Great Uncle Ray’s World War I Diary: Part II

Transcription and [Comments] by
Larry Pearce, grand-nephew
2/9/03

[In Part I we followed my Great Uncle Ray to France where he began a personal diary of his experiences in World War I beginning September 1, 1918. He and his buddies were assigned to an American ammunition dump for small arms. Their work was both tedious and dangerous, and the desire to get the war over with and go back home is obvious. Ray records his hopes and fears and the many rumors that circulate among the troops. Part I ended with the great celebration on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, but as we rejoin the young soldier from Western Pennsylvania, we are surprised that work continues behind the lines as if the war were still going on. Fortunately, later, Ray and his friends get some time off to tour France before returning home. Their escapades are both heart warming and hilarious]:

11/12 Three months today we land at Breck [?]. We have breakfast while a large detachment of Frog Calvary pass through. Their faces are all lit with smiles, but quite a few of their horses have no riders. We go about our work just the same as though the war was still going on. We pile small arms ammunition all day in mud up to the ankles.
Nov. 13 to 16 Nothing specially important to report. We work all the time although the weather is very cold and we still have no prospect of clothes. I manage to secure some socks and mittens but our underware and overcoats have not arrived.
11/17 Sunday and we are off duty. Burling, Elberson and myself secure an English rig=fle and go out for a little target practice. We have good results and I am surprised at my good marksmanship. P.M. I go to the Y and spend the balance of the day. Miss Morse serves us all free cocoa and we all take advantage of the opportunity.
11/18 The day dawns cold but no rain. I and Brown are the only ones at Reville from our room, but the rest of the bunch will be out after this. We go to our same old jobs and find it a problem to keep warm. Noon, and we hear our underware is here, so we all march down to the supply sergeant and secure 2 suits of underware and 1 pr. Socks. Not much but it helps.
Nov. 19 to 25 All is well. We finish up the pile on the hill and go down below and start on the big pile there. We argue and scrap and monkey around when our corporal leaves for a few minutes. Doctor get sore and Victor maintains his good nature through out. The weather is wonderfully fine and we accomplish quite a bit for Uncle Sam. We get all our new clothes including rubber boots. Bandy Davenport, Burke, Frymeyer, Altmeyer, Conklins, Miller all leave as expert ammunition men. They are being attached to the headquarters of the 1st Army. Nov. 21st all the new bunch and Ahern, Bass, Pearlman, and Silverstein also go with them. They are bound for someplace near Verdeen. This leaves us the old original bunch and of course we get pie on Sunday. Sunday and Brown and myself go to Gondercourt to have our pictures taken. We make out alright and bum a meal at the hospital and spend the rest of the day at the Red Cross. Monday the 24th and it rains all day but we work tilit gets to dark to see so we quit and wait for the whistle.
Nov 26 to 30th Our work progesses as usual. Nothing of special note takes place. We get all day off Thanksgiving. We have dinner at 2:30 p.m. consisting of turkey, goose, and chicken. A wonderful feed. I spend the day very quietly taking a bath in the morning and spending the rest of the day at the Y.M. I hear that our pass is coming. 29th Work as usual till noon. We are officially informed that we are to leave tonight on our vacation. No work this afternoon for us. We clean up and get supper after which we leave fore our train to Sorcey. Our bunch numbers ten consisting of Brown, C.R. Daubenspeck, Calvin Baily, Dryer, Burling, Sparks, J.E. Campbell, Duncan, Cohen and myself. We change our train at Sorcey. Our train finally comes along about 11:30. Crowded to the full capacity. I get standing room in a compartment with 10 French soldiers. I stand until Baily says we must get off because we are on the wrong train. So we all get off at Barledue [?] and wait until 4:30 the next morning for our train. We all get lost from each other and Baily [and] Brown carry our transportation [card?]. Part of us get on and ride third class but are thankful for a rest. A Frenchman tells us his experience at the 1st Battle of the Marne. We pas through this district. We can see where the Germans were turned back by Gen. Gallenis’s taxicab army from Paris in 1914. The shells are still laying in the field and the barbed wire is still up. The ground is marked by shell holes and the buildings are mostly shot down. All the villages along the Marne are destroyed. Places right along the railroad tracks are plainly see where individual French soldiers dug themselves in during this great battle. We finally reach Chateau Theirry and find the buildings pretty well shot up but not so bad as reported in the press. The Marne Valley is a beautiful valley. The great champaign district of France is in this valley. We buy a bottle for six francs.We finally reach Paris between 9 & 10 a.m. One of our great ambitions is about to be realized – “Seeing Paris.” A Y.M. man meets us after we show our tickets and travel orders to the M.P. He directs us to the hotel Pavillion run by the Y. We get dinner, wash up and embark on a sightseeing tour around Paris. The city is overcrowded by women, young mostly. Burling and J.C. pick up a couple but old Morris and I saunter along by ourselves. We see Napoleans church, the Eiffel Tower and everything possible to be seen in so short a time. Morris and I come back and get out supper at the Pavillion. We wait on Burling & J.C. and as a result almost miss our train. We get there in time to stand all night. By the way our train left at 9:05. We reached Lyons at 10 o’clock (Nov 30) the next morning. We of course register at the A.P.M. and duck down town to see the sights. It is a beautiful town and like Paris is overcrowded with women. Morris and I take a trip on the tramway and see the magnificent cathedral on top of the hill. It dates back in the 13th century. We come down and get a lunch in the French canteen and get our train for Grenoble at 6:30 p.m.
Dec. 1 We reach there at 11:30 p.m. and are sent to our hotel, the Moderne, the best hotel in town. We reach there about 1 o’clock. We have had no sleep for two nights and of course are ready for bed now.
Dec. 2 We rise at 9 a.m. Brown and I room together. By the way, our bunch all meet at the station the night before so we are all together. Brown and I go to the Y for breakfast after which we take a walk about the town and see the wonderful scenery. The mountains on either side are toped with snow and the scenery is indeed wonderful. We get dinner at the Moderne. We are told to report at the A.P.M. and as a result are moved [to?] Uriage-les Bains about 12 kilometers away from Grenoble. We loose the whole afternoon and our hotel. we are to stay in is for summer tourists and of course not very well heated. We get supper and go to the Y for a movie and this ends the day.
Dec. 3 We were to get up at 7 but 8 o’clock rolled by and Edwin and I were still in bed. We caught the 9:30 car for Grenoble. We strole around town till noon buying postals [postcards] and mailing them. We get dinner at the Moderne Hotel and walk around town till 2 o’clock. We join the Y party this time led by a sweet little French girl who is to be our guide. We first visit the palace of justice which was erected in the 15th century. The carvings are wonderful. From here we take a hike out along the mountain and see many interesting things together with the beautiful rich valley that lies below. We get back in time for supper. After supper we meet two madmosell [crossed out] little French maidens and preceed to the Y. to hear the band concert and see the movies. We secure a room in the Savoie Hotel and stop there for the night after escorting the ladies home.
Dec 4 We get up in time to get in on the Y trip. We secure a guide and proceed to visit the Bastille on top of the nearby mountain. It is some awful climb up the steps. French soldiers are in training at one place. The fortress is rather modern being about 100 years old. About all the artillery has been dismounted and is probably being used at the front. We get back in time for dinner. The Y has another hike on for the afternoon, climbing the mountains in another direction. A Frenchman goes with us and takes our pictures [in] three different places. The scenery is unsurpassed. We visit the Chateau on top of the hill. It is sure a beautiful home. We get back and wash up for supper. We have supper and start for the Y entertainment. We bump into our two lady friends and of course they suggest “Promenade” so we go along and take them to the Y. to see the movies. We use our dictionairies recently purchased and spend a pleasant evening. My lady mademoiselle Alice Bouvier does not parley-voo Francaise [crossed out] Americane but we get along quite well with the aid of my dictionary. She does not work being very wealthy and does not have to work.
Dec. 5 We retire to our hotel and sleep till 11 a.m. the next day. We got breakfast and visited theUniversity which is the oldest in the world. We have dinner and hear the music in the park. Edwin and I stand at salute while the Star Spangled Banner and the Marsaillse is played. We get our car and return to Uriage. We spend the eveing at the movies.
Dec 6 We get up late and do not do much before dinner. After dinner a bunch takes the car and we go out to a place called Vizille about 12 kilometers out in the mountains. We see the castle where the French Revolution was started. The furnishings of the place is beyond description. We see the fish hatcheries and an old bridge supposed to have been builded by the Romans. The scenery is wonderful. We also visit the silk mills where they make crepe dejene and everything silk. We see many maidens because the help is all women and girls. We return to Uriage in the evening.
Dec 7 Brown and I get up, get breakfast, and depart for Grenoble. We get our pictures and stall around till almost evening. I get Burling some oranges, lemons and a pr of drawers, get my car for Uriage. Brown has a date and stays the night. I arrive and give Burling his order. I get supper and go over to the Y to see the pictures which prove to be the same as I saw in Grenoble. The result is I do not stay long but go back to my hotel to find my room occupied. I finally get set for the night however and have one [underlined] good nights sleep.
Dec 8 I get up, shave, and get breakfast and leave again fro Grenoble where I meet Brown. We stall around town for awhile, visit the Y and send some cards. We have a date with a young Frenchman for 12 o’clock but he fails to show up so we promenade around ourselves till 2:30 when we fill a date with two mademoiselles for a promenade. We were to have an auto ride but she said her brother had the car. We walk all afternoon and get back in time for supper. We first check out with the A.P.M. After supper the ladies meet us and we go to the Y and spend the evening. We get back to our hotel at 11 p.m. and intend to leave on the 6 o’clock train for Lyon.
Dec 9 We get up in time for the train. The bunch fail to show up so we decide to wait for the evening train. We walk around town till noon. We stop in a restaurant and have dinner. At 2:30 we take in a Y trip to Pont Clay bridge. This bridge was builded in 1654 and is the longest single span of concrete masonry in the world. It crosses the river Yeser. It is in a perfect state of preservation being still in use. We come back, get supper, and prepare to leave at 8 o’clock for Lyon. Our trip is without incident and we reach Lyon at 11 o’clock. The A.P.M. checks us in and we stay at the Hotel Universe. We meet Dock and J.E. The came in the night before so after chewing the rag, decided to leave the next morning for Paris.
Dec 10 We get up and leave on the 7:45 for Paris. Brown and I get a seat but Dock and John have to stand. We have the advantage of traveling during the day and seeing the beautiful country. We get to Paris about 7 o’clock and get by the M.P. without checking in. Brown, Morris and J.E. however do check in and as a result leave sooner. At any rate we all proceed to the Hotel Pavillion. We get supper on the way down in a restaurant. We get on a bus and land at the hotel in time to miss out on a room so we go out to a distant point in Paris on the subway. We finally get to bed about 12:30 and have a good nights sleep on a small cot. A bunch of newly arrived YMCA men start complaining about the beds but they are not used to the Army because the beds look like well we can’t get there soon enough.
Dec 11 We get up and go down to the lower Y for breakfast. Brown and I take a Y trip around Paris. We see the Palace of Justice, the various court rooms and the place where the Louisiana Purchase was signed and a piece of carpet worth 68000 francs and beautiful carvings. We saw a stone wall which was 2000 years old. We see Notre Dame, the church hit by the big shell last March. We see the Eiffel Tower, Ferris Wheel, Alexandre II Bridge, the grandest bridge in the world given to France by Russia in 1900. We see the Arch of Triumph, the Strasburg monument with the veil taken off. We also saw hundreds of captured guns. We return and start out on another trip without any dinner to Versailles. We take the subway and transfer to the train which lands us there at about 1:30. We see the palace builded by Louie XIV which bankrupted the French nation. 35000 men and 2500 horses were employed at one time. He paid the men 3 cents per day. We see the table on which peace will be signed, the bed in which Louis XIV died, and numerous valuable paintings. We spend the whole afternoon viewing the elaborate furnishings of the palace. We go down to get the train but a French guard will not allow us through, so we wait till the next rain. We finally arrive OK. The MPs stop us but the Y man gets us through without further registration. We go back to the Y and have supper. After supper Dryer, Bailey, Sparks and I go to the theatre. We engage a taxicab and arrive OK to find the MP’s on the job. He asks for our pass but we say we all have em so he says alright. We do not enjoy the show, however because the M.P. and a Lieut. Is watching us, the result is we quietly disappear and get our coats. We hurry into a taxicab and rush back to our hotel where we stay that night glad to be let alone. We were informed that we had to have a pass to be out after 9 o’clock. John E, Brown, and Morris leave on the eight o’clock train and go through to Nancy.
Dec 12 We get up, get breakfast, and hustle down to meet the train from Lyon so as to register in with the incoming bunch. We get there and a Lieut. Tells us the train just came in from Lyon, so we manage to get through the baggage room and line up without being noticed. We register and that means leave Paris at 8 o’clock tonight. Dock and I take a walk out through the Trullering [?] gardens and see many interesting things on our trip. We get back in time for dinner. After dinner I go on another Y trip to visit Napolean’s tomb. We get inside this time. They are removing the sandbags so we do not see as much as we expected, however the two windows are big attractions and I shall never forget the extreme beauty of those windows. I finally leave the crowd after we see all that is to be seen and make for our hotel. I send a few cards, get supper in the canteen and wait for the bunch. They finally arrive and we leave for the station. We check out and board out train for Sorcy and home to our outfit.
12-13 We arrive in Sorcy at about 6 o’clock and wait an hour for the train to Maurages. We get off and proceed to the office for our money of last pay. We get our mail and money and proceed to the barracks and hang around till dinner. After dinner we do not fall in with the other men. The Lieut comes around and inquires and we explain so it is alright. I take a sleep in the afternoon and wait for supper. After supper we go to the Y to spend the evening. Ten more men leave tonight for their vacation. Brown, Morris, and J.E. finally come in on the train from Gondercourt.
12-14 We get up and have breakfast and fall in for work. We move 30s [inch shells?] all day. Nothing specially happens.
12-15 to 18 The same routine of work. It rains for three days and makes it powerfully disagreeable but we plug away. Upon arriving in the barracks I immediately change clothes. The night of the 17th my Xmas box arrives. We are told to police up the dump. An official is to look the place over and if satisfactory, we are to get home sooner.
Dec 19 All is well. Nothing to report except that we were packing bandoleers all day. [In the margin he writes, “We have the first snow today.”] We all get a very bad cold but stick with it all day.
Dec 20 Pack bandoleers all day.
12-22 Sunday and we all expected to be off duty as usual but we are ordered out to the dump to burn [gun] powder. We burn it by the carload all day. I manage to get on a detail to burn pyrotechnics [fireworks and flares] and I secure a number of silk parachutes. We work all day in the rain and mud.
12-23 Monday a.m. I go down to the Med Serg. For something to cure a cold. I go to work and learn that all the grenades and high explosive shells are to be blown up immediately. Officers are strutting around everywhere and seem to be all excited. Four trucks arrive and we load grenades, pyrotechnics, etc. all day and haul them beyond the RR tracks to be blown up. It was a sight to be remembered to see the powder etc. go up in flames.
12-24 The day before Xmas and all is well. A bunch of men come in and help us all day. Evening mess over and we all lay around for awhile till about 7:30. We all go over to Wilson’s room and have a little booze party. Serg. Cole gets well lit up. Garroway, J.E., Homes, Smith, Serg, Bonmiller, and Mickey get very happy in the course of our celebration. I had one small drink of campaign and one of Bordeau but we sure had some time. Cole smashed Burlings mess kit but everything passed off and nobody was hurt.
12-25 Xmas Day. The snow is on the ground but before night the rain takes it all away. We work til noon. A bunch of men come in but refuse to go to work because they had no breakfast. They go back and come around about 15 minutes before noon. We get a fine dinner consisting of roast prok, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, apple and pumpkin pie. 9 packages nebo [?] cigarettes and 2 camels, 2 apples, walnuts, ¼ lb. Chocolate bonbons. YM contribution of chocolate bars. 2 cigars. It was some fine dinner and we all lined up after dinner and gave three cheers to the mess sergt,, Miss Morris and the KPs. Smith and I go to the Y and hear a little jas [jazz?]. We stand all the time because of no room.

[The travelogue has been wonderful. In later transcriptions we hope to include links to a tourist’s map of France. But for now we can only imagine the joy and recreation this war-weary soldier must have felt. We note too his language. We can smile at the misspellings, but some of the archaic use of words, such as “builded” from Middle English instead of our “built,” and affectionate early 20th century American slang, like “bunch” for “group,” gives us a fascinating look inside his world.]
[Now that Ray’s “vacation” and Christmas holiday are over, what does the new year hold in store. We’ll find the ammunition dump as muddy and dangerous as ever as we begin Part III.]

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