Campaign History of the 151e Régiment d'Infanterie - XXII
~ 1917 ~
The Crisis of Morale (5-30 May)
5-30 May: The 5 May is spent washing up and cleaning uniforms, equipment and weapons. The companies and battalions are also reorganized. The next day, General Passaga (commanding 32e Corps d'Armée) reviews the regiment at 1500 hrs south of Bouvaucourt. On 7 May the 151 marches to Villers-Agron where it will remain billeted for a couple weeks. Bordinat once again recounts for us:
On Monday 7 May, we receive official orders to pull back further to the rear to the great joy of all. After having marched all day, we arrive at Villers-Agron [southwest of Reims], in a camp made up of Driant style barracks at least thirty kilometers from the firing line. We recover a little bit of life after holding on for so long by a thread, and under the radiant sunshine, one forgets once more the sad days spent in turmoil. While here, we receive as reinforcement from the 351st Reserve [Infantry Regiment, their former sister regiment], coming from Belgium to make up our losses.Other notable information from this period follows below. But first we will pause a moment here and allow Bordinat to provide us with a window into the the situation on the ground. His account is provided here in full.
After a fortnight spent in this country, we are ordered to go up to the line. This causes pretty much a general discontent, caused by all manners of injustice. This unfortunate attack on the Aisne on 16 April 1917 had a repercussion in the army as well as in the Interior, as the men on furlough recount that there were accusations made of treason. Many units mutinied, refusing categorically to return to the line until they had leave. The regulation time had long elapsed owing to the fact every time there was an offensive in anyway, the fighting troops this great moral comfort under the pretext that it would hinder the operations.Beginning 9 May, training is resume with principal exercise in the morning and specialist instruction in the afternoon. This training will continue for the next several weeks. Lieuts. Mulotte and Teyssier are promoted definitively to the rank of capitaine. The next day, Lieut. Parmentier is breveted to capitaine. On 10 May Capt. de Sainte Croix, Lieuts. Canredon, Couduzorgues and de Mondion return to the regiment after being previously evacutated. Capt. Lotte coming from the 272 RI takes command of 1 MG Co. on 16 May. Capt. Dutilloy coming from the 148 RI is assigned to the DD. Sous-Lieut. Lecomte is breveted to lieutenant on 17 May. Sous-Lieut. Dievart, Meunier, and Cartier are promoted definitively to that rank on 18 May. Sous-Lieut. Adam and Erkens are breveted to the rank of lieutenant on 19 May. Aspirant Froissard, Lecerf, Gund, and Adjudants Vermeulen, Le Ridant are all breveted to the rank of sous-lieutenant.
Also, it was with valid justification, since there were all the boys in the rear service who were able to see their families without being forced to endure all the myriad hardships as we did. And all these shirkers [embusqués], as they were called, treated us like we were fools. Finally exasperated after so many slaps in the face, we made it known plain to our commanders the constantly increasing dangers we were exposed to and fed up with], and that they should as quickly as possible raise these with the right authorities, inviting them to finally take these grievances into consideration, to improve our lot as best as could be done.
Since 1915 for example, it was sickening to see lots of young people employed in the rear services, strutting around leisurely for months or even a year in a village or town, sheltered from all the dangers and miseries...It was not not uncommon to see people already wounded several times, go back to field of honor to get killed, while workers fresh and available, full of health and wanting of nothing (including arrogance), lived peaceful lives, more often than not, not knowing what to do with themselves.
And it was the same thing with the officers: the officer of the trenches was a zero compared to that of the rear. It was because of all these shameful injustices that the poilus sang of their mental and physical suffering in front of our very commanders, who well often did not encourage us, as was their duty not to. Nonetheless, the officers couldn't help but be all ears, constantly warning [their superiors] of the ever-increasing danger. I still remember some inflamed couplets, these songs which were composed by people who had done a turn of front in the years 1916-1917, as well as the some stanzas composed in the trenches during days of despair.
Outside the country, the situation was hardly more encouraging. The Russian Revolution that followed their shameful peace treaty, as well as the misfortune of Romania being crushed on all fronts, we knew all too well that we would we would soon have a backlash along either the Anglo-French front or the Italian one. We also had had the Boche peace proposal at the time made in the first days of the year 1917. Since our last failure, there was little hope ventured in an advantageous outcome for our side.
I think that if you had asked for a vote for the continuation of the war from the combatants, there would have been a good chance of a "no" vote at this time. Only one hope remained for us upon seeing the official declaration of America's entry into the war. But how would these Americans arrive here, with submarines? After what's happened to England around this time, there's no way the American army could get a million men to our shores in a year.
In short, we would have to overcome all these difficulties on our own. Our situation began to improve. A half-liter of wine [a day] was now distributed to us, the number of cooperatives were increased up to the trenches, where it was easier for us to acquire things that were more practical to our needs. Additionally we began to receive a combat allowance, fixed at three francs, half of which was paid out with the other half going to a pension. It was also arranged that we would get a ten-day furlough at least three times a year and what's more, canteens were established in the train stations where you could find a free meal in certain locations along with a number of small things useful to our well-being.
We were also informed that units would not be constantly left in the line at the detriment to another and that they would replace older fathers with families with the younger people from the unnecessary rear services. Likewise, in the war factories, the shirkers were chased out, a task that wasn't all that easy according to the people charged with this job. In each company, they created a report of the men's morale, which examined with care all our complaints. These were often satisfied, so that little by little calm was restored. You felt that really there was a little more respect given to the combatant and everyone felt less like cannon fodder and more human. Wasn't that fair afterall?
Until the end [of the war], our lot continued improve, even if it meant the rear-line people were often made to come join us in the line...So it's under these conditions that at 4 am on 30 May, on the eve of getting ready to return to the line, to our great astonishment we took the road in the opposite direction. Nothing could cheer us more than this lovely surprise.
Lieut. Thiébaud returns on 21 May after being previously wounded and evacuated to retake command of 2 MG Co. Meanwhile, on 22 May a detachment of reinforcements coming from the Divisional Depot arrives composed of 4 adjudants-chefs, 6 aspirants, 7 sergents, 1 sergent-fourrier, 18 caporaux, and 122 soldiers. The nexy day, Capts. Garavel, Moracchini, Lieut. Maillard, Sous-Lieuts. Mittens and Boyer, and Médecin-aide-major Lhounure [sp?] arrive from the 351 RI. On 23 May, Capt. Bertrais, previously wounded and evacuated, returns to the regiment. Meanwhile, the 5 Battalion of the 351 RI arrives in whole as reinforcement, comprised of 1 adjudant, 8 sergents, 56 caporaux, 3 caporaux-fourriers, 1 maréchal des logis and 512 soldiers.
On the afternoon of 25 May, General Passaga (commanding 32e CA) reviews the regiment between Vézilly and Goussancourt. Adjudant Girot is promoted to sous-lieutenant. The next day the 151 marches to Beuvardes to billet where they will remain until 30 May.