THE heavy firing that was now so apparent to me had awakened
Major Atkinson in his bed at headquarters, which was in a building adjoining
us. He had immediately called us up to order us to take a patrol over the lines
at the first break of day and ascertain what this unusual demonstration could
mean. I looked at my watch. It was then just five minutes past three. In
another hour it would be light enough to leave the field.
Running over to Lieutenant Meissner's billet, I roused him
out and then went on to waken the three or four pilots in his flight. In ten
minutes all five of us were in the kitchen stirring up the cooks to faster
efforts in the heating of coffee and toast. I had already telephoned the
hangars and ordered all our machines out on the field in full readiness.
At a quarter to four we were in our machines and were
leaving the field. Two other pilots had joined us. It was just beginning to
grow light enough to make out the tails of our machines ahead of us.
I directed Lieutenant Meissner to have three of his pilots
fly at an altitude of 5,000 feet, and for him to take the other two pilots in
his formation and fly below them at 1,500 feet above ground. I, myself, was to
keep as close above the contour of the ground as possible and see what the
Germans were doing in their first and second line trenches.
With all details of our mission fully understood, we set off
and made directly for the north, where the heaviest shooting seemed to be going
on. As we neared the lines I could see the constant flashing of the German guns
in the darkness. The greatest activity appeared to be just half-way between
Pont-à-Mousson and St. Mihiel. Here in the vicinity of Seicheprey the
country lies comparatively flat between the mountains which border the Moselle
on the one hand and the Meuse on the other. I knew this locality well and could
fly at only a hundred feet from the ground without fear of striking against
some mountain side in the darkness.
The Huns were doing most of the firing. This was plainly
evident from the continuous flashes. The noise of the exploding shells was
deadened by the roaring of my aeroplane motor. As I neared the center of all
this excitement I sheered off to the north and flew down low enough over the
German trenches to permit the tornado of German shells to pass well over my
head. Along this course I followed the entire length of the trenches, back and
forth, back and forth, until I was convinced that there were no massed bodies
of enemy troops waiting for the barrage to cease before they poured forth over
The more I studied the situation the more puzzled I became.
I saw the German shells bursting close behind our lines. From the nature of the
bursts I knew they were high-explosive shells. This was the usual preliminary
to a sudden rush over the top, yet there were no German troops there waiting
for the moment of attack.
The whole vicinity of the German front was covered with a
dense fog. The intermittent gun-flashes showed but dimly through this mist. Off
to the east and the west, where the Meuse and Moselle rivers might be supposed
to emit a fog of this sort, the landscape was clear. It was all very puzzling
On each of my excursions back and forth over the German
trenches I piqued down from my low level and fired long bursts into their lines
with my two machine-guns. I could see my flaming tracer bullets cutting through
the night and burying themselves within the enemy's trenches. It was still too
dark to distinguish the ground at any distance from the trenches, but I was
positive that if any considerable number of men were there they were well under
At last I ran out of ammunition. I decided to fly home, make
a report of what I had seen and replenish with fuel and cartridges.
I telephoned my report to Major Atkinson while the mechanics
were looking after my 'bus, and in ten minutes I was back again for the region
of Seicheprey. By this time the first streaks of dawn were lighting up the
ground. While still a great distance away I again noticed the strange clinging
bank of fog which began at the German line and covered a space about three
miles east and west and half a mile deep. On the American side of the lines the
ground was entirely free from this mist.
As I again approached the German trenches I saw more
activity there. I dived upon them, letting go long bursts from my guns.
Instantly they disappeared from view. It was a very enjoyable game I had as
long as any heads remained in view, but after one or two dashes along this
front I could find no more targets. The Huns had retired to their underground
Many a German fled in terror before my approach that
morning. I found myself chuckling with delight over the consternation I
single-handed was spreading throughout that German camp. Coming down
immediately over the trenches, I would observe a group of soldiers standing
outside a dugout, all leveling their rifles at me. With a sudden swerve I would
bring them before my sights, and long before they could all cram themselves
within the opening I would have a hundred bullets inside their group and would
be beyond their reach. I could imagine the terror and helplessness my single
presence inspired among the slow moving troops below. I was having the time of
One particular battery of 77's lay a mile back of the lines
and seemed to be having a particularly jolly party. Their flashes almost
doubled the other batteries in rapidity. I determined to fly over and pay them
a visit, since none of the infantrymen seemed to care to stick up their heads
in the trenches. Accordingly I turned a bit to the rear and came in upon the
battery from behind and at about one hundred feet above the ground.
As I neared them I saw six or eight three-inch guns standing
side by side in a little clearing, the line of gunners all rushing swiftly to
and fro, picking up and passing forward the fifteen-pound shells. The guns were
firing at the rate of almost one shot each second. A continuous flash could be
seen from this little battery, so rapidly did the gunners work. In a twinkling
after my first shot the whole battery became silent.
Pointing my nose directly at the end of the line, I pressed
my triggers and raked the whole line before straightening out my aeroplane.
Then with a quick bank I came about and repeated the performance. Before I had
started back every man had fled for shelter and not a gun was firing. I circled
about again and again, chasing the scattered groups of gunners to their
respective dugouts and firing short bursts at their heels as they fled. It was
the most amusing little party I had ever attended. I couldn't help wondering
what kind of reception I would get if a sudden panne dropped me within their
One more dash at the next battery and my ammunition was
again exhausted. I returned to the aerodrome, where I found that Lieutenant
Meissner and his pilots had returned without anything new to report. At
seven-thirty we all reassembled for breakfast. We were still discussing the
extraordinary episode of the morning and had none of us arrived at any
reasonable explanation for the enemy artillery activity when a visitor was
announced for breakfast. He came in and introduced himself as Frank Taylor,
representing the United Press Association. We welcomed him heartily and began
plying him with questions as to the latest news.
He told us he was out of touch with events lately himself
for he had been up all night with the American Gas Organization, who had just
been experimenting with their first gas attack on the German trenches north of
Seicheprey! Then we all shouted ! The whole circus became as clear as daylight
The attack had not been announced generally and Major
Atkinson himself was in ignorance as to its hour for demonstration. The
Germans, awakened by the fumes at three o'clock this morning, had very
naturally imagined that it would precede a sudden attack by our troops.
Consequently they ordered out all their available artillery to shell the
advanced positions of the Americans, thinking they would destroy our masses of
troops in waiting.
The fact was that none of our troops were there, but were
soundly sleeping in their beds until the terrible uproar of the German guns
compelled them to stay awake. The whole gas attack was but an experiment by our
forces, and so far as I have learned was the first time gas was used in war by
our American troops.
This cleared up the whole mystery for the Toul aerodrome and
we made a particularly merry breakfast over it. Personally I would have refused
a great deal in exchange for the morning's experience, for I had felt the
gratification of knowing I was putting to flight some hundreds of the enemy
soldiers while enjoying the choicest hour of hunting I had ever experienced.
Mr. Taylor invited me to accompany him to Baccarat, a small
metropolis of that region of France, lying between Lunéville and Dijon.
As we passed Lunéville and proceeded eastward I again noticed the
unusual tranquillity of this sector of the war zone. The British Independent
Air Force had its hangars of large Handley-Page Bombing Machines along this
road. These huge aeroplanes carried bombs of high explosive weighing 1650
pounds each. Nightly these squadrons flew over to the Rhine cities and laid
their eggs in and about these railroad centers and factory localities. To my
amazement I discovered that this British aerodrome was but twelve miles behind
the lines. The German Rumplers came overhead every morning and photographed the
field, but no attempts were made to destroy the Handley-Page machines by either
shelling from the lines or by aeroplane raids. The Germans are a funny
As Mr. Taylor and I were scudding along over these smooth
roads through the forests of the Vosges we noticed a family of wild boars
rooting in the edge of a field. We backed up the car and I asked Mr. Taylor to
be good enough to wait for me a minute while I went over and picked up one of
the little pigs for a mascot for our squadron. He very kindly complied. I did
not notice the expression on his face until I returned a few minutes later.
Armed with my walking stick I made a detour, so as to come
upon the enemy and surprise them from their rear. My plans were to make a
sudden attack and divert one of the youngsters from the formation, then close
in upon him and complete the capture. My tactics were unusually successful and
I bore down upon my prize and was just stooping over to pick him up when I
heard a rush from the rear.
I hesitated for the fraction of a second. Old Mother Boar
was about ten yards abaft my stern and was piquing upon me at some sixty miles
per hour. Further delay upon my part would have been a mistake. I performed a
renversement, put on the sauce and zoomed for the roadway at sixty-one miles
per hour. Amid the enthusiastic cheers of Mr. Taylor, I successfully escaped
the charge of the enraged enemy by putting myself through two or three virages
en route to the car. The beast rushed by me, snorting fire from both forward
guns and covering me with a shower of dirt from her hoofs.
I finally made a leap for the running-board of the car,
minus my walking stick and a good deal of breath.
" What's the trouble, Rick? " inquired Taylor,
enthusiastically. " Did you come back to tell me something ? "
" Yes," I panted. " I looked them over and decided they
were too young to be torn from their mother. Let's go on."
" But you forgot your stick," retorted Taylor. " I'll wait
for you while you go back and get it."
" Oh, never mind the stick," I answered. " It didn't belong
to me anyway."
A few weeks later I had an opportunity to see how the French
sportsmen proceed in their wild boar hunts. The Mayor of a little French
village invited several of us to come over one Sunday morning and take part in
By nine o'clock there were fully a hundred persons gathered
together in the little plaza facing the village church. About twenty carried
guns; the balance were duly sworn in by the Mayor to act as beaters-up. It was
a very impressive ceremony and the whole village stood by to witness the scene.
After walking a mile or two through the woods we were
halted. The Mayor addressed us and gave explicit orders for further
There was one old boar in these woods, he informed us, who
had now three dum-dum bullets inside his anatomy. He was a very tough and very
dangerous customer. The Mayor strongly advised us to first pick out a
convenient tree and take our positions in its immediate vicinity. If the boar
came along we could take a shot at him, or not, just as we individually
happened to view the situation. Personally he advised us to climb the tree and
let some other fellow do the shooting.
The beaters-up, who were all standing at attention,
thereupon saluted and disappeared within the forest. We lighted our pipes and
measured the distance to the adjacent overhanging limbs. For an hour nothing
happened to relieve the monotony. Some one made the brilliant suggestion that
we take our cartridges out of our rifles and make dum-dum bullets out of them.
This we all did, thereby regaining something of our former jaunty composure.
At last we heard hoots and yells from the forest. The party
of beaters-up were advancing towards us, beating the saplings with their sticks
and uttering strange cries. I took a last glance at my tree overhead and then
crouched down to have a look between the tree trunks at the approaching enemy.
It was a strange sight.
There, not fifty feet in front of me, I saw a motley
gathering of animals of all descriptions. Red foxes, black foxes, wildcats, two
or three innocent-eyed deer, a number of partridges and grouse and quite a
flock of wild boars stood stock-still, gazing back at me. Not fifty feet in
their rear came the village boys, hooting and yelling to let us know where not
to shoot. They were bringing us our game along ahead of them like a flock of
It seemed quite impossible to fire in that direction without
inflicting casualties among the beaters-up. I therefore continued staring at
the animals, until they tired of posing for me and turned their procession en
masse towards the south.
One of the Frenchmen shot a fox that Sunday morning and we
all returned to the village tavern for a glass of wine, highly delighted with
the successful day's sport. The Mayor especially congratulated us upon our
fortunate escape from the savage wild boar.
Upon my suggesting to His Honor that his beaters-up had
occupied a somewhat dangerous position at the crucial moment for firing, he
shook his head sorrowfully and replied:
"Yes, it is too true! They are unfortunately wounded at
times." Then clearing up his countenance, with a gleam of pride he added:
"But they are good boys. They have accustomed themselves to
the danger and they do not shrink."
And thus is the great national sport of the Vosges carried
on. Upon the occasional victory over the toothsome wild boar of the forest a
triumphant procession follows behind the champion, who strides gallantly
through the village street with his trophy hanging head down over his back. If
the village is not too densely populated every inhabitant within it dines upon
a delicious meat that night.
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