Page 7 of Grandpa’s Diary – flipping flapjacks with a saw

March 6, 2009
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Eventually we started again, but alas, in a few miles we turned south missing Paris, the same as we did London. The biggest city was Tours, and we stopped in a suburban station for a few minutes. Continuing on, we finally debarked at Charenton (Cher) almost the exact center of France, where we were billeted in a barn for some three weeks. The Cher river ran through town and we could swim in it. One day Newt Monk started to dive from a rock into the Cher. He was clad, only, in his wristwatch and just as he left the rock someone yelled, “Newt, your watch!” I never saw a more agonized look. I don’t know if the watch was spoiled, but presume it was. I do not remember much about the stay there except went to a traveling movie show once (it was terrible) and once went on a hike to Ainay-le Chateau which is about 7 kms. At Charenton I attained the age of 22 and it seems my birthday was not a French National Holiday (August 23, 1918) so no celebration.

More 40s and 8s and by slow stages we got to Is-Sur-Tille (Cote d’Or) where we stayed in the freight yards several days, finally moving on to Langres from where we hiked to St. Geomes (Haute Marne) and another barn for a few days. A 40 and 8 is a freight car supposed to carry 40 men or 8 horses. As it said “Quarante hommes ou huit chevaux.” Langres was A.P.O. 714 which was Warren’s A.P.O. for a while. [note - not sure who Warren is, but that's a family first name for us so probably kin.] I did not see Warren, but he wrote me a letter from there. I recall washing clothes on the flat stones besides the ladies of the neighborhood. One day we hiked to a cave of Sabinus and saw a little spring that was the source of the Marne.

Next move was to some place near to the front lines, going by truck. I think it was called St. Jean. There we lived in dugouts and for the first time were issued sidearms (45s). The Signal Corps is a non-combatant unit and “is supposed to fire only in self defense.” One of our boys, Quigley, drew a picture of our dugout, #9, and I have a copy of it drawn by Myra’s cousin, Mrs. Burnham of Bristol. [Note: I have this framed, but in a box in the attic.] Our dugout was noted for rats, who would skid on the metal cans of hard candy we had bought from the YMCA in Langres, and land on our faces, then scurry away. One of our boys was Jim Ballantine, whom we called the “Iowa Bearcat.” Once when he was asleep someone lifted up the end of his blanket and pinched his toe. He jumped and I never in my life heard such a yell. One of the pleasant(?) jobs was to go into the rainy woods and roll up the Germans’ rusty barbed wire – the Germans had been driven back. I remember the cook making flapjacks and turning them over with a saw. He would flex the saw, put one end under a pancake and it would go 5 or 6 feet in the air, turn over several times, and land on the uncooked side. I was fascinated by the performance and watched him do it several times without missing once.

Our next move was to Mousson Hill, next to Pont a Mousson. There was a Church standing on top of the hill. It was said that the Germans didn’t knock it down because they wanted to use the steeple to sight on in firing.

Our wireless station was dug out of solid rock on the French side of the hill, and there was only a footpath for access to it, with a sheer drop in front. The first signals we heard when our set was in business was NAD, Charlestown, Mass. navy yard.