2017-04-20 / Viewpoint

Chandler Yesteryear

World War I Part III — Expeditionary forces land in France
Jim S. Powell

The following accounts are from the diary of Pvt. Peter P. Pfeiffer of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, as he wrote them during World War I, in France, in 1918.

We arrived at the harbor of Brest, France, on Aug. 11 at 11am. Small tugs and lighters (flat-bottomed unpowered barges used to transfer to and from the ship to harbor) immediately began to unload the cargo, but we did not go to shore until 6pm. Upon landing, we lined up and started on a hike for Pontagan Barracks for three days’ rest.

Had our first sight of French people and towns. We hiked until 11pm, and certainly were tired out when we finally arrived at our destination. We found no barracks but an open field which was welcome owing to our fatigued condition, never the less will be remembered by all, our first night on French soil. Next day we pitched tents and prepared to stay. This camp was supposed to be for rest, but later, it was called Camp Weary by several because little rest was obtained.

We left Pontagan Barracks Aug. 16, at 2am, and hiked to Brest arriving at 6am. We entrained (boarded a train) and departed at 6:10am. Saw many beautiful scenes and nice country. Passed through many large cities and was within five miles of Paris. After riding two days and nights that will never be forgotten as the cars were so small there was not a chance for one to get any rest let alone any sleep.

At 3am, someone began knocking on the door telling us to get out. We were at the railhead at Paisey. We immediately left for a twelve-mile hike for a little inland town called Cruzy Le Chatel. After a much meager breakfast we had our first introduction to French billets, which consisted of cow stables, hay lofts and old sheds. Nothing of importance happened during our stay in the little village of Cruzy Le Chatel except intensive advanced training. The band gave a concert every evening, which was attended by a goodly number of soldiers and villagers.

On Aug. 22, eighty-three were transferred to the 26th Division. Everyone was sorry to see the boys go as they had been with us during our early training at Camp MacArthur at Waco, Texas. On Sept. 25, we left Cruzy Le Chatel. Quite a large crowd of the inhabitants gathered to bid us good-bye, and it made it rather hard as they had made every effort to make our stay pleasant and as comfortable as possible. The hike back to Paisey completely wore us out. We put up Pup Tents and spent three days there at the railhead furnishing many details helping the Regiment get ready to move out. We boarded the train and started once more on a journey, which was unknown to us but later proved to be another step toward the Front. Out training days were to be a thing of the past and now were to prove our metal as fighters.

We arrived at Chaligny on Sept. 30. We unloaded and stayed here all day. We had to wait until darkness before starting on our hike as moving troops forward in daylight was prohibited on account of activity of enemy planes. Chaligny was frequently bombed from the air. Left Chaligny hiking to Camp Bois Le Eveque, a distance of eight miles. We were immediately placed in old French barracks. It was quite a large place and was used for a rest and replacement camp.

Did not know how long we would remain here but it was rumored about two weeks. A regular drill schedule was started together with frequent visits to the target range where we were given our final instructions in throwing grenades of different types, shooting rifle grenades and long distance rifle firing. The newspapers were full of the news that Austria had given up which put all of the boys in good spirits, but at 3 AM on Oct. 6, we were awakened and informed to roll full packs that a rush order had been received for us to proceed to the Front immediately. This put everyone in a good humor as training had become monotonous and we were anxious to prove that we were better than the Hun. (Germans collectively).

Accounts from Pvt. Peter P Pfeiffer’s diary will be continued next week with Part IV. His personal effects, including his diary, are on display at the Chandler Museum and Visitor Center. The museum is open 1-4 PM on Wed-Sat.

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