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Soldier's Diary : Chapter 20 - "The Signing of the Armistice"

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Soldier's Diary : Chapter 20 - "The Signing of the Armistice"

November 8, 1918

We leave La Houssoye in British lorries, and busses formerly used on the streets of London and other large English cities. They carry us to Roisel and here we are loaded on a British light railway train. As we leave Roisel it begins to drizzle rain and as we have our raincoats in our packs we haven't any protection against it. It drizzles rain all the way to where we go and the train stops often. As we stop at different places English and Australian soldiers tell us the armistice has been signed and they ask us why we are going toward the front. As the night grows on it becomes cold and that makes us more uncomfortable.

November 9, 1918

We reach Brancourt at 1 a. m. wet and disgusted. After resting a few minutes we leave this town on the march, taking a road that leads to Premont. Thinking we were to stop for the night at this town we make a fast march, but when we reach Premont we rest 10 minutes and continue on through the town, taking the road that leads to Maretz. Reaching this place we are billeted in an old rope factory. Hot coffee is served as soon as the cooks can make it. Packs are then unrolled and beds spread for the night. Some of the fellows are asleep. We get up at 8 a. m. and get breakfast. We haven't anything to do all day but stroll about the town. There are several companies of English soldiers in this town, all of them belonging to the artillery. There are also a few Australians billeted in the town near us. We hear rumor upon rumor that the armistice has been signed, but are unable to get any official news.

November 10, 1918

The first and third platoons work on the light railway near the town making any necessary repairs and getting the road in shape to run a train over so troops and ammunition can be sent to the front. These platoons are relieved in the afternoon by the second and fourth platoons. Our quarters are moved from the old rope factory to a building formerly used as a cannon repair shop, which is about two hundred yards away. We hear more rumors about the armistice being signed, but still we are unable to get any official word to that effect.

November 11, 1918

The entire company works on the railroad in the morning. Fast progress has and is being made on this road and the colonel expects the work to be finished soon. We take lunch with us, so at noon we stop for dinner. While we are sitting along the track eating our lunch an old Frenchman, driving a donkey, rides up to where we are. He says, "Allemandfinis." After seeing a sheet of paper he has with some of the things that Germany must surrender according to the terms of the armistice, we believe that at last the war is over, for a while at least. But there is no yelling. The fellows take the news calmly, talking of the past few weeks and making guesses as to when the division will return to the states. After lunch we continue our work. At night all the English, Australian, and American soldiers in the town, along with the few civilians that have come to reclaim their homes during the past few days, stage a big celebration. Flare lights are sent up all night by the soldiers in the town.

November 12, 1918

The battalion adjutant takes a lorry load of us fellows to Montebrain to dig around a destroyed church to try to locate a mine an old Frenchman living near claims the Germans planted before leaving the town. We dig a trench around the church, but fail to find any signs of a mine. We then fill this trench and return to Maretz via Bohain. After returning to Maretz I get permission from the adjutant to go to Bohain, reaching this town at sun-down. I finally succeeded in buying a Daily Mail, paying three francs for one. It tells of the signing of the armistice and of the celebrations in London and Paris. After buying the paper I catch a lorry going to Premont. Reaching this town I get off and take a road leading to the right that goes to Maretz. There are no lorries running on this road and I have to walk to this town. I get in about 10 p. m. After reading the paper I have to take it to the battalion adjutant.

November 13, 1918

I do not have any thing to do all day. In the afternoon I ride to Bohain and get a Daily Mail from the Canadian that sells them every afternoon, returning to Maretz after sundown. We are expecting to leave this town any day and go back to La Houssoys. Scores of civilians return to Maretz to reclaim their former homes. The town has suffered from shell fire along with the rest of the French towns.

November 14, 1918

I make another trip to Bohain in the afternoon for the purpose of getting a newspaper. The company is idle all day, having completed its work on the railroad. The captain says we are to leave Maretz soon. English soldiers pass through the town in the afternoon marching toward La Cateau.

November 15, 1918

We move our quarters from the former cannon repair shop to a barn and another old building on the edge of the town. The fourth platoon is billeted in the barn, which is not very far from where we have just moved from. I leave Maretz at 5 p. m., riding part of the way back in an English lorry. I got several papers, so I let some of the other fellows have a few to read.

November 16, 1918

We hike to Busigny and catch a box-car train and begin our trip to La Houssoys where we were formerly stationed. The division is scattered in the villages and towns near this place and Ameins. We hope to leave the British fourth army, which we have been attached to, soon and go to the American area. Night finds us still riding, so we take the blanket that we always carry on the top of our pack and make as comfortable a bed as possible and go to sleep.

November 17, 1918

We get off the train at Villers-Bretneaux (I am not sure of the last part of this name) at 4 a. m. and hike to La Houssoye, a hike of several kilometers, reaching this place at 8 a. m. We pass through Corbis, where men of the 27th division are stationed, on our hike to La Houssoye. We are billeted in the same buildings we formerly occupied. The captain notifies us that the company will be personally inspected in a day or two.

November 18, 1918

We turn in our British rifles and bayonets in the morning to the supply sergeant, who in turn checks and turns them over to the regimental supply sergeant. Before we were allowed to turn cleaning. In the afternoon at 3:30 the captain has a "personal appearance" inspection, looking each man over carefully to see if any buttons are missing from his overcoat or if there are any stains on his clothes anywhere.

November 19, 1918

I am excused from all formations in order that I may help the supply sergeant. In the afternoon I go to the 118th infantry headquarters to visit a cousin. I return to La Houssoys late at night. The fellows in the billet I sleep in have a large fire and are frying potatoes and eggs purchased from the French. It is nearly twelve o'clock before the fellows have all "turned in" for the night.

November 20, 1918

The company drills from 8 to 10 a. m. and from 1 to 2 p. m. There is nothing else to do for the rest of the day. We wash our dirty clothing and get the rest of equipment in good shape. We are expecting to leave La Houssoys in a few more hours and begin the trip to the American area.

Reprinted with permission from The Charlotte Observer. Copyright The Charlotte Observer.

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