THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER
Farbus, the village built on gun emplacements— Arleux, Avion, Mericourt—"Go from here! We want nothing of war!”
WILL R. BIRD
A MAN without feet, his legs cut off at the knees, came walking toward our car as we left Arras via St. Nicholas. He was a French war veteran and walked on two "peglegs" as well as if he had his own original pedals.
Once clear of the close-grouped village, the road runs through a vast stretch of seeded fields without a fence or barrier. There are several cemeteries on the right. Bailleul Road Cemetery East being the largest. Just beyond it, or behind it, there is a German one. not very noticeable against a background of small trees. More open fields with many crows Happing over them, and then we passed several small houses clustered on a high bank—neat yellow dwellings looking as new as if just taken from a parcel.
Over on the left is the dark green of Farbus Wood, and in the same direction, more to the rear, the steeple and whitewalled houses of Thelus catch the morning sun. Following these are more fields, vast
brown slopes with green shoots tinting them, and Bailleul is in front of us’, with Arleux en Gohelle directly in line. We pass under a railway, and the station is on the right, perched like a huge nest. A French Aunt Eppie Hogg is being helped down to the road by the village “skipper.” and seven geese stand in line on a bank and watch us go by. The village school, and then we pass an amazing amount of elephant iron, used as pens and shed roofs. There are two nice villas, with imposing fences before them and tiled walks, then a few wooden huts and a war ruin.
We turned toward Farbus Wood, where the road went on to Henin Letard. There is a shrine at the comer, more war cellars and a windmill. We stopped to talk with a shrivelled old lad at the local estaminet, and he pointed toward Arleux Cemetery and said :
"Go there if you want to find anything of interest. All that land is honeycombed with Boche dugouts and tunnels. Twice they had a part of the cemetery cave in, and the ground is always sinking.”
We went on past the cemetery, along a sunken road lined with young trees. Here and there were old stumps and stubs of the former trees, and old dugout entrances. Arleux is featured with corrugated iron. Such salvage abounds
along the old lines in France, but Arleux has a lion’s share. Every home and yard is decorated by it. Kennels, pens and sheds are built of it, and fences, and it is left in piles where there are no more places to use it.
It is a scattered village, and there are many old army huts. A modem concrete shrine decorates a comer, and there is the usual memorial. The Mairie is the most imposing building. There are no sidewalks, and numberless ducks were waddling gaily to the puddles along the route. There are just two cafés in the place, and both were empty of customers and the mesdames wanted only to sell beer. They had no time for war gossip. From the last houses Willerval and Farbus Wood seemed merged, and the Ridge forms a majestic background, with the huge derrick at the Memorial silhouetted against the sky.
Farbus Is Interesting
V\ 7"HERE the road reaches Willerval, the village is * V almost hidden at the entrance by numbers of grain stacks. It is a small place with two narrow streets and a Y turn, and elephant iron dominates. Three cafés supply refreshments and a large water tank, which overlooks the dwellings, comprise the village.
Old women seem to be very active in that vicinity. One was using a shovel and pick as vigorously as a man, while another had scaled to the top of a stack b” means of a ladder, and was making some necessary repairs to its covering. An old man with some ailment akin to palsy was seated in one of the cafés, and after a short conversation told us an interesting story.
Shortly after the first homes of Willerval were built, two cars came struggling through the mud and ruts, and from them came a quartette of stiff-backed men. It was soon seen that they were Germans. They did not make any enquiries in the village, but went into one of the fields and there spread a map, around which they gathered. The tallest of the four, a man with a Kaiser mustache, stood and pointed out all the landmarks. The others listened, then all bent over the
map again and soon broke into a loud argument. For an hour they wrangled, with such violence that the watching Frenchmen were certain there would be hostilities; then all climbed into their cars and drove away, leaving the map lying on the ground. This old Frenchman promptly secured it. He showed it to me and it proved to be a rough sketch of ten gun positions. The Germans must have been gunnery officers, and no doubt had come all that distance to settle some argument about landmarks.
Farbus is the most interesting village near Vimy. If anyone could get good pictures of it they would have something unusual, for Farbus is literally built on and between concrete emplacements. One borders the street, its gaping mouth whispering to all passers-by. and three are in one yard. Others, almost hidden among buildings, are used as tool sheds and poultry pens.
All around are signs of war. Farbus is a distinct war village. Old cellars with haggled walls above the weeds and grass meet one as he comes from Willerval, which is only divided from Farbus by the railway track. On the right is a wood of new growth spaced by great gaunt stubs of warkilled trees. A French cemetery is on the left as you reach a turn to the right. The houses are all brand new, and smart with red and white paint. The church is a fine building, with a most picturesque background—a big group of twisted trees and stubs, relics of the war.
A few army huts are on the outskirts nearer Vimy. A short, blackhaired man was standing beside them, and soon I had him talking. He told me that in and about Farbus they had dug up as many souvenirs as had been found on Vimy. In one cellar they uncovered a cache of 100 bottles of good pre-war wine. In another were cases of German machine-gun ammunition, and in yet another three uncut cheeses in a sack. He showed me rolls of barbed wire that had never been unwound, and a string of water bottles on a wire as though some soldier had been taking them to the water cart. Strangest of all, they found four new German lanterns, carefully crated.
Farbus furnishes a change of scenery. The stubs and dead trees that seem contorted in agony, the wood above the village, and the great concrete places in among the homes, all serve to lend a distinctive setting.
Old Shells Still Dangerous
WE PUSHED on to Vimy village, entirely rebuilt. From Farbus you go up a long straight stretch of cobbled road, a street of small houses and wooden huts. To the right is a rough mound, at which diggers recently found 3,000 shell cases. The Vimy Cemetery is well kept and pretty. Back of the rows of cottages you can see a few old cellars, but most of them are hidden. Near the square is a red and white boucherie, and a plentiful supply of meat was hanging over the narrow sidewalk.
Ranged under it, and trying desperately to reach it, were three small dogs.
The Grand Place is well planned, but its decoration was a lone dump cart. The Hôtel de Ville would do credit to a much larger town, and the school is large and modern. The post-office is a swaggering building turned as if to eye the new church.
This is built on the ruins of the old church, which all will remember as trenched and wired into a regular strong point during 1917.
Toward the Ridge, La Folie Wood is a dark background, and at its edge the concrete lips of a water reservoir lead many visitors a wild-goose chase. They think it an old gun emplacement. Several houses over that way, near the old road, are large and have white shutters.
Petit Vimy is a dull little spot boasting a brewery and a police headquarters. From there, Vimy looks a much larger village than it really is, a picturesque spot of fine new homes. We visited four estaminets, and found no one who could tell us anything about the place. The men whom we spoke to said that the Government had brought in laborers to clear up all that ground, that the residents had nothing to do with it. and few of them had lived there before the war. Their chief trouble now was the danger of old shells. They have gone over the land carefully more than twenty times, yet with each spring planting they uncover more big ones.
We went back to Vimy and on toward Lens, passing a fine football field and water tank on the right, then many old mine shacks and Nissen huts. A mine was operated there for a short time, then abandoned.
La Chaudière consists of a bright yellow house with a café sign displayed, a white-walled house and a red one, and a wooden hut. That is all. No trace of a trench is there, or any sign of war.
Givenchy, on the left, looks like a very large village, and from the Memorial at Vimy seems to loom above all the countryside, huge, imposing. To the right. Mericourt seems quite a distance. The railway embankment cuts between, without a visible sign of the old cutting where the long German dugouts were, and all over that expanse are green and red-brown fields that have entirely erased every old trench we knew. It did not seem possible that Canada Trench could so vanish, but there is not even the usual chalky earth by which one could trace it.
Going on, I saw many big houses near, and three huge buildings that appeared to be a factory. I asked what they were. “The brewery.” came the answer. “This is La Coulette.” It is all brick and concrete, all that area we knew so well, all buildings and walls and red roofs and
paved yards, a bustling place. The brewery is an enormous one. The houses have green and white trimmings, and some sport little green trees in front. On the left, farther on, are a few war cellars. That is all.
Lens Is Sinking
WE WENT through a subway and up a long grade beside many wooden buildings, and saw a sign, “This is Eleu.” The Cafe de la Mairie was its principal feature, a small place on the right. The canal lay on the left, with four barges dose together near the bridge. On one, a woman was hanging out a huge washing on numerous ropes, and on another a girl was hauling water by a rope and bucket.
We entered Lens, and found wide streets, fine homes and shops, all as modem as any American town. The station is of concrete, uniqueán all respects. Its interior is pictured, in tiling, with all the mines of the place. A scene shows the miners coming from work, and another the arrival of a train.
It is all very well done. The seats in the waiting room are of startling design, so painted that they seem a part of the wall.
Yet this very modem building is slowly parting in the middle. It is built directly over a huge German dugout that was not discovered in time, and nothing can be done to save the situation. Many more places in Lens and vidnity are having like troubles. The Germans honeycombed the place with tunnels and underground refuges, and our shelling had blown so much wreckage over them that their presence was not suspected. Then came Portuguese and other foreigners, hired to fill in all dugouts and craters and clear the land at so much per acre. Inspectors were there, but these were often deceived, and the workers concealed all signs of underground passages. Now the timber supports have rotted or fallen and the surface is subsiding. In countless places roadways are caving in, railways are dipping, and houses sinking at one comer. France will not be finished with war damages for years to come.
Leaving Lens, we went along the La Bassée road, across the zone of what used to be Combat, Chicory and Commotion trenches, and saw no signs of them or the concrete that used to be at the hillock near Cow Alley. Then we passed between Cité St. Emile and Cité St. Laurent. St. Emile was while and yellow in the sunlight—white-walled houses with yellow trimmings —and across the road Laurent looked like a model mining suburb just opened for inspection. It seemed to be built of light grey concrete. Its streets were paved with it, and the houses were of concrete blocks. Fences and homes were in even lines, all laid out like a checker board.
War Debris At Hill 70
AFTER Laurent there is a long open stretch on both sides of the road—the bare, bald slopes of Hill 70. All along you see patches of rough ground, former strong points or big craters, still eyesores to the farmers, and as you get to the crest you see more and more of the concrete emplacements that are still intact. On the left at the top are five wooden huts, placed there to entertain tourists. I went over on the left where the old redoubt used to be, and found piles of earth and chalk and iron screw stakes and barbed wire. Much has been done to level it, but it is still a sinister mound.
Across the road, the top of a machine-gun jx>st peeps from a heap of l(X)se chalk. As I went over on the right I came to more and more of these mounds, and then to where a crew of workmen were clearing heaps. They were shovelling the piles into carts, clearing the ground, and with every mound they found all kinds of things. I watched an hour, and saw them come upon seven rolls of barbed wire intact, twenty-eight Mills bombs, thirty-three stick bombs, three German mess tins, seven Stokes, three shovels, four entrenching tools, and two German steel helmets, as well as old petrol tins and much angle iron. It is very slow work, as many live shells are found, as well as bombs.
Going back to the shacks, I entered one and found a French veteran, the proprietor. He told me had come there, as he was sure that Hill 70 would be one of the main show places after the war. “It was all craters and strong points,” he said, ‘ and all these tunnels were open.” He said that all of Hill 70 was tunnelled, that the Germans had twenty-four kilometers of passages by which they could go to Mine 16 at Lens, to Vermelles and to Camblain, and great chambers they called the Hindenburg dugouts. He said there were twenty entrances to the tunnels, and he did an immense business for a time with tourists. A rope was needed to help one in getting down, as the stairways were rather steep, but, once below, all was well as the tunnels were extremely well timbered and roofed. But the mine authorities at Lens own all that area, and they blocked all the entrances and stopped the tourists. Last year an English colonel and another
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Thirteen Years After
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officer came to the scene. They are trying their best to get the area reopened as a sightseeing place, and it may be done.
We went on down the slope to the old chalk pit, the “original,” and found it a busy place. Many men were working there, burning lime. Over on the right Bois Hugo is very thick and green. Near it are many chalk traces of trenches, and many more rough hillocks. Half the area seems given over to them. On the distant left the craters at Loos gleam in the sunshine.
We returned over the hill, after wandering around the edge of Bois Hugo, where shell craters and old rifts in the chalk give the . whole slope the look of a diseased land. All ¡ along the way the farmers and their helpers were working patiently to remove the i mounds of debris. I saw them uncover a brazier at one spot, with two blackened bayonets that had been used as toasting forks.
A Communist Village
WF WENT through Lens and turned left into Avion. It is a prosperous looking village, with many cafés and beer signs. Avion is a hotbed of communism, i The mayor and members of the council are 1 all communists. It went "red” in the last town election. In one of the estaminets we sat and heard England denounced as the biggest enemy the poor man has.
Along the streets prosperous-looking and very modern buildings are sandwiched among war shacks. Here and there are old cellars and broken walls, but for the most part you see only new brick and concrete and splendid gardens. There is an up-todate and well kept sports field, and a healthy lot of children. Avion has a different atmosphere than most of those mining villages. You feel the aggressiveness of the people, their determination to make Avion a place just a little better than all others.
I remember that it was just over to the i left of Avion, at the water hole, that one of our new men fell into a water hole just as j an officer came up. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Got your wind up already, dropping down there?” “No, sir,” came the answer. “This is camouflage I’ve got on. I'm to be a water lily.”
We were soon in Mericourt—all red, j brown, white and green, spick and span,
¡ small and quiet, but very clean looking, j There are many well-made fences and good gardens, and near the embankment a number of small bushes help with the pic-
ture. The rebuilt streets are wide and straight, and the school is a splendid building. We stopped at an estaminet and talked with the madame in charge. She told us she had been forced to cook for a German officers’ mess, staying in a cellar for a long time after our guns began to pound the village. She and three of her neighbors had buried all their valuables beside a huge gate post, and when they returned after the war they recovered their wealth without : difficulty. She seemed very proud of having so easily outwitted her captors. After the Germans left Mericourt, one of their dogs came back to the place and stayed there. Six pups were bom, and their descendants are legion. I saw three of them, large black dogs with Hindenburg jaws.
A long open stretch, with wide fields on ' both sides, farm lands that make you wonder how the French can get much done after they have journeyed away out there from the villages, and then you are at Acheville. The mound of Mount Forêt is in sight, but all the ground looks as if it had been smoothed by some great rake. The village itself is plastered with advertising, and shows plenty of corrugated iron, turkeys, and a new bright church.
Arleux is over on the right, and as we studied the long sloping banks for the faintest trace of old trenches I saw something moving, picking at the sprouting green things and winter wheat that had been sown. It was a partridge. We counted more than twenty within 100 yards.
Fresnoy is the next village after another section of grain fields great fenceless areas that seem deserted, yet are most carefully cultivated. Crows flap overhead and are the only other travellers in the district. Just outside the village there are sugar beets in plenty, and gardens, and we see a new feature. Houses and the church are most modern in light-painted walls with black strapping.
In a café we found a chap selling tickets on the football pool in Lens, and heard the new English tariff discussed, and met a commercial man from Antwerp, and went away feeling that this village out in the wilderness is surely in touch with the world. A fat madame stopped us and tried to sell us her turkeys, thinking we were buyers, and when we explained our errand she threw up her hands.
“For the love of Joseph and Mary, go from here,” she cried. “There is nothing of war, not a thing, and on Vimy there is i plenty.”