In late September, a location in a forest near Flirey known as “Bois de Pannes” was identified as a site for a new ammunition dump. The dump would be a place where ammunition would be stored, away from prying German eyes in aircraft and balloons that still visited the area. This place had been already set up by the Germans, not as an ammo dump but as more of a rest camp. They had filled the woods with comfortable houses, stables, rustic gardens in which the officers and men ate and drank; bowling alleys and club rooms provided entertainment in cold weather. No artificial camouflage was used; the trees and limbs were bent over open spaces and interlaced or rows of tall bushes planted. Apparently, the Germans had hidden the camp so well, French reconnaissance aircraft and balloons had never found it. This area was known as the Bois de la Belle Oziere, “Wood of the Weeping Willow”.
The 1st of October found Company A in this part of the Bois de Pannes. Rather than set up their tents and equipment, Company A moved into the abandoned German camp. The quarters occupied by the officers were furnished with upholstered chairs, divans and beds, rugs, wall-hangings, and draperies. The place resembled a small bungalow and had all the modern conveniences of the same. In a building apart from the quarters there was a bath provided for the use of the occupants of the house – a luxury not usually found at the front. In addition, the Germans had left behind two milch cows and pianos, the latter being turned over to the company for use. The men all had quarters that were comfortably heated and lighted, and the whole was connected with a system of sapling bridges and foot-paths, marked out by rails to guide one on dark nights.
“No other company of the regiment was ever so luxuriously quartered in the field as A Company in the Bois de Pannes.”
– The Three Hundred and First Engineers – A History 1917-1919
Here the company constructed an elaborate artillery ammunition dump. Ammunition brought up from the rear was unloaded in the camp and to be loaded later onto trucks going to battery positions at the front.
The company completed this work on this day 100 years ago. But according to an upcoming letter that Jay writes, he and Company A were still there on October 29. All in all, sounds like a nice gig.
From the letter he writes to Rinda later in the month:
“We are billet in an old German camp and believe me they had real homes. Especially the officers. Three Sergts including myself are in one room of the billet and balance of rooms are filled with kitchen help. I have 15 men with me, six cooks & balance are helpers or kitchen police as they are termed in army. I have a spring bed to sleep upon and a good stove in our room so we are very comfortable.”
Here are photos provided to me by Christoff Wilvers, the excellent guide who brought me to the location of Jay’s kitchen. They were taken at the abandoned German camp where Company A was billeted. All of the structures were built of wood, nothing remains of it today.
These photos were taken before Jay and his Company took up residence but clearly, those who found the site enjoyed the now abandoned German digs.