Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number Five
Ste Menehould,
Sunday, July 27th, 1919.
Just a week in France and it seems months. I hope my letters have been arriving promptly. They go to Paris by courier, but I do not know what happens after that.

Every few days different guides come out to explain things to us. A gang of bandits, headed by a former 15th U. S. Cavalryman now wearing the uniform of a First Lieutenant of Military Police, have been operating in this district. Two Colonels came out a few days ago ahead of their orders which had been delayed. They were held up, but talked so glibly that they got off without the supposed M. P. asking for their Orders. In fact, they picked him up and brought him along, gave him supper and a bed in our care. He wore several medals, was well informed, and was very entertaining. Next day he disappeared with about 1,200 francs in cash and two suit cases full of various odds and ends.

His gang have a stolen Dodge car -which they have repeatedly sold and then stolen again. Yesterday, they came back and made another haul out of our baggage car. We sent out a posse and rounded them up last night in a house in Verdun. They were armed and put up a fight, so our party shot one, captured four, and shipped them to Paris. The wounded man will die. The Lieutenant got away. We had no casualties.

Some time ago the French caught two of them, but the Lieutenant showed up with a forged request that they be handed over to him to escort back to Paris in his car. Of course, the French were only too glad to get rid of them, so they got away. We were away all day so the train van easy pickings, the nigger cooks not amounting to much.

Today we finished with the Argonne and got a slice of the Champagne. We motored about 100 miles over excellent roads, except in the Argonne, Tonight our train moves to Chateau Thierry.

We saw the some of operations of the “Lost Battalion" near Binarville. Yesterday we examined the scene of the exploits of Sergeant York, near Chatel Chehery; both are in the Argonne but on opposite sides. We also saw much interesting bridge work on the Aire and Aisne Rivers.

No-Man's Land in the Champagne is even more desolate but not so extensive, nor so intensively worked over, as farther east. The formation is chalk, white and ghastly with a dazzling glare in the sunshine. Nothing grows on the upturned chalk but the poppies, their crimson waves are appearing everywhere.

We visited a number of German heavy gum positions. Ammunition is scattered everywhere, both live and dead. I tried to get you one of the wicker work covers of a German 155 shell for a golf bag, but all were partly rotted and useless, I have both a German and a French helmet for you, however, and have sent them to myself in the States. If you don't want them I'll police them when I get back. There is no limit to the number of brass shell cases scattered about. Sawed off about two inches from the base, a French 75 makes a very stable ash tray. One of our enthusiasts has acquired a hacksaw somewhere, and for two nights I have gone to sleep to its squeak. He must be making a set for all his relatives for three generations.

All along the roads are piles of shells gathered up by the Boche prisoners and marked by signs "Danger de Mort". It will take them a long time to detonate and bury them all.

All the people in this section are very distressed looking, though they appear cheerful enough and are trying to make the best of things. The children are especially ugly and oldish looking. I have not yet seen a good looking girl outside of Paris. Even the undestroyed towns are very uninviting looking. There are no hotel accommodations in any of the towns, not even in Verdun, and no food to be had. The cafes all seem to be doing business and no one pays any attention to the regulation against selling hard liquor to soldiers. We can get pretty good rum and cognac, but no whiskey. The beer is very weak. Cognac costs only a franc or fr. 1.50, a “Rhum Chaud” three francs. In Paris, a poor cocktail costs three or four francs.

The sun shone part of today and it has not rained for two days. A trench coat, however, is very comfortable by day and many blankets at night. Cherries are just ripe and we have gotten some delicious ones from several deserted orchards.

End Notes and Bibliography