Week 7: “Toward the Flame”

As promised, here are my thoughts on this week’s War Through the Generations Reading Challenge title, “Toward the Flame” by Hervey Allen.

Allen served as a lieutenant in the 28th Division, mostly made up of Pennsylvania National Guardsmen. His memoir, written from the hospital in 1918 and finished at home in 1919, covers the Division’s experiences from arriving in France in July 1918 to the battle for Fismette in August.

Allen was a poet and a hugely famous historical novelist after the war. He’s a lovely writer:

“I wish I could picture accurately the plateau above Chateau-Thierry that night: the white, misty moonlight, the sense of dread and mystery in the black masses of woods ahead with the enemy’s stars and rockets curving over them, only to glimmer away; the sullen glow of the giant red flare, the far-off thunder toward Rheims, and the crimson splashes in the sky. Across the liquid grain fields lay white tomb-like villages loud with the sudden chatter or thumping of machine guns that would suddenly subside, leaving a few strange cries floating over the dark figures of our own men, or the wind rippling the lake-like wheat,–then the stars, and all-engulfing silence.”

Poetry aside, his account of the action is detailed and fairly flat — because he is very, very angry.

I found the last chapters of the book, set in Fismette, distressing to read. Of the Doughboys ordered to hold the insignificant village, 200 were killed, wounded or captured.

Ruins of the little village of Fismette, France

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