Today we read about Thomas Vander Veen’s military activities in France from October 9-14, 1918 along with Natalie Fulk’s comments.
Wednesday, Oct. 9:
● “We were fooled more than ever last week. Instead of being relieved and sent to the rear for a rest as we all hoped for and as was the sole topic among the boys, we were sent up again to the lines. We started out Wed. morning Oct 9 under protection of a heavy fog. However we did not go very far that day, but took up positions in some woods. We were under quite a bit of shelling there and our Lts. Heller and Huntress were wounded there, also some of our men. Lt. Flynn, Co. commander only officer left. In evening we moved up again to take up final positions to go over the top next morning. Some heavy shelling on us during night. Very uncomfortable, no protection. Dark in those woods and roads and everything muddy. We just dropped down on ground. But very cold and nasty. Many men killed in these woods, dead bodies of Americans everywhere.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company were sent back to the front instead of going to the rear as he wanted. The woods around the front were a difficult terrain to navigate and were one of the reasons that the German troops were able to keep up their defense as long as they did.
Thursday, Oct. 10:
● “Next morning barrage opened up at 7 AM under protection of barrage the boys went over the top at 7:30. Objective about 2 mile but only about 1 mile was gained during Thursday. Difficult grounds, wooded and hilly. Many casualties from shelling and machine gun fire. Couple of open stretches to cross, very dangerous. I was not with Co. Thursday, was sent back to rear with message and report, found Co. back next day, but difficult to breath in woods.”
● Comments: Vander Veen’s special duties as a messenger meant he separated from his company that day to deliver a message to the rear. The woods would have made it very difficult to navigate between the front and the rear. This was the start of the days for which he received a Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts.
Friday, Oct. 11:
● “Our troops advanced again on Friday gaining their objective on north edge of Bois de Foret. Pomerey taken prisoner by Germans that day. He must have been a little careless, believed the Germans he saw wanted to surrender as they motioned to come to them. He walked up to them and when near them they pointed their guns at him and took him prisoner. Harke and couple of other fellows got away in time. Bugaard, Gardly and Baoseliar killed from shrapnel shells. Basseleen badly wounded, shot himself through head. No first aid man around and no stretchers. Bugaard badly wounded too but died in short time. One of my best pals he was and I sure cried when I heard of his death. It seems as though it is always the best fellows most liked in the Co. that get killed. Several more men in our Co. got wounded. Was bringing messages back and forth between our Co. and Batt P. C. farther back in woods several times Friday and Saturday. Pretty dangerous from shell fire and snipers, many snipers left in woods doing much damage to runners, etc. Extra men were sent with me sometimes to forward the message if I was bumped off, but they never got me, although coming mighty close.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company dealt with very personal loss on this day. This entry especially shows the danger the soldiers faced daily and the costs that came with that. Vander Veen’s job was so treacherous that replacement messengers were sent with him to ensure that the message was received if he was shot.
Saturday, Oct. 12:
● “On Sat. we were due to be relieved and we deserved it too but it was called off again as the relieving troops did not arrive in time giving to much shellfire etc. Co. gradually dwindling, some wounded, some sick and many others that simply fell back and turned yellow.”
● Comments: After being on the front since October 9, Vander Veen’s company was splintering as the fighting dragged on.
Sunday, Oct. 13:
● “Sunday morning we got relief at last and arrived here at our old billets in Septsanges woods in afternoon. When we left the frontline only 39 men were left of us there, all told, but when we got here and the roll was called there were 89 so many had ran back but of them claiming sickness or being lost but some were up to the frontline and never attempted to find the Co. And then their papers say the Americans are so brave and always eager to fight. But if those people back in the States could hear the men here now they would probably think differently. They are all sick of it and hoping their damnest the war will end soon and that we leave this place here as soon as possible and get a real seat back to civilization. Considering the circumstances and the trying conditions we had to go through we have not lost so very many of our Co.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company were relieved from the front and moved farther back. However, they were still close enough to the front to be possibly moved to the front again. Vander Veen in this entry criticized the men in his company who had left when the company was on the frontline and then joined it again in time for roll call once it was back in reserve. This was a fairly common problem in the American Expeditionary Force during the war, and these men would probably have been classified as stragglers. Straggling was a type of desertion that the AEF defined as someone wandering away from the rest of the troops for reasons of “cowardice or … lack of physical and moral stamina to endure great hardships or death itself.” However, it is understandable that these men would be scared for their lives with the dangers they faced, especially if they had been drafted and did not enlist themselves.
For earlier journal entries visit the Joint Archives of Holland.