It was a day in cool November
When we made our last advance
Across a field of shell holes
Which is far away in France.
There was a meeting on in Paris
About What, not one of us could tell.
And it seemed as if the shell that came
Would blow us all to Hell.
There were thousands of them flying
Each with its deadly sound.
And some of our men still sleep today
Beneath the hard, cold ground.
On we went, though some had fallen
And we all were nearing death,
For the air that we were breathing
Was half poison, every breath.
The fog was heavy like a curtain
And it hid us from the foe.
Yet we went on steadily forward.
I’ll admit ‘twas very slow.
I was tired and sore and stumbling
And each step I thought I’d drop
When up from the rear a runner came
With orders for us to stop.
We stopped and sat in shell holes
And the shells were flying high.
And once in a while a machine gun
Would open and let ‘em fly.
It was three minutes to eleven
When we heard the rumor first.
And every gun was shooting fast.
It’s a wonder they didn’t burst.
We sat around and talked and cussed
And bared our souls from Heaven.
When as if by magic the gunfire stopped
And my watch just said eleven.
There were hours of watchful waiting
And hardly a man dared speak.
It seemed as if the quiet that reigned
Was nothing but a freak.
We sat and stared for hours and hours
And not a gun was fired.
And then the real truth came to us
The German had grown tired.
Tired of War, which they themselves
Had brought on peaceful nations
And fought to kill and slaughter and spoil
As it seemed for recreation.
Night came as we sat and waited
And the air was very cold.
So we built a fire and sat around
As in War of which our Grandad told.
Our fire seemed a signal to Celebrate
And the boche then followed suit.
And thousands of flares then lit up the sky
Like they do when the big guns shoot.
This went on till daylight came
And the men were very tired,
But they picked up their guns
Like the men that they are
And by the prospects of peace inspired.
We hiked for miles over shell-scarred road
And finally got to the rear
Where we dropped like a bunch of men half dead
Without a word or a cheer.
After that we hiked for days
With very little rest.
But now that we’re here with our work well done
We’re glad that we did our best.
By Fred Sabine, East Haven, CTCompany D 103 Machine Gun Battalion
Featured by kind permission of Sandy Smith in memory of Harold E. Burwell and Fred Sabine. Sandy says:
“Harold Burwell. In 1917 at age21, he was a handsome young man, engaged to be married, and
his dream was to own and operate a tool-and-die factory. Hebecame a member of the National Guard, 26th Division, shortly after America declared war on Germany in 1917, and Harold’s 103rd Machine Gun Battalion was called overseas for combat operations.
Several years ago I found Uncle Harold’s WWI diary (now at the WWI National Museum). He wrote daily about the weather, training for combat, and patriotic parades. These entries ended abruptly when his battalion fought in some of the war’s most fierce battles.
This is the story of but just one American soldier, someone who sacrificed his life so that you and Ican continue experiencing the joys of all our freedoms. I would love to share something about Uncle Harold. He made such a great sacrifice for his country, and it ruined his life. So many others have done the same. He's just one of many.
I found the following handwritten poem in the diary; it was the second-to-last entry. The writer of the poem was Fred Sabine, a combat soldier friend of my uncle, from East Haven, CT. They were in Co. D, 103 Machine Gun Battalion, and fought in many, many heavy battles until the day World War I ended on 11th November 11, 1918.
Harold’s last entry in his diary is on January 31, 1919. He and his battalion were heading to the American Embarkation Center in France to go home to America. There was a terrible train
wreck: eight more of Harold’s comrades were killed and 16 seriously injured. He listed all their names, as he knew them well.
My brother and I guesstimate that it took about a year for Harold to “shut down”. . . .to go into a shell. My grandmother always said it was because he was gassed. We now know, in all probability, that it was post-traumatic stress syndrome.
When Uncle Harold came home, all seemed fine for a time. Harold was an outgoing, handsome man, engaged to be married, and had dreams of finishing his education and opening up a tool and die factory. But then, my family said, he became wild and out of control.... restless; went to Florida; broke off his engagement and there was no tool-and-die factory. He returned to Connecticut. Over the years my great-grandparents died, as well as his sister and brother who took care of him. After that, my father and my two aunts checked in on him every day with food, etc.
The last time I saw Uncle Harold was when I was 5 years oldat my great-grandfather’s farm one Thanksgiving Day. My brother, my three cousins and I were told never to bother Uncle Harold. I remember the long dining room table with all of us gathered around it. Uncle Harold was sitting at the kitchen table eating with his head down, never looking up. I still remember that scene to this very day. It was the lasttime we visited the farm because we played “King of the Mountain” on their haystacks and damaged them.
Harold did emerge from his stressed-out state in his late 1970’s, and he became his old self again - intelligent, very normal, and upbeat. He died at 86 years of age. At his funeral an old woman approached my aunt and told her that Harold was the "most handsome man in all of Milford." It was his ex-fiancee!”
Mystic is a village in Groton and Stonington, Connecticut, USA.
who have also given me permission to share this with you.