XXII SENT ON FURLOUGH
SENT ON FURLOUGH
FOR four days and nights, without food and sleep, we had been raging like barbarians, and had spent all our strength. We were soon relieved. To our astonishment we were relieved by cavalry. They were Saxon chasseurs on horseback who were to do duty as infantrymen. It had been found impossible to make good the enormous losses of the preceding days by sending up men of the depot. So they had called upon the cavalry who, by the way, were frequently employed during that time. The soldiers who had been in a life and death struggle for four days were demoralized to such an extent that they had no longer any fighting value. We were relieved very quietly, and could then return to our camp. We did not hear before the next day that during the period described our company had suffered a total loss of 49 men. The fate of most of them was unknown; one did not know whether they were dead or prisoners or whether they lay wounded in some ambulance station.
The village of Varennes was continually bombarded by French guns of large size. Several French families were still living in a part of the village that had not been so badly damaged. Every day several of the enemy's 28-cm. shells came down in that quarter. Though many inhabitants had been wounded by the shells the people could not be induced to leave their houses.
Our quarters were situated near a very steep slope and were thus protected against artillery fire. They consisted of wooden shanties built by ourselves. We had brought up furniture from everywhere and had made ourselves at home; for Varennes was, after all, nearly two miles behind the front. But all the shanties were not occupied, for the number of our men diminished from day to day. At last the longed-for men from the depot arrived. Many new sapper formations had to be got together for all parts of the front, and it was therefore impossible to supply the existing sapper detachments with their regular reserves. Joyfully we greeted the new arrivals. They were, as was always the case, men of very different ages; a young boyish volunteer of 17 years would march next to an old man of the landsturm who had likewise volunteered. All of them, without any exception, have bitterly repented of their "free choice" and made no secret of it. "It's a shame," a comrade told me, "that those seventeen-year-old children should be led to the slaughter, and that their young life is being poisoned, as it needs must be in these surroundings; scarcely out of boyhood, they are being shot down like mad dogs."
It took but a few days for the volunteers ---all of them without an exception---to repent bitterly of their resolve, and every soldier who had been in the war for any length of time would reproach them when they gave expression to their great disappointment. "But you have come voluntarily," they were told; "we had to go, else we should have been off long ago." . Yet we knew that all those young people had been under some influence and had been given a wrong picture of the war.
Those soldiers who had been in the war from the start who had not been wounded, but had gone through all the fighting, were gradually all sent home on furlough for ten days. Though our company contained but 14 unwounded soldiers it was very hard to obtain the furlough. We had lost several times the number of men on our muster-roll, but all our officers were still in good physical condition.
It was not until September that I managed to obtain furlough at the request of my relations, and I left for home with a resolve that at times seemed to me impossible to execute. All went well until I got to Diedenhofen.
As far as that station the railroads are operated by the army authorities. At Diedenhofen they are taken over by the Imperial Railroads of Alsace-Lorraine and the Prusso-Hessian State Railroads. So I had to change, and got on a train that went to Saarbruecken. I had scarcely taken a seat in a compartment in my dirty and ragged uniform when a conductor came along to inspect the tickets. Of course, I had no ticket; I had only a furlough certificate and a pass which had been handed to me at the field railroad depot of Chatel. The conductor looked at the papers and asked me again for my ticket. I drew his attention to my pass. "That is only good for the territory of the war operations," he said; "you are now traveling on a state railroad and have to buy a ticket."
I told him that I should not buy a ticket, and asked him to inform the station manager. "You," I told him, "only act according to instructions. I am not angry with you for asking of me what I shall do under no circumstances." He went off and came back with the manager. The latter also inspected my papers and told me I had to pay for the journey. "I have no means for that purpose," I told him. For these last three years I have been in these clothes (I pointed to my uniform), "and for three years I have therefore been without any income. Whence am I to get the money to pay for this journey?" "If you have no money for traveling you can't take furlough." I thought to myself that if they took me deep into France they were in conscience bound to take me back to where they had fetched me. Was I to be a soldier for three years and fight for the Fatherland for more than a year only to find that now they refused the free use of their railroads to a ragged soldier? I explained that I was not going to pay, that I could not save the fare from the few pfennigs' pay. I refused explicitly to pay a soldier's journey with my private money, even if---as was the case here---that soldier was myself. Finally I told him, "I must request you to inform the military railroad commander; the depot command attends to soldiers, not you." He sent me a furious look through his horn spectacles and disappeared. Two civilians were sitting in the same compartment with me; they thought it an unheard-of thing that a soldier coming from the front should be asked for his fare. Presently the depot commander came up with a sergeant. He demanded to see my furlough certificate, pay books, and all my other papers.
"Have you any money?"
"Where do you come from?"
"From Chatel in the Argonnes."
"How long were you at the front?
"In the fourteenth month."
"Have you no money at all? "
"No; you don't want money at the front."
"The fare must be paid. If you can't, the company must pay. Please sign this paper."
I signed it without looking at it. It was all one to me what I signed, as long as they left me alone. Then the sergeant came back.
"You can not travel in that compartment; you must also not converse with travelers. You have to take the first carriage marked 'Only for the military.' Get into that."
"I see," I observed; "in the dogs' compartment."
He turned round again and said, " Cut out those remarks."
The train started, and I arrived safely home. After the first hours of meeting all at home again had passed I found myself provided with faultless underwear and had taken the urgently needed bath. Once more I could put on the civilian dress I had missed for so long a time. All of it appeared strange to me. I began to think. Under no conditions was I going to return to the front. But I did not know how I should succeed in getting across the frontier. I could choose between two countries only ---Switzerland and Holland. It was no use going to Switzerland, for that country was surrounded by belligerent states, and it needed only a little spark to bring Switzerland into the war, and then there would be no loophole for me. There was only the nearest country left for me to choose---Holland. But how was I to get there? There was the rub. I concocted a thousand plans and discarded them again. Nobody, not even my relatives, must know about it.