Until 8 November, the message center continued to operate in Bruyeres. The code personnel were well occupied with Dummy traffic to and from VI Corps. Message center traffic was normal. On 6 November, 15 men of the section left for Lepanges to reserve quarters and working-room. This was not an ordinary advance, as no signal equipment was carried. Sgts. Clay and Brown led the occupying party. The next day, Pvt. Wood, now assigned to one of the two section trucks, carried to Lepanges complete signal equipment for an advance message center.
At 0830A hours, an advance message center was opened at Lepanges in the barn previously used by the Division Signal Company. The M-134-C was hitched up this time in an adjoining private residence, for reasons of space and security. Up at Bruyeres, the message center closed at 1100A hours, and shortly afterward moved to Lepanges.
The return to Lepanges was not a retreat, but simply a move to situate the Central Division Signal installations behind the regiments, which had advanced in a southeasterly direction and were now prepared to push due east up a long valley to the Ste-Marie gap. Remaining in Bruyeres would have left the Division Signal Company on the left flank of Divisional troops, with unnecessarily extended wire lines and less dependable radio service.
Our second stay in Lepanges was even more pleasant than the first. The Division Special Service provided us movies each evening, and the remoter front made the atmosphere more restful. Company supply issued us winter wear, including snappy-looking green combat jackets, artics, shot-pacs and, of course, long-johns.
Another occupying party pulled out on the 14th, led by Cpl. Yore, to make reservations in the town of Laveline-Devant-Bruyeres; this party was augmented the next day by a full message center team under Sgt. Wilt. Operating equipment was brought up on 16 November, and the advance message center opened for business at 1000A, in one of a group of factory buildings which dominate the town. The Lepanges installation closed at 1300A and moved up.
Laveline-Devant-Bruyeres was a typical company town of one straight street and repetitious architecture. The citizens had the unclean and unhealthy look of low-paid mill-workers. Germans had been quartered in the town for four years, and in departing had stripped the homes of sewingmachines, curtains, kitchen-knives, and everything else they could lay their hands on. The fields surrounding the town, and some quarters of the town itself, were mined. Section personnel lived in the workers homes. The most felicitous occurrence during our pause in Laveline was the serving of beer at chow; unfortunately, it was a bit chilly for full enjoyment of chilly beer, but the luxury was nonetheless appreciated.
Sgt. Wilbur and four men advanced to Corcieux on 19 November, as an occupying party; they reserved a message center, Company Hq. Building, and a house for the sections occupancy. On the next day, this detail cleared a garage adjoining one of the proposed CP buildings of many turnips, a leather-sewing machine, a grindstone, and, with the aid of a horse, a heavy prewar truck. At 1330 Sgt. McCrays team arrived, and made a full installation in the garage, which was shared with the T & T Section. During the evening of the 20th, Engineers removed from the adjoining CP building a german time-bomb, which had an unspeakable amount of pressure and 11 hours to go.
On 21 November, the advance message center opened at Corcieux, and the Laveline installation, closing at 1030A, joined the advance.
One-half of Corcieux had been burned by the Germans, either by accident or design (the enemy had fired their barracks on leaving). The buildings which remained had been, some of them, mined, and boxmines had been left in the rubble, along the streets. On the 23rd, the kitchen turned out a very handsome Thanksgiving dinner for the company. Complete with candy and two kinds of cake.
At 0730A on 23 November, an advance crew left Corcieux and made a long and circuitous advance to Ban-De-Lavelines. Message center was set up there in two rooms of a residence on the main street of town. In one room was the traffic desk, and the other, shared with T & T, was used as a code room. Toward noon, the main street suffered a quarter-hour of shelling, presumably from two batteries on opposite sides of the town; there was intermittent shellfire for some time afterward. The building adjoining the message center suffered a direct hit. Personnel found their own lodgings in private homes about the town. At 1800A, the Corcieux personnel closed their message center.
The Ste-Marie gap having been secured, another advance left the morning of the 26th at 1130A, driving through the gap, which had been prohibited by a roadblock of heavy logs and several small artillery pieces to the town of Ste-Marie-Aux-Mines. The town was practically untouched, as our infantry had taken the defenders by surprise, and the sole point at which the enemy had made any resistance was a textile factory on the margin of the town. The message center section established its agency on the ground floor of a house which faced on a square in the east end of Ste-Marie. French-and-German-speaking men were sent out to reserve living-quarters, and managed to secure rooms in several private homes and a vacated German barracks.
On 27 November, the remainder of the section at Ban-De-Lavelines joined the advance. Since much use of radio was being made at this time, code traffic was expedited by the laying of a teletype line between the radio installations at the far end of town and the message center code room.
As for living conditions, some of the men were most fortunate in Ste-Marie. Sgts. McCray and Wilbur, Cpl. San Roman, and Pfcs. Weillstein, Williams, Anderson and Henson were offered genuine featherbeds. The People of Ste-Marie were in general very friendly, and, we were often asked to long and ample Alsatian dinners. There were motion pictures in the evenings, and the photography bugs of the section, who grew daily in number, found the unspoiled town highly photogenic.
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