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Chapter 47

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The First Yale Unit

Ralph D. Paine

printed at
The Riverside Press
Cambridge (Mass.)

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 49
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Vol. II
Chapter XLVIII

A Prisoner in Germany

To Lieutenant Gates the Armistice meant release from a prison camp in the enemy's country. With gusto could he echo the words of Dave Ingalls, 'Gosh, it was great!' His friends knew that he was alive, but his experiences were a blank page. Shot down and captured, he had vanished beyond their ken. A man of great hardihood and endurance they felt confident that, sooner or later, he would be restored to them undamaged. The Harvard football team had discovered that he was not easy to down. It was on November 26th that he was sent to Constance with the other American prisoners held at Karlsruhe. From there the Swiss officials expeditiously returned them to France and the American Army. For Gates it meant glimpses of Paris and Dunkirk and home via England.

Now it was possible to learn what his adventures had been. They had begun with that patrol on the morning of October 4th, when Gates had flown in the French formation of five Spads, high over Belgium and behind the enemy's lines. At an altitude of 12,000 feet, the clouds were just above them as a fleecy ceiling. Out of them dived fifteen Fokkers, unseen and unsuspected. The five Spads tarried not, but dived in their turn. There were too few of them to make a dog‑fight of it. Gates noticed that his opposite number in the V formation was missing. This left him alone. He swooped toward the earth in a long slant, hoping to elude the swarm of Fokkers and regain his own side of the lines, fifteen miles distant. Outnumbered three to one, it was every man for himself.

 p330  He was dismayed to see, by the indicator, that his motor was dying. It came to a stop. Machine‑gun bullets had crippled his Spad. There was nothing to it but a forced landing. Down he dropped with three Fokkers following all the way and spitting bullets at him. He saw a ploughed field and thanked his stars for that. With luck he might make it. He was a busy aviator, what with dodging the three persistent Fokkers and trying to avoid breaking his neck. However, it would have been a neat landing but for some telegraph wires which seemed to come floating out of space at him.

The Spad nosed into them and turned turtle, flopping over as if tired of the whole show. Gates crawled out, unhurt, and stared up at the three Fokkers. The German pilots circled over him, waved their arms in farewell and flew away. Their part of the job was done. They could claim credit for a French plane shot down in combat. Hoch Der Kaiser! Fishing out a box of matches, Gates set fire to his wrecked machine. This was easily done. It was dripping with gasoline from the bullet-punctured tank.

Not a German soldier was in sight when he hit the ground. Presto, and they came running from all directions. They seemed to be popping out of the ploughed field. There was great excitement. Gates was the only person who could find nothing to get excited about. He was quite willing to surrender, and there was that! He had been held for downs. The field where he fell was just back of the artillery lines which explained why so many German soldiers naval officers were handy to greet him. Three officers saw to it that he properly captured. He was immediately and thoroughly searched. They took all his papers, his pocket-book with a thousand francs in it, and whatever else he had on him. He was not roughly treated. What they said about him in German he was unable to understand. They paraded him from one field  p331 headquarters to another, by way of displaying the prize and in order to bother him with questions about the war, which they seemed to be very much fed‑up with.

After a tiresome round of this nonsense, the prisoner was marched to Lendelede and put in a guard-house. There he stayed from one o'clock until five in the afternoon when he had to plod on foot to Courtrai, a long walk of almost two hours. Nothing had been given him to eat all day nor had he been offered a drink of water. This weary march was diverted by a thrilling combat overhead, about fifteen British planes and the same number of Huns. Several machines were brought down, one of them in flames. And the enemy had all the worst of it. The British pilots were chasing them back to their own aerodromes and Gates was amused by the sight of one plucky Briton flying so low that he fairly hopped over the tree-tops as he buzzed after his own particular quarry.

Arriving at Courtrai there was more entertainment, two daylight bombing raids with the railway station as the target. Gates was taken into a restaurant where the guard ordered dinner for himself. The prisoner had to go hungry. The best he could get was one glass of water. Courtrai was feeling nervous. The alarm was sounded for another air raid, after dark, and Gates was hustled into a dugout under the railway station. It was crammed full of German soldiers. The racket died out about eleven o'clock that night when Gates was shoved into a train bound to Ghent. More German soldiers, returning from the front, and standing room only.

The enterprising Gates was already determined to escape and take his chances of being shot for it. Now was the time, while he was still fairly close to his own lines, while the British armies were advancing nearer every day, and where the Belgian people would be kindly disposed. The farther he was carried into Germany the worse was his  p332 plight and the more remote the hope of extricating himself. During the night trip from Courtrai to Ghent, his mind was active with this scheme and that. He had a notion of jumping off the back platform of the railway carriage, and trying to leg it away in the dark. This was the most feasible stunt he could think of, but he was unable to bring it about.

At two in the morning the train reached Ghent. There Gates was put into a guard-room at the station. It had been a transient prison for many captured officers passing through Ghent. This was shown by their names written in pencil or scratched on the walls. They had left a sort of directory. Tired and famished, Gates studied the autographs with interest. There were the names of officers he had known, who had been reported as killed or missing or made prisoner. Among them was one name which he was delighted to find — 'Doc' Stevens, surgeon of his own command at the Dunkirk Naval Air Station. You will recall​a that Kenneth MacLeish describes the disaster in one of his letters, how a launch going to the rescue of a disabled seaplane was hit and sunk by the German coast batteries and that a 'large man in khaki' was reported as swimming ashore in No Man's Land. This was Dr. Stevens who, it was known, had walked smack into the German trenches when cast up by the sea.

Another name scribbled on the wall of the guard-room was that of a British aviator who had been shot down off the coast near Ostend. 'Di' Gates had flown to the rescue, but had arrived just too late. He saw five enemy seaplanes leaving the spot, one of which had picked up the castaway and made him a prisoner.

The sentry at the door of the guard-room had a Teutonic sense of humor. To while away the hours he made flourishes with his bayonet to indicate that the captives' throats were to be cut. It was a long night. Morning  p333 brought what was miscalled breakfast, a strange fluid that passed for coffee and a piece of war‑bread with sawdust filling. This was the first food that Gates had tasted in twenty-four hours and it made no more than the merest dent in his appetite. His guard was kind enough to take him out for a walk in Ghent, by way of working up more appetite. They visited several prison camps, but apparently no room could be found for this bothersome American officer.

Lodgings were finally found in a comfortable dwelling-house in which the owner, a Belgian woman of refinement, quartered three officers of the German Flying Corps. Gates found himself most agreeably surprised. He had not dreamed of such treatment as this. He was given a good room, with an orderly to wait on him, and he sat at table with the three German officers. They were pleasant, mannerly fellows who spoke English. One belonged in naval aviation, the second was an army airman, and the third was attached to anti-aircraft. Their attitude was affable and chivalrous. The inference was that the American foeman inspired their respect. He was more like a guest than a prisoner.

In the afternoon several German Red Cross nurses came in to dance to the music of a Victrola. They came again. It was quite jolly. One of the nurses talked excellent English. The three German officers were on rest leave in Ghent, so they said. They knew a great deal about the air services of the Allies and gave the names of various British squadrons, who commanded them, and where their aerodromes were situated. Gates knew the information to be correct. This sort of talk aroused his suspicions because he had heard a good deal about the efficiency of the German Intelligence Department. Was this pleasant residence a 'plant,' and these friendly officers decoys to beguile him into telling more than he ought to? Close-mouthed by  p334 nature, 'Di' Gates became cautious and wary. The hospitality was wasted on him. Later, when he compared notes with other prisoners at Karlsruhe, he found that some of them had been put through the same mill and he felt certain that his entertainers in Ghent were German Intelligence officers.

During these three days he used to sit and look out of a window of his room. This close‑up view of a city held by the enemy was fascinating. Belgians and Germans, they passed him in review along the street. One episode haunted his memory — a hundred Belgian boys, shabby, frightened, sorrowful, led away by German soldiers, torn from homes and parents, to toil for their captors in distant shops and fields, pitiful slaves of war. Ghent was in a turmoil, with the British forces driving ahead in the last great push. They were only a few miles away and the sound of the artillery fire was thunderously incessant.

Ghent was bombed from the air almost every night. Gates risked being blown to kingdom come by his own friends. There was one tremendous crash that made him think, for a moment, that they had done the trick. It was the explosion of a 1650‑pound bomb, the grandfather of all bombs, which had been lugged over Ghent by a British squadron with which Harry Davison happened to be flying. To have one of these things dropped by your own comrade was a bit too much.

The polite German officers had to rejoin their own squadrons, so they told Lieutenant Gates, and they were very sorry to lose his companion­ship. Now all this courteous treatment was radically changed. He was taken to a camp, or building, which had been a Belgian civil prison. It was like being thrown into a penitentiary. He was separated from a friend he had made, Lieutenant Bucknell, of the Royal Air Force, and put in a small cell for fifteen days' solitary confinement.

 p335  The guards were ordered to hold no conversation with him. For exercise he was allowed to move about in a courtyard an hour a day. The food was wretched and scanty, a cup of imitation coffee and a hunk of dubious bread at seven in the morning, a plate of mysterious soup at noon, and coffee and bread at five. It was a diet to pull down a man's strength and sap his energies. And a fortnight of solitary confinement, with nobody to talk to and almost nothing to read, would have rasped ordinary nerves to shreds. Gates insists that it wasn't so bad. He endured it like a stoic.

By October 22d the Germans were ready to evacuate the city. Their fighting columns still held it, but were certain to be driven out by British advance which was only six miles distant. Gates was taken from his cell to the office of the military warden where he met Lieutenant Bucknell. They were escorted to the railway station by a spindling sergeant and two scrawny privates. Gates could have wiped up the street with the three of them. However, they were armed to the teeth. They showed him that their rifles were loaded. No monkey tricks!

As they trudged along he noted that the rifles were slung on their backs by leather straps. His mind was active. He was resolved to try to escape before they put him on a train for Germany. There would be a little interval before the three guards could unsling the rifles and begin shooting at him. He waited until the street took a crooked turn past a small park. No bullet could follow him around a corner.

He was all set to make a reckless sprint of it. Away he leaped, while the dunder-headed guards gaped at him. A few strides and he might have been out of range of their rifles. Alas, he slipped and stumbled and sprawled headlong. A Yale run spoiled by a muddy field! Ruefully he picked himself up. He was not so sorry as he might have been. The sergeant had jerked out an automatic pistol and  p336 was about to take a snap-shot. Lieutenant Artemus Gates was not a target to miss at close range. They damned him elaborately in German. By way of playing it safe, his wrist was handcuffed to the wrist of a guard for the rest of the promenade to the railway station.

The station was filled with soldiers. Lieutenant Gates's runty escort told them of his attempt to get away. He attracted much attention. A desperate scoundrel, no doubt. He looked the part. There was no chance to attempt another escape from the train as it rolled toward Brussels. Gates and Bucknell were put in a compartment the door of which was locked. A guard sat at each window. They roused out their prisoners at two in the morning of October 23d and put them in a guard-room at Brussels. They stretched themselves on a bench and slept now and then. One incident left an impression. Into the room a Belgian peasant girl was thrust as a prisoner. She was a handsome creature of her kind, with a proud and courageous composure. She could not help sobbing and then her pride would steady her again. What had she done and what fate was foreshadowed? Gates wondered. He felt profoundly sorry for her, unable to help. She was a pitiable bit of flotsam in the turbid swirl of things.

All the next day Gates, Lieutenant Bucknell and the three guards traveled by train to Cologne. A few hours' delay there and at midnight they were moving on to Karlsruhe. During this last stage the German sergeant and the two skinny privates became quite easy and genial. They were making the best of it. This was especially true of the sergeant who cast an amorous eye at the buxom young woman who held the job of conductor, or railway guard. The two privates enviously looked on while the fräulein sat on the sergeant's lap. It was a sensible way of getting on with the war.

Gates was dumped out at Karlsruhe at dawn, sleepy,  p337 hungry, aching with fatigue. He was first taken to a hotel used as a prison and there he was kept for two days. The circumstances were peculiar and suggested another stratagem of the German Intelligence. Gates surmised that dictaphones were installed in the rooms. He was interviewed by a German officer with a map who coaxed him to talk about this sector and that. On the second day he and Lieutenant Bucknell were locked in a room with Lieutenant Sparks of a British infantry command who had been caught in a trench raid. They felt confident that whatever they said was heard and reported.

From the hotel they went to the prison camp. It was a distribution centre for captured officers, from which they were sent in groups to various permanent camps. There was a curious assortment of these prisoners, British, American, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Belgian. They were quartered in small wooden barrack buildings set in a large yard which was surrounded by the three separated barricades of barbed wire vigilantly patrolled. There was room in the enclosure for such exercise as walking, volley ball, etc. The imprisoned officers were not compelled to work at all. So long as they obeyed the regulations they were left to themselves, except at roll-call.

Here they first came in contact with the wonderful organization and benefactions of the American Red Cross. Gates had found a touching spirit of friendliness among the Belgian people of Ghent. Civilians had smuggled in a little money, cigarettes, and matches. And the Belgian Red Cross had succeeded in giving him a package containing underclothes, socks, comb, toothbrush, and some biscuits. This had helped to make life endurable. At Karlsruhe it was found that the American Red Cross supplied most of the necessities of life to the officers of its own flag. It gave them most of the food they ate and all the clothing they wore. They blessed it as literally saving their lives.  p338 In the weekly ration from this source were coffee, tea, canned hash, bully beef, crackers, jam, tobacco, condensed milk. Of the German ration the noon meal was the only one that suggested nourishment. Breakfast and supper were prepared on the barracks stoves from the Red Cross supplies.

Of course Gates made a try at escaping from this Karlsruhe camp. With Colonel Brown of the American Army as a partner, he tore up the planks of his shack with the idea of digging a tunnel under the wire fences. They did not get far for lack of tools, but their zeal was one hundred per cent. The German soldiers told them it wasn't really worth while making such a fuss over imprisonment. The war was almost over. The Kaiser was licked. They were expecting to spend Christmas at home. It struck Gates as amusing that he was able to cash a check for five pounds at the prison canteen. It was drawn on Morgan, Harjes & Co. For all the German official knew, the bit of paper might be perfectly worthless. He had faith in American financial integrity, at any rate.

On November 2d, Gates was transferred with twenty‑six other American officers from Karlsruhe to a camp at Villingen. This was how the order read, but Artemus Gates had other ideas in his head. He proposed to break the railway journey somewhere this side of Villingen. He was in the mood to try anything once. He and his fellow officers were put into a car with twelve German soldiers as a guard. It was not divided into small compartments, but had one partition running across the middle of it. They were able to move about.

Gates found an audacious American army captain of his own mettle, Ford by name, who expressed a readiness to risk breaking his neck by jumping from the train while in motion. Ford sauntered to the rear platform of the car and found it unguarded. He conferred with Gates. On the  p339 partition wall were two railway maps, one on either side of the door. Studying them, it was discovered that the route to Villingen passed through several tunnels. It was decided to leave the train in one of these tunnels. They managed to remove the maps from the wall and secrete them in their pockets.

With such an exploit in mind, Gates had provided himself with a bottle of camp coffee, a can of bully beef, and a small box of crackers. This was his emergency ration for a cross-country flight through Germany. He wore an American army overcoat, a checkered cloth cap, and flying boots with thin soles.

The train passed through tunnel after tunnel while Gates delayed action. The train was carrying him in the direction of the Swiss frontier which was his goal. It was arranged that Ford should make his jump from the back platform. Gates would slip into the lavatory, lock the door, and take his departure through the window. They waited until only two tunnels were left between them and Villingen. Now was the time. The next tunnel! To wait for the last one might bring them too near the town, and it would be betting the whole stake on one card.

Ford moved to the rear of the car. Gates strolled into the lavatory. It was daylight, about the middle of the afternoon. Presently the window darkened. The train passed into the tunnel. Providentially there was a grade to climb and the speed slowed to something like fifteen miles an hour. Gates went out through the window feet foremost so that he could hang by his hands for a moment before letting go. He had learned how to fall on the football field. Nevertheless, when he dropped he was sent sprawling on his head. His face collided violently with the gravel ballast of the road‑bed. He was giddy and breathless. However, he was a man who had battered his way through the Harvard football team, and had methodically set fire  p340 to his plane after crashing from 12,000 feet in the air. One is reminded of Erl Gould's mess attendant at Key West from whom the flat-iron bounced off.

Picking himself up, 'Di' Gates saw the train go rumbling out of the tunnel. Ford had failed to make his exit from the back platform. Gates was therefore playing a lone hand. He was in the rugged, wooded country of the Black Forest. All he had for guidance was the purloined railway map. He limped from the tunnel and sought a hiding-place in a heavy growth of trees not far away. In this spectacular manner was begun a flight of four days and nights through a region hostile and unknown. This was on November 2d.

He remained hidden among the trees until after dark. Then he began his journey afoot, in the direction of Villingen, now walking on a highway, again on the railroad track. He moved slowly, with frequent halts, his nerves taut. The darkness sheltered him, but it seemed mysterious and sinister. He was afraid that soldiers had been sent out from Villingen to search for him or to intercept him. It was nearing midnight when he approached Villingen. The lights warned him. Under a brilliant arc‑light he was able to discern the figure of a soldier in the road. He appeared to be stationed there for a purpose. Gates suspected himself to be the purpose, wherefore he passed wide of the arc‑light, making an end‑run through a field.

Unmolested, he fetched a circuit around Villingen and returned to his route as indicated on the map. The railway line was a guide. It enabled him to keep his bearings when the highways became confusing. During this first night he covered twenty miles. It was an extraordinary display of dogged endurance. Physically he was below par. For a month he had been inactive, half the time in solitary confinement. He had lacked sufficient food. All he had to sustain him now was a can of beef and a few crackers. The  p341 flying-boots were the poorest kind of foot-gear for a tramp of this kind.

At daylight, after this first night's long march, he found cover in a patch of woodland. He was desperately in need of sleep and yet the weather was so cold and wet that he shivered miserably and slept by fits and starts. A swig of cold coffee and he filled the bottle with water, thus weakening the mixture every time he took a drink of it. However, it had some color and flavor and he could fool himself to this extent. A few mouthfuls a day of his store of food, broken sleep, feet that were already swelling! Nightfall found him once more on his perilous journey.

During the second night he progressed no more than ten miles. This was because of exhaustion. He found that he was falling asleep if he stopped to reconnoiter. He was too tired to walk around every town he came to. In the evening he plodded along the railway track straight through a village. The station master spied him and was suspicious. The fugitive took alarm and speedily found a hiding-place out in the country.

Somewhere along here he heard two voices, unmistakably American, coming out of a darkened field.

'Listen, buddy,' said one of them, 'when do you figure we'll get out of here?'

'These Heinies think the war is due to blow up mighty soon. Gee, I wish I was somewheres else.'

Gates halted to listen, but dared not call out. It seemed uncanny. His conjecture was that these were two captured doughboys who had been loaned to a German farmer to work on his land.

The fugitive found that he was too tired to feel hungry. He ate cabbage leaves now and then and took a pull at his coffee-flavored bottle. Mist and rain drenched him. Late in this second night he stumbled into the town of Immendingen on the headwaters of the Danube where the  p342 river was quite narrow. The street was quiet, all the people in bed, but the dogs barked at him and he was unlucky enough to blunder into a soldier on sentry duty. This squarehead fired a shot, apparently as a signal, and poor Gates took to his heels.

He ran until he could duck and hide in the railway yard. Here he was undiscovered, but he had to figure out some way of crossing the Danube. It was too cold to swim and he felt certain the bridge would be guarded. He hid under a freight car to think it over. It was so close to the bridge that he could hear the sentries talking when the guard was changed. A switch engine was bumping about in the yard. Gates concluded to try conceal himself on a car and so get hauled across the bridge.

With this in mind, he clambered aboard a little freight car just as a German brakeman appeared over the other end of it. It was an unexpected meeting for both of them. In this foolish manner they popped up and stared at each other. Gates moved first. He had conceived a sudden dislike for this mode of travel. He dived from the car and was running when he lit. He scooted under a car on another siding like a rabbit in a brier patch. There he cogitated and resolved to crawl across the wagon bridge and take a chance on slipping through the blockade. He couldn't spend the rest of the night fiddling about in this railway yard.

Crawl he did, on hands and knees, dragging himself all the way across that cursed bridge, his heart thumping with the fear of detection. Safely he reached the farther end of it, and no guard was there! It was to rejoice. Thankfully he stole into the road, went a little way, and discovered that he was on an island. A second bridge was in front of him. A cruel anti-climax. He was too disgusted to be prudent. Straight he walked across this second bridge.

And straight he walked into the arms of a sentry. This  p343 may have been one of the fellows whose voices had been heard when the guard was changed. Gates was surprised. The sentry likewise. He stood with his gun slung over his shoulder by the strap. 'Halt!' he shouted, and then a guttural question.

Gates was badly rattled. Addressed in a foreign tongue, he replied in kind, but his choice of a language was tactless and unfortunate.

'Qu'est‑ce que c'est que ça?' he blurted.

The beans were spilled. Insulted by these odious words, the sentry unlimbered his rifle and emptied the magazine. These five shots missed a dark figure which flitted into a field near by. Gates zigged when the bullets zagged. They went by him. For a man with badly swollen feet, he displayed marvelous agility. He vanished in the misty darkness and was seen no more in Immendingen on the Danube. He had left the two bridges behind him. He was this much ahead of the game.

Two sentries poked about in the field, hunting for him with lanterns. From the secluded obscurity of a hill he looked down at them, the lanterns bobbing about like enormous fireflies. The hill was wooded, so he tucked himself in there for the rest of the night and all the next day. He was coming to the end of his endurance. He could force himself to travel not much more than five miles in a night. In truth, exposure and starvation had worn him to the bone.

What cheered him as he huddled wretchedly was the prospect that another night's slow progress ought to carry him as far as Singen which the railway map showed him to be only six miles from the Swiss frontier. He would just about do that much, he thought, although he was near the end of his rope.

And now misfortune played a cruel joke on him. During this third night he lost his way. One railway line went  p344 straight ahead through Singen to the border. Another swung off to the left from Singen and led to Constance. Unaware of his mistake, misled in the darkness, he took the wrong track at Singen and plodded along the road to Constance. It was a case of gritting his teeth and putting one foot in front of the other. Every mile was a journey. He went until he was sure he must have traversed the distance from Singen to the frontier and freedom, but the track still stretched in front of him, seemingly extending into infinity. Gloomily he suspected that he had gone wrong — or was possibly in Switzerland. The approach of dawn warned him to seek a hiding-place.

All he could find was a swamp. There he lay all day, in mud and water and tangled grass, unable to sleep, chilled through and through. His spirit was unbroken. He was still indomitable. He was good for one more night. Floundering from the swamp, he resumed the slow march along the railway track. He felt certain now that he had taken the wrong track from Singen. The supposition was that he was on the road to Constance which was in Germany, or so he deduced from his map.

He managed to keep moving all through the night, a scarecrow of a figure in sodden, mud‑plastered garments, with a month's growth of beard, the cloth cap sagging over his ears. Day was breaking when he came within sight of a city. A railway bridge intervened. He had to cross it. Behind him he saw a number of men also crossing. He took them to be workmen. They blocked his retreat. There was no turning back. To his immense relief he put the bridge behind him without capture by a guard.

Beyond him was a railway station. Advancing, he could read the name 'Constance' on it. For the first time in twenty-four hours he knew where he was. He was hurrying past the station as best he could when a sentry suddenly confronted him. The soldier wore the German uniform.  p345 He threw up his rifle and barred the way. Three yards farther on the tracks passed through a gap in a barbed-wire fence. Now Gates comprehended that part of Constance was German and part Swiss. The fence was the boundary. Beaten, with only three yards to gain! There was no running away from this sentry and his rifle. Nor could Gates have run far or fast. The sentry took malicious pleasure in pointing out the fact that liberty had been no more than three strides away.

Gates took it without whimpering. He had nothing to say when he was put into the guard-house on the German side of the border. They gave him coffee and bread. As usual, an Intelligence officer tried to pry information out of him. Then he was placed in a cell of the city prison where he slept for a day and a half on end, dead to the world. His feet were badly swollen, but gave him no great amount of pain. He felt benumbed all over. Back by train he went to Villingen, the prison camp of his original destination, and was given twenty‑one days' solitary confinement.

This was no hardship, as he regarded it. He had a warm bed and fresh clothing. The Red Cross took pains to see that his wants were supplied. He had good food and reading matter, and best of all, a reunion with 'Doc' Stevens, a prisoner in the same camp. The kindly surgeon cooked special dishes for Lieutenant Gates who enjoyed them when the bungling guard didn't carry them in to the wrong prisoner. Gates said it was like Heaven.

His solitary confinement sentence was cut short by the news of the Armistice. He was released from the cell next day and permitted to join Dr. Stevens' mess. In the camp were one hundred and sixty American Army officers and six skippers of merchant steamers which had been captured by German raiders. Peace had come, but these prisoners were held at Villingen a fortnight longer. They were so  p346 impatient that four of them succeeded in escaping. Conditions were chaotic. A German soldiers' and sailors' council deposed the commandant of the prison, a stiff-necked Prussian colonel of the old school, and put the adjutant in his place.

The prisoners were allowed to walk out in the town on parole. They saw the German regiments come streaming back from the front, flying the red flag, in open revolt against the military machine. They had deposed their officers and were running things to suit themselves. The war was over, they were homeward bound, and the Imperial German Government could go to hell.

On November 26th, two hundred and thirty American officers and thirty American soldiers were mustered from the Villingen camp and elsewhere and put in a train to be sent through to Constance. Colonel Brown was in charge and selected Lieutenant Gates as one of his staff officers. At Constance an important event occurred. Gates shaved off his whiskers. He ceased to resemble a man whom you would be afraid to meet in the dark.

He had pretty well recovered from his experience as an escaped prisoner, barring an infection of one arm. This was growing worse instead of better. The inflamed condition indicated serious blood poisoning. Dr. Stevens looked after it with great skill and devotion. A little later, infection developed in the other arm. With no other instruments than a penknife and a pair of nail scissors, Dr. Stevens opened and drained the infected areas. Gates gave him credit for saving his life.

A special train carried them from Constance through Switzerland to France. The Swiss people showered them with kindnesses wherever the train stopped long enough, cheering crowds, delicacies to eat, brass bands, at Berne, Zurich, Geneva. A messenger passed through the train inquiring for Lieutenant Gates. He had been sent by the  p347 Red Cross at the personal instance of Mr. Davison. The condition of the infected arms was so grave that Gates was put to bed in the hospital car. There he stayed until the train rolled into France where nobody made any fuss over these exiles of war.

Gates, with other prisoners, was taken to an American Army hospital in Allerey.​b He was kept there in spite of his protests that the Army had no right to hold a naval officer against his will. His health improving, he succeeded in obtaining three days' leave to go to Paris. There he reported at Naval Aviation Headquarters and so managed to cut himself free of Army red‑tape. Paris was filled with rejoicing, delirious soldiers of many races. Gates found some of his friends. Without delay, he went to report to Captain Hanrahan at the headquarters of the Northern Bombing Group. Then he made for Dunkirk, just for a little visit, to shake hands with the gang, as many as were still at the station. And so he crossed to England and was sent home on the battle­ship Arkansas which sailed for Brest on December 12th to join the majestic parade of warships that escorted President Woodrow Wilson to the shores of France.

Alive and well, 'Di' Gates had weathered his perils and escapes and could receive the awards he had so well earned.​1 The French Government made him a Chevalier of  p348 the Legion of Honor and conferred upon him the Croix de Guerre with Palm. The latter was sent to his mother by Rear Admiral Wilson with the following letter, from Brest:

December 21, 1918

My dear Mrs. Gates:

I am forwarding to you under separate cover a citation and a Croix de Guerre awarded by the Republic of France to your son, Lieutenant Artemus L. Gates, U. S. N. R. F. for his conspicuous bravery and conduct while in aerial combat with the enemy. After many engagements with the enemy your son was finally forced to land on enemy soil due to his machine being placed out of commission. He succeeded in burning his machine before being taken prisoner.

In forwarding this citation and Croix de Guerre, I wish to add my very sincere appreciation and approval of the services rendered by your son for our country, as well as for France. He has nobly upheld the traditions of the United States Navy and the Navy is very proud of him.

I request that you kindly present the citation, the Croix de Guerre, and my message to your son for me.

With kindest regards, I am

Very sincerely

H. B. Wilson, Vice Admiral, U. S. Navy

Commander U. S. Naval Forces in France

One of the French citations testified that

This very skillful and brave pilot distinguished himself July 28th, and August 22d, 1918, in searching for and saving some Allied aviators who had fallen into the sea and were under fire from enemy batteries. In scout flying he showed the same love for danger and was forced down October 4th, 1918, following a combat against superior forces.

That he had won the respect of his own superior officers was more pleasing to 'Di' Gates than these unusual official honors. Here is a letter received by his mother. It was written in London on December 12, 1918:

My dear Madame:

It has been my great fortune as Commanding Officer of U. S.  p349 Naval Aviation over here to have your son Lieutenant A. L. Gates under my command for the past year. He immediately took a leading part in our organization and, due to his courage and ability, we are all proud of his record as an officer in command of one of the most important stations. His official record on file in the Navy Department is of the highest order, but I have grown to admire him so much that I want his mother to know it.

Needless to say, we were all overjoyed when he turned up a prisoner in Germany and yesterday he called on me and I found him looking fine and well. With hearty congratulations to the mother of such a son, I am


H. I. Cone

Mention has been made of the fact that Admiral Sims had already recommended Gates for the Congressional Medal of Honor because of his rescue of the survivors of the British seaplane near Dunkirk. In an amplified report to the Secretary of the Navy, after hostilities had ceased, Admiral Sims cited Lieutenant A. L. Gates as the second of only three officers attached to the Naval Forces in Europe for whom he recommended the Medal of Honor:

This officer commanded the U. S. Naval Air Station, Dunkirk, France, with very marked efficiency, and under almost constant shell and bomb fire from the enemy. Alone and unescorted he rescued the crew of a British airplane wrecked in the sea off Ostend for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the British Government. This act of bravery was actually over and above the duties required of this officer and in itself demonstrates the highest type of courage. Lieutenant Commander Gates took part in a number of flights over the enemy's lines and was shot down in combat and taken prisoner by the enemy. He made several heroic and determined efforts to escape. During all of his service this officer was a magnificent example of courage, modesty, and energetic devotion to duty. He at all times upheld the very highest traditions of the Naval Service.

The Author's Note:

1 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:

Lieutenant Commander A. L. Gates

Period from April 1 to June 30, 1918:

Exceptionally able and efficient officer. Most excellent pilot. Qualified for any flying duty or command (land or seaplanes). Did war flying with British and received highest commendations.

C. de G. Chevalier, Lieut. U. S. N.

Period July 1 to December 9, 1918:

A most capable, efficient commanding officer with high sense of devotion to duty. An excellent pilot. Recommended for promotion. Has unusual command of officers and men.

D. C. Hanrahan, Captain U. S. N.

Thayer's Notes:

a The letter is actually in next chapter, p353.

[decorative delimiter]

b Allerey-sur‑Saône, in the wine country of Burgundy about 17 km SE of Beaune, was the location of one of the largest hospitals of the American Expeditionary Force. A wealth of details is provided by an entire multi-page subsite, in both French and English, devoted to the American camp and hospital at the World War I Document Archive, Brigham Young University; the page most specifically about the hospital is Les centres hospitaliers américains.

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