The Parisian Report (name of French Paper)
From the Trenches (name of Jean Pierre’s Column)
The Dangers of Bellacourte (articles title)
Jean Pierre Valois
Early September. The lines are moving towards Bellacourte, a small and rather unimportant village. Once again I am riding in an ambulance. We are headed towards the small town. Our new driver is another female volunteer, Ms. Cooper. Sgt Schneider and Lt. Everet had joined our unit. In addition to the ambulance, we were being escorted by an armored car. The driver in the armored vehicle was Private Davis, an American Negro. The group seemed in good spirits as we arrived at Arras.
It seemed to take much longer to get to Bellecourte that I had expected. It seemed that we were lost. After a while, the armored car ahead of us stopped. There was a woman in her mid-thirties and a girl of about 10 years old on the side of the road. Olver asked me to get out and ask them where we were. The woman wore old fashioned clothing, she looked rather provisional.
She was crying. She says that they need help. “What kind of help do you need?” I ask her. She tells us that there are Germans up the road that need help. They have left their wounded behind who need medical assistance. Olver asks her where Bellacourt is. She tells us that it is not far up the road. I ask how many wounded there are. The French woman says there are 9 wounded as well as some unharmed Germans who have surrendered under a white flag.
The woman and girl ride along with us to a village on the way, Dugot. I try to convey to Olver that we are responsible for the woman and girl’s safety. I am not sure he understood me.
Dugot seems rather quaint. There are only a few simple buildings, including homes, barns and a church. A group of five Germans converse with the American soldiers upon our arrival. From my perspective in the ambulance, I was able to watch the officers from both sides share some alcohol and cigars. They appeared to be in agreement. It seems that the Germans are leaving the area and are giving up their wounded to the medical unit.
A large group of German soldiers left town as we came to the village center. Our medical staff went to a bombed out building full of wounded. Lt. Everet went out with them to escort them. As usual, I went to help carry medical supplies. The heavy crates carry the necessary pharmaceuticals and equipment that Doctor Reed and Nurse Alders would need. I followed the doctor into one of the bombed out buildings.
Along with the German wounded was a French soldier. He was also wounded. He had a bandage on his head and another around his leg. The French soldier smoked a pipe casually. He stopped harassing Nurse Alders and Ms. Cooper as soon as he spotted me. He made a comment in English as he gestured towards me and laughed. I believed he was calling me effeminate. He confirmed that belief when he repeated himself in French. I could see how a seasoned, injured soldier could say that about a young lad such as me, not harried as much by the ravages of war as he or his men.
I tell the Frenchman, “I see you are wounded. I am doing fine, but you should probably sit down.” His injuries did not seem too severe. I wished he would just sit down and be quiet. He didn’t seem like the quiet type, however.
He responded, “I’m fine. I’m fine, you know. What is an effeminate man doing out at the front?”
“I’m doing pretty well,” I tell him.
“You should be in Paris,” he says mockingly. He gestures that I should be holding a wine glass delicately and drinking like a woman. “…with the other effeminate men” he continues. “With the other men, who didn’t fight with us.” His voice rises and he appears to get upset. He has been through many tough battles and has taken offense that I have not served in the military as well.
“Because I didn’t enlist, eh?” I ask him.
“What’s your name?”
“Jean Pierre Valois”, I state proudly.
“Jean Pierre Valois, eh? I’ll tell you, Jean Pierre Valois, my name is Private Henry Montclaire. I was with the 19th Regiment. We got tore up. While you were in Paris, I was getting my butt shot in Verdun,” the soldier says. He becomes agitated and for a moment I think the argument may come to blows.
I explain to Montclaire, “Not everyone is medically fit for soldiering duty.” I proffer a cigarette to the man.
He waves his pipe at me and says, “I don’t smoke cigarettes. I smoke a pipe, like the rest of people who fought at Verdun.” I realize that I will not be winning over this man. There is no point in continuing the conversation.
Doctor Reed asks him in English for help acquiring water. Montclaire says that he can’t carry a bucket. I go to the ambulance to get the bucket and begin to head to the village. I wanted to get away from Montclaire and avoid any more arguing.
As I head to the village, Montclaire follows. I pick up the pace, hoping to increase the distance between us.
“Effeminate man, yeah, go do some work! Work!” Montclaire shouts at me. He beings to curse under his breath.
Ms. Cooper catches up with Private Montclaire, handing him something. The Frenchman takes a swig of wine as Ms. Cooper says something in my direction and turns back to camp.
As I get close to the village, I turn around to check on the Montclaire, hoping that he is getting winded and may give up his pursuit. Instead I see that he has passed out, face down in the grass. Wounded-pride aside, I dropped the bucket and ran to check on the injured soldier. A few of the American soldiers also come to Montclaire’s side and offer to carry him back towards the bombed out buildings and the medical staff. I grab the bucket and continue on my quest for water.
I arrive at the closest house and knock on the door. After a few moments, the door opens just a crack. There’s a man inside but he appears timid. I am hoping that as a fellow Frenchman, he will trust me. I tell him, “We’re here to help you. Do you have any water? We need water.” I lift the bucket to show it to him.
The villager looks at the bucket and tells me to hand it over. I do so. He closes the door on me. I wait patiently for his return. As I stand infront of the door, I admire the beauty of the rustic village and distract myself with thoughts of my own provincial hometown, Meung.
The villager returns with the bucket. The water appears clear and smells fine. “Thank you, sir. Can you tell me what happened here? To the houses and the wounded?”
As soon as I being to question him, the man tries to shut the door on me. I quickly shove my foot in the door. “No, no, no. I don’t want to talk to you,” he says in a frightened voice. “You need to move along.” He says.
“Well. How can we help you if we don’t know what happened?” I ask.
“We don’t need your help.”
“You’re sure you fine?” I ask.
“In the morning, you move along.”
“Alright, I’ll tell everyone to move along. We won’t bother you,” I reassure him. I take my foot out of the door and the man slams it shut.
As I turn from the door, I see many faces staring out of the windows of the village homes. They are all glaring at me. They don’t want us here.
I return to the camp with the bucket of water. An uneasy feeling of dread nags at me.
I find Private Olver at the camp. I tell him, “The villagers don’t want us here. They want us gone by morning.”
Olver asked me, “What did you find out about the trees.” For a moment I thought I misunderstood him. What did the trees matter?
“I didn’t ask him about the trees. I ask what had happened to the houses and the soldiers. He said they didn’t need our help and that they wanted us gone by morning,” I told him. “Every house I walked by, they were glaring at me. So they don’t want us here. I was lucky they let me leave. The rest of the villagers stayed inside, they didn’t want to talk about what happened.”
Olver went to talk to the French woman and her daughter. There was some discussion between the Doctor, Olver and the French woman.
It appeared that Nurse Alders and Ms. Cooper were getting along well. I felt quite alone, despite the many other people at camp. None of these people are from here. This is not their country to defend. I am grateful they are here, but feel separate from them.
The soldiers and medical staff settled in around a campfire. I bunked down in the back of the ambulance. What an exhausting day.