Burton Wilder Knight - His Diary of the Great War

“In torture I prayed for the dark
And the stealthy step of my friend
Who, staunch to the very end,
Would creep to the danger zone
And offer his life as a mark
To save my own.”

RH Schouffler
THE WHITE COMRADE

~~~~~~~~

Sergt Burton W. Knight
Field Hospital 104
Am. Ex. Forces
~American Expeditionary Forces~
France

1917-1918

1
1918
Aug.23, 1918----Villote, France

Burton Wilder Knight

----His diary----

When I started from home I had said I’d set down my daily experiences, happenings and notes on interesting points. Here it has been almost a year since I left home and I’ve only a few sundry jottings by which to recall the doings of my first year in France. Therefore it is my aim to keep an accurate daily account of my own experiences, touching on the events that came under my observation and giving such personal touches as I see fit. I am not writing this for alien eyes but that at some future time when I am indulging in peaceful pursuits, I may be able to review my life’s schooling and better recall my thoughts and actions while serving the old flag.

Oct. 12, 1918. Verdun Review of my first year in France

Oct. 5, 1917- Oct. 5, 1918

Oct. 5-15 St. Nazaire.

Oct. 6 (1918) LaCroix (Vaux)

Oct. 7 LaCroix-Auibly

Oct. 8 Auibly. Laid around the billet until 19 o’clock. Orders came that set us on the road again. The night air was cold and damp and I believe that it was the most telling march I ever have made.

Oct. 9 Bevaux-arrived about 3 AM. Bevaux + Verdun- Changed billet for one nearer the hospital. Received orders about 20 o’clock to go with Lt. Helff, Freudenberger + Dodge to the Citadel in the city of Verdun.

Oct 10 Verdun- Rather lost in our new surroundings- Treated Lt. Col Howard + sent him to FH 104

Oct 11 Verdun- Run sick call this morning- visited 91- Lts. King + Hadley, 19th Div. Hdqts moved on up- We changed our quarters building over Casement D to cave occupied + vacated by 29th men. Went with ambulance with Lt. King to 104 F.H. Brought Sgt. 1st C1 Dunne- we visited the town together. This was the first time I had had an opportunity to see much of my surroundings. At first glance the town doesn’t appear to be shot up very much but as one looks closer it can readily be seen that the town is just a heap of debris. Visited the famous Cathedral of Verdun. Took down inscription on tablet in front of alter. Tonight our quarters are very comfortable and I think that we’ll be able to enjoy our stay in the famous Citadel of Verdun.

Oct 12 Verdun- Woke up with a rotten cold- Laid around most of the time. Took physic + loaded up with aspirin and am feeling better tonight. Freudenberger went over to the Company and got mail and our pay for Sept. One letter from Gertrude- The Boche have been throwing quite a few shells throughout the day- none struck very near.

Oct 13 Verdun- Quiet all day. Rumors of peace

Oct 14 Verdun. More or less shelling all day.

Oct 15 Verdun Shelling in town. Heard that there were about 24 injured. Visited the Cathedral –

Oct 16 Verdun. Shelling all day. Was in town with Lt. Helff. Shells struck rather close while waiting outside the commissary. Was glad when the Lieut came out. There were coming in pretty often and rather too close for comfort. High Explosives.

Oct 17 Verdun-Shelling- gas- rainy. My cold seems a little better.- Took a nice hot shower bath in a little joint in back of the cathedral. A regular treat. Went over to the other side of town with Lt Helff while he had his high boots heeled and tapped. Heard that the town near the Citadel had been gassed so we borrowed a couple of masks from the French as we had left ours in the abri (bomb proof shelter- BWK2) We did not need them as the gas was some two of three hundred yards further down the road toward Bevaux. The 104 F.H. had to get of Bras because of the severe shelling. No one was injured but Shaw and Locke run into some gas- Shaw went to hospital.

Oct 18 Verdun. –Quiet- fair.

Most of Hdqts moved up to Bras today. Lt. Helff + and I went up this afternoon to get an idea of what our new home is to be like. The Divisional Headquarters is in a row of dug-ins in the side of what appears to be a filled in roadbed. Not much room to spare inside the quarters but a vast expanse of low bottomland surrounding them. It will be rather damp as they are located between the canal and the Meuse R. Plenty of camouflages is used to screen any foreign appearance from the enemy. All traces of human habitation have long since been reduced to desolate waste. The general (terrestrial) appearance is that of grim business-like war. Though the front lines are probable 6 or 8 kilometer distant, we will be within easy distance of the big guns.

Oct 19 Bras- just outside- between canal and Meuse- 19:15 Aid station in sheet iron shack 6X4ft. Fairly well settled and am getting used to my surroundings. The boche have been spraying shrapnel over the road about a hundred yards to the right of us. They seem to have the range on the main corners in Bras. I’d hate to be the M.P. on duty at the fork leading this way. I’ve just been wondering what I’d set down to remember my first night out here in this grim waste by. If I was an artist I’d like to draw a picture of the scene that surrounds this little shack showing the squat dug-ins, with their sturdy cement-rock exposure broken only by the port hole windows and narrow doors. I’d show the duck-boards, the many lines of telephone wires, some to G2 or G3 or perhaps to ‘Message Center.’ The officers mess with it’s table and the men's mess with it’s serving table must not be over looked for soldiers are noted for their voracious appetites. If I was a trained writer I would surely want to make little word pictures of my companions in arms. At divisional level anyone under a colonel is assigned to a nonentity class though majors and some captains often assume to be of some importance. Just this minute our thoughts and nerves are focused on but one subject and that is the shells are whistling over head and spraying shrapnel- Just here I bolted for the dugout for a big boy hit about 20-30 yds off- just across the canal and showered my shack with solid material- I couldn’t commit myself by saying it was shrapnel but I’ll swear by my exertion that they were solid particles, chunks or pieces.- As for my companions I’ll wait until later before I give my opinions.

Oct 20 Bras- P.C. Neptune- between canal + the Meuse. 26th Divisional Headquarters. Quiet this morning. Much shelling this afternoon. The Boche have got a close range on our P.C. and especially this end of it. Ten or a dozen shells burst in the very immediate vicinity during the afternoon. Probably a hundred to hundred + fifty fell in or burst over this little neighborhood during the day. It took no little courage to move far from the dugout during the shelling + the hour following. I got caught in my little tin shack several times. As the Boche are using high explosive and thrown by an Austrian gun ‘105’ one get’s about a second’s warning. Shell fragments + shrapnel were sprayed around here in plenty- The question of serving supper was a rather delicate one for the mess shack had received more attention than could be overlooked- Frank (the cook) didn’t believe in making an exhibition of his courage, neither did he see how the men were going without supper. But the Boche let up for a few minutes and Frank summoned enough courage to begin serving. The boys made a double quick to the kitchen, were quickly served, and disappeared at a double-quick in the direction of shelter. Never was supper served so quick in Hdqts. Co. of the 26th. The evening passed with very little shelling and there was only an occasional shellburst during the night. I stayed in the Message Center ready if any casualties occurred. I was talking with the M.P. on duty along in the early hours of the morning when a shell caught us before we could move inside. No damage, only a shower of fragments.

Oct 21st. Bras, P.C. Neptune- between the canal + the Meuse-Very little direct shelling today. Slept most of Midday in the boys (Dodge + Freudenberger) dug-out. The ‘boys’ worked hard today, filling and stacking sandbags around our Aid Station about half covered- I woke up tonight with a severe cold in my lungs so I’m going to dose up on aspirin and physic. The big game starts in the morning and I want to see it through.

Oct 22nd. Bras. P.C. Neptune- Shelling. Not continuous-Offensive did not come off this morning. Worked most of the day getting our Aid-Station covered with sand-bags. Used ‘Elephant-iron’ for the extra roof covering. Went into Verdun or rather to Bevaux- got overcoats for the boys + mail. F.H. 104 functioning with tents set up inside some empty stables. On the way back we ran the Gauntlet of showers of shrapnel being sprayed over Bras. The Frenchmen said to go ‘Vite!’ and we certainly did. Mighty glad when I reached the shelter of the dugout.

Oct 23. Bras. P.C. Neptune- Offensive movement began about 5:30. Intensive shelling from the surrounding batteries. Very little retaliation during the forenoon with a gradual decrease in fire this afternoon. Went to Bevaux with cultures + smears. Assisted in dressing one of the couriers’ horses that had been wounded this morning- two horses were killed. Walked over to Charmy to see a battery of 6 inch marine guns that we had watched during the bombardment this morning. On the way back we had some very thrilling thrills when about midway of the bridge over the Meuse a shell passed directly overhead, exploding a distance beyond. I got within about twenty yards of the camouflage + dugout when I heard another one coming. With a mad spurt, I made the welcome shelter – when the report of the explosion told me the that (sic) the cause of our anxiety had accomplished it’s (sic) allotted task. It had made a direct hit on the road over which we had just passed (Dodge + I). And the joke (?) was on me for I had just been telling Dodge how much it seemed like the S.O.S. after the little party (!) of this morning. Oh, Yes the war was all over!! – That bunch of shells that came tonight pretty nearly got my nerve. I was caught in the open three or four times. The time we were caught on the bridge we were just about ready to admit our time had come. Only yesterday two Frenchmen + six horses were killed within a few yards of where we stood. Two of the shells that came in tonight exploded about over the bridge. I don’t know why I’m setting down this dark side of our life but it’s possible that it will help me to remember to be grateful and give thanks and credit to Him who holds us in the hollow of his hand. “The prayers of the righteous availeth much.” I thank Thee, dear Saviour, for thy gentle guidance. May I prove worthy of Thy love. BK

Oct 24 . Bras, PC Neptune. Rather quiet- Finished sandbagging our aid station + put on an extra layer of elephant iron + sand on my dug-out. Many sick with colds. Gave Brig. Gen Hascom a tepid sponge-medicine.

Oct 25 Bras, PC Neptune. Quiet, few shells fell in Bras- Went to Bevaux with two patients- Mail- one letter from Gertrude- Something’s wrong at home, I just don’t know what.

Oct 26. Bras, PC Neptune. Rather quiet. No shells falling in close- Worked around dugout fixing stove- Quite a number of fellows sick with colds.

Oct 27. Bras, PC Neptune. A very quiet Sunday on our side of the line but I think it must have ben rather rough sailing just across the way. About forty big guns here in the valley close by worked away most of the forenoon. Sick call- quite a number sick. Went over in Bras to get wood for our stove. Slowly improving our home- Remodelled the Lieut’s bed- expect to change more in the morning. Very comfortable now. almost all the comforts of home (?)

Oct 28. Bras, PC Neptune. Quiet. few shells fell in town. Went into Bevaux with three patients- go mail- medicines and pack for Dodge- Got in a little practice in first aid- put three stitches in a finger of a fellow from the 16th engineers. A large shell hit just back of my dugout about 10:30 PM. Rather made me sit up and take notice. Austria accepts President Wilson’s peace terms and calls for an armistice. Turkey’s on the fence.

Oct 29. Bras, PC Neptune. Quite a few large shells fell in rather close today. No damage as yet to our little community but they were a little too close for safety and comfort. Haven’t done much today- health of fellows better. Freudenberger came over and stayed most of the evening. We’ve had quite and interesting time talking of home and of our experiences. I know I appreciate the meaning of home as never before and may He speed the day when we can turn our footsteps homeward to where our loved ones await us and where you can live normal lives following the pursuits of peace, health, wealth + happiness.

Oct 30. Bras, PC Neptune. Some heavy shells fell in town and vicinity. Went into Bevaux with patient- brought out my photographic outfit. Did some washing this afternoon- The Boches made me duck several times as they passed seven big boys in rather too close, not to be noticed. Good news.

Oct 31. Bras, PC Neptune. Quiet- fair sick call- few sick- health of boys much improved since weather took a cold turn- good October weather- cool- windy- Don’t believe I’ve got much to sat down to remember this last day of the month, haven’t done much . Finished reading “Scandal” by Cosmo Hamilton- Rather plain language used. sometime to life pictures secondary reading matter. Was told today that big offensive of our 1st Army starts tomorrow morning at early hour. The old 26th is not to be in it. Am not sorry. I think our fellows have had more than their share of roughwork. It has been a warm place- nearly continuous fighting of severest nature- beaucoup killed, wounded and gassed- and those left are only half alive.

Nov 1st. Bras, P.C. Neptune- Quiet. The Boches took four or five shots at the bridge over the Meuse, close but no damage. It has been quite cold today. I set up a new stove and now we are enjoying a very comfortable existence in our dug-out.- The new offensive got off well judging by the terrific barrage this morning. As it is mostly to the west of us, only a few of the guns in this vicinity took part.

Nov 2nd. Bras, P.C. Neptune- ‘A Red Letter Day’ with a little bit o’ ‘ell. The Boche seemed to have the range on us and didn’t mind if we knew it; Got a few Frenchmen and wounded one of our troops across the River, early in the forenoon. About dinner time, they were putting ‘em in so close that I decided not to eat dinner in the down in the Station but lit for my dug-out. While I was eating, a shell exploded over the road in back of us. I stepped outside my door to see where it hit. The smoke still in the air told me it had exploded near the road. While making this observation, I heard someone screaming as though in pain but as there were several men nearer when the shell exploded and as they didn’t show any sign of disturbance, I concluded that no one was hurt. I started to finish eating my dinner but as I could still hear the screams, I went outside and watched the vicinity from which the screams came. I think one of the couriers must have thought something was wrong, for I saw him start down the tow path and cross the bridge. He turned back shortly and something in his action told me that there was someone hurt. I hollered, asking if anyone was hurt and an indistinct answer came that there was. I grabbed my kit and First Aid packet and started at a run. Met the Lt. Coming up from the station. Gave him my kit and packet, told him there was a man hurt down by the bridge. I rushed into the station for some shell wound packets + my dressing kit. Told Fredenberger to come along and I sprinted down the canal, over the bridge to where the man, an MP of the 79th, was lying. I got to him about the same time as the Lieut. Blood was flowing freely from a wound just below the right knee. I gave Doc a bandage for a tourniquet- put on just above the knee and a pack over the wound. We loaded him into a Ford truck that was passing and took him to the Aid station of the 79th in Charny. I went back in my ambulance to my station for a litter bar and blankets. Coming back, a shell exploded close to the ambulance, covering the driver with mud + wounding one of the 101st Eng. who was passing. I did not know at this time that anyone had been hit. After we had delivered the litterbar and blankets, I learned that a man was seen to dive headlong from his horse when the shell hit and was probably wounded. When I reached the scene, I found the wounded man under a shack where some Frenchmen had dragged him. He was wounded in the back of the head. As I made a hasty examination + prepared to bandage the wound, I said half aloud “too late old man, you’re done for.” One of the ambulance drivers came to help me- I heard another shell coming; Duck- Close- and it nearly got us. I bandaged the wound and with the assistance of the other driver we carried him to the ambulance. Shells had been coming in here pretty steady.

Nov 3rd. Bras, P.C. Neptune- Shells fell intermittently- Some Big Boys ‘410’- gas- 150’ has been getting them in pretty close.

Nov 4th. Bras, P.C. Neptune- Some shelling. Our 14 ½in baby has been tossing over a few to the Heinies- one every 4 minutes. Capt. Helff went into Bevaux- A Boche plane-aviator got one of our balloons about 4 o’clock. Pretty neat job he did and I think he got away with it though we made it rather warm for him. He was too low to use the antiaircraft guns effectively but the machine guns set up a lively sputter. The observer in the balloon came down safely in his parachute.

Nov 5th. Bras, P.C. Neptune- Little shelling. Went down to Bevaux with Sg Maj Gavin. New ambulance relief came back with us/ got a very fitting initiation, a high explosive shell exploded in the field across the canal from the ambulance. made the boys duck for shelter.

Nov 6th. Bras, P.C. Neptune- Took the General’s French cook to HOE 4B at Villotte dte Loupy area near Bar Le Duc. Went into Bar le Duc- Bought Lt. Insignia. Picked up two captains- never had been near the front.

Nov 7th. Bras, P.C. Neptune- Not a shell fell near here all day. The 14 ½in baby sent a few souvenirs to the Boches. News came over the radio that the Boches had called for an armistice and the reply by Marshall Foche designating a meeting near Guise came in too. Later reports gave the names of the Geneva plenipotentiaries + the announcement of their arrival in our lines between 8-10 P.M. There’s beaucoup ‘latrine dope’ about the 26 in the air.

Nov 8th. Bras, P.C. Neptune- Quiet, no shelling- laid around- felt rather pink- The Boche plenipotentiaries came over last night- no developments. The Boche are retreating in front of the 26th Division positions and our boys are occupying their positions without opposition- very good.

Nov 9th. Bras, P.C. Neptune- Quiet. Marshall Foche handed the Germans plenipotentiaries the terms of an armistice and gave them until Monday morning- 11 o’clock of the 11th to give and answer.

Nov 10th. Bras, P.C. Neptune- Quiet Sunday- developed two films- one for Dodge. printed a few snaps. Word over in by radio that the Kaiser had abdicated and his son had renounced all claims to the throne. The Socialistic party is in power and have elected a President pro tem. All Germany is in great upheaval socially – politically + Finished letter to Gertrude – enclosed snap of Hosp at Vaux. In her last letter she bauled (sic) me out for not writing more often. I guess I needed it anyway for I haven’t written much of late. There has been much to write about . If they would take the censorship regulations off I might be able to write a decent letter.

Nov 11th. Bras, P.C. Neptuen- “La Geurre est Fini” The armistice went into effect at 11 o’clock this morning. Since then peace and quiet have reigned supreme. Band concert by the 101 Engineer band after dinner. The Yankee soldiers are happy and glad that the job they came to do it over. Let’s go Home!! The Kaiser and his son, Von Hindenburg have gone to Holland- They believe in safety first. The boys are celebrating a young Fourth of July tonight. Beacons, rockets, flares and lights of all colors. I’m going to bed.
PEACE, PEACE, PEACE.

Nov 12th. Bras, P.c. Neptune- Peace and quietness reign supreme.

Nov 13th. Bras, P.C. Neptune- Went down to Bevaux for mail—Letter from Sgt. Evans and Gertrude- Eva’s husband had died + she was still with Eva nightly. Sorry for Eva.

Nov 14th. Bras, P.C. Neptune + Pierrefitte- Packed up the first thing after breakfast, 6th Division relieved us- a rather green bunch of lads- Left P.C. Neptune about one o’clock. Beaucoup traffic on the road- got here about 6 o’clock. Am sleeping in an old shack, rather airy but better than expected.

Nov 15th. Pierrefitte- ‘the old shack’ 10:30 A.M. Shaved- cleaned up a bit. Men packed and ready to move- going to a little town-Benoitvaux- I surely hope we’re on the first hop of the trip homeward. Am feeling fine but can stand a few days of easy living.
7:30 PM. Benoitvaux- arrived here about 4 o’clock- located our Infirmary where the post office of the 7th Army corp had been. Very cold so went to bed early.

Nov 16th. Benoitvaux- colder than Hades this morning. It would have kept old Satan busy ordering more coal to heat his abode warm enough to give the desired results to the poor sinner. Went out and hunted up a stove in one of the empty barracks. Not a regular stove but a kettle turned bottom up with a hole in it’s center for the funnel. A base of bricks + sheet iron + a little patience with labor completed the arrangement. We’ve lived very comfortably everafter or since.

Nov 17th. Benoitvaux- Still cold- went to Longabaeup sur Air for supplies for the ambulance. learned that our next stop is to be near Commercy. Hope I’ll get an opportunity to visit my old friends, especially the Gagnona- very pleasant folks + many pleasant memories of my stay at the Hopital Mixte. Everything points towards going home. I sure hope we aren’t to be disappointed. I want to get back home to be near Gertrude and help keep her happy.

Nov 18th. Benoitvaux- From here we left by truck train about 9 AM of the morning of the th (sic) for Frabecount near Neufchateaux. A cold, tiresome ride of about 125 kilometers. Mov to Frabecount. Our headquarters in an old farm just on the edge of town. The General and his staff billeted in the Castle Bourlemont. Visited the Castle and also the Basilique of Jean D’Arc near Domremy. Also was in Neufchateau several times. Visited my old friend Madame Sibillottta at Baguilles-a-Meuse. I have left a box, containing some clothes and a variety of little keepsakes, with her before I went to Meaux to the French School of Transportation a year ago. She was very pleased to see me again. She had begun to think that I had been killed as I had not written as I promised to do.

Nov (sic) to 30th. Montigny-le-Roi. We are now about 47 kilometres south of Neufchateaux in a little village of Haute Marne. Headquarters is located in the building opposite the Marne and our Infirmary is the next building. We set up our infirmary in the shed of Mr. Bolander, the ‘Village blacksmith’. He is a very accommodatinf Frenchman and seems to want us to be comfortable.

Dec Montigny-le-Roi. It has rained nearly every day and the mud is very plenitful everywhere. There are many sick and I’m kept very busy from morning ‘till night trying to keep the boys the best care possible. I’ve been over to Provenchers several times to visit some sick French people. I’ve tried to do what I could to help the fellows through this critical period. (there was an influenza epidemic world wide at this time. Eva’s husband had succumbed to it.) I hate like hell to see these boys who have been through so much and who have done themselves proud go under at this late date because of lack of medical care. I’ve done what I could and I have the minor satisfaction for having put my best into the work. I’m fully paid and I’m mightily glad I had the splendid opportunities to help the fellows that have borne the brunt of the fighting. They are heroes to a man and worthy representatives of their mother country, good old U.S.A.

1919 Jan 1st. Montigny-le-Roi- Haute-Marne. The new year started off well, as it was almost fair weather this morning. This afternoon, it was cloudy and well in keeping with the rotten weather we have had for the past two months, Nothing much doing.

Jan 2nd. Montigny-le-Roi- Rainy + cold. Capt. Helff left on his furlough.

Jan 3rd. Montigny-le-Roi- Rainy as usual. Spent most of the day working in a new blouse. Sewed on Chevrons, service stripes and David refitted the collar. Wrote a letter to Gertrude in the morning. I’m might glad that my little girl has found herself. I knew she would play up if trials came a bit hard. I ask for no greater priviledge and pleasure than to go back to her and share her life. I want to show here that I am a real man and that I love her and honor here above all else this world holds. I want to be her man and I want her to be my woman. I want to surround her with all the comforts and niceties of home life. Oh, just to see a happy home develop and come into being after all these months of longing. I’ll be a happy man when I can have a house where my little girl can reign + sing love’s sweet songs.

Jan 4th. Montigny-le-Roi- Not much sickness- went for a hike with Dodge to Fanselau to Avracourt, Recourt + home, about 14 kilometres. It was the first time I've been outside this town since I came here. Just a grand day for a hike. I enjoyed every minute and came home real tired.

Jan 5th. Montigny-le-Roi- Have been enjoying a rotten toothache and have not done much except what was necessary.

Jan 6th-12th. Montigny-le-Roi- Am back on my notes but as life here has been much the same each day, I haven’t had much to write about. I’ve laid around quite a bit, as my bowels have been deranged. Our stay here in Montigny is nearly over as orders are in for us to move to Le Mans, the division starting to move on the 18th. As I look back over my experiences here in the little village, it is with pleasure that I recall the many little homely incidents that have added much to make life full and pleasant. I’ve learned to love these peasant folk, I’ve eaten at their tables, I’ve listened to their tales, I’ve played with their little ones, I’ve ministered to their sick, I know them as they are, yet I love them while I pity them for their narrow little lives. The children are real children, sweet and pure and I love them. Often as I’ve held them in my arms, I’ve had most tender thoughts of home and it’s tender associations. Some day I hope I may have a real home and little ones, too, of my own. I’ll be good to them and try to give them the very best this old worlds holds for them.

Jan 13th. Montigy-le-Roi- Everything is fine today. Not many sick. I’m might happy and life is sweet to me. I’m a might fortunate man, my life and experiences over here have been the very best and now on the eve of going home to the land I love, to the gentle association of dear friends and to the little woman I love, I have nothing but thanksgiving and praise to Him who has kept me through these past months of turmoil and strife. With his help, I’ll try to be the man he wants me to be.

INSCRIPTION AT THE ALTER (sic) OF THE CATHEDRAL OF VERDUN

NICHOLAUS EPISCOPUS AMICUS VESTER DORMIT ORATE PRO EO.

OBIT DIE 10 AVGA NNI 1575 AETATIC SUVE ANNO 57

Verdun- Oct. 11 1918