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MAJOR REUBEN HILTY COMMANDER OF U.S. ADVANCE VETERINARY HOSPITAL NO. 2
Recently I was able to purchase the personal collection of Major Reuben Hilty, Commander of Advance Veterinary Hospital No. 2 in France during WW1. As of this date I do not know too much on Major Hilty or Advance Hospital No 2. There are many blanks yet to be filled in. It is a wonderful collection of pictures and letters and I hope you will enjoy his collection.
PERSONAL COLLECTION OF MAJOR REUBEN HILTY COMMANDER OF U.S. ADVANCE VETERINARY HOSPITAL NO. 2
Major Reuben Hilty is wearing the Advance Sector shoulder patch on his above uniform.
LETTER DATED: MARCH 27, 1918, “GOING OVERSEAS”
Master John Hilty Jr.
R.F.D. 18 Box 58
Rawson, Ohio U.S.A.
Major R. Hilty
Hq. Advance Section
American E.F. France
Major Reuben Hilty writes: Some of the most important and interesting incidents of the Voyage from New York to Brest and from there to Abbey d’Eaye:
March 27, 1918
Left Camp Upton, New York at 3:30 in the morning, marched to the Camp station and were taken to Long Island City where we boarded a Ferry for Pier 69 New York City, where we marched aboard the Steamer Olympic, one of the finest ships afloat any where, through the courtesy of a friend was given one of the finest State Rooms on the ship, a room that has several times been occupied by J.P. Morgan in trips overseas. The price of this particular room in times of peace for one way is about 1000.00 dollars. I never in all my life expected to travel across the Briny in that kind of style. The suite consisted of a Bedroom and Living room, bathroom, toilet, and a large closet, all separate. The meals on Board were of the best possible. The first night on board was spent at the Dock; we sailed on the morning of the 28th of March, a most beautiful morning. So soon as we reached Sandy Hook all on board were supposed to get into their life preservers and keep them on at all times except when in your own Stateroom and then to have them where one could get hold of them at a moments notice, the second day out the safely drills started, the signal was given by the Steam whistles just as if the ship had been torpedoed, and every man was supposed to get onto the deck in four minutes, which was easily done after three or four drills.
At night all outside lights were out and not a speck of light shone from the whole ship. Guards were placed all over the ship and any man who would have stuck a match or flashed a light would have been shot as all guards were armed with loaded rifles.
The light preservers reminded one very much of a horse collar and where anything but comfortable but with all that you could not find a man who was not glad and more than glad to wear them.
I felt very fine the first two days on board but the morning of the third day the sea became quite rough and I promptly proceeded to get sick and spent most of the time for about five days lying in my bed so long as I would keep quiet lying down I was O.K., but so soon as I tried walking about I would get very dizzy. It was about all I could do to go to the dining room for my meals, and would always get sick before getting back to my room. I only vomited once real bad but believe me that was a real one for I smeared the place up in great style, but felt better immediately afterwards.
On the fifth day out we encountered a very rough sea. In fact the ship although she was 982 feet long would rock considerably, then to make matters worse at about at about this time was when she began her Zigzag courses, to make it harder for a submarine to get in a lucky strike on us. Standing on the upper deck one could see how the ship was tossing and she tossed easily 20 feet from aft to fore.
One morning I asked my steward how dangerous the really felt these voyages were and he said in his English way “Oh not so very Sir, we see the blasted tin cans (submarines) once in a while but they can’t get this ship as she is too speedy for them and that they have a very good gun crew on her as they had the last trip over sunk on sub and two going back”.
This I do not believe, but I was glad to see that same afternoon that we had a very good gun crew on board, as when they had target practice they could do anything with the target they pleased even at over two miles, and with the last shot after they had shot all around the target they put it down, and we all felt much better to know that there was a crew of gunners like that on the ship.
I had always been under the impression that there was a strong escort with all ships carrying men all the way but this is not so. We were supposed to get our escort about 600 miles out of Brest but on account of the rough sea the escort was unable to get to us and we were in the “Sub Zone” without any protection what so ever except the guns on board. We were supposed to have an escort of six Destroyers on the morning of the third of April but on account of the rough sea as stated above they got lost and never found us. That was a awfully anxious day for all who knew that we were have had an escort all that day. The ship changed her course every ten minutes all that day and when night came there was still no escort in sight, and most every Officer on board slept in all his clothes that night, the ship zigzagging so sharply at times that one would roll out of bed.
I was on deck at 6 the next morning April 4th and imagine the joy of everyone when we saw two destroyers that had found us during the after part of the night, but instead of two we were to have had six. At about 8 that morning there was dense fog dropped over us out of a clear sky, so dense that one could not see ten feet before himself, and of course a submarine could see no further, it seemed like the protection of an unseen hand, one of the destroyers even became lost in the dense fog, and we only had one which we could hear whistling once in a while to let the ship know where she was to avoid a collision. From 8 that morning till about 2:30 that afternoon the ship simply kept going around in a circle, being afraid to proceed any further into the Zone without protection, for fear of running into a mine it was pitiable to see the Officers of the ship as they rung their hands and held conferences over the situation. They did a thing that they had never done before, they sent out a S.O.S. for an escort, I was sitting in my stateroom trying to make myself feel comfortable when all at once I felt the ship turn and start ahead. I grabbed my life preserver and made for the deck to see what it all meant and to my complete satisfaction what was a dense fog ten minutes before was a clear sky and to the joy of everyone on board we saw four Destroyers all about us like so many dogs watching a flock of sheep, and in the distance we could see two more coming, that was certainly a happy sight to all of us. In about a half hour there were also four Hydroplanes in the air flying all about us just like so many angles hovering over us least that is what they reminded me of after two of the most anxious days I had ever spent.
We sailed into the Port on the evening of April 4, Mrs. Hilty’s Birthday and laid on board all night and landed on the morning of the 5th. We proceeded to Pontanezen Barracks, for a three day’s rest. Then received orders to move to ISURTILE, after a three nigh and two days trip. The men riding in horse cars and the Officers in some kind of half was decent cars we reached the place mentioned and were told that we were to go on to three different places Major McKillip to one place and I was to divide my forces and take charge of two places, Detachment A going to Chevillon and Detachment B to Abby d’ Eyeau.
Detachment A found that on arrival they were to work with the French to clean up some six hundred mangy horses, then were to join Detachment B again.
Detachment B on arrival found that there was no hospital where they were ordered, but that we were expected to build one, this we proceeded to do but it was discouraging as the site selected was a very low wet place but the Chief came along and said this place would not do a thing of which I had been confident, but orders are orders and we started to prepare the place for a hospital
On Tuesday April 22nd I sent Sgt. Cohn to Chevillon to help Detachment A out with pay roll and muster roll he stayed there four days and came home lousy (lice) as he could be, his legs and arms and body as well were simply a mass of lumps from scratching and rubbing. He took a bath in an antiseptic solution and placed his clothing in a solution of the same thing for the night, and thus ended our first experience with the French Cooties.
On the evening of April 24th there passed through here a train load of Italian soldiers coming back from the Front for a rest period, one of my men Bruno the barber who is an Italian in a conversation with one of the Italian sergeants was told the only two or three days before some 30,000 Austrian soldiers had refused to fight any longer because they were nearly starving, what was done with them or what happened to them I was unable to find out.
The French people with whom we are living are very kind hearted an example of which follows. Captain Trainer my Medical Officer was sick with Gripp, and so soon as they found it out the old man went out and caught three fish and prepared one of the large ones for him in French style. The fish looked very nice the way it was prepared but the Captain could not eat it on account of the vast amount of onions they had fried with the fish. That is the worst thing about the French cooking to my mind, they are great on having onions in every possible dish they cook.
On April 21 st I went to Neufchateau to see Major McKillip and Major Merillat but found Major Merillat had just that afternoon left for Alford for the purpose of conferring with some noted French Veterinarians on the eradication of Infectious diseases from France. I was all day from 7:00 A.M. until 3:15 getting there a distance of only 26 miles, I stayed there for supper and Major McKillip was so kind as to send me home in a motorcycle sidecar, coming through some most beautiful spots, the most interesting of which was the birth place and home of Joan of Ark (Zhan Dach). The French people pronounce it, I was shown the place of her birth the house still standing in good preservation, a beautiful stature in the front yard, just beside the old house is the church where she attended. And in front of which is another statue of her. In the Church is preserved the place where she was Baptized and just a little way east of the village is a beautiful new cathedral which is in the course of construction, which has been delayed on account of the present war and will not be finished until after this war is over. On one side of the door of this new church in front is a statue of her father leaning on a plow and on the other side of the door is a statue of her mother washing or knitting, I have forgotten which. Although the greater part of their architecture is of a very crude nature, this edifice would do credit to most of American Architecture. The grounds about the place are the most beautiful I have seen in this Country.
On April 30th I started for Longres to draw the money for the men of Detachment B started from the Abbey got a train at Gondrecourt at 8:03 getting to Neufchateau at 10:20 and found I had to wait there until 4:50 getting to Chaumont there had to wait until 8:00 getting to Longres at about 9:30 and found that we had to walk up a hill a mile long and so steep that they travel up by a cog wheel railroad, there was a lieutenant on the same train who kindly guided us up the hill to the town which is a perfectly walled town, which of course was in total darkness, the town Majors office was closed for the night, so the Military Police sent a man with us to find a place to sleep we went to four places and the only greeting we received at the first three was, Finish, finish, finish meaning that they were full and could not accommodate us. At the fourth place we were given two respectable rooms as they go here at two francs per room.
Here was the first experience I had in sleeping in one of the famous French beds, to get into which one almost needs a ladder unless he is an athlete, it being about four feet from the floor to the top of the covers, first one finds the bed spring then two or three thick mattresses then the covers, topping which is always a feather tick.
I had fully expected to get back to the Organization the same evening as it was only about sixty miles to Longres, but I had not figured that I was in France instead of the good old U.S.A. where travel is a more difficult undertaking especially in these times. For this reason I had not any toilet articles along, and was sadly up against it as the saying goes. I had not even a comb or toothbrush with me. Soap is a thing that is not furnished in this country so I washed in the morning without articles. I had not even a comb with me, so I had to keep my cap on all forenoon until I could get a comb and comb my hair.
When we went to breakfast we thought we were ordering a good breakfast and thought we were getting the first course when they brought us a cup of cocoa with two small slices of bread, which we were supposed to furnish but not having bread cards with us they took pity on us and gave us this little. To our surprise this was all there was to the breakfast, and we could get no more. The cocoa was very good however.
I found out on this trip how it felt to be actually in hunger, one is supposed to have Bread Cards with him in order to get bread. And I learned to from then on to always have them along when traveling. We only had about two hours work in the morning but did not get through in time to get the only train out in the whole day till evening, so we had to wait until 4:50 in the evening for a train to Neufchateau, getting there about 8:00; there we stayed all night and were unable to get a single thing to eat, not even a drink of water, and both Sgt. Cohn and myself being abstainers we went both hungry and thirsty until the next day at noon when we got back to our place, tired, dirty and hungry. Neither of us had been shaven for three days and had not has soap to wash with for the same length of time. So ended this trip that should have been made in one day easily.
A few days as I was riding along the road a motor truck passed me and in it was a dead soldier partly wrapped in a blanket lying in the bottom of the truck except when the body was bouncing in the air as the road was rather rough and the driver seemed anxious to get to his destination with his gruesome task.
One thing we saw on the trip to Longres or rather on the way home that I forgot to mention was 12 carloads of German prisoners packed into the cars like cattle. They all seemed to be tickled to have been taken prisoners.
Today May 4th, the natives tell us that their rations have been again cut down especially their allowance of bread. Their allowance of bread for a working man is about as much as the average American boy who is growing eats easily at one meal and I heard an old man made the remark that he intended to drown himself as he could not possibly live on the meager allowance, about all the most of them live on now is bread and wine. I have not seen a Frenchman take a drink of water since I have been in France
We moved our Headquarters to Chevillon where I had a detachment of men working with the French taking care of horses for us until we got there. We are used the very best by the French Officers and the Civilians population as well, everyone seems to be glad to have us here.
The French Veterinarian comes to my office every day to teach me French and to have me teach him English, he is a shrewd little cuss however as he gets more good out of me than I am able to get out of him as he always insists on talking English all the time.
The French Officers gave Captain Trainer and myself a Dinner and believe me it was the best feed we have had since being over here. The wine flowed more freely than I have ever seen it flow anywhere that I have ever been. They seemed not to understand why I would not drink any of it, they seem to think here that water is only to wash yourself in, as someone has said “there are only two kinds of water in this Country, cold and dirty” and he was about right at that for I have not known what it is to even have hot water to shave with. I can shave as easily now in ice water as in hot water.
A French Funeral is about the most peculiar thing that I have ever seen. The Priest and a man dressed in all their regalia go down the street with six small boys who carry candles, the Priest and the man with him take turns as it seems at making some kind of noises they seem to me, until they get to the home of the deceased where the friends of the family have congregated, then in a few minutes the procession starts for the Church, several men as a rule carrying the body, the coffin being placed on some kind of a carrying device. The small boys again going in the lead, the Priest and his man following the boys, then the men carrying the Corpse, then the family, followed by the friends. They always walk to the Church and to the Cemetery. Whenever there is a death in the village no matter what the hour the Church bell is rung for quite a long period of time. The men who attend the Funeral nearly all wear long coats and high hats, and some of them are surely almost laughable to see in their regalia. When one stops to think what they looked the day before, as dirty as the streets and Oh’so slouchy.
On June 12th we moved into new place and started to get it in shape to do business on a large scale. To take a place over and build a hospital to accommodate a thousand animals out of absolutely nothing is really more of a job than I imagined. we would have, but we are getting along just fine and have now room for a little over seven hundred animals. In another two weeks we will have room for one thousand animals.
On a certain day I took a little trip to see one of my detachments of men, and on the way over had two punctures and on the way back had two more. And with the fourth had no more inner tubes and was still nine miles for home. The Driver and I pushed the Motorcycle up a hill at least a quarter of a mile long and left it in a farmyard. I tried to hire the farmer to haul us back home; it was then 8:45 P.M. He simply laughed at me saying Chauveix fatigue, and said we looked strong enough to walk 14 kilometers home. I never wanted to be able to French so badly in my life. I would like to have told the Frenchman a lot of things about his appreciation of what American Soldiers were doing for them, but alas I could not and the only thing left to do was to walk home, about nine miles and I have never known how long nine miles could be stretched out before. We got home at 11:00 P.M. and I never was so tired before having had a hard day,
To show how things sometimes happen, in one of my wife’s letters she sent me a clipping from the Toledo Newspaper in which was part of a letter written to the Toledo Real Estate Board by Captain Harry L. Stebbens, whom I know very well. I never thought that he might be near me until Sunday June 30th. There came mixed with our mail a letter for a private of Co. 23 rd Engineers, APO. 703 exactly the same Post Office number as our own, and to my surprise found that Stebbens was located there and an Orderly went out to get him and I had a good talk with him. It seemed good to both of us to have a little visit, even though it was only over the phone. We are only about 8 miles apart.
Major Reuben Hilty at his desk believed to be taken at Veterinary Hospital No 2 in France.
The above pictures believed to be taken at Advance Veterinary Hospital No 2 in France
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U.S. ARMY VETERINARY CORPS HISTORICAL PRESERVATION GROUP
Motto: “Illic est Vires in Numerus” There is Strength in Numbers
“Working Hard to Preserve Our Country’s History wherever it is being lost”
U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group is a group of individuals that are concerned about the preservation of the History of the Veterinary Corps, Remount Service and Cavalry or wherever our country’s history is being lost in conjunction with our beloved “Horse and Mule”. There is no cost to join and membership is for life. We believe by uniting together in numbers we will be a more powerful force to be heard. Our membership list is private and only used to contact our members. Email us and become a member.
FACEBOOK: U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group
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