Damages

June 4, 1918 – Full diary entry:

“Marched 3 miles to Gamaches again for field maneuver.

I am now in new quarters and slept cold last night.”


The 140th was preparing to move out, and Chaplain Edwards in From Doniphan to Verdun: The Official History of the 140th Infantry shares some of the behind-the-scenes negotiations that were taking place:

We were ready to leave Gamasches, but it was not easy, the French filed claims for damages. We began to learn the French idea of a claim for damages, and it was not complimentary to our intelligence. It is not true we paid rent for the trenches. But we did pay heavily for almost everything else. Later I learned of a clever woman who collected damages for the same field, which was used as a drill ground, six times in as many weeks. The plain truth is that the French, like all the other foreign nations, regard us as easy marks. And we have done a good deal, both as individuals and as a government, to justify that opinion. 

One particularly valuable asset was a broken chair. Damages for it might be collected from every officer who was billeted in that house. In time we came to know that the Frenchman expected only about ten percent of the amount asked, and Uncle Sam lost a little less.


No doubt Chaplain Edwards was correct that the AEF was occasionally overcharged for damages, but the problem was common enough that a policy had been in place as early as 1917. From United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919, Bulletins, GHQ, AEF, Volume 17:

When troops leave a cantonment an officer is always left behind for 24 hours to receive the claims of the inhabitants and to verify damage done to billets.
Claims by the inhabitants must be filed with the Mayor before the departure of the troops, or in case of their unexpected departure, they must be filed within 12 hours. An official report (proces-verbal de constat) is made by the Mayor and Officer after both sides have been heard. This report is used by the Mayor in order to secure the settling of the account.

Subsequently, the War Department included a statement in one of its spring 1918 bulletins:

Reports of investigations indicate that damages to civilian property and premises are numerous. A great majority of these reports indicate that American troops, in using and handling such property, are not only lacking in care and consideration, but also that many damages are wantonly inflicted. 

This is decidedly to the discredit of the troops of this command, and with new troops arriving it is a matter which calls for drastic action. It is known that much of the fault lies in the lack of proper supervision by the officers in charge of troops and to the failure to enforce discipline in their commands. This is especially true in cases of premises occupied as billets. Commanding officers of troops will be held strictly accountable for the discipline of their commands, and failure to exercise proper supervision over same will be considered as sufficient evidence of unfitness for command. 

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Where was Robert today? See the timeline.

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