Page:The Bohemian Review, vol1, 1917.djvu/148

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

We were in Picardy. We marched in the best of spirits because the Boches were retreating before us. There was a lot of hard work, for we had been employed in organizing the captured positions, but we labored with a zest. Only a few of the older and weaker men could not stand it, and old Cadek was invalided. We got as far as Roy, when new orders came. We turned right around and marched to the depot at M. . . . . . . . .

When we saw the train, we looked upon it as covered with glory, though it was not exactly sumptuous. The “coupes” in which we were placed forty to a car smelled of stables. We did not imagine for a moment that the great men were sending us to Paris to help celebrate victory; on the contrary we had a premonition that we shall land somewhere, where there will be a lively little fight. Our guess was right.

It was the first of April, early in the morning, when we saw before us the Eiffel Tower and back of it the Sacre Coeur on Montmartre. Our hearts jumped with joy and we forgot the discomfort of the night journey, though we still had souvenirs of it on our clothes and faces. Chunks of mud from our boots got behind our necks and into our hair, which was already decorated by wisps of straw. Slowly we were taken all around Paris and felt better for looking at it and thinking of those whom we hope to see there next time we get leave.

Soon it appeared that our train was running east. Paris disappeared and we went on to Champagne. As we tramped to the camp, it drizzled for awhile, then the sun came out and again a snow squall caught us. The real April weather.

We were stationed near to our Russian brothers, we heard the big guns thundering, we saw the arnestness and hurry with which our artillery and transport were working so that we might at the right moment jump at the throat of the enemy that had got away from us so cleverly in Picardy. For some time we rested, waiting for orders, and examined with the eye of experts of long standing the slopes facing us, where the Germans were dug in deep in the ground. We were amazed at their completeness and strength, when we finally got there, for the trenches were cemented and into some of them one had to descend by sixty steep steps. The underground shelters were vaulted and some of them were capable of accommodating an entire division. The Boches could wait here in peace, until our bombardment was over, unless we managed to smash their exits, of which they had several to each shelter.

For two weeks we waited for the order to attack. When it came, we felt quite certain that victory would be ours. From the beginning of the war we had watched the improvement of our artillery, and knowledge of their ability to handle any situation, together with the psychological effect of Nivelle’s appointment, the German retreat and the Russian revolution gave us supreme confidence.

The night before the attack the second battalion crept into the trenches where the first battalion had spent the preceding six days. Only a few hours of rest, and then once more we shall step across the parapet. But the nervousness we used to feel on former occasions was absent. Duty and victory were beckoning, and when at 5:00 o’clock in the morning, April 17, the order came: “En avant, la Legion”, our boys climbed out of the trenches with commendable speed. In a few moments we got to the German wire entanglements. Here and there it was necessary to cut them or climb over them, and some unsilenced machine guns did a little damage. But that did not cool the enthusiasm of the troops, who occupied rapidly positions that for two years had seemed impregnable.

This day was for the Legion another “May 9th”. It received the fifth palm of victory with which the cross on its flag was decorated. General Nivelle cited us in the general army order, emphasizing our special bitterness against the Germans and our tremendous elan. And the “Matin” on May 30th informs France that it was the Foreign Legion that won the day at Auberive and rendered inestimable services to the country.

Our boys in particular proved again their bravery and coolness, their hatred of the Boches and love of fighting. We are scattered today all over the regiment and I cannot describe the deeds of us all. Stories of a few of the boys will show how the Czechs fought, what good judgment, sang froid, bravery, and devotion they manifested.

The boys sprang out, heard the whirr of a few machine guns and felt a few bullets whistle by; but when we got to the trenches one after the other they were silenced. Our grenadiers threw some of their hard nuts in their direction, and the Boches soon stopped bothering us. We cleared out the trenches with bombs. The first company, proceeded without much interruption to their allotted place and were the first of the regiment to reach their destination. When they sized up their position, they perceived that no support was to be had either on the flanks, or in the rear. Anxious looks and anxious words were the result, until Sergeant M. . . climbs down from the observation post and says: “Oui, we flew like a mob of crazy men, and until the others get here, we have the Boches on all sides. But that does not matter; we shall stay here, until our comrades come.” He set out sentinels armed with grenades and we waited confidently for the others.

Finally they came, and the next day we received orders to advance still further. Sergeant M. . . . ., with several of his bombardiers, kept on capturing new positions. At one time they were stopped by a lanky, death-pale German who, hiding in his trench, threw bombs that burst with great noise, but fortunately did no damage. Our boys sent their steel nuts in his direction, but also without success, and the Boche pitched with redoubled zeal. M. . . . got his rifle ready, and the next time the slave of the Prussian king straightened himself out to throw one in our direction, back he fell with a hole through his skull.