Early Days at Camp Custer

        During the month of September, 1917, when the seemingly victorious Huns were making their attacks on churches, hospitals and relief ships, a contingent of two hundred men were assembled in Detroit, Michigan, and given one of the greatest send-offs ever tendered a group of men. “And why all this cheering and celebrating?” one asked.  Detroit was sending her first selection of manly youths to the colors to join the fight for Democracy and Humanity.  From these two hundred men that climbed the old hill at Custer through mud and with perspiration streaming from their brows, sixteen were sorted out and assigned to Battery E, 329th Artillery.

        Upon their arrival at their new home they found Captain James F. Burns in command with Lieutenants Harry G. Sparks, Alexander B. Lange, Harney B. Stover, Charles F. Sawyer and O.Z. Ide as his assistants.  The first night was comfortably spent on army cots filled with nicely arranged straw ticks which were welcome after a strenuous day spent in Detroit and on the way to Custer.  But when the bugler sounded reveille in the morning we learned the reason a bugler has so few friends in the army.  The next two weeks were spent learning the fundamentals of artillery and preparing the home for the recruits that were yet to follow.

        On September 20th, fifty-two additional recruits were ushered into the battery to join the regulars, as they chose to be termed, and two days later these were supplemented by an increase of fifty-three more.  As the battery was now assuming a reasonable size, selections were made and organization was effected.  Out of the shuffle came our old “Top Cutter” as the First Sergeant is dubbed, Clyde Richard Parker.  Our battery was another League of Nations, being made up of many men of foreign parentage, but we had a common purpose and a common understanding was soon reached.  Lectures on military courtesies and conduct in general were delivered by Captain Burns, all of which was strange to us.  It took but a few days to become “regulars” which entitled us to make the most fun of the rookie’s embarrassment and many funny things happened.  We were found saluting the First Sergeant, or addressing the Corporal as “Sir.”  Before we became acquainted with each other it was surprising how many rich men’s sons had come from Detroit.  But time wore down the first impressions and we began to know each other and to realize how much we had in common.

       Just when general training was established as the routine of the day, Captain Burns was taken from our ranks and assigned to the Rainbow Division and Captain Carlton L. Wheeler was substituted.  As the training progressed from stage to stage and we grew to know our work and to know our officers, we found that we had a worthy friend in Captain Wheeler, and our experience under his command from those early days, through the entire race to the end, has justified our regard for him.  With him also came Lieutenants John B. Gay, Thomas Casey and Max L. Gorton, while Lieutenants Sawyer and Ide departed for Camp Green , S.C. 

        All through the months of October, November and December the battery received, transferred and discharged men from time to time.  Our heaviest transfer occurred on the 19th of October when thirty-six of our men were transferred to the 32nd National Guard Division, Waco, Texas, which Division, as it afterward proved, was one of the first to see active service.  November 21st gave the noncoms an opportunity to display their authority, which they surely did, when an additional eighty-three men put the Battery E button in their collars.  Out of this group our popular beauty-shop bugler, Anthony Schultz, made his appearance.  With the assistance of his looking glass Anthony made his way to prestige as the pride of the battery.  This mirror they say was always with him.  But we had not even now become set in our organization and once more a wholesale transfer took twenty-five of our pals for the 32nd National Guard to join those who had left us a month before.  With these men went out never-to-be forgotten Peter Parcienski, who kept the battery in entertainment with his “Me Seck” slogan and Club Cigar smile.  All the while the old sandy field along Harmonia Road was the scene of Squads East and West, Right Face, Double Time and a thousand Greek commands to us rookies.  Lieut. Casey insisted on saying “laft” instead of “left,” until one day one of the rawest of recruits reminded him of the correct pronunciation.  No matter how hard the sun shone, or how hard the rain poured, we were there to drill all day and by the appetites we displayed one would think we drilled at night too.

        On the morning of December 12th Lieutenants E. Bishop, John T. Rawlings, Morris Scott, Peter Adams, Bert N. Sorensen, Newton L. Yarnell and Harry C. Schloot were transferred from a southern camp and attached to the battery for duty.  With this fine array of officers, which now numbered fourteen, one could not go outside without breaking his arm by saluting.

Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 at 12:18PM by Registered Commenter[Your Name Here] | Comments1 Comment

Horses and final preparations

          On December 14th a detail was sent out under sealed orders and when they returned they brought with them eighty-six ponies as a gift to the battery, with instructions from the donor that they should be well taken care of.  From that day on our troubles started.  Some of the men contended they joined the army to fight and not to learn the livery business, but no matter how good a civilian taxpayer you were before entering the service, you were there to “stand to heel.”  Many a time we wished we were in No-Man’s-Land, far away from these four footed, high strung, kicking beasts.  At the command of stand to heel one would have to stand at attention one yard in the rear of the horse.  If said horse made a pass at you and you knew this pass was going to take effect, attention was your position.  At the command of “Commence grooming!” an echo could be heard floating throughout the stables, “Whoa, Mabel,” “Nice boy,” “Get over you ????” and many other familiar army phrases. We all soon conquered the art of caring for horses so the next step was riding.  First bareback, then with a blanket and then with the welcome saddle.  It only took several weeks until the horses were considered members of the family and had their friends with all of us.

        January 23rd found seventy-eight more horses added to our stables, from which lot we derived No.155, as crazy a horse as was ever “well groomed’ between the forelegs.

        The months of January, February, March and April were busy months for us, keeping the horses in condition, going to the coal pile, digging in the gravel pits, shoveling show, doing K.P. duty and many other army essentials.  Many a cold day did Custer witness, but the barracks were always warm and homelike.  Then we had the city of Battle Creek just two miles south of us in which to spend our evenings and pass off our troubles.  When the old 85th left Custer, Battle Creek sent her best wishes with us and many a sad parting took place.

        On May 10th, Lieutenants Rawlings, Schloot, Yarnell, Adams and Sorensen were transferred to Camp Jackson, thus confirming the rumors that we were about ready to sail for France.  June 29th the battery received eighty recruits on a hurry-up order.  They were fitted up quickly and put into condition for the trip across.  July 12th saw the horses turned back to the remount station and the issuing of all necessary overseas equipment., which facts kept the battery in excitement until the final day came for our departure from Custer, July 16th.
Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 at 11:43AM by Registered Commenter[Your Name Here] | CommentsPost a Comment

From Camp Custer across the Atlantic

        The second battalion was assembled at 1:00 p.m. and marched down the never-forgotten Custer road to the train at the far end of the camp, from where we bade farewell to the best camp we have ever occupied.  The train took us through Detroit, Windsor, etc., and finally landed us in Hoboken, N.J., from where we took a boat to Long Island, N.Y.  After spending several anxious hours in Long Island we boarded a train, an 1820 model, express, and arrived in the Garden City late that evening.  From here we marched to Camp Mills with full packs.  This march is one of many which never will be forgotten, as the streets were oily and muddy.  To add to our discomfort our slickers were worn, thus allowing no free walking motion with our packs.

         We arrived at Mills about midnight and were immediately assigned to quarters.  Some fifty fellows slept in a two by four cook shanty, which at that time felt mighty good.  The next day the battery was assigned its portion of tents and the necessary overseas requirements were started, including physical inspections, clothing settlements and drills.  During the afternoons passes were issued and the entire battery took advantage and visited New York City, the famous Coney Island and other places of amusement.  The bath houses were also a very essential necessity in Camp Mills, as black dirt storms visited us every day.  When the time arrived for our departure we were happy, as living in tents filled with black dirt, with the hot sun beating down upon them, did not quite strike our fancy.

         On July 31 we marched to the train and departed for Long Island once again.  At Long Island a ferry boat welcomed us and finally landed us beside the good old ship “Maungunui” in Hoboken.  The remainder of the day and night was spent in looking over our submarine fighter, which was pronounced safe to make the trip.

        August 1, 9:00 a.m., the “Maungunui” cleared the dock and headed for the deep blue sea, midst laughter, singing and cheers.  The first two days were days of agony for most of us, in fact the sea sickness started several hours after we had left port.  All was quiet in these days, one being only too glad to be in his hammock and asleep if sleep were possible.  About the third day out things changed for the better and once again the men were singing and going about the boat in a merry mood.  Our escort, composed of some sixteen vessels, was a picturesque sight on the water and the group of ships could defy any number of submarines. 

        Sunday morning, August 11th, the tune of “Star Spangled Banner” came floating out to us from the Liverpool docks.  It was played by a British band while our boat docked and we again set foot on land.  The battery marched through the streets of Liverpool to the station, where we were fed by the Red Cross before our trip across England.

Posted on Tuesday, May 15, 2007 at 07:50PM by Registered Commenter[Your Name Here] | CommentsPost a Comment

Arriving in England and France

        All the day was spent crossing England and this country afforded us beautiful scenery, until late in the evening, when we arrived at Southampton, where we put up for the night at a rest camp several miles from the town.  We were advised this camp was so situated in order that the soldiers could wash up and get a good rest before departing for France, but the next day at noon found us hiking for the docks, where we again embarked, this time for France, on the Harvard.  The night was spent crossing the channel.  We landed at Le Havre early the next morning, from where we took a train to “Somewhere in France.”  It was at Le Havre we first got a real look at the actual results of the war, a large base hospital.  

        The remainder of the day and part of the next were spent in the 2X4 box cars traveling through France.  The trip was enjoyed as far as the scenery was concerned.  It was in these cars that the occupants were compelled to sleep in reliefs.  The 18th found us happy and contented in billets in Messac, which place will never be forgotten for its hospitality.  It was here we could run down to the river and enjoy daily baths and weekly clothing wash-ups.  All the boys took advantage of these conveniences and within several days we were all enjoying a more homelike appearance once again.  Here the cider and vin rouge were purchased freely and many a fellow will recall with regret the flowing drink.  Mixed with our long evening pleasures, the days were spent drilling, attending helpful lectures and going to schools.

        August 25th we packed our belongings and hiked for Camp Cöetquidan, arriving there the following day.  This surely was a long, tiresome hike, considering the fact we marched with packs on our backs.  On this march the fellows began having fun with the inhabitants owing to their improvements in the French language.  It was about noon when we entered the much noted American Training Camp called  Cöetquidan. The first faces to greet us were Lieutenants Sparks and Gorton, Privates Findley and Philo, who had gone as an advance party and it is needless to mention that these faces surely made us feel at home.  Several days were spent cleaning the barracks and surroundings and putting our new home into a livable condition, after which time we started on our final training for the front.

        September 6th the battery lost Lieutenant Gorton to Headquarters Company and gained Lieutenant Roy W. Wilson.  September 17th we received our allotment of horses, which were turned over to Lieutenant Wilson for care, and to look at them one would think they needed feed worse.  It only took a week or so until they were Americanized and pronounced fit for front line duty, which duty they later performed satisfactorily.  October 1st the battery received its first chance to fire the French 75s.  It did not take the men long to learn the knack of handling them.

        Fourteen men were transferred to us on October 16 from the 310 Ammunition Train, which organization had disbanded.  On the 18th we lost our best Irish friend to the hospital, Stable Sergeant Burl J. Kelly, a real battery jewel.  With Kelly went the entire battery’s wishes for a speedy recovery, which later did come.

        At this time the battery was taking their regular road marches, necessary drilling and practice firing , when weather permitted. We saw nothing but rain and damp days, which caused many “flu” cases and sent many to the hospital.  Of the fellows sent to the hospital, all recovered with the exception of Privates Varner M. Cravens and Frank Neuhauser, who succumbed from pneumonia.
Posted on Monday, May 14, 2007 at 05:35PM by Registered Commenter[Your Name Here] | CommentsPost a Comment

Moving to the Front

          The battery received its orders to move for the front on October 23 and about noon we moved out on our way to Guer.  From there we loaded on our train and departed for an unknown place.   Traveling this time was somewhat better, as only ten men occupied the 2X4 cars.  It is to be noted that the train was an up to date one owing to the telephone connections thereon, which were installed by the telephone gang before pulling out.  October 25th we detrained at Humberville and marched about two miles to our barracks in a valley.  Here we made ourselves at home for the next week by cleaning up in general and getting ready for the next move, which came on October 30th.  We left Humberville at about noon and detrained at Rimaucourt the following day, from where we marched to Toul and billeted for the night, a very cold one.   After the horses were cared for, and hot coffee served, the men were told to get their blankets and get under cover.  Most of the men had blankets and were under covers in a few minutes, but some were without cover.  Here we saw the American cemetery just outside Toul, which brought us to our senses once again.

        From Toul we marched to Lagney, arriving there about 6:00 p.m., October 31st.  Here we found good billets and the evening was spent in sound sleeping.  
The next day, November 1st, we marched to the Woods of Bois Fliery, where we put up for the night and early in the morning pulled into the woods proper and laid under cover, as we were near the front and could hear the big guns singing their direful tunes.

        About 4:00 p.m the battery was divided into two parts, the Firing Battery, including the gun crews and part of the B. C. section, and the other, the remainder of the battery, known as the echelon or relief.  When all were assigned their proper duties the battery moved on its way to the front.  About 10:00 p.mp the part of the battery designated for the echelon left us in the woods west of Nonsard to take up their duties and the remainder kept on traveling towards their position.  About midnight we arrived at Beney, an old shot-up village which was once in the hands of the Germans, where twe took up our position and immediately started to get our guns under cover and everything ready for the following day.  It surely was a busy night for us, as nothing could be left undone.  When day broke everything was in order and we were all told to keep under cover and rest.  Some could sleep and some couldn't, owing to the guns sending their compliments over to Fritz with the battles.  On the 5th the battery moved from its position at Beney to the woods southwest of Benoit on the banks of a beautiful lake in the woods.  On our march to this
place we were fired upon for the first time.  If Fritz had loaded his guns with good shells instead of duds the writer might have had a a different or no story at all to tell, as 60 per cent of the shells sent over to us were "M. P. finish."

        The following day we received orders to move back to our former position at Beney, which move was made in the evening under fire and above plenty of mud.  Once more we made our position at Beney a comfortable living place and the following day began sending our calling cards over to Fritz by the hundreds.   On the late afternoon of the 9th Fritz located us and immediately started shelling us.  Again late in the evening Fritz was short and again we emerged all O.K.  Of course while the Germans were sending us shells we sent back ours, which, from the observers' standpoint took effect.  The morning of the 11th found the whole front booming until 10:59 a.m., when the order came to cease firing.  The remainder of the day and the following day were spent visiting the front lines on both sides.

Posted on Monday, May 14, 2007 at 04:01PM by Registered Commenter[Your Name Here] | CommentsPost a Comment
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