David Backus Returns to Vailly, Reflects on “How Low Men Can Fall” - July 28, 1917

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David Backus Returns to Vailly, Reflects on “How Low Men Can Fall” - July 28, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | July 28, 2017


Still prohibited from visiting the dangerous Rouge Maison, David Backus returned once again to the town of Vailly. As he drove up, he recalled a story that a local wine shop worker had recently recounted. The famous German general Alexander von Kluck had once visited the same wine shop, and he had forced the worker to taste his glass of water to make sure it was not poisoned. When Backus arrived at Vailly, he found it a wreck, “much worse off than when [he was] last here.” The town, which rested a mere 600 yards from the Second Line trenches, experienced near-constant shelling, and there was almost nothing left. While Backus was there, a shell exploded a mere 100 feet from his ambulance; in his diary, he confesses that he was “scared stiff for the first time.” Later that day, Backus picked up an injured German soldier who was suspected to have important military information. While his ambulance had room for four, Backus could not transport three additional Allied soldiers, for fear that they would kill the German before authorities could extract any information. Backus simply states, “hell of a state of affairs – does it not show how low men can fall?”
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Still prohibited from visiting the dangerous Rouge Maison, David Backus returned once again to the town of Vailly. As he drove up, he recalled a story that a local wine shop worker had recently recounted. The famous German general Alexander von Kluck had once visited the same wine shop, and he had forced the worker to taste his glass of water to make sure it was not poisoned. When Backus arrived at Vailly, he found it a wreck, “much worse off than when [he was] last here.” The town, which rested a mere 600 yards from the Second Line trenches, experienced near-constant shelling, and there was almost nothing left. While Backus was there, a shell exploded a mere 100 feet from his ambulance; in his diary, he confesses that he was “scared stiff for the first time.” Later that day, Backus picked up an injured German soldier who was suspected to have important military information. While his ambulance had room for four, Backus could not transport three additional Allied soldiers, for fear that they would kill the German before authorities could extract any information. Backus simply states, “hell of a state of affairs – does it not show how low men can fall?”


Saturday July-28-17
Bob Drake and I walked down to take a picture of Archie-mounted on armored motor trucks. Coffee, breakfast 10. Up to Vailly - yes same old place. [...] - have cut out Rogue Mason as it is too dangerous. [...] The other night at Hartennes a girl in a wine shop told us that two years ago she had to give Von Kluck, the famous German General a drink of water and he made her drink part of the water first for fear it was poisoned. Met a chap up at the Farm who has been a waiter in Savoy Hotel, London and consequently speaks good English. He was within 15 yds of Boche Trenches last night putting up Barbed wire in No Man's Land and is goign to do it again tonight. We are only 600 yds. from Second Line Trenches and 1500 yds. from First. There are not Third Line Trenches here. The Farm is a complete wreck. Vailly is most worse off than when we were last here. Well the Huns have been quiet so far today. Lots of Avions over - back & forth - few shells but no many. got some rather good pictures; [...] Am going to try & come up tomorrow again as an aid & go up to the second & if possible first line trenches. What is left of this town - nothing. Rather quiet. We all had supper here at Abri. Got call 7:30. Stan Metcalf came along as Aid Astel. Well we got a couple of shells just after we reached there. All beat it down Abri then shortly went down. We had a Boche Barrage & French attack this at ten. Stars shells fell within three hundred feet from car. I was in rode watching & Boche drolled six shells in a row. At first one I ran dropped alongside of wall - rockes dust. one shell exploded about 100 feet from me on the rode. scared, yes. I was scared stiff for the first time. not at the first shell, but for that I could not get to the Abri & was there on road uncovered with shells all around [...] Got call at 4 A.M. Boche both knees smashed, has important information, young chap only 22 years and from a Reserve Regiment. There were three other Blesses but doctor refused to let me take any of them. Afraid they might kill the Hun - hell of a state of affairs it it not. shows how low men can fall. [...]
 

Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [123.D.10.5B]