U.S. Soldiers In The Western Front Writing Letters Quincy Claude Ayres

An American soldier Quincy Claude Ayres made daily diary entries starting on 3 December 1917. He was a First Lieutenant in the 1st and 2d Engineers. In his diary entry of January 18 2018 he notes, “After a late start a most sloppy march in the drizzling rain....met Lt. Harris and set the men to work cleaning up their barracks, left in a most filthy condition by Co. E …..It was the most outrageous and inexcusable that ever came to my notice.” Clearly he is not impressed by the condition of the barracks left by the previous soldiers. One has to imagine, however, the raw American recruits not being too concerned about tidiness and cleanliness but for a soldier of the old school it must too have been shocking. On 28 February 1918 he writes,” shelling and the effects of shelling everywhere appear-notable the hole entirely through the village church of a shell which failed to explode. We are in plain view of the Germans and are in the same latitude with American batteries scattered in nearby woods to the East. At last I am in real danger and all our tasks from now on will be fraught with hazard.” These are interesting remarks. So many allied troops have commented in the same vein in that they want to have some real and dangerous action after the boredom of previous inactivities.

It is interesting to the opposite views expressed by soldiers at the sharp end of the Western Front and those in quieter areas. The men at the sharp end are sick and tired of the constant bombardment, the noise and the appalling living conditions, whereas those in a less hostile environment crave for some of the action. Ayres continues in a diary entry of 4 March 1918 “A new moon assisted by occasional rockets was quite sufficient illumination above ground but the excavation was carried out in inky blackness. But for the intermittent spatter of machine guns here and there one could easily believe that an armistice had been declared.” Clearly the view is forming that perhaps an armistice was now proving a possibility. There is also the echo of previous comments that there had not been enough action.

By the spring Ayres is still recording his anticipation of what he imagines as real action. Everybody is talking of the new Bosche offensive began again yesterday and id making such rapid progress. Pessimists and optimists are about equally divided. Trains are late and motor trucks and heavy guns are rushing by in hundreds. We are hoping the Allies will cut in on their flanks and capture the whole gang.” Despite the note of optimism in the diary entry Ayres does record that in the little cemetery 51 American bodies lie buried.

Ayres in his diary on the day the armistice was signed writes, “An armistice between the allied nations and Germany has been signed and hostilities ceased temporarily at 11 am. Today. It is fitting that the great part played by the 2nd Division in bringing about this momentous victory over a redoubtable foe should be recounted at this time.” Here again, as in the case of Curtin, there is joy at the ending of the war and pride on the actions of soldiers in bringing about a decisive victory although Ayres is more respectful of the defeated enemy.

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