History of First Training Battery, 3rd OTC - 1918
THE PICK: STANDING CLEAR TO CHECK DATA
Battery Crew Warming Up - 3rd OTC - Camp Devens. GGA Image ID # 13aa5a2117
Being a Few Observations on the First Training Battery and Its Preparation for Action. Silly humor and anecdotal tidbits of life in the Third Officers Training Camp at Camp Devens, Ayer, Massachusets from the viewpoint of one of the cadets, Gerald Mygatt.
IT is highly improbable that Archduke Ferdinand of Austria would have started the present unpleasantness on the other side by permitting himself to be assassinated if he had fully realized that one of the consequences of his act was to be the formation of the organization technically known as the 1st Trg. Btry., 3rd 0. T. C., 76th Div.
This can be said advisedly, after some serious thought, and may be taken as one likes. Just one word of warning however ! If you're an Infantryman don't do your smiling in public because it's well to remember that it is not you who are firing over our heads.
January 5, 1918, will go down in history as the day on which the Archduke's dirty work came to a head. Actually it was two days later—a bleak day of driving snow such as Camp Devens alone can produce—that the forty men of the college contingent marched down the road to Barracks, were issued an assortment of misfit clothing, lined up, sprinkled according to size among the representatives of the 301st, 302nd, 303rd and the Trench Mortars, assigned to sections and bunks, and given to understand, in a general 'way, that from that moment on the social side of life would be reduced to a minimum.
Candidate Schmidt felt it wise to discontinue wearing his garrison cap and leather leggings; even Candidate Dimock removed the two tin pie plates of R. 0. T. C. rank from his shoulders. Those of us (and there were a good many) whose knowledge of Field Artillery was limited to the fact that Artillerymen wore red hat cords found ourselves walking about in a sort of awed stupor.
It began to occur to us that there was going to be a good deal to learn. We were right.
Tuesday morning, January 8th, Captain Harwood caught his first candidate with a button unpoliced. Tuesday afternoon, January 8th, Captain Harwood caught his forty-sixth candidate with a button unpoliced. Wednesday morning, January 9th, Captain Harwood had filled one entire little black book with "B's" and had to buy another. This seemed to annoy him so he filled the second book.
This was the period when we were being taught to distinguish between a mil and a parallax. It is a very interesting distinction, if you can remember it. Also the cylinder end stud nut and the traversing link pivot stud bushing screw pintle; we learned them too. Captain Gammell was very patient about it.
This also was the time when Lieutenant Barney developed a remarkable set of buggy crews in the back lot behind Barracks; he also developed a strain of imaginative power in the Battery so that by the end of a couple of weeks we might have been able to simulate almost anything. Unfortunately, he came down with mumps and the buggies were wheeled away.
In the second and third weeks of camp we learned how to stagger around the 7th Battalion training field on glare ice in perfect cadence. Our most valuable acquisition at this time was the knowledge of how to hold a !rifle at right shoulder with "Vii:the left hand without getting nailed; while you're doing it you thump your right hand against your side very gently until the blood begins to thaw — and you feel better. Winter caps helped some, but with them came the burning question before each formation, "Winter caps or no winter caps? " It was never answered until after the two-minute whistle, and that took half the pleasure away.
BATTERY CREW—WARMING UP
We were in quarantine now, and although we didn't know it, we were in for a solid month of it. Mort Proctor started it by deciding to pick up a case of measles. At that, though, quarantine wasn't entirely on the debit side of the ledger. It kept some of us in on Saturdays and Sundays, and as there was nothing to do but study we studied.
It was at this period that the balance of the Battery finally began to understand what a mil really was. Also quarantine developed a bit of talent among our genial midst. Bill Cunningham turned out to be something of a raconteur as well as an author and composer of rank. Candidate Buxton also entertained. And the second Saturday night of quarantine we had cider and some pretty fair box fighting; and Bill Cronin told us the history of his life.
All this time it was winter twenty-four hours a day. They hadn't put the stoves in the gun shed yet, so it was lots of fun to go up there and look at the counter recoil buffer and wonder whether your right foot was going to freeze too, now that the left one was entirely numb. The cold was the real reason why so many of us learned to semaphore so beautifully, as we had to semaphore to keep from freezing to death.
The last weeks of January were notable for a number of things. Crandidate Candlemeier, Sir, swore he had asked his last question. The War Department or the Mess Sergeant or somebody decided that it would be all right for us to have sugar in our coffee, although not in our tea.
The O. R. C. was founded—not the Officers' Reserve Corps but the Orderly Room Club—a select but fast growing organization of candidates who were honored by being requested to meet Captain Harwood at 11.30; all members of the Battery being eligible. Possibly the most cheering news of the whole month of January was the G. 0. requiring all officers to stand reveille with their organizations. A candidate can take satisfaction in many things.
We were getting fairly smooth in simulated mounted drill by this time, and a number of us had decided that the mounted service was the only life. Then the next week's schedule came through with the following ominous items : "March to C Battery and saddle. Equitation. Groom. March back." We marched to C Battery, but we didn't saddle.
Instead we were given bridles, blankets and surcingles. And the enlisted men of C Battery were given their first good hearty laugh since the week before the draft. One must pass over this period with a certain amount of delicacy; not to say haste. It is only fair to say, however, that we did march back, but not with our customary nonchalance and abandon. We were learning, though, at that.
On the calendar February is a short month. In the Battery its brevity was not its most apparent feature. Time didn't exactly hang heavy; but still there was a good deal to do. Lieutenant Boardman was teaching us to qualify for the two-mile run, and Lieutenant Wilde was beginning to learn our names. We learned how to look through a B. C. telescope and how to get it out of adjustment.
We began developing a profound distaste for a gentleman named Moretti, as well as a friend of his named Gruber. But this was more than counterbalanced by our introduction in person to a certain Major named Stevenson, who told us more about horses than most men are ever privileged even to guess at; and although we won't remember the details there's not a one of us who'll ever forget the gist. Also, just about now, we converted ourselves periodically into a class in plain and fancy art.
Friday became noted for the potency of its fish.
Lest we should not notice the fish at noon, it was hashed up and again served to us in the evening. By that time practically every man in the Battery had taken some cognizance of it. Saturday became more or less famous for the strange and utterly inexplicable manner in which perfectly speckless and spotless rifles could develop rusty butts and dusty interiors in the space of time that the inspecting officer was coming down the line.
February wasn't so bad at that. They let us out of quarantine and they let us go home over Washington's Birthday. That made us feel better—better beforehand and worse afterward. It was in February too that Fogarty shaved off his moustache and Blank publicly and shamelessly followed a suggestion made by the B. C. some time before at a certain Saturday inspection.
Standing retreat was becoming something of an outdoor sport just about now. The point of the game was for the acting Battery Commander to catch a retreat on the wing, as it were. The opposing side consisted of the buglers of the division. Their game was to blow as many different calls as possible all at once. If you heard a retreat and were able to make the Battery stand it properly you won; otherwise, which was habitual, they won. Standing retreat to the YMCA phonograph counted as half a credit; to the music of the K. P.s' preparing for dinner counted as a quarter credit. The authorities spoiled this by bringing in the fire whistle. Up to that time a retreat formation was always interesting.
We met General Z. and Captain D. and all their blooming retinue on the terrain board late in February. It is not a breach of any Article of War to say that the General was a pinhead. And we began to road sketch. Nobody wanted to road sketch, but nobody was asked. So we sketched, counting paces through some of the choicest mud this side of France.
It might be mentioned too that we were becoming pretty fancy with the buzzer; we dissected it and resected it, and by the end of February any man in the Battery could put a buzzer instrument permanently out of order in eight or ten seconds. Also somebody decided that we weren't tidy enough in our personal habits, and two new ceremonies were inaugurated—morning police and noon police. Captain Dupont now introduced us to all the Artillery of France, up to and including the 105 centimeter Schneider.
March came in like a lion, and Lieutenant Barney came back to us, bringing along a trick Ford. When the 302nd was motorized and those of us who took the matter seriously realized that it was our duty to prepare ourselves for any contingency, Ford squads were immediately organized and drilled at noon. It might be mentioned that this was in Lieutenant Barney's absence.
We went out in the back lots about now and began shooting with real loaded pistols at the side of a hill in front of which somebody had apparently carelessly placed some targets. Some of these were hit, and the holes had to be covered over immediately so that the proprietors of the targets would not find out that we had been there. Nothing was ever said, however, so it seems evident that none of the targets was badly damaged. Candidates Buxton and Haskell made an effort to hit something, but luck was against them.
Simulated fire now became one of our popular indoor sports. The Battery Flivver brought life and color to many of our outdoor formations by reminding us of happy hours at the movies with the Keystone Police. We began a little real gun drill and for a time it was the boast of the outfit that the first crew could do "March Order" in just a little over two minutes.
That was before we developed eight crews that could do it, and do it regularly, in less than twenty-five seconds and one with a record of eleven seconds. We began getting outdoors now—learning how to harness and hitch, how to drive teams in draft, how to occupy a position and know what we were doing at the same time, how to lay a gun and lay it so it would hit something at the other end of the trajectory; in short we began to learn some of the rudiments of real honest-to-goodness Field Artillery work. And as a Battery and as individuals we began to find our feet. Then we went out on the range to watch smoke bomb work and to see what shrapnel bursts looked like somewhere except on the end of Captain Harwood's pointer. That helped too.
Also, about this time, we were introduced to the view from the top of Prospect Hill. This fact deserves a paragraph to itself. You get there by going south through sticky mud until you want to lie down; then you turn east and climb a mountain, dragging an arctic overshoe along with you on each foot, then you turn north through a place called Still River, then you climb another mountain through more mud, and that's Prospect Hill. The view would be very nice if you lived there. But it's quite a long way back to camp.
The next week they gave us picks and shovels, and a lot of trees and logs and six-by-six timbers to make our shoulders tough with, and 'told us to dig ourselves some gun emplacements. Now early in the history of the Battery there were some men who thanked the Lord they were not in the Infantry because they didn't relish carrying rifles and digging trenches. When the rifles were handed around these men merely sighed and thanked the Lord that they didn't have to dig trenches anyhow.
When the picks and shovels were handed around late in March these men only sighed. For a gun emplacement, particularly a gun emplacement hacked down through three feet of gravel frozen hard as iron, is a grand-daddy to the fattest trench that ever lived. But when we finally finished the emplacements, and the command post, and the tunnel, and the communication trenches (and the job took a solid mortal week of honest—and considerable—sweat) we were able to stand up and wipe our hands on the side of our breeches and look the world in the face and tell ourselves that at last we were beginning to understand—in a very rudimentary way—a little of what it means to be a soldier. As a Battery, shoulder to shoulder, we had gone through the baptism of sweat.
What was to happen after that—and by the time you are reading this it will have happened—was comparatively unimportant. We had been schooled and disciplined and trained—the best schooling and the best discipline and the best training most of us had ever been privileged to know. And whether we were to go out into the Army as officers or as enlisted men we knew one thing—that every last man of us would go out a better man and a more efficient man than he had been three months before—a little nearer to being a soldier in every fine sense of the word—a little better able to shoot straight, to fight hard, to die hard—and to keep our buttons polished !