African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Chester Westfield, "The Experiences of Company L 368th Infantry" (1919)

 Of Company "L" 368th Infantry
 Typical of a Soldier's Life in France 

 Copyright, 1919 
This poem is based on facts gathered by the writer, who was a sergeant in Company "L" 368th Infantry. It was written to give some of  the life and spirit of the individual soldier; in narrating the events of the Argonne drive; the pronoun "we" refers to the regiment as a unit, and of course the supporting artillery is taken in consideration. 
The writer wishes to express his appreciation of the kindness of his friends in giving suggestions and helping correct the manuscript. 
 Chester J. Westfield 

MAY 16 1919 

The Voyage to France 
 The news came, "You'll go over," 
 But we did not tliink it true 
 Till mechanics marked our boxes 
 With letters white and blue. 
 Then we were certain of going 
 Over there to tight; 
 For they moved us from Camp Meade 
 One cloudy Wednesday night. 
 The boys began to say aloud: 
 "Our Uncle Sam ain't jokin'." 
 For we all went thru New Jersey, 
 Pennsylvania, to Hoboken. 
 They soon began to realize 
 Their going far from home. 
 Aboard the ship George Washington, 
 As she plowed the rippling foam. 
 After a voyage of thirteen days 
 Over the broad and watery main. 
 We entered the Bay of Biscay, 
 Along the northern coast of Spain. 
 We had gone more than five thousand miles, 
 Sailing out from the peaceful West, 
 When we sighted land one evening 
 And anchored in tlve port of Brest. 
 We disembarked from owr trusty ship. 
 Then two or three miles went, 
 And slept on the ground in sight of 
 The Pontanezen cantonment. 
There were no cushions for our heads, 
 No warmth indeed for our feet, 
 But scant the water to quench our thirsty 
 And scarce enough to eat. 
 After a stay of a week or more, 
 A-living 'mid dew and rain, 
 We next marched to the station 
 At Brest to board a train. 
 The weary soldiers were seated, 
 With their packs near to their feet; 
 A three days' ration was issued 
 For the hungry men to eat. 
 These rations consisted of bread and jam, 
 Many cans of pork and beans. 
 This fare we enjoyed until we passed 
 Thru the towns of Tours and Orleans, 
 For full three days we rode southeast, 
 And no sign of barracks found, 
 But at Passavant we were glad to put 
 Our feet once more on the ground. 
 From Passavant over hills and valleys 
 We ma relied on with a will; 
 Our packs cut our shoulders severely 
 Ere we stopped at Figneville. 
 It was there two white lieutenants came^ 
 And several weeks they stayed. 
 They taught us to play "Old Grady" 
 And to use the hand grenade. 
 An order came for us to move 
 Across the river Saone; 
 We pitched our tents in a field near by 
 The village called Lathone. 
At Lathone the drilling was hard 
 And burdensome to onr backs, 
 For our exercises were done 
 With rifles and full packs. 

 In trucks from there we moved 
 About seventy miles away ; 
 And at eve we billeted in houses and barns. 
 In the village, Le Holier. 
 Soon an order came that read: 
 "On to the front, you'll till a gap." 
 And at night we were hauled from there 
 To the city of Raon L'Etape. 
 On the journey many weie frightened 
 And murmured a hurried prayer. 
 For the Grerman airmen were trying 
 To bomb us from the air. 
 The thought then came to the men 
 Of filling a dangerous front-line trench, 
 For the automatic gunners were sent 
 To the front along wilh the French. 
 But the French and American soldiers 
 Could not each understand, 
 So the other part of the units 
 Went forward, not leaving a man. 
 All thru the day 'twas quiet. 
 And we did not have to fight. 
 But the Hung; threw bombs on our trenches 
 About nine o'clock each night. 
 At night we patrolled No Man's Land 
 Thru acres of close-laid wire; 
 In danger of discovery by lighted flares, 
 And of death by machine gun fire. 
After a stay of several days 
 F'rom the front we were turned aloose 
 And carried back for recreation 
 To the station of La Juas. 
 We Remained there some days more, 
 A-drilling 'mid cold and rain, 
 Ere our company was called together 
 To go to the front again. 
 We moved that day to a mountain, 
 Which little shelter gave, 
 But we made the best of it by using 
 A protecting rock or cave. 
 The captain said: "My boys, 
  Your days up here'll be few, 
 For we go on trucks to-morrow 
 To entrain at Corcieux." 
 We thought of the front-line trench. 
 But all of us kept cool 
 Till we detrained along the Marne, 
 Near the city of St. Manould. 
 We were put off the road in a forest, 
 Hun airmen our troops could not see; 
 And happy, blithe, and hilarious. 
 We knocked apples off a tree. 
 From the forest early next morning, 
 On rough roads we hiked on still, 
 Till we leached some French artilleiy 
 Hid behind a rocky hill. 
 An order came to us that night 
 Which tried each brave man's nerve: 
 "Your regiment will go up to-morrow 
 With Compauy L in reserve." 
 We passed Vielle le Chateau, 
 And good entrenchments found 
 Oh a high and rugged lull 
 Above a shell-torn town. 
 On the hill we were determined,
 And this was the officer's plan: 
 To hold that hill from the Germans 
 At the price of death to each man. 
 On our advance the watchful airplanes 
 Soared o'er us with many a bombing flier. 
 On the ground were wire entanglements 
 And heavy machine gun fire. 
 At last, sometime that night. 
 We took over a front-line trench. 
 On our light were white Americann, 
 And on our left the suave French. 
 I looked around next morning
 When machine gun shots I heard, 
 And saw they had wounded severely 
 My comrade, Corporal Baird. 
 We pushed them back over tangled wire, 
 Thru valley and over hill, 
 And ended our part of the Argonne drive 
 At the village of Binarville. 
 After many Huns we'd captured. 
 Wounded, or gassed and slain. 
 We bombarded their bridges which offered retreat 
 Across the River Aisne. 
 Many brave deeds we»e done there 
 By men who never knew fear. 
 Till the French and Italians relieved us. 
 Then triumphant We marched to the rear. 

 The march from there was very severe, 
 But each man did his best, 
 For, being exposed to artillery fire. 
 We could not stop to rest. 
 Hnngry and thirsty, we could not enjoy 
 The beautiful mountain scenes, 
 But Sergeant Brown helped save my life 
 With an extra can of beans. 
 We marched some days to a station. 
 And a crowded train did catch; 
 Following the Moselle River, 
 We detrained near the town of Marbach. 
 Our officers tried to get barracks, 
 Doing the best they could; 
 They found none, and the soldiers slept 
 Exposed to rain, in the wood. 
 There were few new supplies of food, 
 Still fewer of the old were left; 
 Rations were gotten here and there, 
 Each warrior cooked for himself. 
 After living there for several days 
 We packed up and hiked away. 
 And made our home on the River Moselle^ 
 In a town by the name of Pompey. 
 Though Pompey was an excellent town, 
 'Twas not to all our boys fancy; 
 Many slipped off in the gloom of night 
 To visit the city of Nancy. 
 Now, most of the boys thought Nancy 
 Was the best little town in the world, 
 For here their lives were brightened by wine 
 Or a lively chat with a girl. 
After a period of seventeen days, 
 Our tramping was kept up still; 
 By wading thru much mud and water 
 We reached the village Franchville. 
 But Franchville was dull and solemn, 
 And our boys cared not to stay, 
 So the officers showed their sympathy 
 By marching us back to Pompey. 
 After waiting in Pompey for orders 
 For about five days or more, 
 Then a march was made to a dugout 
 Near the village of Gezoncourt. 
 Our superior officer said: "My boys. 
 You're not thru fighting yet." 
 And on the tenth of November we went 
 To fight at bloody Metz. 
 For each hour of fighting we thought 
 We'd lose a thousand or more. 
 For the number of hours we meant to attack 
 Was three times twenty-four. 
 After passing thru many dangers 
 In combating our subtile foes, 
 The message came at seven o'clock 
 That the war would probably close. 
 At eleven the big guns ceased roaring; 
 The machine guns quit raising Cain; 
 The Boche stopped firing along the line; 
 God smiled on the earth again! 
 We were glad wheM the message came 
 That America would fight no more, 
 And victorious we rolled our packs 
 And marched for Gezoncourt. 

 We endured water and mud for a month. 
 Then began our movement home. 
 And slung our packs and marched for miles 
 To catch a train at Maron. 
 The boys were hungry and tired, 
 And their packs were heavy as lead, 
 And some of our comrades who were gassed at the front. 
 On the hike, fell unconscious or dead. 
 Our superiors said: "Don't worry, boys, 
 We'll go home as soon as we can." 
 But, lousy and dirty, were compelled to stay 
 Several weeks longer in St. Julien. 
 Each man had a vision of sweetheart or wife 
 And no doubt of his parental house; 
 When at last we journeyed westward 
 To Le Mans in order to delouse. 
 We longed for our homes in America, 
 In the far-off golden West, 
 When we were moved 'side the foaming sea 
 To the forwarding camp at Brest. 
 We had helped to conquer the Iron Man, 
 Who for glory and 'power did crave. 
 And were ready to sail for home again. 
 To the land of the true and the brave! 

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