LEONARD SEBASTIAN U.S. VETERINARY HOSPITAL NO 8, CLAYE SOUILLY, FRANCE WW1
Post by Leonard Sebastian's grand daughter Jane Nelson. Leonard Sebastian was stationed at Veterinary Hospital No. 8 at at Claye Souilly, France during WW1.
Posted by Michael Sebastian and his family: The above 2 pictures are of my grandfather who was Leonard Sebastian born on April 10 1895 and he was from Prairie du Chien Wisconsin and was assigned to Veterinary Hospital No. 8 in France during WW1. My grandfather died on August 24 1986.
Post by Leonard's grand daughter Jane Nelson and their family: This picture is printed on a French postcard and appears to be members of the veterinary corps honoring fallen comrades at grave-site. Of special interest to me is that my grandfather shows up quite prominently in the picture. He is the soldier at the far left in the front row who is reverently holding his cap behind his back and has his left foot forward. Leonard Sebastian was a magnificent human being and cherished by the entire family. He is dearly missed.
SPECIAL NOTE on the above image. I received this email on 10/8/2014:
Greg, my name is Brandon and I was looking at your webpage on Leonard Sebastian in WW1. In the group picture of guys standing over the gravesides I can't be 100% certain but I believe my Great Grandpa is in the picture. On the far right of the picture above the first man crouching I believe it is my great grandpa, Jesse Cain. He was also stationed at Vet hospital no. 8.
We have received an audiotape from Leonard's family that was recorded in 1974 of Leonard Sebastian being interviewed by Griffith Williams of Prairie du Chien, WI. This tape has been at the Prairie du Chien museum for over thirty years before being discovered by Leonard 's grand daughter Jane Strnad Nelson who has brought this tape to light for her family to enjoy and will be sharing it with us as it is transcribed into words for the website.
I also would like to thank Jane's cousin Mike Sebastian who made contact with me and who has sent me the tape and sharing family photos. The 16-minute part of the tape of Leonard's interview with Griffith Williams that we will be interested in is of Leonard Sebastian's time in France during WW1 with Veterinary Hospital No. 8. This is a very rare and wonderful find for all of us who have a great interest in the Veterinary Corps in WW1. I have always regretted that my family never took much interested in my grandfather Leonard Murphy's service in the Veterinary Corps during WW1 and it has been very exciting for me to be able to hear from someone in his own words about his experiences in the Veterinary Corps of WW1. I would like to thank Leonard Sebastian's family.
LEONARD SEBASTIAN TAPE TRANSCRIBING
Transcribed on March 2006 Greg Krenzelok
The below is a transcribing of a valuable audiotape that was recorded by Grif Williams of Leonard Sebastian describing his service in the Veterinary Corps in France during WW1. This is just a part of a larger recording of Leonard Sebastian's life in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Leonard's granddaughter Jane Strnad Nelson found the listing for this recording at the Museum in Prairie du Chien. It was in a scrapbook in a small, obscure room in the museum store building and, after inquiring, she was then directed to the following audiotape. Jane and her daughter were absolutely thrilled to get to hear his wonderful voice again.
Years ago Jane's grandfather had mentioned being approached for an interview and, though flattered, was wondering what he could possibly have to say that others beyond family would be interested to hear! So Jane says that her heart literally rose to her throat as she realized that this was the interview as her grandfather had never mentioned actually going through with it. Jane went through channels and was introduced to the late Grif Williams son Eric Williams to secure a copy and the rest is history for us all to share! Special thanks to Leonard's grandson Mike Sebastian who initially found my website, made contact with me and sent the copy which is transcribed below. I thank Eric Williams for permission to reproduce his father's important contribution to history and Mike Sebastian and Jane Strnad Nelson for sharing a bit of their humble grandfather's interesting life story.
This is the story of Leonard Sebastian who was in the Veterinary Corps in France in World War 1 and assigned to Veterinary Hospital No 8 at Claye Souilly France. Veterinary Hospital No. 8 was only a few of the Veterinary Corps Hospitals that was in the Advance Section of the battlefields in France. Their story was very much different than those hospitals and Veterinary personnel in the Intermediate Sections where they saw or heard very little on what was going on at the frontlines. The Veterinary Hospitals located near the frontlines were the first of the Veterinary Corps personnel to be in France. At the time there was a desperate situation going on with the lack of care for the horses and mules and for the wounded, sick and diseased animals. Leonard would have been caught in the troubled times of the US Veterinary Corps at this time and their struggle to catch up to this very desperate situation that the US Army had gotten themselves in due to lack of planning, insight and letting the Veterinary Corps do their job.
I can not even begin to describe how fortunate that we are to be able to listen or read in Leonard's own words what life was like in the area very close to the frontlines of the battlefield in France for those who served in the Veterinary Corps of WW1. Below in the transcription of this tape:
The above map: Advance of the American troops in the Marne counter offensive Arrow No. 1 indicates the direction of evacuation to Claye Souilly later Veterinary Hospital No. 8 and Arrow No.2 shows the direction of evacuation of Veterinary Hospitals at Treveray and Neufchateau more than 100 miles away.
Click on the below link to go to a larger image of the map
Large Map of the Marne
LEONARD SEBASTIAN IN THE VETERINARY CORPS IN FRANCE DURING WW1
This is Grif Williams of Prairie du Chien Wisconsin on September the 12th 1974. It is a rainy September day and I will be talking to Leonard Sebastian a native of Prairie du Chien about his life, family and living in Prairie du Chien Wisconsin
Grif ask Leonard where he was borne and a little bit about his family.
I was borne in the Township of Prairie du Chien on a farm on Mondale Hill we lived at the top of the hill. For the last 42 years I have been making my home at about the center of the Mondale Hill on the south side.
To make a living I put in 25 years in the textile mill in Prairie du Chien. My family came to this area in the 1850's or 1860's and my father was borne in Germany and was about 3 or 4 years old when he came to this area with his parents and family. His parents first settled in the Vineyard Cooly and were some of the original grape growers that was my father's father John Sebastian. Later my father William Sebastian and his two brothers Martin and John they bought a tract of land on the top of Mondale Hill and divided into hundred aces and the likes of that. And they lived there from that time until 1936 when my father left the place. My father died in 1940. I left the farm when I was around 18 years old and worked for a while and in 1917, 1918 I went into the Military service during WW1. When I came back from the war in 1919 I married Violet Rau and we bought a farm around 1919 or1920 and farmed until the Depression when I could know longer make a go at it. I left this farm in 1926 and put the next 25 years in the textile mill in Prairie du Chien.
Grif now asks Leonard about his memories of World War One and asks him if he was in Prairie du Chien when the war ended.
No, I was across the pond in France when the Armistice was signed in November 11 of 1918 and I didn't return home until July 1919. I do remember hearing about the celebrations in Prairie du Chien and they really cut loose. And we did the same thing over there in France. That night on November 11th well the gates of the camp were opened and we all went out to celebrate and I didn't get back in camp until the next day. At the time I was stationed up at the Marne Valley were the Germans had retreated.
Note: I am sure that this is the area of Operations on the Marne, which was in the Chateau Thierry Sector
We had nothing to celebrate with but a few drinks of Benrew and so on.
It was quite a celebration and there was no order at all. What had made this a real loud celebration was some of the French had come back into these little villages that were mainly shot-up. But they came back and they brought their cognac and wines and stuff you see and that was about all you could get, so we celebrated. Grif says:You helped them and Leonard replies, "You just bet ya".
Grif asks Leonard if he enlisted and wanted to know a little bit more about his service?
I did not enlist but I was an alternate and I volunteered to go in with a certain gang that left Prairie du Chien on May 22 1918.
Grif comments that they must have send you overseas quite fast.
I was on the boat on July 26th 1918
Grif asks what kind of training did they give you in between?
Leonard says: Veterinary
Grif says: So the service trained you to be Veterinary, and where was the school?
Right, Leonard answers and it was at Camp Lee Virginia. I first went to Camp Grant and from there, there was so many sent to this Veterinary Training School in Virginia. And I think we had about, well from sometime in June until July and that was schooling you see. We shipped out overseas and got to France on the 10th of August and it took 11 or 12 days to get across. And during that time one little unit of 308 men we ran through the hospital about 11,000 horses and mules. In other words we brought fresh horses and mules to the front and then brought whatever horses and mules were wounded and fit enough to be brought back to the hospital.
We would mainly travel at night and we would start out about 4:00 in the afternoon from the hospital and deliver about 80 horses which was one string, they would put 80 horses in a line and team of mules ahead and a team of mules in back And a rope leading from one wagon to the other and they would take 4 horses abreast and they would tie a rope around the horse's tail in the lead and we would take them to as near to the front as we could. Our headquarters was in a little town called Claye Souilly and that was a French remount station that was turned over to the US Army and that is where we started out from there and then we would go to the front lines and come back with the wounded horses and mules. We had Missouri mules by the wholesale and Western horses which the Army had bought and shipped to France and we would hitch them up and go.
We would bring back whatever horses could walk and those that couldn't they were killed. And anything that could not be cured in 30 days and put back into service, they were disposed of. The French bought the disposed horses and mules for 10 dollars each. I am not sure what they did with them but I guess they wanted them for things like their hides and who knows what else. I don't think that they ate them because they never took them away alive. When the horses and mules had been killed, some old Frenchman would come along with a 2-wheel wagon and load 2 or 3 horses or mules on that little 2 wheel outfit he had. He had a hand operated windless winch and it was surprising what he could do with it.
The harbor at Brest France 1918.
Grif asked Leonard where he first landed in France?
Grif asks Leonard if the station he was at was close by?
Claye Souilly was between the Marne Valley and Paris. We were located several miles from the actual front. In the daytime you couldn't hear too much but at night it was just like a thunderstorm all the sounds of the battles going on. And gradually the noise gets less and less and that is when we would take these horses and mules 80 to a string and maybe there would be several lines of them. One night of the first mission that I was on we headed out not knowing where we were going or what we were doing. We got to the front lines about mid-night and I'm not sure but I guess that there was a guard that knew that this convoy was coming and we stopped there. And they took charge of these horses so we sat around and thought maybe we would get a little shuteye. Pretty soon these search lights and these tracer bullets started going off and it was about the most prettiest 4th of July fireworks that you had ever seen. And you knew pretty much what was going on. When we first landed in France there was pretty much every night an air raid. Well, it was kind of interesting because every three bullets in this machine gun see were actual bullets and the other one a tracer so they could tell where they were shooting.
At night in the camp several times the old Luftwaffe would come across you see, and there where several bombs dropped within 3 or 4 blocks from where I was. And you could hear that shrapnel flying in all directions. I often think of the difference in World War 2 where there were practically no horses and World War 1 where it was almost all horses.
Grif makes a comment about thats the thing, I believe that a lot of people are not really a where of how much horse power really was used in World War 1.
Well they had quite a number of little Ford pick-ups and Dodge had a few and then there was a Clinton built truck made in Wisconsin and it was a 4-wheel drive. And while they were on the cobblestone that was fine, but just as soon as they got off of that hard road, down they went up to their axles in mud. The trucks were short and not more than 20 feet between the wheels and down they go, stuck in the mud and that was it. The horses were used to haul cannons, ammunition and so on and a horse does not get stuck the same way as a truck does in the mud.
Grif asks Leonard how long did these night trips take, several miles?
I would say that it would probably be about 20 miles one way and it got further as the front lines changed as the Germans retreated and because we always left from the same camp location.
Maybe I could say it here, if I told some people what I had seen during the war they would say you had a dream. But I have seen horses so badly wounded that it was pitiful. There was a way of disposing of an animal without shooting it and that we had to do.
Note: At this point in the tape Leonard didn't care to explain about the way they disposed of the animals without shooting them and because I feel it is important to document as much as we can about what really happened Leonard's grandson Mike told me what they would do is have some type of knife and go in through the horses or mules rear-end and make a cut in a certain place that would cause the animal to bleed to death. This is a fact that I have never heard before anywhere.
Leonard continues: We were not even allowed to slash their throats but we did, it was done. We could take out 2 or 3 strings of the 80 horses to a line and bring back to the hospital 50 or 60 animals. These would be horses and mules that had mostly shrapnel wounds and could be cured in 30 days or less.
After the horses and mules had been in France for so long a time and because France is a wet and muddy country some of the animals would get a disease called Thrush. And I have actually see horses walk on their bone and socket and walk right out of their hooves. And then there was nothing to do but kill them. But speaking of the French and buying those horses for 10 dollars each, well some of the horses were not worth 10 dollars because those that had been in service for any length of time were just skin and bone, well those French always bought the works.
Grif makes a comment that there was probably very little feed, up at the frontlines and Leonard tells Grif that they didn't get a chance to get their food each day as they should and naturally they got pretty skinny. And I have seen horses, which they looked as, lets say you take a dark colored horse say black and with that harness that the government had issued at the time during the war and during gas attacks the horses would naturally sweat some and underneath where ever that harness fit that gas would get under there and it would peel all the hair off, the horse would lose all the hair that was under the harness and you could see an animal out in the corral and it looked as if he had a tan harness on. The gas attacks during the war did away with an enormous amount of animals. And that of course would seem funny if one told that, but that is what happened and was part of the business of war.
Grif makes a comment that we think of it in terms of what happened to the men during the war and not the animals.
Leonard continues: I have seen any number of convoys in these Ford trucks where the French went up to the battlefield just threw so many wounded men in the trucks. And the trucks would be coming through legs jangling here and an arm out there. But the horses were disposed of back at the hospital and if we could not put it back into service in 30 days you just got rid of it.
Grif asks Leonard that during this time other than the air raids did you actually get on any these missions did you get up into the frontline area?
No, well naturally like when we landed in Brest and until we got up into the Marne Valley we only traveled nights. Those little boxcars, there were 40 men to a boxcar or it would hold 8 horses. And as soon as it got daylight they would side track and we didn't travel again until it was night. So from Brest to Paris, which is maybe about 500 miles it took us about a week to get there. There were 8 different veterinary hospitals in the field at the time just where the other veterinary hospitals were, I'm not sure but we handled so many and only one little outfit could not begin to handle the number of head of horses. So we had to kind of doctor these animals up if we had a couple of thousand head on hand we had to feed them, doctor them up and take care of them and when there was a call we would deliver as many as called for. When it came to doctoring we had regular veterinarians doing the work and they told you what to do.
Grif says, You were just sort of the First Aid specialist. And I suppose with the amount of time for training they couldn't do much else.
Leonard says, That is so right, But as far as training what we were doing over there I had years of experience right here as a kid living on a farm. Over there they would give us pamphlets to read but to me that was all old stuff.
Grif said if people didn't have that farm background they had to teach them.
And Leonard says, as an example a bar tender in New York if he didn't want to enlist as a bar tender he would say he was a teamster. And of course when that was on his record they would pick him up and he would be put in the Veterinary Corps or something else in the Army that was related.
Grif mentions here that the only thing that I have forgotten to ask you is what was the name of your unit?
Leonard answers: VETERINARY HOSPITAL NO. 8
The tape goes on but this is the end of Grif Williams interview with Leonard Sebastian about his service in the Veterinary Corps during WW1.
We would deeply like to thank Leonard's proud grandchildren Mike Sebastian and Jane Strnad Nelson for sharing with us what it was like in the Veterinary Corps during WW1 in France. What a wonderful opportunity this has been!
VIDEO/AUDIO TAPE: LISTEN TO LEONARD SEBASTIAN TALK ABOUT BEING STATIONED AT U.S. VETERINARY HOSPITAL NO. 8, CLAYE SOUILLY, FRANCE, DURING WW1
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