Constance Elizabeth Maud.

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terribly depleted, the official figures state that 58
per cent, of men in the French army between the ages
of eighteen and thirty-five have been killed. The
women and children, too, have died and suffered
terribly throughout the thirteen occupied Depart-
ments. The race itself has had a blow, for
thousands of children who survive are permanently

Travelling is not yet either easy or pleasant in

1919 171

France. What with military, diplomatic and civil
passports all vises at different places, " great baggage "
going by one train and " small baggage " by another
trains that don't stop anywhere and trains that do
nothing but stop trains that will condescend to
take you in consideration of your Red Cross, but
under no condition your luggage, added to the ex-
treme difficulty of securing a porter who will con-
descend to assist you, one is apt to wonder at times
whether any reason could justify leaving one's happy
home where doubtless, however, things are just as
bad for the travelling stranger.

Waiting on the Amiens platform a joyful strain
broke through the din a train full of British Tommies
just starting set up a chorus of " Back to Blighty."
They were packed into covered cattle-trucks, standing
in the doorways and seated on the steps, swarming
all over like bees outside a hive. The various trucks
were inscribed in big chalk characters :

" Remnants from Salonika Mesopotamia
Palestine," " Balkan Harriers," "Sardine Villa,"
" Tommie's Rest House," " Sussex and Devon bound
for Blighty," " Vive la France," " Au devoir ! "

The French cheered them heartily as they steamed

There is a feeling in the air that France is longing
to " speed the parting guest," both British and
American. And no wonder, for it is impossible to
get straight while they remain causing abnormal
prices and impossible conditions for the French


purchaser. Only the profiteer benefits, and he has
made, like his brother in England, quite as much,
or more, than is good for him.

"It is the politicians at Versailles," said Madame
of the hotel at Amiens where I stopped the night.
" They talk too much those gentlemen there. Better
for all if they left those who have won the war, our
great Foch and the Generals, to arrange the affair.
Since November they have talked, nothing like the
men for talking ! Once they begin nothing arrests
them but the roof falling."

" I think the roof will fall if they don't settle some-
thing soon," I replied. " Even in England we become
tired." " Tiens ! " said Madame, " that surprises
me. I imagined that in England one was not much
affected by the war."

This I found was quite a general opinion England
having escaped the horrors of invasion.

Amiens was full of khaki and horizon bleu. All
night they came and went, and the trains whistled
and screeched a perfect pandemonium. I got up
and watched the tramping soldiers. A long line of
blue- clad poilus were passing with big loaves on their
backs showing them to be permissionaires coming
from home. Then a squadron of cavalry came out
of the shadows and went with regular, muffled tramp
down the street in the moonlight. The Cathedral
chimed out the hours as they sped through the brief
summer night. Dawn came early, long before the
bells sounded four, and with it the sweet persistent

1919 173

song of a thrush or was it a blackbird ? Before I
had settled the question I was asleep in spite of the
screaming trains, which caused me to wake at last
with the conviction that the bird was a cockatoo.

I went out early, Amiens Cathedral was still drest
in her war uniform of sandbags and planks, protecting
the monuments and windows. Only here and there
a rose window like a jewel gleamed out among the
dim grey arches.

An old man and his wife just leaving St Joseph's
Altar a saint who protects the home did the honours
of their Cathedral and pointed out to me the wonderful
escapes it had had a bomb having made a gaping
hole in the roof. Having thus found the range it
was indeed wonderful that the Cathedral still stood
there in all her beauty with that marvellous fagade
of Apostles and Saints and Martyrs serenely intact.
The old man declared it was His Holiness the Pope
who suddenly intervened and arrested the Boche
wave of destruction with a " so far and no farther."

But his wife was of the opinion that it was plutot
la Sainte Vierge who had saved the Cathedral.

One thing seems certain, when the Huns after a fort-
night's occupation in 1914 moved on towards Paris,
they said not " adieu," but " au revoir," to Amiens.

" We shall come again in three weeks at most," they
declared with the cocksuredness which characterised
all their utterances at that time.

Amiens prepared for the worst took down her


city clocks hid her bells and removed as much as
she could of her old stained glass. Everyone stowed
away their treasure, and many left the city. In 1918,
that darkest hour before the dawn, there was a general
exodus. The man of the antique shop on the Place
told how he put all his antiquities into a cart, and many
alas, were so damaged from that journey that the rest
of his life would be spent in repairing.

Celine, the chambermaid at the Hotel, was from
Soissons. " Amiens is the fortunate one," she said.
" These people they murmur if they have some
furniture broken let them only see what the enemy
has made of our poor Soissons ! "

Celine had experienced war in all its aspects. She
was fileuse in a cloth fabric for khaki, and supported
an invalid mother. Then came the bombardment.

" It was of a severity terrific," said Celine. " The
English officer he advised all to descend into the
cellars, but many who descended never came out!
For the Boches they sent on Soissons not only the
bombs and shells, but the poison gas, and the gas
it descends and it searches you and then it takes you
the eyes ! "

For months Celine had been in hospital, gassed
badly and fearing to lose her sight. At another time
she was struck by shrapnel in the shoulder and again
had to be operated on in hospital.

" Just as well to have been at once in the trenches,
and had the satisfaction to shoot some sales Bodies"
she remarked regretfully. " My brother he also was

1919 175

gassed and wounded, but he at least killed those
animals there, and had his reward ! "

All the factories in Soissons had been destroyed,
so Celine took a place as chambermaid, for " one
must gain one's life, though one's house is burnt,
and the poor mother she has to live in the cellar."

A German-made train with red plush seats, one of
the spoils of war, which took the pace of a tank and
rather the same gait, conveyed passengers over a
circuitous route once a day to Compiegne. One had
to be thankful for even this mercy, for many railways
were not yet in working order in these parts. We
stopped everywhere, even in the middle of a field, and
took a look round. When leaving this lovely country
of woods and gardens, meadows and orchards, we
suddenly came on the trail of the Hun, there was
every reason to look round. Stark ruin met the eye
on every side. Where he had retreated the Hun
had burnt down all human habitations, blown up the
village churches, cut down the orchards, and even
felled the poplars, just as in the Somme and Oise
in 1917. Every living thing had ceased to grow.
Charred stumps and sticks showed where pleasant
little woods once stood. And all along this dismal
route the earth was scarred with trenches, shell holes
and trails of rusty wire. One exquisite touch there
was, one ray of returning life and hope amid the
devastation wherever a little stream, a little green
moisture appeared in the ground there had risen* up


clusters of golden iris, the fleur de lys the flower of
France. The Huns' poison gas and shells had been
powerless to destroy the delicate roots of the
triumphant fleur de lys. Here and there an old
woman in white cap, or a couple" of children, were
digging at small patches of vegetables, but there was
no sign of any house with four walls their lodging
must have been some cellar among the ruins.

At length we came upon the climax of desolation
and destruction Montdidier. Fair Montdidier crown-
ing the heights so proudly for centuries, and now,
showing a spectacle of such hopeless ruin as to make
the angels weep.

I remembered how at that time of acute anxiety
a year ago, one read day by day, " Montdidier has not
yet fallen," " Severe bombardment of Montdidier,"
etc. Now one realised what those short statements
really meant. Like a picture hanging on a wall, so
Montdidier faces you as the train crawls along the
valley a picture gashed, torn, defaced by a ruthless



Compi^gne was all in bustle and movement prepar-
ing for the Feast of Pentecost in England the Whit-
suntide holiday. At the station no conveyance was
to be had all being engaged at high tariffs for holiday-
makers even the porters had knocked off work at six
o'clock. Some friendly poilus waiting for a midnight
train came to my aid and carried my small baggage
to the hotel. Compiegne had had a severe bombard-


1919 177

ment, guns and Gothas having united to give the
poor little town a hot time. Of the houses twenty-
five per cent, were destroyed, but the Boches never
succeeded in setting foot here, try as they might.
That fortnight they spent in 1914 was the first and

Compiegne was crowded to overflowing, everyone
keeping high holiday in motors and carriages in the
forest. The townspeople had saved up the occasion
for long deferred weddings and confirmations. On
Sunday the streets were filled with funny little figures
in full white dresses down to their toes. We had
wedding breakfasts and confirmation feasts ; all day
one danced and made music in the Hotel salon,
portly grandparents and small boys and girls in festal
array all making merry together and rejoicing over
some "horizon bleu" on leave.

A carillon of joyous bells at six in the morning
woke one with the idea that the Great Four must
have proclaimed Peace on earth during the night.
This was repeated at frequent intervals till nine

" One rings the bells very much now because for so
many years one never rang them by reason of the
enemy they would have served as a guide," said
Madame the proprietress, who had remained through
all the air raids secure in her deep cellars.

The bells brought home to one, as no salvo of guns
could ever do, the fact that the war was over. In
spite of the ruins, in spite of hospitals still full of the



wounded and dying, in spite of the train loads of soldiers
still coming and going all day and all night, the war
was over. This land was free at last from the accursed
Boche. Rejoice and be glad, Oh Daughters of
France !


THERE are many such roads in the devastated De-
partments of France. From Compiegne you have a
choice for round here are some of the Germans'
principal lines of defence, and on the road to St Quentin
the famous Hindenburg Line. Whichever way the
car bumps along over holes and ruts imperfectly
repaired, it is the same panorama of desolation which
meets the eye.

Very early one morning I started down the road
to Maignelay in a rickety Ford car with a member
of the Society of Friends I love the quaint appellation
of Quaker, but they do not appear to share my feeling
as driver and guide.

It was a radiant day in early June. How in pre-war
times the birds would have sung, and the air have
been full of joyous sounds. The busy happy people
would have been in their fields and gardens since
sunrise, for in France they never needed a daylight
saving bill to get them up early. " When le bon Dieu
supplies the light, must make use of it," says the
thrifty French peasant.

But down the Via Dolorosa one hears no birds
for there are no trees wherein to nest, no little woods
to refresh the eye on the Hindenburg Line. Instead



of poplars and fruit trees there are blackened stumps,
tortured twisted branches which seem to have passed
through some dread agony and cry to Heaven for

Great heaps of shells, live shells, are piled up along
the roadside, huge coils of rusty wire and barbed
entanglements, slowly and with infinite difficulty
being cleared from the surrounding battlefields.

Instead of orchards and cornfields there is a barren
waste, scored with craters, shell holes and yawning
gulfs, which it will take years to fill up and level. In
these fearful upheavals and explosions thousands of
the sons of France were blown to bits or buried too
deep to unearth. No names can ever mark these
graves. They are of that great company, the " miss-
ing." Year after year always, for ever, " missing "
on this earth.

Instead of happy smiling little villages down this
road to Maignelay, you see only a heap of low laid
ruins with the name on a board showing this once
was Beaupres or Rouny. Here and there was the
trace of a village street with a few walls still standing,
perhaps a room, a stable, or cellar ; in such cases there
was always a patch of cultivation, showing a returned
owner, having found a shelter, was setting to work
restoring a tiny corner to order out of the surrounding
chaos. A small hayfield, a strip of potatoes and beans,
and a bent figure of an old man or a woman in bonnet
blanc, told its tale of patience and courage. All
workers carry their lives in their hands, for the soil


is thickly sown with shells and hand-grenades. Any
tap from the spade or hoe may prove fatal.

The country was much as the Germans had left it
seven months before, and as we sped along the road
unwound beneath us, like a rapidly moving cinema,
showing vivid pictures one after another of the Great
War. Tattered remnants of a gigantic wire screen,
on which were sown bits of green cloth made to imitate
distant trees and moving leaves, lay all along the
roadside, and the telephone cords followed us for
miles. Here and there lay overturned a monster gun,
rusty with last winter's rain, harmless at last like
some huge devastating beast with its vital organs
pierced. Little railway lines for transporting
ammunition still intersected all this region, and great
gaping holes along the side of the road showed how
deep and strong the Boche had dug himself into
French soil. Like some horrible parasite, burrowing
beneath the skin and eating away the life of its victim,
so the Boche bored deep down his dug-outs to which
he descended often by some forty or fifty steps.
Comfortably he lined his underground house with
wood, making snug beds in the walls and warming
it with stoves torn out of the French cottages around.
A labyrinth of corridors and tunnels communicated
one with another, and a whole regiment could be
concealed underground to spring out for surprise
attacks. How different from the damp mud holes in
which the poilu and Tommy lived for months and
years !


On the line near St Quentin this system of tunnels
was extensively used by Hindenburg, who made use
of tBhe long canal tunnel passing under the hill to
conceal a whole army of many divisions. At any
point along his famous Line he could spring out of
the ground 10,000 men and as suddenly cause them
to disappear. One can picture the old rascal working
out his glorious plan how carefully he had studied
every inch of that ground it seemed as if every-
thing played into his big German paws. Here was
the fine canal uniting the Seine and the Scheldt,
which at a given point he could easily dam. All the
barges and boats, however, he would first steer into the
waters of the tunnel, for, left high and dry when the
tunnel was drained, they made a nice lining for his
great dug-out. How the Square Heads chuckled as
they thought of the wonder- surprise in store for their
victims !

The dug-outs of the officers were not only com-
fortable but luxurious. 1C The Boche loves much the
luxury though he is curiously lacking in refinement,"
was a characteristic little trait often pointed out
to me by the French who had come into unenviably
close contact with him. On the hillside at Namp^el
was a palatial dug-out constructed for " Little Willy "
during his sojourn in these parts, when, besides his
military duties, he was doing quite a business in art
collecting from the surrounding Chateaux. It was a
veritable fortress, faced with stone, built on two
floors with a broad stone staircase leading to a flat



roof from which a wide survey could be taken unob-
served, for it was so cleverly thrust into the hillside
and screened by overhanging trees as hardly to be
noticed. Many corridors and exits provided means
of escape should a scuttle be deemed advisable, " for
though on conquest he was bent he had a cautious
mind" (with apologies to Mrs Gilpin !). The place
was fitted with electric light, hot water, heating
apparatus, and telephones. The walls were papered
in the best German taste, but most of this had been
torn off. Remains of a scarlet and gold paper pointed
to one of the largest rooms as evidently being the
Sleep-Chamber of Little Willy himself. What dreams
and visions he must there have enjoyed ! dreams of
ill-gotten gains, when he and his All-Highest-War-Lord-
Father should have carried out their fine programme
" Deutschland uber alles " flattening out the whole
of France with their steam roller, like this sample of
desolation, Nampgel, on which his eyes then feasted.
But like the old lady of the fairy tale, "Vinegar Bottle,"
he and his All-Highest parent asked just a little too
much, even of the lenient Mr God of the Germans
and so lost all ! And there -stands his fine dug-out
in the hillside as a vestige historique, a warning to

the Grab-Allers to the end of time.

Along the road to Maignelay, as along all these war-
worn roads, are dotted little crosses marking isolated
graves. Sometimes they bear the tricolour rosette
and just the words Soldat Franpais showing the fallen


was one unidentified, but generally these are German
graves, respected by the chivalrous French though
they belong to the foe who has desecrated so ruthlessly
French shrines and tombs. Many of the German
graves are marked only by a short stick on which hangs
a big grey helmet. Those German helmets are of a
cruel weight, twice that of the French or British ; with
such an apparatus pressing on his brain it must be
difficult for any poor creature to think clearly or to
act sanely no doubt the High Command had this
in view when designing them.

Most pitiful graves these of the wayside uniden-
tified! How many of our English lads have lain
like this on foreign soil, unidentified, while those at
home waited year after year, hoping, despairing, long-
ing to know something, anything, for certain, even
if it should be only that the beloved young body lay
at rest in a French field with the scarlet poppies
standing sentinel above.

Nature had everywhere done what she could to
mitigate the melancholy scars and wounds of the
poor earth. With her healing touch she had spread
a gay little mantle of colour here and there on these
arid battlefields ; red poppies, white marguerites, and
blue cornflowers proclaiming the triumphant French
flag, while for the English Allies I noticed little bushes
of sweet wild rose.

The people who trudge along these roads are always
glad of a lift, their eyes brighten directly they see the
Red Cross car, and my kind-hearted driver often picked


up a passenger. Among these were two women toiling
out to visit a little village where their homes had been.
The Germans had packed off all these villagers in
cattle trucks to Belgium when they retreated. They
had been sent back in March 1919 only to learn, of
course, that nothing remained of their village except

" But one can sometimes live in the cellar," said
the elder woman, " and we are going to see."

" Nous allons beaucoup pleurer," said her com-
panion. ("We shall weep much.")

Two families they knew had returned and found
a stable where one could lodge. They were going to
stay with them two nights, to see to weep. The
husband of one was a mason : " There was plenty
of work for him Yes indeed ! And in time one would
rebuild all the petit pays as well as the towns. They
told me of an old lady they knew. Her pays was the
Chemin-des -Dames. One recounted to her that there
existed nothing any more but shell holes nothing !
She, however, was not to be shaken in her resolve.
" She must return must die in her own pays, even
though she had to sleep in the shell holes." And this
is what all these war victims feel.

Later on we picked up a man of prosperous appear-
ance, a cultivator. He was growing chiefly oats on
his land as he could no longer grow beets, the Boches
having wrecked all the sugar mills. The Government
were anxious all cultivators should return at once, and
gave grants to those who did so nothing to those


who stayed away. They are paid according to the
hectare they work.

" But it is not amusing," he said, " to clear the
earth of live.obus and rusty wire yes, and dead corpses

" The Germans should be made to do it all," said
the Friend in a thoroughly militant voice.

The cultivator agreed heartily : " One obliges them
to assist in the work, many of them from the camp
over there, but they murmur much and say that it is
too dangerous often there arrive accidents, sometimes
to the Boche, the same as to us."

" The only way to teach the Boche is to do to his
country something of what he has done to these," said
the man of peace sternly. " A few devastated villages
and towns in Germany with an occasional mine and
sugar mill stopped working would have had more
effect than all Mr Wilson's Notes and Points."

This was said in English, so was lost on the cul-
tivator, but if a member of the Society of Friends
can be so stirred out of his fundamental pacificism
one can make a good guess at that cultivator's

Going through Tricot we passed some thirty Boches,
prisoners in charge of one guard. They looked
remarkably fit, ruddy and well-fed, but very sulky.
No doubt as they carried spades they had been
clearing the fields of the live shells their brother
Boches had sown for the benefit of French peasants.
This kind of poetic justice does not appeal to the


Boche ; neither poetic, nor any other kind of justice,
is to be found in his War-book.

One thing we never saw as we drove all over these
regions once so rich in pasture land, and that was a
cow. Perhaps they, too, were living in the cellars,
there was certainly not much of a meal to be got off
poppies and ruins. I did hear of one man who had
two cows, " but such skeletons, just to see them one
crossed oneself to keep off ill-luck."

And I thought of a meeting at the Albert Hall I
was ill-advised enough to attend, lured there by the
camouflaged announcement, " A Peace of Concilia-
tion." One of the many amazing statements
at that meeting was that a monstrously , unjust
and unchristian clause had been secretly inserted
in the Peace terms requiring Germany to hand
over 140,000 (I think was the figure) of her milch
cows to the French, thus robbing the poor innocent
German babies of their scanty diet. Cries of " shame "
echoed through the hall not a voice was raised in
defence of the true facts, namely, that this was merely
a question of restoration, and part restoration only,
of stolen goods, and came under the clause for restitu-
tion not much secrecy about that !

Tours are being arranged everywhere for visiting
the devastated regions, notices of these are to be seen
posted up in all the railway stations, and occasionally
a crowded touring-car would race past us in a cloud
of dust. The idea is to enable all men to see what is


the nature of that foe lying ever watchful on the other
side of the Rhine, " lest they forget," those sons and
daughters of France who did not themselves come
under the heel of the invader ; those who did, and
their children after them, are in no danger of " for-

There are many unimaginative people this side of
the Channel, together with those criers of " shame "
at the Albert Hall, to whom such a tour would be
most beneficial. In their case not " lest they forget,"

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Online LibraryConstance Elizabeth MaudMy French year → online text (page 11 of 17)