from the War Budget July 5th, 1917.
'Thoughts of a Soldier of Justice'

Extracts from the Diary of "The Poet” of the Foreign Legion


The war has brought forth no more frank and engaging volume than the " Letters and Diary of Alan Seeger," the poet of the Foreign Legion of France. Seeger had lived in Europe for two years before the war broke out. He was inspired by an intense love for France, and it was this love that caused him to be we of the first Americans to enlist in the Foreign Legion. He was about twenty-eight years of age when he fell mortally wounded during the Battle of the Somme.


SEEGER is at Toulouse, on Sunday, September 37th, 1914, and writes in his diary : "Fifth Sunday since my enlistment. The arbour of a little inn on the high road running East from Toulouse. Beautiful sunny afternoon. Peace. The stir of leaves, noise of poultry in the yards nearby, distant church bells, warm southern sunlight flooding the wide cornfields and vineyards.

"Everything is ready for departure to-day. We shall leave to-morrow or next day for an unknown destination. Some say Antwerp, some Châlons."

The next day he writes a letter to his mother, in the course of which he tells of hard work: "We have been putting in our time here at very hard drilling, and are supposed to have learned in six weeks, what the ordinary recruit in times, of peace takes all his two years at. We rise at 5 and work stops in the afternoon at 5. A twelve-hour day at one sou a day. I hope to earn higher wages than this in time to come, but I never expect to work harder. The early rising hour is splendid, for it gives one the chance to see the most beautiful part of these beautiful autumn days in the South."

Presently he gets into touch with 'the 'beautiful' places of France that war had scarred. He writes : "Mailly apparently was about the furthest point reached by the Germans before the French success in the battle of the Marne forced them to retreat. There are numerous vestiges, of the recent battle. Some of the buildings in the villages are damaged by shells, some that we passed yesterday morning in the train, completely demolished.

The Voice of Mars

"Yesterday we heard cannon for the first time. All day long the occasional rumble of heavy siege guns came from the direction of the frontier. The distance must have been sixty or seventy kilometers. This makes drilling interesting.

"Last night two Germans, were found! in the woods near here by a patrol. One was dead from hunger and exposure, and the other nearly so. He said the reason they had not surrendered was that their officers had told them that they would be shot. He said also that there were thirty or thirty others in the neighbourhood."

"The Germans retreated along the road we marched over. Everywhere in the fields on either hand were the holes made by the obus and the graves beside them where the men fell. Though several weeks have passed since the battle, the fields are still littered with debris. To-day we passed through the villages of Marisain and Bergères. The first was completely destroyed, not a house on the main street escaped the fire. Nothing but blackened walls and here and there the Inhabitants standing with sullen faces in their ruined doorways.

The scene of the marching column down the ruined street — a scene that will became familiar to us was imposing.

Through Mud and Moonlight

"We marched away a week ago through the forests under a moonlit sky. The road was merely a recent clearing through the trees to move the artillery over and was almost impassably muddy.

Arrived at the outer line of trenches, I was sent forward into a little trench in the fields to stay awake all night with half a dozen others on sentinel duty. Next day was .peaceful and we spent it perfecting the little bombproof shelters along the lines. It was a day well spent, for the Germans up to this time had been content to direct their fire over our heads on the French batteries behind us, began now to turn it on our trenches, informed no doubt by their aeroplanes that buzzed continually overhead. The salvoes of shrapnel began bursting in the woods all about us and we were compelled to stay under cover all day long.

Darkness would hardly begin before a fusillade would start from the lines near by, the cry 'Aux armes, aux tranchées!” would run from door to door and we would hasten out into the night to wait in the muddy ditches while bullets whistled about. But these fusillades would always die out, provoked probably only by the German patrols seeking to discover our position. At first I felt a little uneasy, but in the end only bothered. In the daytime we slept, oblivious to the shells that burst around us.

Invisible Foes

"The distressing thing about the kind of warfare we are up against is being harried by an invisible enemy and standing up against all the dangers of battle without any of it’s exhilaration or enthusiasm. From Belfort to the sea now it is the guerre des tranchées. In comparison with it a bayonet charge would be desirable and the command welcome to us all.

"After weeks of inaction in trenches where the danger of attack was slight, and there was nothing worse to be feared than the constant artillery fire, our company was moved last time into the little village of C——, the most dangerous part of the sector we are holding.

No Place for Nerves

"Four days almost without sleep, sometimes twelve out of twenty-four hours on guard in the most dangerous positions. It was in one of these that I came for the first time in immediate contact with the enemy in a most unfortunate affair. I was standing guard under the wall of a chateau park with a comrade, when a patrol sneaked up on the other side and threw a hand grenade over, which sputtered a moment at our feet and went out without exploding. Without crying to arms, I left the other sentry on the spot and walked down and called out the corporal of the guard. We walked back to the spot together, and had hardly arrived when another bomb came over a breach in the wall at this spot and poured a volley into our midst, killing the corporal instantly. The enemy got away before we had time to fire a shot.

Under No Illusion

"You are quite wrong about my not realising what I was going into when I enlisted. I had not been living for two years in Europe without coming to understand the situation very well, and I was under no illusion that the conflict which was to decide the fate of empires and remake the map of Europe would be a matter of a few months. I knew that it would be a fight to a finish.

"Never have I regretted doing what I am doing, nor would I at this moment be anywhere else than where I am. I pity the poor civilians who shall never have seen or known the things that we have seen and known. Great are the pleasures that they are continuing to enjoy and that we have renounced; the sense of being the instrument of destiny is to me a source of greater satisfaction.

Life Thrice Enriched

"Nothing but good can befall the soldier, so he plays his part well. Come out of the ordeal safe and sound he has had an experience in the light of which all life thereafter will be three times richer and more beautiful; wounded, he will have the esteem and admiration of all men and the approbation of his own conscience; killed more than any other man he can face the unknown without misgiving — that is, so long as Death comes upon him in a moment of courage and enthusiasm, not faltering or of fear."



'the Poet's Death in Battle'
How Alan Seeger Died
Told by Bif Bear, a Young Egyptian, in the Foreign Legion


A Young American in the Foreign Legion

portrait of the author, Alan Seeger


The artists of Europe — the painters, poets, singers—the aesthetes of France and Italy, of Britain and Russian, and of Germany, the Hungarian musicians — all answered the "call of war" and threw their souls into the "rendezvous with death." Thousands of them died on the battlefields. Among them is the young English poet, Rupert Brooke, and the American poet, Allan Seeger, who "loved France and gave his life to her." This young American enlisted early in the war in the Foreign Legion. He was fighting in the battles in Champagne in July, 1916, when he fell. A young Egyptian, who was with the poet in the trenches, tells of his end. After the battle, he wrote this letter to Mrs. Caroline L. Weeks, of Boston, who has acted in the role of "marraine" (godmother) to many American volunteers.

The following is a translation from the French forwarded from Paris.


I — Story of the American Poet

IT was in the Thiescourt Woods, I remember, that I saw Alan on his return from convalescent leave. My section was in first line trenches and his, in reserve, in the second line. I was on soup fatigue and was going to the Chalffour Quarry when I saw him in front of me, walking along alone. Throwing down the marmites (tin receptacles) with which I was loaded, I rushed to shake him by the hand. He had, it seemed to me, grown slightly thinner, his pale face seemed slightly paler, and his eyes, his fine eyes with their far-away look, ever lost in distant contemplation, were still as dreamy as ever.

He told me how sorry he was not to be still with me as he had been transferred to the first section and I belonged to the third. But we saw each other every day. He would recount the joys of his two months' convalescent leave, and I shall never forget how one phrase was often on his lips, "Life is only beautiful if divided between war and love. They are the only two things truly great, fine and perfect, everything else is but petty and mean. I have known love for the last few weeks in all its beauty and now I want to make war, . . . but fine war, a war of bayonet charges, the desperate pursuit of an enemy in flight, the entry as conqueror, with trumpets sounding, into a town that we have delivered! Those are the delights of war! Where in civil life can be found any emotion so fine and strong as those ?"

And we would exalt our spirits with hopes of making an assault with the bayonet, hopes that were not doomed to disappointment, for a few weeks later we were to attack.

II — an Ode to American Patriotism

One day while we were in reserve at the Martin Quarries Alan came to look for me. He was full of joy and showed me a telegram that he had received from Paris, asking him to compose a poem which he himself was to read in public at a Franco-American manifestation, for which he was to receive forty-eight hours' leave. Alan was overjoyed at the opportunity of obtaining leave, but was too retiring to think of reading his poem himself; he would try, he told me, to have it read by some one else.

The eve of the ceremony arrived — I cannot recall the date — but no leave came. We were in the trenches and chance had placed me near Seeger in "petit poste" (the small outlook post, some yards in advance of the first line trench). He confessed that he had lost all hope of going, and I tried to find all sorts of arguments to encourage him, that his leave might come at dawn, and that by taking the train at Ressons at 7 A. M. he could still reach Paris by noon and would have plenty of time, as the ceremony was at 2.

The morning came, and instead of bringing the much desired permission to leave it brought a terrible down-pour of rain, and the day passed sadly. He found consolation in the thought that July 4 would soon arrive, when the Americans with the Foreign Legion might hope for forty-eight hours' leave, as last year. Alas! He little thought that on that date.

The ceremony referred to was held on May 30, in connection with Decoration Day celebrations. Wreaths to the Americans killed for France were placed around the statue of Washington and Lafayette, in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris. By an unfortunate mistake the forty-eight hours' leave granted for the event was made for June 30 instead of May 30. The ode which Alan Seeger composed for the occasion was printed in The Sun a few days after the author had fallen in battle.]

On June 21 we left the sector of the Thiescourt Woods for an unknown destination, which proved to be the Somme. We took the train at Estrees St. Denis and on June 22 about 10 A. M. reached Boves. Under a blazing sun, in heat that seemed to have escaped from the furnace of hell, we started for Bayonviller. We had undergone no such march since the war began.

Weighed down by their sacks, prostrated by the heat, men fell by hundreds along the road. Hardly twenty of the 200 forming the company arrived without having left the column. Seeger was one of these few. He told me afterward of the terrible effort he had had to make not to give up. At every halt he drank a drop of "tafia" (rum and coffee) to "give himself heart," and when he reached the end of the march he was worn out, but proud — he had not left the ranks.

We passed the eight days of repose at Bayonviller, almost always together, seeking the greatest possible enjoyment in our life at the moment and making dreams for the future after the war. Alan confided to me that "after the war" caused him fear — that he could not tell what destiny reserved for him, but that if the fates smiled on him it was toward the Orient that he would make. He loved the Orient — Constantinople, Cairo, Damascus, Beirut had a powerful fascination for him; their names would plunge him into profound reverie.

"It is in the mysterious frame of the Orient," he used to say, "in its dazzling light, in its blue, blue nights, among the perfumes of incense and hashish, that I would live, love and die."

And then the talk would turn again on the war and he would say: "My only wish now is to make a bayonet charge. After that I shall see. Death may surprise me, but it shall not frighten me. It is my destiny. 'Mektoub' (it is written)." He was a real fatalist and drew courage and resignation from his fatalism.

During the night of June 30-July 1 (1916) we left Bayonviller to move nearer the firing line. We went to Proyart as reserves.

At 8 o'clock on the morning of July I there was roll call for the day's orders and we were told that the general offensive would begin at 9 without us, as we were in reserve, and that we would be notified of the day and hour that we were to go into action.

When this report was finished we were ordered to shell fatigue, unloading 8 inch shells from automobile trucks which brought them up to our position.

All was hustle and bustle. The Colonial regiments had carried the first German lines and thousands and thousands of prisoners kept arriving and leaving. Ambulances filed along the roads continuously. As news began to arrive we left our work to seek more details, everything we could learn seemed to augur well.

About 4 P. M. we left Proyart for Fontaine-les-Capy and in the first line. Alan was beaming with joy and full of impatience for the order to Join in the action. Everywhere delirious joy reigned at having driven the enemy back without loss for us. We believed that no » further resistance would be met and that our shock attack would finish the Germans. After passing the night at Fontaine-les-Capy we moved in the morning toward what had been the German first lines. I passed almost all the day with Alan. He was perfectly happy.

"My dream is coming true," he said to me, "and perhaps this evening or to- morrow we shall attack. I am more than satisfied, but it's too bad about our July 4 leave. I cannot hope to see Paris again now before the 6th or 7th, but if this leave is not granted me 'Mektoub! Mektoub'!" he finished with a smile.

The field of battle was relatively calm, a few shells fell, fired by the enemy in retreat, and our troops were advancing on all sides. The Colonials had taken Assevillers and the next day we were to take their place in first line.

On July 3 (1916) about noon we moved toward Assevillers to relieve the Colonials at nightfall. Alan and I visited Assevillers, picking up souvenirs, postcards, letters, soldiers' notebooks and chattering all the time, when suddenly a voice called out, "The company will fall in to go to the first line."

III — Last Partings of Comrades

Before leaving one another we made each other the same promise as we had made before the Champagne battle (September 25, 1915), that if one of us fell so severely wounded that there was no hope of escape the other would finish him off with a bullet in the heart, rather than let him await death in lingering torture. He showed me his revolver, saying, "I have more luck than you. If I can still use one arm I shall have no need of any one," and then we rejoined our different sections.

About 4 o'clock the order came to get ready for the attack. None could help thinking of what the next few hours would bring. One minute's anguish and then, once in the ranks, faces become calm and serene, a kind of gravity falling upon them, while on each could be read the determination and expectation of victory'.

Two battalions were to attack Belloy-en-Santerre, our company being the reserve of battalion. The companies forming the first wave were deployed on the plain. Bayonets glittered in the air above the corn, already quite tall. Scarcely had the movement begun when the enemy perceived them and started a barrier fire (artillery fire to bar any advance), the quick firers started their rapid, regular crackerlike rat-tat. Bullets whizzed and shells exploded almost as they left the gun, making a din infernal. And the wave went forward, always forward, leaving behind the wounded and the dead.

The losses were heavy and the enemy made a desperate resistance. The company of reserve was ordered to advance with the second wave of assault. "Forward!" cried the Captain, and the company deployed "in files of squadron," advancing slowly but surely under the enemy's intense and murderous fire.

The first section (Alan's section) formed the right and vanguard of the company, and mine formed the left wing. After the first bound forward, we lay flat on the ground, and I saw the first section advancing beyond us and making toward the extreme right of the village of Belloy-en-Santerre. I caught sight of Seeger and called to him, making a sign with my hand.

He answered with a smile. How pale he was! His tall silhouette stood out on the green of the cornfield. He was the tallest man in his section. His head erect and pride in his eyes, I saw him running forward, with bayonet fixed. Soon he disappeared and that was the last time I saw my friend.

"Forward!" And we made a second bound, right to the wave of assault, which we left behind a little, and down we threw ourselves again. The fusillade became more and more intense, reaching a paroxysm. The mitrailleuses mow men down and the cannons thunder in desperation. Bodies are crushed and torn to fragments by the shells, and the wounded groan as they await death, for all hope of escaping alive from such a hell has fled.

The air is saturated with the smell of powder and blood, everywhere the din is deafening; men are torn with impatience at having to remain without moving under such a fire. We struggle even for breath and cries resound from every side. Suddenly a word of command, an order of deliverance, passes from mouth to mouth. "Forward! With bayonets!" — the command that Seeger had awaited so long.

IV — the Poet's Death on the Battlefield

In an irresistible, sublime dash we hurl ourselves to the assault, offering our bodies as a target. It was at this moment that Alan Seeger fell heavily wounded in the stomach. His comrades saw him fall and crawl into the shelter of a shell hole. Since that minute nobody saw him alive.

I will spare you an account of the rest of the battle. As soon as the enemy was driven back and Belloy-en-Santerre won I searched for news of Seeger. I was told of his wound and was glad of it, for I thought he had been carried away and henceforth would be far from the dangers of bullets and shells.

Thus ended this Fourth of July that Seeger had hoped to celebrate in Paris. On the next day we were relieved from the first lines and went into reserve lines. A fatigue party was left to identify the dead.

Seeger was found dead. His body was naked, his shirt and tunic being beside him and his rifle planted in the ground with the butt in the air. He had tied a handkerchief to the butt to attract the attention of the stretcher bearers. He was lying on his side with his legs bent. It was at night by the light of a pocket electric lamp that he was hastily recognized. Stretcher bearers took the body and buried it next day in the one big grave made for the regiment, where lie a hundred bodies. This tomb is situated at the hill 76 to the south of Belloy-en-Santerre.

As I think of the circumstances of his death I am convinced that after undressing to bandage himself he must have risen and been struck by a second bullet. I asked permission on the night of July 6 (1916) when I heard of his being wounded, to go and see him, but I was refused.

see also a French account : Les Volontaires Américains Morts pour la France - Alan Seeger


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