Another oral story and a week of journal entries from my grandfather, Carl O. Ericke, from WWI.
Well anyway, we crossed the Channel, went to Le Havre, and from there on the joy riding was over. We were no longer in the cavalry, as I said, and after hours of taking the American three-inch guns apart, we were now being trained on the French 75, which was a new job altogether, and we had to learn all over again. They put us through some rather hectic days learning about the French 75. See it in action, here: FirstWorldWar.com.
And the only thing we had to do with horses from then on were with the horses that carried the caissons. We had to take care of them even though we didn’t ride them. And when I say take care of them – I mean it. We had to wash their privates with soap and water. It's a nasty thing even to talk about it, but they didn’t make it easy for you. We had to take care of them because we depended on them to pull the caissons, so that's about all there is to say at this time.
Saturday, June 8, 1918
Piled off the boat in Liverpool. Oh what a great feeling to stand on real ground after 14 days of water. They left half of our battery to do the work at the dock, Eck too. What a glorious feeling, as we hiked along. Our eyes bulged. Buildings are not very tall. Passed a factory. Lot of girls working in overalls watched us go by. Glorious feeling with the band playing Illinois, girl motormen, double-deck cars with big windows. Few young men but bunches of children and women and old men. Very hilly and we soon showed signs of fatigue. Marched 8 miles to a rest camp called Knotty Ash: big orphan home. Band made up of little kids in sailor suits escorted us for a half mile or so. Mostly uphill – after being on boat so long was pretty hard. Few dropped out. Letters home ought to get out.
Camp consists of about two dozen big tents, 20 men in a tent. Little straw ticks. Coffee nice and bread is all we got. Band played a concert. Couldn’t even go to the fence. Seems as if a regiment before us had bought wine and booze from women and as a result the colonel killed two of the men. He is being held for trial. We’re always out of luck. Some camp followers stood at rear fence and talked a lot of rot. Lots of women flirted with us but that’s all. Guess we’ll be here tomorrow too. They call it a rest camp. Believe me we needed it after that hike.
Sunday, June 9, 1918
Left at about 10am for the train, right near camp. Got more rations of corn willy and hard tack. Funny little cars where you get in on the side, like you see in the movies, eight to a compartment.
Monday, June 10, 1918
Slept till 8am. Breakfast of bread (2 pieces) and jelly and coffee. Not much for hungry tummies. Don’t like English camps much.
Went to the English canteen and American YMCA. Wrote some letters. Can’t get any cake or cookies. Very little candy – and expensive. Everything costs a bob (shilling) or more. Five-count bag of Bull a shilling and a two pence. Fierce. Have wet canteen – too bad as usual we are not allowed in.
Tuesday, June 11, 1918
Lieutenant Jones took us for a hike thru Winchester. It is England’s first capital. Last Parliament met there in 945. Saw the Winchester Cathedral. One part of it was built in year of 500. Saw palace of King William the Conqueror, some palace – old dump. Also Parliament Building, King Arthur’s original Round Table, Carving of Queen Victoria, King Lear, etc. Also old relics and souvenirs. Great stuff, all that ancient stuff of which England is proud.
Wednesday, June 12, 1918
Left Winchester and mighty glad of it. English rations two meals a day be damned. A lot of them drilling in howitzers. Took a look at them. We could handle one better than they in a week. The American 3” is the hardest ever. Forgot to mention that on the boat we got all the news, baseball scores and all via wireless from New York. Then about the seventh day out we got war dope from the Eiffel Tower. Oh yes, when we hit Winchester we heard about the subs, getting some boats in NY harbor. Bet it gave the folks a scare. More corn willy and train to Southampton. As we marched to the dock we passed a big hospital. Some cheerful sight just before going over the channel.
Laid around watching arriving planes and talking to Australian soldiers. They say the English Tommy isn’t worth a rot. They’re yellow. The French and Americans do the fighting. Also give Germans credit for being wonders in the air. Told us to kill but not take Boche prisoners. Also to be careful about picking souvenirs. Handed us a lot of bull about first night in the trenches and a lot of stories how they were wounded etc. Some fellows from Alabama stole a 50 lb. key from Winchester and tried to pull down a statue, etc. As punishment they were put in front line trenches. However, they were full of pep and went over the top more often in one month than the English have since the war started. Captured a German on No Mans Land. Stripped him, gave him a kick and told him they would get him later when they finished playing cards. Can you imagine Fritz.
Well, we got in the side-wheeler La Marguerite at about 6pm. We and Australians (that is our battalion – the other stayed at Winchester) on boat and terribly crowded. If we got hit we wouldn’t have a chance. Wore life preservers again. Passed a lot of half sunk boats about six on way out of bay. Out past Portsmouth and fleet of chasers joined us. About five transports. Made lots of speed. Guess about 24 knots an hour. Soon got dark. Big dirigible passed in moonlight. Corn willy and hardtack. Got awfully damp. No chance to go below, far too crowded. After all I heard about rough water, the channel was smooth as glass.
Thursday, June 13, 1918
After no sleep, at about 4:30 am we stayed on boat till about 8:30am. Even from the water, the land of France took in a different aspect. Marched thru LeHavre to American Rest Camp called Point 1. All the kids held our hands and coats. People at all the windows, American flags and women throwing kisses, and wounded English soldiers (they wear blue denim uniforms). Mostly old men, women, and loads of children. Some classy dolls in nightgowns gave us a cheer. Mu-la-la. Latrines right on corner. Can see your feet under then, your head also. Those for women are the same. And some dolls on the street. Children all wear black jumpers and artist hats – chapeaus. German prisoner camp here too. Saw bunches of them. Big saw-boned fellows, big round patch in back of coats and legs. Could hear them talk – some were building a shed. Seemed funny to understand German. Have canteen where you can buy beer for 25 centimes. Bull stuff though! Quite a novelty though.
Slept in tents, 12 to a tent. Corn willy warmed us. First warm stuff in long time. Right in channel. See lots of aeroplanes. Were given instructions what to do if there was an air attack. And we haven’t gotten pistols yet! Wrote a letter home.
Friday, June 14, 1918
In the afternoon, marched through town again to the trains. Got three days rations, same stuff. Left about 8pm. Ate and tried to get comfortable. Slept sitting up. Can sleep on our heads now.