Memories of World War I by Robinson Shepard (my grandpa) – page 6: Where Grampa finally gets to France.

After welcoming speeches by dignitaries we marched to, and boarded, one of the peculiar looking British trains. We rode as far as Winchester, where we marched up a steep hill to a British rest camp, “Winnal Downs.” There we had a meal of what the boys called “Oak Leaf Stew,” a very thin and tasteless watery soup, with a few things that looked like oak leaves floating in it.

The next morning we boarded a train and set off in the general direction of London. I was hopeful we were going through London, but a few miles short of there we turned off and pulled up on the Docks at Southampton. The Harbor was very busy and I saw the Narraganset! It looked like home and I realized what we were missing in England were Indian names.

On the docks at Southampton all the boys who were in evidence were put to work, but a few including me managed to keep out of the way behind piles of barracks bags and slept off the afternoon.

We got on a little Channel steamer and cast off in the middle of the night. We steamed as fast as possible across the English Channel with no zigzagging as had been done across the Atlantic. Rain began pouring down so everyone went inside and were four or five deep on the floor. Very rough passage and some were seasick. I wasn’t and went back on deck to avoid them.

Sunny France at last!! Charbourg at 3:30 a.m. pitch dark and pouring rain. After we got organized we started up a steep hill. Some of the boys started to sing and were promptly ordered to “shut up, the Germans will hear you.” With the rain pouring down and pitch dark, if any Germans were within 200 miles they were in a plane whose engines roared so loud one couldn’t hear himself think let alone soldiers singing, on the ground, to keep up their courage.

Next day I was on Guard duty and saw my first duty as an American soldier in France and I was to keep Portuguese soldiers out of a British Rest Camp. They had a camp nearby and tried to get in for more food, so it was said. They were all tall and big men, much larger than I and I had no arms of any kind, but I looked as fierce as possible and told them no admission, so they all turned around as meekly as possible, to my surprise and relief. Don’t remember how long we were in this camp, but came down to Cherbourg to a troop train. On the way down we passed a house where someone said Dumas wrote Les Trois Mousquetaires.

This train was composed of 40 and 8 cars. The first we had seen, but far from the last. Finally we started in the direction of Paris. Stopped in the freight yards of Caen (a good sized city, home of one of the professors I had at Besancon. Think it was Chauvenet, the Chemistry one, but am not sure.) Stayed there some time and on the next track was a string of freight cars, each composed of two immense wooden barrels. The word got around that this was wine, so a lot of boys got some in their mess kit cups. All you had to do was turn a spigot at the bottom of the barrel. However it was very cheap and very sour “pinard” issued to the “frogs” which is what the French soldiers were called in camp. Very few of us, if any, went back for seconds on the wine.