36th Signal Company - Message Center Section


On the first of February, the detail left at Mommenheim closed its message center at 0700, and moved to Stephansfeld. Cpl. Crittenden and Pvt. Keplinger, who had established a switch message center in the town of Wasselone on 24 January, remained there until 7 February. The section operated at the Stephansfeld CP, and bivouaced in Brumath with the company, for the entire month of February.

The Message center proper was situated in a small basement room of the large brick CP building. and for a time the code-room was a partitioned third of the message center office. However, when another Division reported that it had compromised the majority of our highgrade systems through neglect, a strenuous security program was instituted thoughout the European Theater of Operations, and we were obliged to move into another room of the same basement. This code room was complete with a heavy door, heavy lock, and barred windows, and supplied with the following items of defense and destruction equipment: one tommy-gun, one .43 pistol, one axe, one hatchet, four large incendiary bombs, some thirty small thermite bombs, five gallons of gasoline, and a sharp pair of pliers.

The entire section, excepting the drivers and a couple of clerks, occupied one large room on the second floor of a school-building in the centre of Brumath, which faced on a large courtyard. This courtyard was all together too perfect for close-order drill, and the idea of drill very soon occurred to the powers that were. At this time the activities of the Signal Company were directly under the nose of the Division Headquarters Commandant, and we were soon involved in a lusty revival of the garrison spirit. A training program was posted on the bulletin board, which included pre-breakfast calisthenics, all sorts of lectures, and close-order drill. There was a brief flurry of conspicuous saluting. Uniform regulations were published and enforced; we were obliged to carry rifles and gas-masks to the mess hall. Our quarters were subject to daily inspection.

The gaps of the training program were filled in with a profusion of details, including guard duty, recovery of wire, and policing of the nearby countryside. The "nearby countryside" was apparently understood to mean an area south to the Swiss border and Marseilles, west and north of the Atlantic Ocean, and east to the rifle company CP’s. Many of the section, unappreciative of the pleasures of garrison existence, wished that the company would move a little closer to the front lines, so that they might get some rest.

On the night of 15 February, the front line came to us, for a period of several hours. A high-velocity railroad gun, situated across the Rhine River, commenced to drop mammoth shells into Brumath every fifteen minutes. They exploded with considerable concussion and inclined everyone to take to the cellars. One shell destroyed a building some fifty yards from the signal bivouac. The effect of "Alsace Alice", as we observed in the morning, was hardly inferior to that of a blockbuster; it made a building look like Shredded Wheat. The annoying thing about high-velocity guns is that their projectiles do not whistle; the pleasant thing about high-velocity guns is that it takes so long to load them that the bursts may be anticipated with some accuracy.

Brumath had its good side, too. For entertainment, we had regular evening programs of motion pictures, and on one occasion a company beer party. There were civilian pubs open in the town, and there were also amiable civilians to be found. The vainer members of the section went frequently to a barber-shop, where two beautiful girls gave shampoos and massages. The company commenced to issue passes and furloughs to Bains-les-Bains, Nancy, Brussels, Paris and the United Kingdom; the lucky ones who got them left Brumath spic & span, toting mussette bags full of cigarettes and chocolate, and returned filthy & weary, but contented, with empty musette bags. While in Brumath, we all enjoyed frequent showers and regular laundry service. Considering that we were technically in combat, the section lived rather well in Brumath.

Pvt. Richard Buck joined the section in Brumath. Among those busted during our residence in Brumath were J. P. Yore, who was apprehended in Strasbourg by the M. P.’s in the company of Pvt. Henson, and Emmet Wood and Joe Larussa, who returned on a run from Strasbourg in a state of delighted incapacity. "Wood", said Lieutenant Hicks, "You are in no condition to drive. And you, Larussa - you’re not even in a condition to ride."

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