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Sentiments de l'avant: Letters from the Front
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Sentiments de l'avant: Letters from the Front

by Geoffrey L. Hunt


With the permission of my father-in-law, Richard Reigle, I am publishing these letters written during World War I from his father, Chester Reigle. Corporal Chester S. Reigle, Company E, 314th Infantry, France wrote home October 7th, 1918. I did not intend to publish these, but once I read them I felt that the story needed to be shared. I am always moved by the bravery unveiled by common man when fighting for a cause they believe in.


Court reporters are scribes preserving the words we record and transcribe for history. Other court reporting associations have campaigns to preserve the memories of our veterans. If you are interested in providing this service, I encourage you to reach out to our veterans’ associations and volunteer your help.

The following letters were transcribed from hand-written notes as provided by Corporal Reigle, grammatical errors included. Several pages are missing.

We left Hobokin about 6 p.m. on Monday July 8 aboard the Leviathan. We first sighted land at Brest, France about 7 minutes to 12 on July 15. It took us about 6 1/2 days to cross. Our battalion was detailed to unload ship so we didn’t get ashore until July 18. I worked in the dining room all the way across. After landing we went to a rest camp several miles inland. That is, it was called a rest camp, but it was ever spoken of afterward except with sarcastic humor. Remained there only two days and then entrained and started inland in search of a place to complete our training.

French box cars are called wagons over here by the Frenchies. It was a mere name for us but we could readily see the reason.

On the outside, each wagon carries the notice “8 le hevaur, en long,” and directly underneath, “40 hommes” which means 40 men. The sign specifies that the horses are to be placed with their greatest length parallel to the long side of the car. The men can extend themselves as they see fit provided they can find room.

We spent 4 days and 4 nights enroute, passing through Morlaix, St. Brieuc, Rennes, Angers, Tours, Bourges, Nevers, and Dijon, finally ending info at Pruits. Don’t look for this village on the map, it is too small. We were there about a week and left just before we were starved. Traveled from there in motor trucks to Frettes near Champlitte which is about 40 miles N. West of Dijon. We trained there for about 5 weeks and then moved to village of Fains near Bar Le Duc. From there we moved in motor trucks to Bois (woods) de Brocourt remaining there about 2 days. Marched to Bois de Recicourt. Those forests are close together and about 15 or 20 miles west of Verdun. In the first mentioned forest, I saw two of our observation balloons shot down. In the latter I experienced my first bombing by enemy aeroplanes. From The Bois de Recicourt we marched to The Forest de Hesse. Of all the above mentioned stops we remained about a week except in the forest of Brocourt.

In traveling from village of Fains to Brocourt we travelled merely parallel with the battle line north of St. Michael. The St. Michael drive was then in full swing and we saw the flashes of the guns, and heard the music quite plainly. You of course understand that all travel was done at night.

From the Forest de Hesse we moved up into the front line trench on the evening of Sept 25 and in the morning of the 26 “we went over the top” and drove the enemy before us through the villages of Haucourt Malancourt, Montfaucon, Defitarges and Nantillois for a distance of about 7 miles or 10 kilometers. We were in the drive 5 days and were then relieved and went back about 50 miles by forced marches.

I was so near exhausted from lack of sleep and food and marching with heavy pack and fighting, and exposure, and nervous strain etc that it didn’t matter much to me whether I pulled thru or not. The thing that saved me from pneumonia was the fact that we had plenty of blankets and sleep when finally we did reach a permanent rest camp. From there I was detailed to go to school. Do not know what my regiment and Divisions have been doing since Oct 5-10 (about the time I left them). I dread going back because some of the hardest fighting of the war has taken place since then. No doubt they were in it and if they were - I know I have lost some of my best friends. Have not heard from any of the boys since then.

It’s almost a case where “no news is good news”.

Corp. C.S. Reigle
Co. E. 314 Infantry
American Ex Forces

We were in action up at the front some time ago. It was a big fight. A Hell of a fight. It is another of the things that can’t be described but I’ll try.

The moon in its last quarter was resplendent in an unsullied sky. There was not a breath of wind to drive away the light layers of mist that lay in the pockets of the rolling plain. We were in the outermost trenches occasionally taking a jeep out over no man’s land. At 12 o’clock at night nothing was disturbing the calm and silence of the lovely autumn night.

One second afterwards the horizon was illuminated to right and left as far as the eye could see with thousands of lightning like flashes and in a short time the shells began to scream and whistle over our heads on their way to the enemies lines and trenches. The earth rocked and quaked and trembled and groaned the noise. Hell you can’t realize what it was like. It can’t be described I shant try. Yet in a short while we became accustomed to it and the majority of our men slept for the…

(missing pages 7 and 8)

…reason why they fight so stubbornly. I spoke to them and found we could understand each other quite easily. When I assured them they would not be killed if they behaved well, one of them said there were more Germans in a dugout farther back. The Captain and Lieut. were suspicious and afraid the fellow was up to some treachery but from his frightened condition I knew he was telling the truth. So I marched him before me at the point of my bayonet. He calling all the time “Commrada! Comarhada! Commed Raus” Out they came. 15 of them and we sent them back under guard. Everybody was jubilant and ready to fight the whole Germany army.

There was a machine gun rattling in front of us and Lieut Little sent me with a patrol around to flank it. We got into the swamp again and could not move as rapidly as the rest. The fog and haze were as heavy as ever. I lost the company there and didn’t find them until the following evening. I knew about where they were but was too exhausted to join them. I saw officers from other companies who didn’t have a man. Our own company didn’t number more than 30 men at some places and at times. After I rejoined my platoon I staid with them during the remainder of the drive. I can’t tell you all the experiences and events which befell us. I don’t want to tell you all. Sherman certainly was right and what he knew about war is found only in the Primer of modern warfare.

I know you are curious to know how a person feels in a battle or a drive such as we were in. Candidly- there are times when you are afraid and five minutes afterward you laugh like a fool. I have seen men blown to pieces and I shuddered. I remember one instance where a shell burst right in a bunch of men without injuring one of them, but a splinter flew out and struck an Italian in the back 50 ft away. He screamed and squirmed like a rabbit. It was easy to see that he was yellow. I had to laugh at his antics. I had several close calls myself. For instance that first machine gun I was sent to flank proved t be in among the walls of a ruined town. Instead of one machine gun there were about six and before we knew where we were they opened on us from all sides. We attracted their attention however and the rest of my platoon got around with only a few bursts and no casualties.

As soon as we heard the bullet zing! zing! zing! around us we dropped. I was lucky to flop between two stone walls. Every time I twitched a muscle there came a shower of machine gun bullets. Then the German artillery got busy, high explosive shells began to drop within 20 yards of me. Just then something happened a big rabbit, striped much like our old tom cat at home, hopped out of the bushes and looked at me with appealing frightened eyes. I think he had been a pet in a French family before the Germans came. When the inhabitants of that village grasped their most precious possessions and fled they left bunny behind, and there he continued to abide until that fateful September morn when the Yanks came and retook that ground. There is nothing left of the village except piles of stones from the Germans.

I looked at him and he looked at me and I’ll venture to say that mine was the first friendly face he had seen in many and many a month. I thought I could read his life history at a glance. I put out a friendly hand to him but evidently he distrusted me for he immediately hopped away. I lay there and pondered over what a wonderful story he could relate, were he human. That coincidence had a soothing effect on my nerves. I thought if that poor old rabbit can survive 3 years of war I surely ought to be able to get out of a predicament like this and by Heck I did and also every man I had with me, but those Germans were miserable marksmen. After that I was more careful but even at that there were thrills without number for all of us.

A drive or a battle goes much like this. You go along about 15 yards apart. You are under direct observation of the Boche snipers. You want to get a line on a certain guy with a machine gun whom you know to be on the opposite hill and across a ravine from you. You are going along cautiously at the rate of about 20 yards per minute. All at once he opens on you and you flop where…

Corp. C. S. Reigle
Co. E. 314 Infantry
October 7, 1918

 

President, AAERT

geoffhunt@courtreport.com


 

 

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