hit in a line just at the edge of the mist—a little higher up the hill, and a little closer to us. And after another few minutes, three more, closer still.
We knew what that meant. They were “combing” the slope. Each time they fired, they would raise the range a little. Each salvo would hit a little higher than the last, until the whole slope had been covered. We knew all about that kind of fire; we had done it often ourselves. And at the rate they were moving up the slope, they would reach us in about fifteen minutes or so.
“Keep on digging, boys,” said the loot. “I’ve got to make a reconnaissance.” And he went walking back over the crest.
“What did that bird say he was going to do?” asked Henry.
“Make a reconnaissance,” I said.
“That’s a good one, all right,” said Henry. “I’ll have to remember that word.”
We kept on digging, and the bursts kept getting nearer. The hole was now three or four feet deep, so it would give us pretty fair protection.
Nearer and nearer came the bursts, and finally a salvo hit only a hundred feet or so down the slope, and we huddled in the bottom of the hole while the fragments whizzed by.
“I think,” said Henry, “that we had better make a reconnaissance in the bottom of this hole until the storm blows over.” So we snuggled down and waited.
The next three swooped down almost on top of us, but still in front. Another wait. Then another three, starting so slow and easy and quiet from so far away, and then all at once speeding up and coming down with a wild screech and a crash like the world was coming to an end. And then the buzz of the fragments. But this time the burst was up the hill behind us.
“Thank the Lord,” said Henry. “They’ve got past us.”
Several more bunches went by, hitting further and further away behind us. Then silence. The German battery had “walked” up the hill, and now they seemed to be satisfied and were going to sleep.
We dug on until finally our hole was so deep we could stand up in it with just our heads looking out. We took branches and covered the fresh dirt so it didn’t show up; and we tied a few extra branches in the bushes in front of our hole, and decided our job was done. And it was just as well, because the east was beginning to get light. And here all at once came our old friend the lieutenant a-creeping and a-crawling along through the brush down to our hole.
He didn’t say nothing about his reconnaissance, and we didn’t ask him.
It got light fast. We began to see the outlines of the village of Monchy across the valley, with the white road winding down the hill. The stars fa^ed out gradually and finally the sun came up, and the mist began
Continued on page 63
Continued from page 19
to clear away, and show pools of water in the valley shining in the early morning light. Then we made out the canal which went along beyond the hill. And finally, as the mist disappeared altogether, every house in the village showed up as clear as one of these stereoscope pictures like they used to have in the dentist’s office back home. White walls and red roofs. And green fields and trees all around; and the clear blue October sky overhead.
I cranked the handle of the telephone, and Jim Davis’s voice answered from the battery.
“All ready,” I reported. “Tell them to lay on the town of Monchy and report when ready.”
The loot started to set up the scissors instrument. He seemed nervous. His hands kind of shook, and he bumped into Henry and the instrument fell over into the bushes, making them sway back and forth something terrible.
“Damn!” said the loot, and then he turned to Henry. “See what you did? You should have helped me, instead of bumping into me that way and knocking over the instrument.” He pulled the old scissors back, and the bushes swayed around some more. When I saw that, I just drawed in my head, and crouched down in the hole and waited. I didn’t have long to wait, either.
In about ten seconds, bang! and off to one side of us. Then a long whistle and a bang across the river. It was a whizz-bang—a little shell fired from a small gun. And when they shoot them at you at short range like that, a better name would be “bang-whizz” because they travel faster than sound, and the first you hear is the bang when it hits, then the whizz from its flying through the air, and last of all the report of the gun that fired it.
We all snuggled down in the bottom of the hole, and waited for the next one. And the next one was much closer. And after two or three trial shots, they just opened up and gave us Hell. Bang! bang! bang! And the air was full of smoke and flying dirt and whirring fragments. They hit on both sides of us and in front and behind, and one hit right on the edge of the hole. They aren’t big, these little whizz bangs, but they make about the same amount of noise as a stick of dynamite.
And all at once I heard the lieutenant sort of moaning in my ear, “I’m hit! I’m hit!”
“Where?” I yelled.
He held out his hand and showed me where a fragment had plowed along the back of it. I got out my first field dressing and tied it up, while the lieutenant kept moaning and complaining and trembling all over. And then we snuggled down as deep in the hole as we could and waited. And after a while the bombardment quit.
We lifted up our heads and began to look around a bit. And then I noticed that poor old Henry had got hit too. It
was a funny thing—he had got hit in the hand, too, just like the lieutenant. He was holding the map at the time, and that is how that brown stain come.
“Hurt much?” I asked.
“I guess not,” said Henry. “But we better tie it up.” Which we did, and then we asked the loot if he was ready to direct the fire of the battery like we had started to do.
But the poor loot seemed to have gone absolutely nutty. He just grovelled around in the bottom of the hole, and all he seemed able to say was, “I’m hit! I’m hit. I’m gonna get killed!” And then he would bawl out Henry for knocking over the scissors instrument and drawing the German fire on us.
Finally Henry said, “We’ll have to see what we can do. You call up the battery.”
I spun the crank and listened, and I spun it again and listened, but no answer. The line was dead.
“Cut by shell fire,” said Henry. “I’ll go and fix it.”
“You can’t splice wire with that hand,” I said. “I’ll go.” And then the loot began moaning again.
“Don’t you go,” he said. “Don’t you go. Don’t anybody get out of this hole. Keep down. They’ll see you and start firing again.” He grabbed my feet, but Henry pulled him off and held him while I wriggled myself up out of the hole.
I MOVED very cautious, and crawled along that wire absolutely flat on my stomach, and I moved at a speed of about one foot a minute, and kept behind a bush or clump of grass all the time. After about fifteen minutes I found the place where the wire was broken. It took me ten minutes to find the other end and ten more to make the splice. But I wasn’t going to do any hurrying. I went crawling cautiously back and finally got in the hole again. Then I twisted the crank, and I’ll tell you it sounded good to hear old Jim Davis on the other end asking what was the matter.
“Line shot up,” I said. “Had to go out and fix it. All O.K. now.” So we set up the scissors instrument and then we asked the lieutenant if he was ready to adjust the fire. But all he could do was just lay there and moan.
“All right,” said Henry. “I don’t know much mathematics, but I can spot this fire as well as anybody else.” He looked through the scissors instrument.
“Tell them,” he said, “number one one round.”
“Number one, one round,” I repeated in the telephone, “and report when ready.”
“Number one ready to fire,” reported Jim.
“Fire!” I said. There was a little “plunk” in the receiver.
“On its way,” said Jim. There was ten seconds silence, and then the shell went whizzing past high overhead. Then
across the river came a dull red flash and a cloud of black smoke just to the left of the town. And last of all, the report of the burst.
“Right, ten,” said Henry.
“Right, ten,” I repeated into the phone, “and report when ready.”
There was a pause.
“Number one ready to fire,” came Jim’s voice.
“Fire!” I said'.
There was the same little “plunk” followed by Jim’s sing-song, “On its way.”
Then the usual ten-second wait and the noise of the shell going by overhead. And this time it burst right in the town, and we could see the roofing tiles and building stones fly.
“That’s fine,” said Henry. “Now we’ll spot the other guns.” So we checked up on gun number two, and number three, and number four.
Then Henry said, “Battery ten rounds. Fire when ready.”
“Battery ten rounds,” I repeated. “Fire when ready.”
“On its way,” came Jim’s voice, and the next we knew, shell after shell was going by overhead, and burst after burst was shaking up the town. Tiles and stones flying all over the landscape.
After the ten rounds were completed, Jim’s voice came over the line, “Report whether any indication of ammunition dump set on fire.”
“No evidence,” I said.
“Tell him,” said Henry, “up five, battery ten rounds.”
“We’ll try the far side of the town,” said Henry. “By raising the range five that way, we ought to cover most of the area we missed before.”
“On its way,” came from Jim, and the shells were going over again. And over in the town came a tremendous flash followed by a roar. Then followed more flashes while a solid column of black smoke went rolling up to the sky.
“We’ve got the dump!” yelled Henry.
I reported into the telephone, “Ammunition dump destroyed.” Then I added, “Ask the captain if there is any more adjusting.”
“Nothing more to-day,” came the reply. “Good work. Come in when you can make it.”
WE LOOKED at the loot, and there he was still huddled in the bottom of the hole, and moaning that he was going to get killed. It began to get my goat. I was nervous anyway after all those whizz-bangs; and to see this guy carrying on like a sick pup began to get on my nerves. I looked at Henry, and even Henry was beginning to look a little wild-eyed. Then I took a look at the loot again.
“If you’re hurt that bad,” I said, “we’d better go right back now.”
Then Henry said to the loot, “If anybody should ask you about it, you can tell ’em that you were the guy that adjusted the fire and got the ammunition dump. You are the officer, and you were supposed to do it. And if they find out you didn’t, you’ll get hell. But I won’t say a word, and my friend here won’t say nothing, and what they don’t know won’t hurt ’em.”
“Come on,” I said, “let’s make a rush for it. It’s only about a hundred feet to the crest, and once we get behind that, we’ll be safe.”
We pulled the loot up, and we pushed him along, and we all ran as fast as we could over the top of the ridge and down into the woods on the other side. And just as we got into the woods, we heard the crash of whizz-bangs hitting behind us.
We just kept on running. We was fairly safe by this time, but we’d had about all the whizz-bangs we could stand; and by this time me and Henry was getting near as crazy as the lieutenant. That sort of thing seems to be catching. So we ran and ran; and the more we ran the scareder we got; and the scareder we got the faster we ran. Until finally we got all out of breath, and we slowed down and looked around.
WE HAD reached the quarry near the Arras Road. Right in front of us was an ambulance, so we asked the driver and he said he had room for just one more. And as the loot seemed to be hurt the worst, we shoved him in. And as he drove off, he was still hollering that he was going to get killed.
Me and Henry walked on through the town.
“I feel kind of sorry for that poor feller,” said Henry. “I guess he had never been to the front before yesterday, and he was just naturally scared to death.”
“Just the same,” I said, “he didn’t have to bawl us out the way he did.”
“Well,” said Henry, “that didn’t hurt you any, and I guess the reason he did it was because he was so scared he just had to do something to make himself feel big and important.”
“Maybe so,” I said.
“And anyway,” Henry went on, “we’ll keep quiet about what happened this morning; and later on that guy will sure be grateful to us. I don’t think he’s such a bad bird at that.”
“Anyway,” I said, “we got the dump.”
“Yes,” said Henry.
“And I’ll tell you, Henry old horse, the way you handled the fire of the battery was great stuff. If that officer ever gets his brains back, he ought to recommend you for one of these medals we was talking about yesterday. If I was one of these birds going around with a basketful of medals, I’d give you two or three.”
“Aw, shut up,” said Henry, so I shut up.
And about this time we came out on the other side of a little wood in front of Arras, and right there Henry pulled the boner that I was afraid was going to land him in serious trouble. Because assaulting a general and knocking him down is pretty serious in the army. It couldn’t have happened if Henry hadn’t been partly off his nut from such a hard day and from digging all night and having no sleep and getting hurt and -having that crazy guy on his hands.
AS WE came out from this little wood we seen some sort of a French officer standing beside the road, with field glasses in his hands, looking up the valley. He had medals pinned all over his chest, and gold braid on his cap, and I remember thinking that he was probably a very big bug in the Frog army—maybe a general.
As we went walking down the road, we had to pass him; and just as we got opposite there came a big German shell screeching along overhead. It was away high up, and anybody that knew anything about shells would have known that it wasn’t going to hit anywheres near. And of course, at any other time, Henry would have known, but just then Henry wasn’t really himself. He was nervous and jumpy and ready to blow up at the least little thing.
So when he heard that shell, he gave a scared look around, and made a dive for the ditch just like the crazy lieutenant. But the Frog officer was right between Henry and the ditch; and Henry hit into him smack, bang—knocked him over into the ditch, and fell on top of him. Down they went, kerflop, while the shell went sailing on down the valley and hit far away.
Then Henry got up, and the Frog officer got up. And the Frog officer started waving his hands around like only a Frenchman can, and jabbering away so fast nobody could have understood him even if they understood the French language—which me and Henry didn’t. So Henry tried to apologize, and told him he didn’t mean to hit him. And I tried to explain that we was all nervous from having a hard day. But it didn’t seem to be no use; he couldn’t understand English any more than we could understand French.
So finally, this Frog officer made a grab at Henry like he was going to take hold of him and lead him off somewhere. And Henry backed off. But the Frog come after him, so me and Henry both turned around and ran off down the road. Looking over our shoulders, we seen the Frog give up trying to get us, turn back, and make tracks into the town.
We kept on going, and after a couple of minutes, we looked back again, and here came a big Canadian staff car with a divisional flag on it, which means that it was owned by a major general. The car passed on, and in the back seat was the Frog officer, and a couple of Canadian generals and a colonel with him. As they went whisking by, we could see him hollering and pointing at us; and then we seen that the chauffeur put on his brakes, and the car stopped. The chauffeur came walking back. He was a ser eant.
“What’s your name and number?” he asked Henry. “They want to know the name of the one with the bandaged hand.”
Now, ordinarily, Henry would have had sense enough to give a wrong name, so as not to get himself in trouble. But this time he was so weak and tired and nervous that he just told his right name, and what outfit he belonged to. The sergeant went back to the car, and it drove away.
WE WALKED on down the road, and we dragged along very, very slow. We was tired, and nervous, and hungry, and after we finally got back to the outfit, we went over to the battery medical sergeant, and they took off the bandage and looked at Henry’s hand. It was torn up a little worse than we had thought; and when they began to dress it, poor old Henry just keeled over, and fainted away. So the doctor said he better go back to the Divisional rest camp. They gave him a shot of antilockjaw dope, and loaded him into an ambulance, and away he went.
He was gone a couple of weeks, and then he came back all rested up, and full of food, and looking fine. And the day he got back there came a message from the Colonel that we was to report in his dugout. We didn’t know what we was up against, as we had never called on the Colonel before. In fact, we was scared to death.
We was paraded in and we saluted and stood at attention. The Colonel looked straight at Henry.
“I have here,” he said, “a report of misconduct on your part, for which charges have been preferred against you.” “It was an accident,” said Henry. “I didn’t mean to knock him into the dtich, and I tried to tell him, but he couldn’t understand.”
But the Colonel paid no attention to him.
“The charges,” he said, “are preferred by Lieutenant Ascott, who is now in hospital suffering from shell-shock and a wound in the hand. You are charged with insubordination, in that you refused to take cover when ordered, that you used insulting language to an officer, and that you showed gross negligence in upsetting a fire control instrument, and making a disturbance that drew the fire of the enemy.”
Henry leaned over toward me. “Why, the dirty little pup,” he whispered.
The Colonel looked up. “Have you anything to say?” he asked.
“No, sir,” said Henry.
THE Colonel turned to me. “I called you over also,” he said, “because this report states you had part in this affair. No charges have been preferred against you, as your case is not as flagrant.” He looked us over, and we looked back at him and finally he said:
“If I thought more of Mr. Ascott, I might think more of these charges. In any case, I have decided to drop them. And I am letting you off partly on account of an order which I have just received from the French Army. It is a citation—written in French—and it states that on October third, General Girardeau of the French Army, temporarily attached to this division, was visiting the front line with the division commander. The enemy suddenly opened fire, and as a large calibre shell came over, it is reported that you—” he looked up at Henry, “—threw yourself upon the general, hurled him into the ditch at the side of the road, and by placing your body on top of him, protected him from flying fragments, thus in all probability saving his life. This citation carries with it the French Croix de Guerre.”
He picked up something from the table, and while Henry stood at attention, he pinned it on his tunic.
“No time for any ceremony to-day,” said the Colonel. “Dismiss.” So we saluted and started back for the battery.
“Don’t tell anybody about this,” said Henry, as he took off his decoration and put it in his pocket.
“What are you going to do with it?” I asked.
“Well,” said Henry, “if I wear it, anybody that knows how I got it will think I’m a fool. And if I give it back, the Colonel will get sore. So I guess I’ll just have to keep it out of sifht and save it. Some day it’ll make a good souvenir for my grandchfidren.”