Today we read about Thomas Vander Veen’s military activities in France from October 15-20, 1918 along with Natalie Fulk’s comments.
Tuesday, Oct. 15: (talking about current conditions and feelings in Septsanges)
● “Although our place here is not much under shellfire lately it is a very disagreeable place to stay. A regular mud hole. I don’t see why they keep us here any longer, but some runners say we may have to go up again, although I can hardly believe it as we are not fit. The whole bunch is sick or getting sick here. The cooties or ticks are eating us alive and almost run away with us and no means to get rid of them, almost no water around here. All that bragging in the American papers of Uncle Sam taking care so well of his boys on the firing line is a great farce, a damned lie. Even the Germans with all the reported lack of food and clothing etc. take better care of their men as was evidenced by all the good eats that was left behind by them in their retreat. They got something else than only canned bully beef and hardtack or dry bread, they have lots of good jams and jellies etc. and they also get their beer too. But the last couple of days we have been getting better eats too. There is a lot of peace talk and placerunners in the air or in the papers lately. We all hope they may prove true although it seems too good to be true. However it seems as though there is to be an end of this war before very long. But I hope they take us out of this hole to a good place in the rear pretty soon. With so many American troops in France now (in Sept. alone over 300,000 arrived) I can’t see why they don’t relieve us and send some of these new men up to the line.”
● Comments: By this point, Vander Veen’s company had been on the front or in reserve near the front since September 26, which was about twenty days of fighting, barrages, and being hit by enemy barrages. After this constant stress and danger, the company was struggling with disease, insects, and harsh weather along with the dangers of war. The morale in the company was understandably low after such a long time on the front or in reserve.
Friday, Oct. 18:
● “We left there [Septsanges] Friday evening at about 10 PM and got here at our present camping place at about 4 AM next morning. Very difficult and tiresome hike. Roads muddy. Came over Dead Man’s Hill all shellfire. Hike was too much for me on account of my weakened condition from diarrhea and I finally dropped out on the side of the road. Having Roahl with me. Many more had dropped out before already. We all found the Co. next morning.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company finally left the reserve to move to the rear. Many of the men were in a weakened state because of the fighting and illness, including Vander Veen.
Sunday, Oct. 20:
● “Today is my birthday but a very dreary disagreeable day for a birthday anniversary. It has been raining all day so far and no let up yet. Started to rain last evening and we get a little wet as well. Slept out in the open without pitching tent. But we had to pitch tent today in order not to get soaking wet all through. The only good thing is we are no more in our billets in Septsanges woods where everything was mud and still were under shellfire…. Most all Co. in dugouts. Many dugouts here dug by the French. Some dugouts hold hundreds of men’s bunks in them etc but it does not appeal to me, damp, dark and many rats in them. I rather stayed outside, rain or no rain. We stand muster this morning and we all got good and cold standing there of course for a long long time. Millman has deserted once again and also Harris the medical man. Some say they had robbed dead bodies of Americans of money and valuables and beat it over the hill with it. The 3rd Div. came back from the lines just as we pulled out of Septsanges Woods. They done pretty good work. But the 5th Div. is a disgrace to the army. From what we heard they deserted or ran back by hundreds. Whole companies. M.P. and others got to take them back to the lines again every day, and many have been put in prison enclosures. Our 4th Div is one of the best divisions and praised generally and even we have many yellow streaked men among us as some only in bar lost action. The much heralding and bragging of Yankee fighting spirits is a lot of hot air. I think we will leave here pretty soon, but where we go we can’t find out, although one hears all kinds of rumors, but I hope there is something good in store for us.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company were still moving away from the front at this point. His thoughts on the different divisions and desertion are an interesting insight into the dynamics between different divisions of the AEF. Each division apparently had its own reputation based on bravery and desertion and this seemed to be common knowledge throughout the AEF. He also raised attention to the fact that the way the American soldiers were described in the news was often different than the reality of the front.
For earlier journal entries visit the Joint Archives of Holland.