Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number Four
Thursday, July 24th, 1919.
The writing facilities on this train are certainly not of the best. I don't know what I'll do when my pen runs dry; there is no ink nearer than Paris. Of the 125 officers aboard, this car is full of Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels, the next car Majors, the balance Captains and Lieutenants, including the Engineer contingents of the West Point Classes of 1919 and 1920. The train staff occupy a separate car with private state rooms, private mess, offices, etc. We sleep in two tiers in open hospital bunks, and have two tin basins and a bucket of water for occasional ablutions. We have two kitchen cars, two mess cars, about seven dormitory cars, a flat car loaded with drums of gasoline, and six flat cars for the autos. We have four Cadillac touring cars and ten pneumatic tired trucks. It is an English built hospital train and creates quite a sensation everywhere we go by its contrast with the little French trains of dinky cars. Each car has an enormous US and a "Red Cross" painted on the sides.

Today we have been going over the scene of the closing operations of the War; also of the War of 1870-71. The country is very beautiful. It is also very cold. I have worn a sweater and a fleece lined trench coat ever since reaching the front. It has not rained quite all the time but the sun has never shown itself.

Poppies are in full bloom and the hills and roadsides are covered with them. The French poppy is dark red, more brilliant than the California poppy. Most of the afternoon we motored along, or near, the Meuse Canal. On each bank are two rows of tall poplars, all of exactly the same height, just as though trimmed by an aerial lawn-mower. We passed one Boche flying field with a wrecked machine on its nose in the swamp nearby.

Across (east of) the Meuse, the German defensive works are very elaborate and the villages not much destroyed. But in the vicinity of Verdun, especially around Fort Dauxmont, the desolation is indescribable.

The shell craters are so thick they overlap, there are dugouts everywhere, and the ground is all churned up and a mass of wire, 60 cm. tracks, and miscellaneous junk. At least 100 square miles without an inch untouched! The amount of material used up is unbelievable. The ground has been actually shot out from under whole villages, leaving scarcely a stone even to mark the spot. One million men are estimated to have died or been killed around Verdun on both sides during the four years.

Friday, July 25th, 1919.
Today we have been following the operations of the Americans shortly after the "jump off", especially the 35th and lst Divisions. We walked about 20 kilometers and motored about 80. Climbed to the tops of several hills, Including Vauquois, which is quite famous on account of the extensive mining operations of the French and Germans before we entered upon the scene. The whole top of the hill has been lowered by being blown off and no vestige of the village remains. We ran into lots of abandoned American rifles, ammunition, and clothing and also one airplane with its tail in the air.

The sun actually shone when we started to walk and I got really warm in my trench coat for the first time. I was glad I did not have to carry a pack up Vauquois or Hill 2690

Saturday, July 26th, 1919.
We covered most of the Argonne Forest today. No-Man's Land, near La Fille Morte, is simply appalling. I find I am rapidly running out of adjectives. Mine craters that must have taken 50 tons of explosive each to blow out; wire and chevaux-de-frises piled ten feet high and thick with rust; beautiful purple flowers now growing up through the debris! That men actually fought over such ground seems impossible.

We visited the Headquarters of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria; it consists of a solid concrete bungalow in the forest - just the roof showing above ground with all conveniences, from baths to electric lights. Inside, three successive flights of steps lead 60 feet below ground and connect with other quarters farther along. The entire camp, hidden away in the thick forest, accommodated 6,00 men and is very elaborate and comfortable. There were bowling alleys, beer gardens, a small theatre and a swimming pool.

The road through the Forest is still camouflaged in many places and other roads for miles are screened by fragments of the curtains put up from one to four years ago.

The Americans were mighty lucky to miss all this trench warfare. It must have been frightful. Our men simply waded in on September 26th all along the front, again on October 6th, and again on November 1st, driving the Boche out of France. The only digging was little fox holes during the short stops.

Yesterday, I thought Vauquois was the awfullest possible; today, I am sure La Fille Morte is; but they say it gets worse as we go north culminating in the British sector around Ypres.

I hope I am not boring you with all this. I an trying to hit only the high spots. But I won't know until I get back and then the damage will have been done.

End Notes and Bibliography