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Dr. Strong.

Pristina is not far from Mitravitza,
DOW the temporary capital. The latter
is situated at the end of a branch rail-
way near the border of Montenegro.
The railway leaves the main line at
Skoplje and follows a branch of the Var-
dar River through narrow mountain
passes to the great plain of Cosovo, upon
which the Serbs made their last stand
against the Turks in a great battle 500
years ago. Pristina lies at the foot of the
hills on the northern side of the plain,
near where the battle took place. The
Serbs have a very strong sentiment
about this region, where every hill and
piece of ground has for them historic
meaning. They say that not to have
seen Cosovo and the old church called
Grachanitza, in which eveiy soldier of
the Serbian army took communion be-



fore the great battle with the Tuiks, is
not to have seen Serbia at all.

After finishing the work at Pristina
arrangements were made for some of our
men to go to Mitra\'itza, where Dr.
Osbom, who had recently received a
degree in public health at the Harvard
Medical School, took diarge. Other men
went with me to Prisren, situated to the
south and east near the border of Al-
bania, and 50 kilometers from the rail-
way. There we set up our oots in a
large, vacant room in the barracks near
the town and took our meak at a restau-
rant, where, by spedal arrangement, we
obtained an abundance of fruit and
vegetables, a welcome change after the
restrictied fare of the springtime.

The work in Prisren was similar to
that in Pristina, and the authorities,
with one exception, gave every assist-
ance. The mayor oi the town was well
educated and refined. He had been a
professor somewhere before entering on
oflicial life, and was now working en-
thusiastically to institute modem im-
provements in this old town with its
narrow, crooked streets, and its jumble
of primitive buildings. Before the out-
break of the present war he had had
profiles drawn of all the streets and had
made plans for straightening and widen-
ing the principal thorou^ares. He
showed us chemical analyses oi the
water, which came from springs on a
hill above the town, and wished to know
which of the several supplies was the
best. One of our engineers visited the
sources, inspected visible conduits, and
made arrangements to have maps drawn
of the distribution of the water from
each source. It was abo arranged that
bacteriological tests should be made at
different points along the distributing
lines, and at the street-fountains where
the water was delivered, in order to
detect pollution. The mayor expressed



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397



himself aa delighted with these ar-
rangements, but owing to delays, al-
most impossible to avoid in Serbia, this
part of the work was still unfinished
when the fumigating and vaccinating
had been completed.

Toward the end of August I left Pris-
ren to start for home. I shall not soon
forget that beautiful morning of late
August, the soft, fragrant air, the misty
plain, the wooded hillade, the rugged
mountain-nmge whitened by the first
snow of the autumn, and the quaint old
town with the tall poplar trees around
it, the white minarets among the red-
tiled roofs, and the old, gray Turkish
citadel above.

Dr. Strong and Dr. Sellards left Ser-
bia a few days after I did, and Dr. Grin-
neU a month before. Twelve members
of the Commission remained in Serbia
to prevent the spread of any outbreak of
contagious disease that might occur in
the coming winter, and to complete
some of the more extensive engineer-
ing work. Mr. Stuart, a Harvard en-
gineer, was left in charge by Dr.
Strong. Most of the others went to
Russia under the leadership of Dr. Cald-
well, to work among the German pris-
oners there.

Dr. Grinnell had a severe illness on his
way home, and Dr. Strong narrowly
escaped death from a most dangerous
form of malaria, which rendered him
unconscious in Salonika just before sail-
ing. It seems likely that he got the ma-
laria in Duracso, where he had gone, at
the request of Essad Pasha, to advise
about its prevention. At any rate, he
was exposed to it there from having lent
his mosquito netting to a woman in the
hotel who had n't any. No other mem-
bers of the Conmiission, so far as I know,
incurred any serious illness, and most of
them were not sick at alL



ExtraeUfrom Letters of F, C. Baker.

The following extracts from letters
written from the front by F. C. Baker,
S.B. '18, give vivid glimpses of the sec-
ond battle of Ypres, and also tell, in a
very human way, the life of a soldier in
active service. Baker, when last heard
from, was in England on sick leave.

About lat May.

I arrived with my little draft in the
early morning after three nights in the

train at railhead, a place called G .

It was a beautiful morning. We made
our toilet under the station pump,
mounted our steeds, and rode some eight

miles to a place called , where we

found corps headquarters, and were di-
rected to join our company at a camp
about three miles away. We soon ar-
rived at a camp of wooden huts and were
not long in finding those occupied by the
5th Division Cyclist Company. The
oflicers had three little huts to them-
selves near at hand. After lunch we
went over to the camp and heard Gen.
French make a speech to the remainder
of the brigade which had taken Hill

. It was an impressive sight.

They were formed up in a hollow square
and Gen. French spoke from a wagon in
the middle. They were a small crowd
for what had once been a brigade.

I had my first experience of "bog-
ling" on the pcni roads that day, and I
tell you it is uncomfortable work. On
some of the roads your bike literally
jumps from cobble to cobble. The lan-
guage of the men of my draft when they
first struck them in the morning was a
marvelous thing to hear. I set out to
find the 2d Battalion, which I heard

were resting on the other side of .

On the way I went through this town.
At that time, though its principal beau-
tiful buildings were ruined or badly
damaged, many of the houses were un-



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[Deoember,



touched, and you could see what a fine
old town it had been. Since then it has
been literally knocked to bits and not a
house unruined. As I see it now on the
afternoon of which I speak it was most
marvelously quiet with scarcely any
shell fire. I think I only saw two shells
pitch, and of course watched them with
some curiosity. It was undoubtedly the
quiet before the storm.

When I was back in our huts in the
evening Corah came and said that the

road was packed with refugees

pouring away from the direction of

and he could not understand

what it meant. Then we heard that one
of our airmen came in with a tale that
Frenchmen had been seen running hel-
ter-fikelter across country in the wrong
direction and on the wrong side of the
canal. The possibility of the seriousness
of the news hardly entered my head.
Corah and the others were inclined to
disbelieve the story and thought it an
eiaggeration, till it was confirmed by a
motor-bike dispatch rider, when they
considered it reliable. They bq^an to
look very glum and spoke of the very
worst possibilities.

A short time later, when we were din-
ing, a message came in from our divi-
sional headquarters to be ready to move
at once and to send two patrols — one

along the St. road and the other

along the road which is along this side of
the canal. The one patrol was to report
as far as possible the whereabouts of the

Germans on the St. road, the

other to report if there should be any
si^t of Germans attempting to cross
the canal. We then understood how se-
rious things were, and that the French
line which held that front must have
given way and come back miles. Not
knowing then that the new "gas'* stunt
had been used, or anything of its deadli-
ness if we had, the things we said about



the French do not bear repeating. Ev-
erything was packed up as quiddy as
possible. Corah, the interpreter, and
myself awaited further orders. I shall
never forget that wretched ni^t in the
semi-darkness of the hut. I was beastly
tired, I remember, and read TU^jiU, or
some such paper, which I found in a
comer, twice through to prevent myself
going to sleep.

About one o'clock a message came
along telling us to report at advanced
division headquarters in a chAteau near

. A few minutes later we started

away with the company to thu place.
It was a pitch-black night and the road
was choked with transport and ammuni-
tion wagons, and refugees fleeing in the
opposite direction, with their goods
packed on Flemish farm carts. By this
time the noise of gun fire to the north-
west of had become terrific. I had

never heard anything like it before; it
was awe-inspiring, to say the least of it.
As we got near our destinaticm I saw
Corah jump off and speak to some one
being carried in the opposite direction
in a side car, but I could not see who it
was. Soon afterwards I learned that it
was Watson being taken back to the
hospital wounded in the leg, and that
his whole patrol had been knocked out,
killed, or wounded. On arriving at the
chAteau where the division headquar-
ters was placed, we were told to lie up in
a bam next to it and await orders. I re-
member walking around the ch&teau in
the garden and its terrace for about an
hour and a half, very excited, and won-
dering what the dickens was going to
happen. Corah was with me when he
was not inside the chAteau and he told
me that the situation was very serious
and might mean a great disaster.

All this time messengers had been
coming in pretty frequently. In about a
quarter of an hour a messenger came



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along, and seeing Corah on the terrace,
immediately told him that he had been
sent out with a patrol, the Yeo-
manry, along the road, and that

they had run into the Germans miez-
pectedly and that he was the only one to
get away, the officer and the remaining
men having been killed or taken prison-
ers. Corah, after hearing the tale, took
the man into the General's room in the
ch&teau. Soon afterwards he came out
and told me that he had a job for me.
I was told to take ten men with me and
go along the same road as this division
of cavalry patrol had done in the direc-
tion of as far as I could, so as to

report where the enemy was, and to
bring back any information I could con-
cerning the position of the French on the
left. I should explain here that, thou^
I did not understand its full meaning
until later, there was during the early
hours of this night a gap of some two
miles between the French right and the
Canadian left.

We came under shell fire on the road
soon after we had started off, and I re-
member asking the sergeant to tell me,
as I did not know, when he considered
the shell fire sufficient to take cover. He
said, " You *11 know, sir, when they comes
very close and the pieces 'um around too
frequent." We crossed the canal and
went through a certain village which has
since earned the unenviable reputation
of "Dead Man's Comer." At the far-
ther end ci this, at the top of a consid-
erable little slope, which goes up through
the village, I stopped to look at my map
and accidentally saw the first dead man
I had ever seen. He was lying in a beam
of moonlight under a house, and I could
see a shrapnel hole in the side of his
head. We found the right road turning
to the left, and went on under a certain
amount of shrapnel fire. About a mile
and a half on, I was surprised to see some



troops \y\Tig in the ditch by the side of
the road, and at the same time realized
we were under rifle fire, — a sort of a
sighing swish in the air and then "phut "
as the bullet hits the ground. We got
behind a cottage that was standing alone
on the right-hand side of the road and
left our bikes there. I went over the road
and asked a sergeant in the ditch what
the troops were and what th^ were do-
ing. They were Canadians, and all he
could say was that they had been sent

back from support trenches near

and that there were about two battal-
ions in front of them. I must say it
came as a most agreeable surprise to
find these troops there, as I had been
given to understand that I should sail
along the road until I met the Huns,
probably before going very far, and I
was not anxious to meet the German
army without due warning. These
troops must have been detached from
elsewhere and sent along this road with
the idea of protecting the Canadian
flank, and arrived after the Yeomanry
patrol of which I spoke eariier had
passed along.

I took my sergeant and another man
and we went along behind the ditch
about 2000 yards, and then, speaking to
some of the Canadians there, was told
that their adjutant was in an old trench
the other side of the road. I ran over and
found the trench, jumped into it, and
finding the adjutant there, asked him if
he could give me any information. He
told me that they had advanced from

the village on the outskirts of ,

had advanced toward this road and then
along it: that there was in front of his
battalion a battalion of the Middlesex
regiment, and in front of them a battal-
ion of the Canadian Highlanders, and
that as far as he knew the Germans were
holding the undulation we could see on
the skyline. This was about 1200 yards



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[December,



off. I saw that troops were advancing
in open order across the fields in front of
us to the right of the road in the direc-
tion of the ridge. I thought I had bet-
ter go farther and try and find out ex-
actly what position was being held by
the Huns if I could. We went forward
as far as we could along the ditch. There
was a machine gun firing into the wood,
so after 800 yards we took shelter be-
hind a little red brick shrine such as are
built by the sides of the roads in Flan-
ders to cover an image of the Virgin
Mary. Behind it there was a wounded
sergeant of the Middlesex Regiment,
and the man who had brought him under
cover. He was hit in the upper part of
the leg, I remember, and looked awfully
pleased with himself, laughing and blaa-
pheming at the same time — laughing
because, perhaps, he had been in Flan-
ders all the winter and saw that rest had
been allotted h™, blaspheming and
swearing because the good Tommy blaa-
phemes and swears at all times, espe-
cially when he is wounded. They told
us that the troops to our right were the

Battalion of the Middlesex

Regiment. They were now beginning to
dig themselves in about 800 yards in
front of us, with spades and their in-
trenching toob.

We went forward to the line where the
Middlesex were digging, and then
crawled and ran on to the front line.
Thb was an old trench dug in some pre-
vious fighting over that country, and it
happened to be very useful. There was in
it a very mudli decreased battalion (A the
Canadian Highlanders and some of the
Middlesex. I asked questions of the C. O.
of the Canadians and found out pretty
well the position of the Germans here.
It extended as far as I could see on the
ridge from a farmhouse on the left where
th^ had a machine gun, or perhaps two,
along to another group of farm buildings



on the extreme right. On the right one
could see, through one's glasses, some
barbed-wire entanglements that they
had already got up. I don't think these
tro(^ could ever have got so near the
German position in daylight as they did
against the amount of rifle fire the Huns
were letting off, and except for the fact
that there was a good deal of "dead
ground "to help them — "dead ground,"
roughly speaking, is a hollow or undula-
tion so placed that it affords some cover
from enemy fire.

We got back as quickly as we could
and picked up the rest of the men. In
the mean time i^ battery of Canadian ar-
tillery came up, and as we started away
we saw it pitch a shell into one of the
farm buildings on the left of the German
position and set it on fire. We went
back a few hundred yards, took a road
to the left, got down to the canal for
some way, and found what tiuned out
to be the extreme right <A the Frendi
line. We told them about those troops
on their right which we had just left.
There were no tro<^ between these and
the French.

It was then about 6 o'clock a.m., and
we hurried back as fast as we could to
divisional headquarters. When we ar-
rived. Corah took me into the staff room
and I had to explain to General



on an enormous map what I had i
and learned. I was very embarrassed
in the presence of the great man and said
my say with extreme rapidity and prob-
ably not very intelligibly.

During this day, as I heard later, a
new and continuous line was formed
joining up on both sides with the troops
which I came across in the early morn-
ing on the road, as I described

above, and meeting the French line on
the left. More artillery sui^x>rt was
brought up and these regiments carried
the low line of hills of which I spoke.



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Why the Gennaiu did not try harder to
push through on thift broken line has
been a matter of speculation. Perhaps
they had not been able to discover dur-
ing the night just how things stood; per-
haps their gas stunt had been a greater
success than th^ ever anticipated and
they had not the troops ready. I will
end this letter here. I have made a much
longer story of it than it deserves and
used the first person rather too much,
but I expect most people remember their
first experience very clearly and attach
more importance to it than it merits.

Next day.
I will get on with the bloodthirsty nar-
rative where I left it in my letter of yes-
terday and tell you something of what
we struck in the remaining days of the
battle of the Canadians. Soon after I
got back, on the morning of which I
spoke, I was told to take a patrol, go
northwest to the French lines, which
continued our line on the left and ran
approximately to the canal, and report
their present position and any changes.
It was known at our division headquar-
ters, of course, that the French had been
strongly attacked and that in places
they had been driven across the canal,
and I suppose anxiety was felt as to
whether they were then holding their
own. I was to stay there all day and
send back reports every two hours. We
started off and reached the parts we
wanted at about 10 a.m. On the way I
passed a Canadian battery firing from
behind a hedge near the road and
stopped and asked some questions. The
Canadian officer in command told me
that th^ were one of the batteries that
had been nearly cut off on the previous

night near St. , that they had just

managed to get out, the gun crews using
their rifles, and that they had been sent
back here, and, so far as I could make



out, they were then shelling the German
line exactly in front of the place where I
had been in the early morning.

During the day I got most of my in-
formation, as to how the French were
faring in different phices in thdr line and
as to any changes in position, from offi-
cers in command of French batteries or
from French brigade headquarters. It
would have amused you to have heard
me trying to make the exact meaning of
my questions understood in bad French
with the help of gesticulations and the
map. However, most of them undeiv
stood, though more than one thou^t me
a possible spy, and asked for my bona
fidesy which fortunately I had in the
shape of a note from headquarters. I
went up to the French support trenches
in two cases where I could not get any
precise information any other way. In
the first case they were just over the
canal and in the second on this side»
having been driven over the night be*
fore. There was a lot of gun fire going
on, and the second time I went up to the
trenches I came into my first experience
of being in a village which was being
shelled really hard. It is the most
purely terrifying thing I yet know,
though it is probably still worse being in
the trenches which are being knocked
to bits. The Huns were dropping shells
into this village with the express pur-
pose, I think, of absolutely flattening it,
so as completely to block the road and
make it more difficult for the French to
bring up ammunition, etc. I got a quar-
ter of the way through the village with
the men who were with me, and then de-
cided that it was much too unhealthy a
spot, and so rode back with considerable
speed and made a detour to the spot we
were aiming at.

When I got back that evening I had
to go up and join Corah on our patrol
rendezvous behind the lines where the



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[December,



Canadiaiw were ftru^ing. We had
much the Mme kind of a job here as 1
had been doing during the day. The
Canadians had a hard job to hold their
own» with terrific attacks coming from
the Huns and their left flank turned
back in a very disadvantageous position
in order to make the new line formed to
cover the gap. Reports had to be sent
back giving any information of change of
position of battalions and of all attacks
or counter-attadcs and anything else of
importance. We sent out patrols from
our rendesvous to different parts of the
line as oftoi as was possible or consid-
ered necessary, officers going with those
which were most important. News
brought back to these patrols was put
together in one report to be sent down to
headquarters.

We did this kind of job for the next
five days, of which the first two and a
half, Friday night, Saturday, and Sun-
day, were far more hectic than the re-
maining days. I shall not try to write
any consecutive account of these days.
You will have read the official Cana-
dian account, which is very well written
and the points clearly described. As I
think of those few days now, about a
week after they happened, their recdlee-
tion is rather a confused nightmare, and
the memory of them made up of shell-
fire and still more sheU fire in villages and
on push bikes and off of them.

The Canadians were splendid. They
undoubtedly fought against very great
odds and continued to fight in spite of
very great losses. I came into contact
with a lot of them in one way or another.
The free and easiness of their manner
tickled me a great deal. You would hear
a Tommy open a remark to his company
officer with "Say, Cap" — I remem-
ber saying to one man whom I had been
questioning about the charge made by
the Canadian Highlanders to get back



their guns, " You fellows have done woo-
detfully well.'* He repUed, with a kind
of affectation of modesty, **Well, oar
boys have just done their duty, and I
guess if you Britishers think they have
made good they'll be mighty proud.'*
They spoke of their men as "the boys."
They had the gas poisoning tried on
them too, but not such a bad dose as the
French got It made 'em stick to it all
the harder.

This was the first time I had seen men
dying from these poisonous fumes. It
was a terrible sight and frightfully de-
pressing. I suppose that in spite of
everything there is a certain amount of
romance in warfare even as it is, but
when this kind of weapon is used every
vestige of it disappears.

Speaking of things romantic I saw &
Canadian driver do a thing which was
all that. In the first ten days of this
fighting the Germans got so far in on the
Canadian left that they could sweep, by
direct artillery fire and distant madiine
gun fire, the road which was the Cana-
dians' main source of siq>ply. I watched
a Canadian double limber go down this
road from a hill before you came to the
bad bit. When the limber got to the bad
piece the first pair of horses were both
killed and the limbers wrecked. The
driver, instead of making for cover as
quickly as he could, picked himself up
and quietly cut the traces of the two re-
maining horses and led them off. He
was not touched. He must have been
very fond of those two horses.

One of the things which struck me as
most remaricable during these days was-
the way in which the inhabitants refused
to leave their homes, even when they
were under shell fire. ' Th^ would stick
to them in a good many cases up till the
time when a shell would knock them
down. It is sad to see these people going
away and leaving their homes — old



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408



men and women, too. "When they leave
they pack all their "duds" which they



Online LibraryWilliam Richards Castle William Roscoe ThayerThe Harvard graduates' magazine → online text (page 55 of 103)