History of the 308th Ambulance Company




Turning the pages of the history of this world's war, a search for the record of the efforts and events of so small an obscure an organization as an ambulance company would be fruitless. Therefore it will be our purpose in the following to give you in a humble and brief manner a simple account of the incidents which are printed so indelibly on the minds of a few, in the hopes that it may afford those who wish it the privilege of retaining the history of this organization.

The 308th Ambulance Company was organized October 17, 1917, at Camp Upton, L. I., N. Y., with Lieut. W. G. Page commanding and Lieut. J. E. McCormick and Lieut. Milton Strahl junior officers. The enlisted personnel consisted of Wm. Westerfield, 1st Sergt., N. A. men from New York and Brooklyn, the remainder being a part of the 20th Ambulance Company, recently transferred from Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga.

The company was located on the corner of 2nd Ave. and 8th St., occupying the first barrack completed in the camp. The building faced a large open field, which afforded the company an excellent drill ground, which was at that time, however, thickly dotted with stumps. Many long and tiresome hours were spent in clearing it, but their efforts were rewarded by obtaining one of the finest parade grounds in the camp. On the opposite side of this field was the Y. M. C. A. which furnished the boys a place of amusement in the evenings, also supplying them with writing material and a reading room.

Actual work on the development of the company started soon after its organization. Non-commissioned officers were chosen, and they could be seen teaching their squads the intricacies of the school of the soldier from reveille to retreat. Long hours and hard work soon showed their effects, and by the end of two months of intensive training the well drilled company of snappy soldiers would never be recognized as the rookies of Oct. 17.

The elementary drill, which every soldier must know, regardless of the branch of service which he may be in, was thus acquired. Then came the special drills, which are very necessary to fit the soldier for efficient ambulance service in the field. Ambulances were shipped in and assembled. Horses and mules were drawn from the camp remount station. Corrals were built and stables were fitted for the animals.

Men with previous experience in handling horses were chosen as a stable detail. Drivers and orderlies were selected. The drill schedule was rearranged to include ambulance and litter drill. The men soon became familiar with the methods used in transferring patients to and from the ambulances, as well as enlarging their previous experiences with the animals. Some practical experience was gained in camp during the spring rains, when the roads became impassable to the motor ambulances and the animal drawn ambulances were the sole means of conveying the sick from their organization to the hospital.

A pack mule squad was organized and drilled. The squad consisted of four mules, with two men handling each mule. Eight packing boxes, containing all the necessary equipment for establishing a first aid dressing station are carried on the backs of the mules.

On the morning of Feb. 15th a hurry order came in stating that Secretary of War Baker would review the division early in the afternoon preparatory to its departure overseas. Ambulances were turned out in record time and were soon lined up on the road. The company put on the best appearance and lined up behind the ambulances. Shortly after noon the entire division was reviewed by the Secretary.

On Washington's Birthday, the 77th made their last appearance to the public as a unit. The entire division paraded on Fifth Avenue, in New York City, reviewed by Secretary Baker and Secretary Daniels.

From then until the departure were busy days for the company. Ambulances were torn down and crated. Harnesses were cleaned and packed, and every one was getting ready for the great day to arrive. Barrack bags were packed. company property boxed and everything in general was put in readiness.

We finally received definite orders to proceed to the port of embarkation on April 22, 1918. The last day in camp is one that will never be forgotten, the relatives of the men coming out to see them for the last time before entering the conflict in earnest.

All day long on the 21st of April, 1918, was one hustle and bustle, getting our final inspections, cleaning the barracks and finally lining up at 1.30 a. in., April 22, 1918. We boarded the train at the camp station at 3.30 a. in., arriving at Long Island City at 9.30 a. in. Marching on the S.S. Washington, which ferried us over to Hoboken, Pier No. 4, where we boarded the U. S. S. Mercury, an old German ship called the Barbarossa, at 1.30 p. m.

After laying over in the pier until the next day the Mercury slowly steamed down the river at 5.30 p. in. The sight as we passed down the bay and through the Narrows, and finally out to the ocean, is one that the men on board will never forget. Their last look at the Statue of Liberty and the fast dimming shoreline sent thrills through the heart of every man. By morning, when we were called for reveille, the ship was well out in the ocean.

The weather for the first part of the trip was very fine, with every one enjoying the trip. On the 26th there was a strange ship sighted on the horizon. The cruiser, which was escorting the convoy, went out to see who she was for she refused to send up her signals. The strange ship immediately steamed away and the cruiser came back. All kinds of rumors were afloat that she was a German raider, but it did not interfere with the boys' appetites or sleep. Nothing of further importance took place, and every one was anxious to see land. We had a few days of rough weather on entering the Bay if Biscay, but we had our sea legs and did not mind the wild sea.

On May 3, eight torpedo boats joined the convoy, coming over the skyline like so many mosquitoes. They kept our interest until we sighted land, on May 6, which was beautiful to look at, although it was still many miles away. The ship entered Brest harbor at 9.00 a. m. and docked at 2.00 p. in. We slept on the ship that night, debarking the next day at 11.00 a. m., marching to Camp Pontanezen for a rest.

We were ordered to join the rest of the division at Calais, which had gone through England, leaving the Pontanezen Barracks at 7.00 a. m., May 14, entrained in Brest, 9.30 a. m., arriving in Audrique on May 17.

Our first real taste of overseas hiking came when we detrained at Audrique, from which we hiked to Bertham, a little French town which also gave us our first taste of a billet, which has so much meaning for a soldier of the big war.

In Bertham we were stripped of all our surplus clothing and were allowed nothing but what we wore or carried in our packs.
May 19, 1918, the outfit was ordered to move to Autinges and receive instruction with the 133d Field Ambulance, a British organization.
On May 21 we were sent to Nordesque, to go through the gas school, and received gas masks. All of these things pointed out to us that we were to get into action very soon.

May 24, 1918, the entire equipment of the British organization was transferred to us and we started running the Divisional Hospital, where we received real experience in the handling of sick men.

The next day Capt. Page and a detachment of ten men were sent to the English front at Ypres, Belgium, for some first-hand information in the handling and care of patients from the time they were wounded until they passed through an ambulance company. This detachment was up receiving instructions for ten days and, needless to say, the information they received was very valuable in our efficient organization when we ourselves took over a front line sector.

One day the men of this company will never forget is their first pay day, on May 26, the day the company was christened "308th Field Medical Battery," and the event known as the Battle of Ardres. Besides thoroughly scaring a Chinese labor battalion which was stationed in the town, the Col. Vin Rouge and General Vin Blanc started the men fighting one another. At roll call the next morning there were very few men who had features that were recognizable as the same men of the previous day.

After our trials and experiences in and around Autenges the division was ordered to the Lorraine sector in another step up the ladder that would fit us to take over a real, live front. On June 6 we started out on the road and finally wound up at Wavrens, after three days of stiff hiking, and hooked up with three other ambulance companies of the Sanitary Train, 305, 306, and 307.

On June 10 orders came to entrain for the last lap to the Lorraine sector, arriving at Thaon June 13, 5.30 a. in., and hiking to Rambervillers the same day.

At Rambervillers we underwent another change back to the American system of organization, and back to the good old American rations, away from English tea and cheese.

On June 19 we were ordered to open up a dressing station at Merviller, and was put under command of Capt. J. E. McCormick, with twenty men.

June 20 the outfit moved to Bertrichamps, about 10 miles further up into the Baccarat sector, where the nucleus of the company was already at. The Baccarat sector was only a training sector, which was one that we could appreciate after having left it and had gone through some of the real hard fronts.

July 11 a detachment under Lieut. Woodring moved up to Pexonne, where they took over an advance dressing station directly behind the lines. The experience the men received here was very valuable, and although it was not very busy they had to handle some severe cases.

Besides the work at Pexonne there was plenty of time for scouting, and greens of all kinds were found in the neighboring gardens.

After going through the jumps on this sector other work of a more strenuous character was being mapped out for us, and on August 1 a move from the sector was started. Travelling all night over the roads brought us to a small town of Clayuers, where we stopped off until August 6, when the company marched to Bayon, where it entrained the next day at 6.44 a. in. After a 24-hour ride in the famous "40 Hommes, 8 Chevauxs," the train pulled into Coulommiers, just on the outskirts of the then famous chateau Thierry sector. Detraining at 5.00 in the morning, a short hike brought us to an aviation field, where we were ordered to halt and were billeted in the barns of a big farm.

On the morning of August 10 the litter bearers and dressing station teams pulled out to move up into the lines. Hiking for 5 kilos they were loaded onto French motor trucks in a convoy of 700 trucks, arriving at 0. U. Seringes at 8.00 p. in., where another short hike brought them to a woods on the outskirts of Fere en Tardinois and camped there for the night. In the morning another hike took them to Marueil en Dole, directly behind the Vesle River, which was then the scene of some very terrific fighting.

The transport left on the night of August 10, joining the divisional transport, which took them through Vesle, Chateau-Thierry, Nestles Woods and finally arriving at Marueil en Dole August 13, after a very hard trip which the men of the transportation section did not soon forget.

The Vesle front gave us our first taste of hard warfare, and although we did not immediately go into the lines, Dole was so close by that gas masks and steel helmets were always in vogue. On two nights the town was gassed, and all hands had to turn out of bed and slip hurriedly into their gas masks.

The air activity of Jerry was always a source of excitement, especially when he tried to get the observation balloon that was stationed in town. Artillery barrages were put over every night, and the horizon was one sheet of flame from one end to the other. Bombs were dropped with regularity into the town, and when Jerry was over-head we were down below.

There was an unusual number of men gassed in the Vesle Valley, which rushed the field hospitals to their utmost capacity, and sometimes more so, being as our outfit was not in the lines at that moment a hurried order, on August 17, sent us down to Chateau le Fere, where the hospitals were operating, and we were set to work operating the triage. This work continued until September 5, when the infantry chased Jerry across the Vesle River, and was forcing him to the Aisne River, when our turn came to go into the line. After a day's hike the company pulled into a chateau in Chery Chatroise. Camping there for the night, a detachment of thirty men, under the command of Capt. Page went into the lines at Blanzy, where an advanced dressing station was established under extreme difficulties, as the town had just been evacuated by the Germans and was under direct observation by them, and the slightest stirring around brought down a deluge of shells.

It was here Capt. Page won a place in the hearts of the men forever, when he went right up to the fighting line with an ambulance to gather some patients and to establish an ambulance post. The body of the ambulance was literally riddled with bullets.

Work at Blanzy was very interesting as well as hard, with the men working like Trojans day and night. The number of patients that were dressed and sent down, as well as the quality of the work, soon won a commendation from the Division Surgeon.

The dressing station was continued at Blanzy until September 15, when the division was relieved by Italian troops. The detachment from the lines joined the rest of the company at Chery Chatroise the same night.

The next day saw the start of another long hike, this time to the Argonne Forest. St. Gemme was the first stop, and it was here the transport was split from the rest of the company, the company going by trucks, which was a big help to every one. They arrived at La Grange, September 21, without any mishap.

The transport started moving again on the 17th, when it joined in with the divisional transport, under Col. Irwin. After eight days of grueling night moving the transport pulled into La Grange on the 24th, having stopped at Troisy, Moslins, Velge, Vigny au Boeufs, Possesse and St. Menehould.

Much secrecy was attached to all our movements, and no one was allowed to stir about through the day at all, as the concentration of the American Army was wholly unexpected by the Germans, much to their sorrow.

The company stayed at La Grange until September 25, when we were ordered up to Le Florent.
The artillery started banging away at about 11.00 p. m., just as we were getting set in camp. It was a wonderful sight, never to be forgotten by any one who was lucky enough to witness it, and there was little sleep for any one that night.

September 27 saw our first men leave for the front, in charge of Lieut.-Col. C. H. Tait, who used the men in cooperation with the 52nd Pioneer Infantry.

September 29 the rest of the company moved to La Chalade, which was the central collecting point for all the wounded men. A large detail was kept working in the Triage, rendering valuable assistance day and night, while the steady stream of patients came in from the midst of the woods.

On October 6 a detachment of forty men were ordered up into the lines to relieve 306th Ambulance Company, who had started in at the beginning of the drive. The dressing station was started at Abri Di Crochet, a system of dugouts the Germans had occupied. The dressing room was in a deep dugout. This position was occupied for two days, when the line advanced two kilos. This forced us to look for a new position which we found in a German beer garden and reading rooms, built in the heart of the woods. We had no sooner moved into the new place than we were rushed off our feet by the wounded men of the Lost Battalion, 308th Infantry, which had been cut off but were liberated when the line moved up on the morning of the 8th. Most of the wounds on the men had occurred three and four days previous and, having no drugs or dressings to apply to them, the wounds were in a terrible condition. Never in our history did we work so hard and so cheerfully as we did to get those heroic men dressed up and shipped to the rear.

October 11th the line jumped again, but this time it went clear out of the woods near Grand Pre. The station was again moved up, this time to La Bosogne. The activities here were very active and the reason so many men of this company are still alive, is due to the good judgment of Capt Page, who ordered us off a certain hill during the night. No sooner had the men moved when shells started dropping around dreadfully close. Many a cold shiver ran up and down our backs when we saw what had just been averted.

In the meantime the transport which had been left at La Chalade moved up to Lancon on the 9th, keeping pace with the advance, and the wonderful work of the ambulance drivers and orderlies will live forever. The only means of transportation out of that maze of jungle and wilderness was by the good old dependable mules and the steady, reliable mule skinners, who didn't know the word "quit." Hour after hour, day after day, one could see these trusty guardians of mercy going right up to the lines to get the wounded men down. There wasn't a single ambulance of the twelve which this company had that was not riddled with machine gun bullets and shrapnel.

The division was relieved on the 16th by the 78th Division, after twenty-one continuous days of hell, driving the Germans out of the heart of the Argonne. The detachment left for Lancon, where it joined the rest of the company the same day. The same night we left for a short rest and to be re-equipped, to a row of dugouts called Camp Kopp, built in the side of the hill. Arriving there early in the morning of the 17th, sleep was in order for the entire outfit after so strenuous a time.

Instructions, delousing, and new clothing and equipment were our Camp Kopp experiences. Our stay here was from the 17th to the 27th, when we were again ordered up to the front. This time we were not so fortunate, as you will presently see. Leaving Camp Kopp at 9.00 a. in., a day's journey brought us right behind St. Juvin, which was then practically No Man's Land.

Turning into a clump of goods called Martincourt Farm, with shells dropping across the street, was not so pleasant, but we were finally settled and sleeping when, at 1.00 o'clock in the morning the festivities started. Shell after shell was dropped directly in our midst for almost an hour. A state of affairs that greeted us at daylight we thought was impossible; equipment was strewn all over the yard, D. S. wagons and ambulances blown to smithereens, horses and mules laying where they were picketed, dead; but the worst sight that struck us was two of our men killed outright. Joseph M. Fagan, from New York City, and Ladue S. Ferris, from upstate. Great credit is given L. S. Ferris, for he was gas guard when the shelling commenced, and never left his post, warning some men to get out of an ambulance they were sleeping in when a shell dropped between him and the ambulance, killing Ferris, blowing the ambulance apart and also killing Fagan, who was sleeping on the outside of the ambulance.

In all, eleven mules and horses were killed, scores more wounded, several general service wagons were smashed, and every ambulance was entitled to wound stripes. It was a little too warm for an ambulance company, therefore we were ordered down to Chatel Chehery, two kilos further back, but still under shell fire, although not under direct observation.
The second phase of the Meuse-Argonne offensive started on November 1, 1918, at 3.30 a. in., with a barrage which lasted until 8.00 a. in., when the doughboys went over after Jerry and never let up until the armistice was signed.

November 3 found us in St. Juvin again, but this time under different conditions. The division had moved so fast that to try and overtake it was impossible with the steady jam of traffic that blocked every road for miles in the rear and to the very front.

With the signing of the armistice found us on the road traveling in the direction of Sedan. We were ordered to pull up in some shelter on November 12, which we did, stopping at La Bascea, to wait for the division to come past and out of the lines for the last time.
Traveling back from the lines this time had a different meaning than any other, as we would never have the trials and hardships to go through again.

Arriving at Thenorque on November 13, 1918, we layed over in the town until November 18, 1918, when the division started moving again, arriving at Les Isellettes, where a divisional hospital was opened by the personnel of this company. This was a new experience for us, but we got away with it in fine style, and ran it -successfully until closed, on November 25.

November 26 found us again on the hard, hard road for a hike further in the rear. In all, we hiked nine long days, stopping off at Bulainville, Petit Silse en Baraoise, Combles, Chamoulleys, Meziers, Flemingeourt, Sexfountain, and arriving in the ninth training area on December 4, 1918. La Tracey was the name of the town this outfit was billeted in. and fast while Rumors floated around thick here, but it was not until February 1, 1919, that on that day all things started to look bright, for our surplus equipment, animals, wagons and ambulances, were turned in, and then we knew that at last things were starting to crystalize and a move to another area was to follow.

The night of February 7 found us with packs on our backs marching toward the railroad sta-tion. Entraining at 2.00 a. m., the train pulled a bitter cold ride out at 3.45 a. m., and after brought up into a small town Of Gastines, in the Le Mans Forwarding Area, about 100 miles from St. Nazaire.

Immediately upon getting settled, the overhauling of our clothing, equipment and everything in general took place. Staying at this place meant one inspection after another, and the boys were getting so they would fix their bunks every morning after getting up in prospects of an inspection that day.

Things run along smoothly with everyone expecting to move daily, when, on April 12, we were ordered for our final inspection of clothing, and equipment by Area Clearance Inspectors, which we passed by a perfect score.

April 15 was set for our moving day to Brest, but on the 13th orders were received to move the next day. This move was one of our few daylight moves, as we left at 2.30 in the afternoon, walk in- to the entraining point at Sable and pulling out of there on schedule, 5.00 p. m., arriving in Brest at 7.00 p. m., April 15, 1919.

Our stay at Brest was short, although it seemed like a long time. Going through the usual routine of physical and other inspections, the second day there. We layed around waiting for the grand order f or us to embark, which we received and obeyed without a murmur of protest on April 24, boarding the U. S. S. Grant, an ex- German ship, at 1.00 p. m. The ship weighed anchor at 2.30 p. m., and much was the rejoicing as France disappeared in the distance, with every one vouching that France had seen all of them that she ever would.

It was a very pleasant trip all the way over, with only one or two days of rough weather. The Atlantic Highlands were sighted at 9.00 a. m. on May 6, a dim outline which grew brighter every minute, until the coast of Long Island and the buildings on it could be plainly distinguished. Pulling into Upper New York Bay, the Mayor's Reception Committee boats, with relatives and friends of the men, came out to meet the Grant, with their long-parted loved ones on board.
After the custom inspectors had gone through the papers and the pilot was taken aboard we slowly moved up the river, docking at Hoboken at 4.30 P. M.

From there Camp Mills was our next stop, arriving at 10.30 P. M., once more on good old U. S. soil, which everyone had been waiting these many long months for.

Just as passes were to take effect the next day, an order was received to cancel them, for we were to move to Camp Upton immediately. Our trip to Upton was via motor trucks, leaving Mills at 8 P. M. and arriving at Upton at 4.30 A. M. on May 8.

Work was plentiful for anyone who could do clerical work, getting the discharges and final statements made out. Completing all the paper work on May 11, everyone received their -final physical examination. The break of dawn on May 12 found everyone up and around with their personal belongings waiting for the final line-up at 8 A. M., and a short march to the Quartermaster's office, receiving our money, and another short march to the railroad station, where discharges were given out, and we were once more civilians.

This short history as presented may not be of the very best, but any man who was in the service and reads it can understand it to the fullest, and every man who was a member of this outfit ran keep it and he will cherish it in years to come as he reads over this booklet and can supply his own personal experience to some of the incidents of the company.
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