Joseph Shuter Smith.

Over there and back in three uniforms, being the experiences of an American boy in the Canadian, British and American armies at the front and through No man's land online

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Columbia Wini\}tviitp
in tfje Citp of i^eto gorb



H. W. WILSOfsf



1st Lieut. Joseph S. Smith, U. S. A.



Being the Experiences of an American

Boy in the Canadian, British and

American Armies at the Front and

through No Man's Land


Lieut. Joseph S. Smith

Author of
"Trench Warfare"

New York

E. P. Dutton & Go.

681 Fifth Avenue

MAR 2 2 1929

Copyright, 1918

340. :3I

Printed in the United States of America


2nd Lieut. C. G. ROSS

APRIL 2^, 191 7


Facing Page
1st Lieut. Joseph S. Smith, U. S. A Frontispiece

The Author in His Uniform as a Private in the

Canadian Overseas Force 14

A Wiring Party Surprised by a Star Shell 88

The Bull Ring 96

Red Cross Stretcher-bearers at Work 178

Their First Experience of Gas 180

The Author in His Uniform as 2nd Lieutenant

in a Scotch Regiment 192

The StafI Going on a Round of Inspection Behind

the Front Line 220

"Good-by, Old Man." The Bombardier and His

Dying Friend 224



Lieutenant Joseph S. Smith is an American,
born in Philadelphia. He enlisted in the
Twenty-ninth Vancouver Battalion in Canada
in 1 914 and went to France with the Second
Canadian division to be sent over seas. He
served with the Canadians until August, 191 6,
when he received a commission in the British
army and was attached to the Royal Scots.
He was at the front with this regiment until
August, 1 91 7, when he resigned his commis-
sion to come home and put on the uniform
of his own country. He is now an officer in
the army of the United States.

During his three years of fighting he has
been through every big battle on the British
end of the Western front, including St. Eloi,
the Somme, the Ancre and Arras.


In August, 1 9 14, I was a cowboy on a
ranch in the interior of British Columbia.
How good a cowboy I would not undertake
to say, because if there were any errands off
the ranch the foreman seemed better able
to spare me for them than any one else in
the outfit.

One ambition, and one only, possessed me
in those days. And it was not to own the
ranch! All in the world I wanted was to
accumulate money enough to carry me to
San Francisco when the Panama exposition
opened in the autumn. After that I didn't
care. It would be time enough to worry
about another job when I had seen the fair.

Ordinarily I was riding the range five
days in the week. Saturdays I was sent on
a thirty-five mile round trip for the mail.
It was the most delightful day of them all



for me. The trail lay down the valley of
the Fraser and although I had been riding
it for months it still wove a spell over me
that never could be broken. Slipping rap-
idly by as though escaping to the sea from
the grasp of the hills that hemmed it in
on all sides the river always fascinated me.
It was new every time I reached its edge.

An early Saturday morning in August
found me jogging slowly along the trail to
Dog Creek. Dog Creek was our post office
and trading center. This morning, how-
ever, my mind was less on the beauties of
the Fraser than on the Dog Creek hotel.
Every week I had my dinner there before
starting in mid-afternoon on my return to
the ranch, and this day had succeeded one
of misunderstanding with "cookie" wherein
all the boys of our outfit had come off sec-
ond best. I was hungry and that dinner
at the hotel was going to taste mighty good.

Out there on the range we had heard
rumors of a war in Europe. We all talked



it over in the evening and decided it was
another one of those fights that were always
starting in the Balkans. One had just been
finished a few months before and we
thought it was about time another was
underway so we gave the matter no par-
ticular thought. But when I got within
sight of Dog Creek I knew something was
up. The first thing I heard was that some-
body had retreated from Mons and that the
Germans were chasing them. So, the Ger-
mans were fighting anyway.

Then a big Indian came up to me as I
was getting off my pony and told me Eng-
land's big white chief was going to war, or
had gone. He wasn't certain which, but he
was going too. Would I?

I laughed at him, "What do you mean,
go to war?'' I asked him.

I wasn't English; I wasn't Canadian. I
was from the good old U. S. A. and from
all we could understand the States were
neutral. So, I reasoned, I ought to be neu-



tral too, and I went in to see what there
might be to eat.

There was plenty of excitement in the
dining room. Under its influence I began
to look at the thing in a different light.
While I was an alien, I had lived in Can-
ada. I had enjoyed her hospitality. Much
of my education was acquired in a Canadian
school. 'Canadians were among my dearest
friends. Some of these very fellows, there
in Dog Creek, were "going down" to enlist.

All the afternoon we argued about it.
Politics, economics, diplomacy; none of
them entered into the question. In fact we
hadn't the faintest idea what the war was
all about. Our discussion hinged solely on
what we, personally, ought to do. England
was at war. She had sent out a call to all
the Empire for men; for help. Dog Creek
heard and was going to answer that call.
Even if I were an alien I had been in that
district for more than a year and I owed
it to Dog Creek and the district to join up
with the rest.


By that time I wanted to go. I was crazy
to go! It would be great to see London
and maybe Paris and some of the other fam-
ous old towns — if the war lasted long
enough for us to get over there. I began
to bubble over with enthusiasm, just think-
ing about it. So I made an appointment
with some of the boys for the next evening,
rode back to the ranch and threw the mail
and my job at the foreman.

A week later we were in Vancouver.
Then things began to get plainer — to some
of the fellows. We heard of broken
treaties, "scraps of paper," "Kultur," the
rights of nations, big and small, "freedom
of the seas," and other phrases that meant
less than nothing to most of us. It was
enough for me, then, that the country which
had given me the protection of its laws
wanted to help England. I trusted the gov-
ernment to know what it was doing.

Before we were in town an hour we
found ourselves at a recruiting office. By
the simple expedient of moving my birth-


place a few hundred miles north I became
a Canadian and a member of the expe-
ditionary force — a big word with a big

Christmas came and I was in a well-
trained battalion of troops with no more
knowledge of the war than the retreat from
Mons, the battles of the Marne and the
Aisne and an occasional newspaper report
of the capture of a hundred thousand troops
here and a couple of hundred thousand
casualties somewhere else. We knew, at
that rate, it couldn't possibly last until we
got to the other side, but we prayed loudly
that it would.

In April we heard of the gassing of the
first Canadians at Ypres. Then the casualty
lists from that field arrived and hit Van-
couver with a thud. Instantly a change
came over the city. Before that day, war
had been romance; a thing far away, about
which to read and over which to wave flags.
It was intangible, impersonal. It was the




The Author in His Uniform as a Private in the Canadian
Overseas Force


same attitude the States exhibited in the au-
tumn of '17. Then suddenly it became real.
This chap and that chap; a neighbor boy,
a fellow from the next block or the next
desk. Dead! Gassed! This was war;
direct, personal, where you could count the
toil among your friends.

Personally, I thought that what the Ger-
mans had done was a terrible thing and I
wondered what kind of people they might
be that they could, without warning, deliver
such a foul blow. In a prize ring the
Kaiser would have lost the decision then
and there. We wondered about gas and
discussed it by the hour in our barracks.
Some of us, bigger fools than the rest, in-
sisted that the German nation would repu-
diate its army. But days went by and noth-
ing of the kind occurred.

It was then I began to take my soldiering
a little more seriously. If a nation wanted
to win a war so badly that it would damn
its good name for ever by using means ruled



by all humanity as beyond the bounds of
civilized warfare, it must have a very big
object in view. And I started — late it is
true — to obtain some clue to those objects.

May found us at our port of embarkation
for the voyage to England. The news of
the Lusitania came over the wires and that
evening our convoy steamed. For the first
time, I believe, I fully realized I was a
soldier in the greatest war of all the ages.

Between poker, ^'blackjack" and "crown
and anchor" with the crew, we talked over
the two big things that had happened in our
soldier lives — gas and the Lusitania. And
to these we later added liquid fire.

Our arguments, our logic, may have been
elemental, but I insist they struck at the
root. I may sum them up thus: Germany
was not using the methods of fighting that
could be countenanced by a civilized nation.
As the nation stood behind its army in all
this barbarism there must be something in-
herently lacking in it despite its wonderful



music, its divine poetry, its record in the
sciences. It, too, must be barbarian at
heart. We agreed that if it should win this
war it would be very uncomfortable to
belong to one of the allied nations, or even
to live in the world at all, since it was cer-
tain German manners and German methods
would not improve with victory. And we,
as a battalion, were ready to take our places
in France to back up our words with deeds.

A week or so later we landed in England.
A marked change had come over the men
since the day we left Halifax. Then most
of us regarded the whole war, or our part
in it, as more or less of a lark. On land-
ing we were still for a lark, but something
else had come into our consciousness. We
were soldiers fighting for a cause — a cause
clear cut and well defined — the saving of
the world from a militarily mad country
without a conscience.

At our camp in England we saw those
boys of the first division who had stood in



their trenches in front of Ypres one bright
April morning and watched with great
curiosity a peculiar looking bank of fog
roll toward them from the enemy's line.
It rolled into their trenches and in a second
those men were choking and gasping for
breath. Their lungs filled with the rotten
stuff and they were dying by dozens in the
most terrible agony, beating off even as they
died a part of the ''brave" Prussian army as
it came up behind those gas clouds; came up
with gas masks on and bayonets dripping
with the blood of men lying on the ground
fighting, true, but for breath. A great
army that Prussian army! And what a
"glorious" victory! Truly should the Hun
be proud!

So far as I am concerned, Germany did
not lose the war at the Battle of the Marne,
at the Aisne or at the Yser. She lost it
there at Ypres, on April 22, 1915.

It is no exaggeration when I say our
eagerness to work, to complete our train-
ing, to learn how to kill so we could take


our place in the line and help fight pff those
mad people, grew by the hour. They
stiffened our backs and made us fighting
mad. We saw what they had done to our
boys from Canada ; they and their gas. The
effect on our battalion was the effect on the
whole army and, I am quite sure, on the rest
of the world. They put themselves beyond
the pale. They compelled the world to
look on them as mad dogs and to treat them
as mad dogs.

We trained in England until August
when we went to France. To all outward
appearances we were still happy, carefree
soldiers, all out for a good time. We were
happy! We were happy we were there,
and down deep there was solid satisfaction,
not on account of the different-colored
books that were issuing from every chan-
cellory in Europe but from a feeling
rooted in white men's hearts, backed by the
knowledge of Germany's conduct, that we
were there in a righteous cause.

Our second stop in our march toward



the line was a little village which had been
occupied by the Boches in their mad dash
toward Paris. Our billet was a farm just
on the edge of the village. The housewife
permitted us in her kitchen to do our cook-
ing, at the same time selling us coffee. We
stayed there two or three days and became
quite friendly with her even if she did scold
us for our muddy boots.

Two pretty little kiddies played around
the house, got in the way, were scolded and
spanked and in the next instant loved to
death by Madame. Then she would parade
them before a picture of a clean-cut looking
Frenchman in the uniform of the army and
say something about ''apres la guerre."

In a little crib to one side of the room was
a tiny baby, neglected by Madame except
that she bathed and fed it. The neglect was
so pronounced that our curiosity was
aroused. The explanation came through
the estaminet gossip and later from Ma-
dame herself.



A Hun captain of cavalry had stayed
there a few days in August, '14, and not
only had he allowed his detachment full
license in the village but had abused his
position in the house in the accustomed
manner of his bestial class.

As Madame told us her story; how her
husband had rushed off to his unit with the
first call for reserves, leaving her alone with
two children, and how the blond beast had
come, our fists clenched and we boiled with

That is German war! But it is not all.

What will be the stories that come out
of what is now occupied France?

This French woman's story was new to us
then but, like other things in the war, as
we moved through the country it became
common enough with here and there a re-
volting detail more horrible than anything
we had heard before.



Now and then Germany expresses aston-
ishment at the persistence of the British and
the French. They are a funny people, the
Germans. There are so many things they
do not, perhaps cannot, understand. They
never could understand why Americans,
such as myself, who enlisted in a spirit of
adventure and with not a single thought on
the justice of the cause, could experience
such a marked change of feeling as to
regard this conflict as the most holy crusade
in which a man could engage.

It is a holy crusade ! Never in the history
of the world was the cause of right more
certainly on the side of an army than it
is to-day on the side of the Allies. We who
have been through the furnace of France
know this.

I only say what every other American
who has been fighting under an alien flag,
said when our country came in: ^Thank
God we have done it. Some boy, Wilson,
believe me!"

"We^re offP'

"Y're a blinkin' liar! We ain't moved F'

"We have! Come and see!"

So Tommy and I clattered toward the
deck to find out, but alas! an irritable ser-
geant ordered us back.

"You want to get us torpedoed, you
blamed fools," he called. "Down below
with them cigarettes."

So Tommy and I knew we were at
last crossing to France. We tripped as
lightly as new hobnailed boots would let us
down the companion stairs and into the
smoking room. Well named it was! A
Shanghai opium den would have looked
like a daisy-covered field beside it. Squat-
ting and squeezed into that little place
were a company of men, every one smoking.
All the portholes were closed and there was
not a ventilator to be seen.



^^Hey, fellows, we're off," Tommy

"Off our nuts," growled the company
grouch. "Talk about your holes of Cal-

"Ain't no motion," the company "boob"

The old tub lurched before a sea.

"God a'mighty, we're torpedoed!" some-
one groaned.

"Too bad you ain't," retorted the grouch.

So, good-naturedly gibing, expectant and
excited, wc lay there and were carried out
and away across the Channel toward the
Great Adventure. And the further Eng-
land dropped behind the rougher our lot

"Thank God I didn't go in to be a sailor,"
came a scared voice from a corner. "Oh,
oh, I'm sick! Oh, fellows, quit smoking!'*

Those of us who could smoke paid no
attention, and those who were not smoking
were too sick to notice anything else.



Coming down to the port, we had had
a long march — fourteen miles — with full
equipment and a lot of nice new clothes.
Now, the longer a man marches, the more
everything that he is not actually wearing
seems perfectly useless baggage. I am
sorry to say that Tommy and I shed on that
long road quite a bit of stuff that cost the
government real money. Who among the
inhabitants of that particular bit of country
benefited by our added comfort we didn't
know. Furthermore, we didn't care. But
it was very necessary, now that the march
was over, to replenish our kit before the
next inspection, and this seemed to be the
right moment.

Quietly we began to look around under
the cloud of smoke for some one who was
asleep or, equally good for our purpose,
some one with that don't-care-if-I-die look,
from which there could be no escaping.
We found them — two chaps close together
— and completed our kit just as our com-



pany officer called down: ^'Kits on, boys;
we are coming into dock." And for the
first time in the nine months we had known
him, his voice seemed to reflect a bit of

We scrambled into our kits and up the
stairs onto the deck, eager for the first
glimpse of France.

It was dark, and I don't know just what
we had expected to see, but I was disap-
pointed. There, in front of us, was an
ordinary shed, lit with funny looking lamps.
It was just such a pier shed as you will
see in New York or Seattle. It didn't look
at all as France should look. To me,
France was a land of romance, a land of
beauty and laughter and green hills and
brilliant blue skies. I was willing to make
some allowances for the months of war, and
still it would fit into my dreams. But that
old, dreary-looking, black shed spoiled
everything. To complete the disillusion
the sergeant bruskly asked me if I was a



"bloomin' Thomas Cook tourist." So I
hustled along until I found Tommy sliding
slowly past a French soldier.

"Say!" he whispered. "Ain't that the
funniest looking gink you ever saw? Look
at that heluva bayonet, too."

We stopped until our sergeant should
catch up with us, and gazed at the French
"Tommy." He was middle-aged— old, he
seemed — and funny looking, too, as he stood
there under a lamp with his rifle at the
shoulder and a long thin bayonet sticking
on the end. We grinned, and he grinned.

"Bon jour," said Tommy, regardless of
the fact that it was half-past two in the

"Hello, Tommee," was the smiling reply.

"Holy gee! Can you beat that? He
knows my name," said the astonished

"Come on, you men. Get out of this."
The sergeant was back again and we could
exchange no further amenities, but Tommy



always believed that French Johnny knew
his name.

We caught up with our platoon just as it
was being surrounded. The women of the
place had turned out with baskets of apples
to sell. Tommy ''bon joured" again and
added to the Babel in the little groups we
formed while waiting to march ofif. The
French girls chatted with us in broken Eng-
lish and we were astonished to see that they
spoke better English than we did French.

After a bit of puffing and panting on the
part of our officers we moved off, following
a road by the river, a little, bow-legged
Frenchman with a lantern acting as guide.

The tramp of a thousand pair of feet on
block paving makes quite a row and as we
marched along windows wxnt up all down
the street and all sorts of unintelligible ques-
tions were hurled at us. It made me think
of the ride of Paul Revere. We started to
sing, but the colonel stopped us, and it was
a good thing he did, for just then we turned



a corner and saw the fellows in front grad-
ually going into the air until we, in the rank
behind, were looking at the backs of their
knees. That hill is famous all through the

^'Strike me pink!" gasped Tommy in a
few minutes. But he couldn't say another
word. Breathless and speechless, we strug-
gled to the top and the camp.

It was a canvas camp, with big oil flares
burning for light, and the wind swept the
flames toward us. To me it seemed as
though great fiery arms, symbolic of what
was waiting for us not far beyond, were
stretched out to welcome us. Told off to
our tents, we threw aside our packs and
dropped down pretty much exhausted. I
had just got nicely settled when along came
the sergeant with his flashlight. He was
pulling off the blanket from every head. He
pulled off mine.

^'You're for guard. Fall in at once, light
marching order!"


How that man loved me!

So it came that early morning found me
marching up and down the edge of the hill.
Behind me, the sun was just peeping over
the horizon. Below, the town unfolded
itself, the steeple of the big cathedral rising
almost to the level of the camp. Just be-
yond was the harbor with its mosquito fleet
of fishing boats and the old transports that
had brought us and some other battalions
safely across the Channel, already taking on
their cargo of leave men, joyfully bound for
Blighty. Off in the distance dozens of
locomotives, long trains of tiny cars behind
them, were dashing here and there in an
aimless sort of way.

As the sun crept out it brought with it
those energetic French women with their
apples, chocolate and cigarettes, until the
camp was swamped under them. Shrewd
and sharp as a razor they were in a bargain
and they cursed loudly and fluently in Eng-
lish, not understanding a word of it.



About eleven o'clock we fell in ready to
march to the train and we had the pleasure
of marching down that hill. As we moved
along, the kiddies followed, singing ^Tip-
perary." It was still very much the vogue
then. Their quaint, broken English made
us all laugh. Every time they stopped we
cheered and then they would start all over

The thing that struck us most as we went
off through the town was the amount of
black that was worn. Even in those days
there seemed to be scarcely a woman that
did not carry about with her this badge of
mourning for a man who had paid the big
price for La Belle France.

We were too excited, though, to pay
much attention even to this evidence of war
— an excitement the townsfolk did not seem
to share. That rather disgusted us. They
didn't even stop on the sidewalk to look as
we marched by. It wasn't because they
were fed up; they were just blase. If sing-


ing troops had not marched through one
day, and hospital trains had not come in
one night, then great would have been the
chatter and serious would have been the
speculation in the cafes and on the street

When we got into the station we were
halted facing our carriages. We were
luckier than most of the battalions. We had
passenger cars. Most of the transport con-
sisted of the miniature freight cars. They
started piling us in. We filled the compart-
ments and then they began all over again
until by comparison, sardines in a tin were
loose in a swimming pool.

With grunts and groans and creakings
from the locomotive we pulled out, bound
"up the line." We sang. We shouted greet-
ings to everyone we passed. We threw our
iron ration biscuits to little kiddies that
shouted wildly after us, ''Souvenir, Cana-
dian!" We slept, ate, talked and groused,
and still the old train rumbled along. We



passed canals, tree-lined roads, villages,
camps, other trains; troop trains that an-
swered our shouts with cheers, hospital
trains that brought us to silence because we
were awed by the presence of men who had
walked forward into the unknown beyond
and had come back mutilated.

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Online LibraryJoseph Shuter SmithOver there and back in three uniforms, being the experiences of an American boy in the Canadian, British and American armies at the front and through No man's land → online text (page 1 of 10)