For the next six weeks we will continue to post the transcribed version of Thomas Vander Veen’s World War I journal entries. Today we read about Vander Veen’s military activities in France from October 3-7, 1918 along with Natalie Fulk’s comments.
Thursday, Oct. 3:
● “Entered service of Uncle Sam’s army one year ago today. Quite a difference now. Occasional shellfire today altho not very much still uncomfortable. Shelling also during past night, at about 3:30 AM woke up from shell exploding nearby. Shell fragments and dirt coming down on roof. Jumped out of bed and beat it for safety dugout. Crowded in there. Just three other shells exploded nearby wounding some 8 men or so of our Co, they were sleeping in shallow holes around there. We remained in the dugout for rest of night. 1 mule also killed of our train during night. Packed up couple of times already and ready to move out at any time, but we are still here. All hope we will go to rear although nothing certain. Bulgaria and Turkey too reported quit fighting. Everybody glad of the news. Weather getting milder, although still cloudy. Had letter from Br. Pieter last night.”
● Comments: Vander Veen was in the immediate reserves, but his company was still near the front. The front was extremely dangerous no matter what time of day, as Vander Veen showed in his dash to a dugout in the middle of the night. There was no safe time for Vander Veen and his company as they waited anxiously to be moved farther back.
Friday, Oct. 4:
● “Still here in reserve, ready to go up any time. Very intense barrage by our guns early this morning, guns just back of us. Enemies’ reply rather weak. Our troops went over the top this morning under protection of barrage. Advanced some KM, don’t know yet how far. Some Germ. aeroplanes brought down.”
● Comments: Vander Veen’s company in reserve at the front was waiting to see whether it would go to the very front of the attack or to the rear. His description of the troops going “over the top” was the start of the second main advance of the Allied troops in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.
Sunday, Oct. 6:
● “But not a Sunday like peacefulness, instead of church chimes, we had the steady pounding of our big guns and the explosion of Borche shells dropping around here every once in a while and making us rush for the dugouts. 1 shell just before dinner today killed 7 men and wounding some men. 9 of our Co. also many horses and mules killed. Shell landed near kitchens. Expect to move to the rear tonight and be relieved. Hope so, mighty dangerous staying around here. Shells playing havoc all over woods.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company continued to hope to move back to the rear as German shells rained down on them near the front. Even though the men in the company were not going over the front at this moment, they were still in constant danger from these shells and other defensive efforts by the German troops.
Monday, Oct. 7:
● “Although all packed up last night and ready to move out any minute according to orders, we were fooled once more and stayed here after all. It sure is disgusting as we can not take chance to unroll pack and go to sleep. Little shelling by evening during night or today, but one shell killed more animals again at same spot as yesterday. More from our Company. Everybody questioned to go out of this hall and be relieved and all are sick and have their belly full from war notwithstanding all the bragging and humbug going in those lieing (lying) papers about the Americans so eager to fight. Bool. However the morale is good and all are confident of victory. Good news coming in from the front daily. Had good feed today, some potatoes and syrup in addition to our canned beef and hardtack or bread, which had been our meals for almost two weeks steady. For dinner we even had a little after. Although all kinds of jams, jellies, condensed milk, potatoes, etc. are sent from the States it hardly ever gets as far as the firing line as it has to go through many hands before it gets here, the troops way back of the lines and those coffee coolers get it all or what little is left when it gets here is for the officers and for the cooks they like. The same thing applies to the Y.M.C.A. service and the tobacco. Although we read in the papers of thousands of tons of sweets etc. arrived, we have been able only once to get a bar of chocolate each and a few pieces of chewing gum. The poor shell dodger on the front always gets the worst end of it always, no matter at all the trash they put in the papers. Weather fairly good but cloudy.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company were still on reserve and morale was low as they had to stay outside without even unrolling their packs to sleep so they could move at any moment. This almost definitely exacerbated the sickness that was common throughout the company and all troops on the front. The most deadly disease was influenza, which in the years of 1918 to 1919 was an epidemic that struck the world. It especially raged through the AEF troops in France between around September 15 to November 15 of 1918. Vander Veen faced many other frustrations that he listed in this entry, such as the lack of good food, sweets, tobacco, etc. His complaint about the good food not reaching the front was probably accurate. It was more difficult to move food, especially food that did not stay fresh for long, to and along the front. Therefore, soldiers at the front were given rations that were more mobile.
For earlier journal entries visit the Joint Archives of Holland.